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NHS

As co-advisor of National Honor Society, it was my job to secure the guest speaker for the induction ceremony.  In the past, this job had led me to driving across the state (having a friend do one leg too) to pick up an Abraham Lincoln impersonator to inspire our kids.  With school renovations underway and induction shifting to the stageless cafeteria, I couldn’t bring myself to plead with a local celebrity to be our guest of honor.  I decided this year I would fill the role in the hopes students would connect with me, and thus my message as I am someone they know well.

Gathering before the ceremony started, everyone looked pretty displeased that I had several pages of medium typed font in front of me.  I had actually written a speech in two parts so I could feel the audience out and continue on if I still needed to make my point, or stop at the first ending spot if I had made my point adequately or it was running too long.  I asked a couple students if they wanted the long version or the short version, and no surprise the small informal poll yielded no students voting for the long version.  I guess this means I can be guest speaker again next year since I already wrote what works out to a second speech.  The transcript of the speech I actually gave follows.

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It was just ten years ago that I was sitting in the position of the new inductees behind me.  And while I like to tell people that I am 59 years old and just aging well as a way to establish reputability as an authority figure, I am only 28 and graduated from Sheehan high school in 2005.  I remember sitting at our very formal induction ceremony in the library, entering and exiting with candles ablaze in a ritual that I likened to a cult induction at the time.  I really had no clue what NHS was all about, I just knew I got good grades, did a lot of community service and somehow ended up in this organization surrounded by all the top brainiacs in the school, knowing this would look good on my resume.

When the guest speaker took to the podium, I struggled to understand his initial words through his heavy spanish accent.  This man was a Costa Rican banana farmer, which I thought sounded so cool and adventurous at the time.  My mind wandered to thoughts of jungle canopies and tropical weather with great surfing and ziplining.  I wondered if I could move to Costa Rica and how much my mother would be upset if the idea of plentiful yellow-peeled fruit would lure me to a foreign country.  The daydreaming was shaken off when this man started to actually describe his day to day life and as I focused in, every syllable of his life’s story hit me right square in the heart.

Working for 16 hours in jungle heat, with a shirt tied around his head to protect him from the sun and absorb endless waterfalls of sweat, he had to tie surgical tubing around his arm as a tourniquet because hours of overhead slashing with a machete caused SEVERE pain.  That was the one thing I can vividly recall; I distinctly remember thinking, “holy______” (expletive deleted).   I mean try to simply hold your arms above your head for two minutes and you’ll understand half-a-percent of his struggle.  Diving deeper into this thought shook my very existence as a white middle-class youth.  This was one of those made for TV moments where the camera would pan away from the speaker, and zoom in on me as my the wow factor coursing through my naive little mind pushed my head back to make my eyes bulge and my chin appear in triplicate. The world was so much bigger and much more full of pain than I had ever cared to realize.

This man….he took on this chopping challenge every day because it’s what he needed to do to support his family of 6 kids..even though daily pay was a pittance, it was the only work available.  And let it be known that this was 16 HOURS!!! 7 DAYS A WEEK!!!! Go to Price Chopper right now and you will see that bananas are only $0.49/lb with most of the profit being siphoned off by middle-men and suppliers.  This man however was not at our induction to beg for money, or to highlight the plight of a farmer.  He exuded pride as he talked about how hard he worked for his end goal of supporting his family.

This man was brought to us to talk about the NHS pillar of character.  He was proud to have this opportunity to provide for those whom he loved. He did not think the job was below him, or reject it because he was clearly intelligent and much more educated than you might think of your typical second-world farm-laborer to be.  But he was willing to do the job that many people simply wrote off as beneath them, or too difficult. As Thomas Edison used to say, “opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”  You see this is the generation that constantly gets a barrage of bad press of being lazy and not caring, but I see the group behind me as the epitome of answering the call to service.  As they can now, may they forever be able to recognize and create opportunities with whatever lies before them. Most importantly, I hope they will not just wait for opportunity to come to them, but to be ambitious enough to seek it out.

Try new things, get a world of experience.  You will learn SOOO much, you will be able to determine what you love and what you need out of life.  Even if you think an opportunity is not up to par with your standards have confidence that the smallest opportunities seized by driven individuals can be built beyond your wildest dreams. Just a generational comparison to think about: My grandparents’ generation had a word for flipping burgers…something that is characterized as low end and meaningless.  They called it “opportunity.” That is what I was taught to do as an NHS member myself, and that’s what I know all these fine young men and women behind me will continue to do.

The pillars of Character, Service, Leadership and Scholarship are not just whirlwind virtues that look good on paper, it is what your peers, a council of your teachers, your school administrators, and your family all know to be the capital “T” truth of what they see in you.  Don’t sell your potential short in all the days from this one to the last.  Right now you are surrounded by people who not only recognize and applaud your accomplishments to this point, but who believe in your potential to the very depths of our core  to make your mark on this world.  Use this moment of being part of an organization that supports excellence to reach out and make a difference to everyone in every way possible.  As you continue on this path, may you always feel the love from all corners of this room and beyond.  Know that wherever you are and wherever you are going, we are proud of you, and we believe in you.

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Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President addresses the Connecticut delegation.

Becky Pringle, NEA Vice President addresses the Connecticut delegation.

NEA Vice President, Becky Pringle set the stage for a successful Friday session by rallying CT educators to “clear the way of the stupid and crazy” and “to pass legislation with it’s original intent.”  With 11 bazillion riders and amendments attached to bills as compromise to pass something through Congress, this point is not lost on citizens of a stalemated government.  We all literally saw where senate copiers go to die in the underground tunnels between office buildings, no doubt a partial product of excessive and unrelated legislation being attached to main bill points.  For us to find our utmost strength, not only do we need to be involved, but “we’ve got to change the brand of our union” according to Pringle.

Friday’s session was the absolute bomb because our group got to see what the NEA actually does, where our dues money actually goes to work.  In fifteen minute round-table sessions, small groups were able to meet with department heads on a rotating basis to dive deeper into the scope and sequence of individual group missions.

NEA Round table representing Oxford, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Putnam

NEA Round table representing Oxford, South Windsor, Waterbury, and Putnam

On the government relations side of things, thirteen people are employed, six of whom are lobbyists trying to sway politicians to pass legislation friendly to public education.  They have a forty-six page government policy book that they say covers “everything.”  While it can’t be found online, citizens can see how friendly their Congressmen are towards education by viewing NEA’s Congressional Report Cards.

One of huge issues facing the 114th Congress is the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Originally enacted under LBJ’s Great Society, it morphed in 2002 into what the country knows as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  For anyone interested in voicing their opinion to help Congress get it right, click here for the link will serve as a conduit for positive contact.

From the NEA, the 4 major “asks” for ESEA are:

  • Move away from exclusively test-based accountability. Schools should be accountable for opportunity gaps, only getting kids over the hump
  • Reduce testing and offer more flexibility in the time frame
  • Divorce high stakes from standardized tests
  • Empower educators

In 2015, how are these things not a reality already?  Before groups could really get into the minutia of it all, time was up and rotation commenced.

At my next table, I couldn’t really restrain my leftover wonder.  If support of education seemed like such a clear cut and responsible mandate, how come we had to dump so much capital into making it a reality?  And by reality, I most clearly mean moving a mountain toward just and equitable opportunities for all.  Luckily I had moved on to speak with Melissa Mayville, Senior Policy/Program Analyst for NEA’s Education Policy and Practice who would help me ponder this question a little deeper.  She was the only other person in the room who was as energetic and enthusiastic as I am; I think I actually cut her off to compliment her on her passion.  I asked her if there are any people on the hill who are considered friends of education, legislators who can be counted on to back laws that promote learning and empower all involved in the process.

Melissa Mayville, will you personally mentor me and pay me a respectable salary to help shape the future of education?

Melissa Mayville, will you personally mentor me and pay me a respectable salary to help shape the future of education?

It was sad to hear that there are people who are thought to be friends, but one can never really be sure.  With all the capital we invest into trying to sway lawmakers onto our side, I asked point blank if it would just make sense  if we had educators who were also lawmakers.  En route to shape educational policy, I wondered if it would be more beneficial for the cause to get my Doctorate in Education or pursue a Law Degree.  While Melissa obviously couldn’t guide me to an answer, I had already found one…I’m going to get both.  These two entities shouldn’t be separate, which I believe the country is starting to understand as UPenn is rolling out a pilot Ed.D/JD dual degree program.  I’ll be seeing you again real soon, DC….ready an office at NEA and Congress…just in case.

Other departments, while they didn’t excite my inner core to the point that government policy did, were still super exciting! It’s good to be amongst the vibrant energy of others who share the same views and are investing action into their cause.

Social Justice Management is a vibrant crew dedicated to the causes of anti-bullying (with special emphasis on LBGT rights) and school to prison pipeline issues.  We spent most of our time talking about awful stories of bullying we have encountered and how social media has played a part.  Curse you, Yik-Yak.

The number of times I have personally said, “I wish I learned that in grad school” vastly outnumber the instances of me saying “I learned that in grad school.” The Department of Organizing offers student programming that gives focus to issues not normally learned in school, such as how to prepare for a sub.  These are all the things needed on a day-to-day basis in education, but not touched upon in college because there is too much course work, field work, and getting students prepared to pass a certification exam.

If the massive time investment isn’t enough to break the back of teaching candidates, the financial investment might be.  Luckily, as our nation moves forward with debt forgiveness programs, once again showing they realize the value of a good education, college is becoming less of a strain on those that pursue degrees.  The NEA is spearheading the “Degrees not debt” program that forgives federal loans after ten years of continual payment.  Not too shabby for a debt that previously followed people into the grave and beyond.

Organizing also includes UniServ which was created in 1971 to get 12,000 staff members into the field.  Most of the action this year will revolve around agency fees, which I now understand because of yesterday’s session.  Boom! . Side note, UniServ reps are paid really well (by teacher’s standards).

Jesse Graytock, Grants Manager from the NEA Foundation was by far the most popular man in the room on Friday because he was telling people how to get free money.  The NEA Foundation offers four main types of grants that have rolling deadlines throughout the year of February 1, June 1, and October 15.

  • Student Achievement Grants: for classroom projects that align with teaching standards up to $2,000
  • Learning and Leadership Grants: funding professional development up to $2,000
  • Group Grants: year long PLC/Research up to $5,000
  • Donors Choose matching: 88% of projects are funded by the NEA

The Student Achievement Grants funding dries up by Halloween, so educators should apply when the money first becomes available in August.  The other grants seem to be under utilized with Jesse just looking to throw money out at people.  Along with this they have instructional videos, tips, and dedicated staff to help prepare grants and secure funding opportunities.  If there is one thing this post causes you to do, it should be to click this link to go the NEA Foundation website.

A group meets with Jesse and learns that getting one grant is the equivalent of three years of dues money.  Your money is hard at work to constantly improve public education.

A group meets with Jesse and learns that getting one grant is the equivalent of three years of dues money. Your money is hard at work to constantly improve public education.

The rest of our time at NEA was devoted to a group activity called “Toxic Testing.” This was a brainstorming session to gather alternative ideas to SBAC.

Some ideas include:

  • e-portfolios to track progress, growth, and proficiency.
  • dipstick testing that gives progress at a glance, but not high stakes
  • revert back to CAPT/CMT
  • Use PSATs

Action steps:

  • Organize/reach out to get parents involved (group consensus was that this was the most important factor)

    Mark and Kerry on the brink of reform.

    Mark and Kerry on the brink of reform.

  • Create talking points to help educators contact their Congressmen.
  • No testing before Grade 3
  • Make calls to Washington
  • Have legislators take SBAC test on Chromebooks
  • Educate families and communities about the financial cost of testing
  • Make another CEA commercial on the topic
  • Hold small community rallies
  • Have 10 minute meetings in every school across the state to engage communities
  • Offer beverages to parents to come have a conversation about the issue
  • Do something at the Capitol to get media attention

As a group of strangers, we descended upon the capitol to learn about about our union and we return home as a tight knit group of empowered educators, ready to rouse some rabble. Watch out, Connecticut, we’re about to make some noise and we’re not using our indoor voices.

 

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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I’m not sure how late people stayed up on Wednesday night enjoying the open bar and light snack reception, but I was excited to take advantage of the hotel pool and workout room in the morning.  There is nothing like a school day that starts off with a bodyweight WOD and a mile long swim for a cash-out as the sun is rising and shining through the all glass enclosure occupied solely by me.  Instead of twenty-eight kids calling my name simultaneously for help on foreign propaganda analysis, this morning I got to just float.

View from the pool onto the Tarmac.

View from the pool onto the Tarmac.

When I made my way back to my room to shower and change, I noticed a line of zombies sifting through a buffet line.  The 147 young men dressed in business casual with heavy eyelids amidst the movable corporate art of a red umbrella gave some clue that an insurance convention was in town.  Hartford being the once famed “Insurance Capital of the World” before it wasn’t cost-effective for insurance companies to headquarter here in large numbers anymore, insurance agents are not hard to find or spot.  I’m not sure if these guys stayed up all night partying, or they just hate their jobs, but they were silent and sloppily methodical moving through line.  I actually felt the misery, wafting through the aroma of bacon grease, encapsulate me as I simply strolled by en route to the elevator.  In that moment, I was happy about two things: 1) I had worked out and had endorphins pumping so I felt really good 2) I was in an active profession where I feel everyday that the work I do matters.  That is not to say insurance agents don’t have that same feeling, I would hope that they do if that is the profession they chose, but I know it’s not for me.  I would be miserable.  Teaching is for my calling; teaching is my passion and purpose.

I'm Brian Germain and I approve most of this message.

I’m Brian Germain and I approve most of this message.

When I had packed up and gone downstairs to our group’s buffet, the energy was palpable.  Bright shining faces were excited about the trip before us and I knew that these were my people.  Maybe it was that teachers are just happy when they get to spend a school day outside of school.  Or maybe everyone was just happy because it was 9am and that is considered “sleeping in” in a profession where we all rise before the sun, most in the 5 o’clock hour.

After a relaxing flight to DC with a row to myself (which would be a theme as I got rooms to myself for the duration of the trip as well…missed bonding opportunities) we dropped bags off at the hotel and went to NEA Headquarters where the building wowed all in attendance.  The entrance was beautiful, the atrium was awe-inspiring, and even the cafeteria food was delicious.  After a quick lunch, we headed to the main boardroom on the second floor and began our day.  We were first greeted by Jim Testerman, past president of Pennsylvania’s Teacher Union and current Senior Director at the NEA Center for Organizing who has been filling that role since November, 2011.  The former 7th grade science teacher set the tone with brief opening remarks that included discussion of pushing agency fees this year.  As the new guy, I didn’t know what he meant, but as it was mentioned several times throughout the weekend, I naturally looked it up so I could have a clue.

From the NEA website, “Such a provision requires that all employees in the particular bargaining unit who are covered by the collective bargaining agreement must pay their “fair share” of dues to the union.

The premise is this: since a negotiated agreement covers all employees in a bargaining unit, and as such the benefits of the collective bargaining agreement and union representation are enjoyed by all employees in the unit, all employees should pay their “fair share” to help defray the costs associated with collective bargaining and union representation.” Source: nea.org

At its most basic, I take this to mean anyone getting union benefits needs to cough up some cash because that is both fair and the union wants more money.  Agency fees were only going to be the start to my confusion as Dave Welker who works in the Campaign and Elections Department led us through a three-hour seminar on Charter Schools.  I knew it was going to be a rough ride after he introduced himself as someone who “works on tracking the bad guys.”  It didn’t take long to decipher the union hatred toward charter schools, or maybe just this man’s hatred of them…I don’t know, I was still confused by the end.

NEA We Educate America

NEA: We Educate America.  The corporate art that was donated and proudly handing in the atrium.

According to the presentation, since 2000, John Walton of the Wal-Mart empire has pumped $1.5mil into charter schools and in the year 2010-2012 private funding for charter schools hit $266.7mil.  At first glance, I don’t see this to be a big shock.  There is overwhelming evidence to say that American public education is hurting really, really badly.  A knowledge based economy, we aren’t and all around the world, other countries are kicking our butts on PISA, TIMMS, and other comparative measures of academic prowess. When things aren’t on a good course, people innovate and experiment, that is human nature.  Think of if our ancestors stuck with dragging and pushing supplies on skids and never invented the wheel.  Trying new things is the namesake of progress and I have always seen charter schools as a way of embodying this human ideology.

Future data presented show 54% of Americans in a 2014 poll believe charter schools were “better” than public schools. One of the main problems appears to be that this is a hit on the union represented public school teacher.  Often times charter schools are skimming the best students off the top of public schools.  With continually added pressure for the strapped public systems to perform, as 1 in 20 students are now enrolled in charter schools, some districts have reported lower test scores as some of their high achieving demographic are pursuing charter options.

Two of my favorite agents for change.

Two of my favorite agents for change.

A main focus of the presentation was that charter associations often have no membership fee required, although it didn’t sound like Dave was actually too concerned with having this in place for the sake of protecting teachers, Dave was a man who followed the dollar signs.  He bashed Newman’s Own for charter school donations and called out several other companies and individuals for funding connections.  He was angry, confusing with his message and lacked a clear call to action which made him generally hard to follow.  I actually wrote in my notes about halfway through that “This guy is working pretty hard to get everyone to drink the Kool-aid, but is actually a very douchey presenter.”  I kept looking around the room to see the head nods of my colleagues which only brought further confusion.  Was this something that I just wasn’t understanding but it clicked for everyone else who was furthermore on board with this guy’s views?

I believe in peer-reviewed science and data, which one of my awesome ex-girlfriends would swoon to hear me say, but we were not presented with any of that.  What we were shown was a graph and a series of convoluted statements packed with bias that insulted our collective intelligence.  For instance, a graph of charter school growth in New England from 2002-2014 showed NY climbing quickly and CT increasing charter schools at a snail’s pace.  The shock that was sold to us was that “CT must take action to stop this from happening” and “New York and Pennsylvania [neither of which are in New England, thus making the chart mislabeled] are flooded with charter schools” and “You should be both shocked and scared by how many charter schools exist.”

To add a little perspective, because I have a Master’s Degree after all and have learned to think for myself:  NY and PA have a higher population and are simply larger than Connecticut, relatively speaking to the statistical world of proportions, they should have more charter schools and also the likelihood to see quicker growth.  Basic economic principles state that the larger the market, the larger the potential for growth. As if no one even bothered to look at the Y-axis, NY is at around 250 charter schools while CT hovers around 20. My best guess with data, is that CT has 1,179 schools so charter schools represent approximately 1.7% of the total.  New York City by itself has around 1,700 schools, but the entire state logs 6,298 according to reliable sources, which means the total percentage of charters is around 4%.  Both are but a drop in a glass of water, but I get the concern.  Even a drop of a toxic substance can do harm and if you can stop someone from introducing toxic substances in the early stages before the point of no return, that is certainly preferable.  But just what is it that makes charter schools so toxic?  The real answer is lack of transparency and public accountability.

As I ponder accountability, the frequency in which others took bathroom breaks increased.  This is what conference fuel looks like.

As I ponder accountability, the frequency in which others took bathroom breaks increased. This is what conference fuel looks like.

After spending considerable time bashing the charter system, its sub-par educators, and Teach for America Fellows, Dave ended his long brainwashing session with advocacy for Charter Teachers to join unions.  As this was completely counterintuitive to the earlier message of killing charter schools, this led me to wonder if the NEA just wants their money.  Is this just an established entity seeking to buyout a startup that threatens their vigor, not so we can utilize their strengths, but so we can pacify and ultimately shut them down?

I get it, charter schools takes funding away from public education, of which I am a part.  Teachers have less protection and they can work their tails off to be fired at any time….just like a normal job.  The opportunity to unionize and protect the rights of educators while advocating for the best routes to student success are vital.  But not all charter schools are built on a bedrock of pure evil.  At the end of the day, I care about what’s best for the kids.  Do some charter schools provide students with opportunities they might not have previously had? Of course they do! Corporate funded charter schools who have big dollars flowing through the front door are scary because they defy regulation.  In an antiquated, faltering system of education we need innovation and I think charter schools can provide a valuable service in it’s pursuit.  As a state and a nation, we can’t just keep doing things the same way and hope to get different or even better results; that is the classic definition of insanity that Confucius coined millennia ago.

Charters shouldn’t be shut down, just come under closer watch and have to follow more stringent regulations.  They can’t have the best of both worlds in keeping selection, donors, profit, and other processes secret while continuing to defy government oversight under the auspices of being “private institutions” and still getting public support and government aid for building, taxes, etc. by saying they are “public institutions.  Fall in line with one of those distinctions, and fall in line with the rules that appropriately accompany said selection.  They must operate in a more responsible manner than they are right now and from what I rotely remember from my 7th grade public education is that “Responsibility is something for which one is accountable.” (Thanks, Mr. DeLucia). The schools need to be accountable to the community they serve and not just investors.  The government must hold these schools accountable to protect the communities they serve.  Don’t shut down charter schools, they are just like kindergartners playing on the playground, they don’t know any boundaries until they are established and enforced.  Arne Duncan, when you read this, maybe think about issuing charter schools a set of common sense rules that will help serve and protect current teachers, learners and posterity.

Towards the end of the seminar’s rant, it appeared other teachers fell into the boat of angry confusion with me.  When the last question of the session asked Dave to clarify what exactly his call to action was, he responded with, “I don’t know, I guess it’s your union and you guys have to figure out what you want to do.” Thanks, Dave.  Keep tracking the “bad guys.”

Eerily empty edifice of the National Education Association, Washington, DC

Eerily empty edifice of the National Education Association, Washington, DC

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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Every year, the Connecticut Education Association takes $489 from my paychecks.  The National Education Association takes $183, and my own local union takes…well I’ve never actually looked into it since the deduction is automatic and I can’t stop it anyway.  I teach units in US History about the importance of unions, workers’ rights and collective bargaining, yet I regarded my own union as a convoluted pyramid scheme I was locked into since there is no “opt-out” option.  How’s that for professional cognitive dissonance? I know they negotiate our contracts, which being the arrogant, invincibility-complex young man that I am, always left me wondering if I could have done a better job striking a deal on my own.  The only other thing I knew about our teacher’s union was that they will provide a lawyer if you either do something bad, or get accused of doing something bad.  As I didn’t ever plan on doing anything wrong or making any enemies that would bring false allegations against me, I felt this money to be unjustly stolen.  Around $800 each year is taken and I have gotten nothing in return.

CEA Orientation Group, 2015. Taken from CEA Facebook page.

CEA Orientation Group, 2015. Taken from CEA Facebook page.

 

The CEA boasts 43,000 active members and 6,000 retired members, who can either pay a lifetime membership fee of $250 or $55 each year.  They also boast 3,000 student members, but I’m not sure what the financial obligation for a college student is.  Overall, this inflates the Hartford cash-cow to $22 million of annually flowing dues money.  Now, rest-assured, every single penny brought in is also spent, as verified by outside CPA firm audits; but what does such a powerful sum of pooled capital really get? How is it put to use? What does it buy?

 Had I been as resourceful as I pride myself in being, I could have just logged onto the CEA website and figured all of this out.

The CEA headquarters across from the Capitol is owned outright by CEA and was built in 1991.  CEA itself is housed on the 5th and top story where membership, media, policy and all of the things one may associate with the union actually go down.  Each floor below it is devoted to its own specific role that is vital to CEA’s mission and a whole 292 parking spaces exist in the convenient underground garage to support the individuals working in this 113,000sq.ft. facility.  All of this is according to Glenn Silva, Director of Technology, Administrative, and Building Operations.  I’m not sure why one job title covers technology and the building, but if it works, it works.

CEA Board Room

CEA Board Room

It is up on the 5th floor where Vinnie Lofredo, Director of Government and Political Relations organizes testimony to be given before the General Assembly.  He showed off his stylish lanyard and tag that all lobbyists are required to wear in conjunction with regulation policies that require they report all money and time spent politically.  I’m absolutely positive these regulations came amid the shady, closed door dealings for which lobbyists are renowned in pop culture.  While many policies that make the legislative agenda through the time and effort of his team seem like they should be common sense initiatives anyway, I recognize I am looking at this from the bias perspective of an educator.  If the existence of lobbying is necessary in this modern day labyrinth of laws, I’m happy to have the gears of the political machine greased by people in my own self-interest.  At least the peculiar organization that is the education lobby is funded by educators as opposed to some sketchy third part conglomerate and maintains wholesome and moral goals.  At the end of the day we are trying to shape laws to benefit all students and provide more equitable learning opportunities.

Of course, political relies on public opinion and a valuable asset to any reform is to win the hearts and minds of the people.  Laurel Killough is the New Media Coordinator/Editorial Assistant for Communications who connects educators and the general public to the issues.  Utilizing tried and true methodologies like the CEA Advisor, coverage of special events and projects, 21st Century media tweets its presence as well.  Social media of all types are leveraged which in part help provide a platform for digital content which go beyond blogs and standard web applications to include sublime videography most recently coming out with this official commercial:

 

The CEA will help local chapters establish a web presence and give tips for growing a platform that will function properly and attract real usage from the membership.  Dave Canales, webmaster and lead designer at CEA has invested three years of coding his golden vision into CEA.org to transform it from an antiquated plop on Google’s baziliionth page of search results for “CEA” to a number one result that offers streamlined and user friendly information diffused through a gorgeous web platform.  The site houses resources that union members want, need, and use. All negotiated contracts are posted on the site, so if members are entering negotiations and want to see what other districts have used for legal language to establish a clause for sabbatical, or class size caps, the previously unavailable information gives teachers negotiating power.  Teachers can see decisions being made in Hartford that will affect them and unite to take courses of action in support or defense of proposed policy.  One other beautiful feature of the webpage is a listing of upcoming sponsored events, many of which the union covers costs for.  Want to learn about racial inequality in education, teaching sexual tolerance, education and the law, or connect with other educators at political events? There’s an event to suite your needs! The webpage is an important tool that unites us as a profession.  Knowledge is power and that’s exactly what the CEA website offers us all.

 

The CEA contract section has tons of valuable resources.  Looking at job postings and wondering what the salary schedule is for certain districts? Look it up at cea.org

The CEA contract section has tons of valuable resources. Looking at job postings and wondering what the salary schedule is for certain districts? Look it up at cea.org

 

Linette Branham, the director of Policy, Research, and Reform took from and center of the CEA boardroom to explain her role in the noble cause of education.  She first warmed us up by saying that there is an “Evaluations” tab on the CEA website to see policy letters that the Governor and other higher-ups send to Superintendents.  I think everyone was pleased to learn of the transparency available and the fact that if we wanted to see initiatives or political information coming down the pipe, we could easily do so.  Loving this option, she next stated that she was in charge of TEAM.  Now her immediate inclination was to go on a jaunt about how superior this program is to BEST, the old system of new teacher training and induction. Being one of the only young bloods around the table, I think I was one of a handful who understood the stressful fury of TEAM, but I also recognized that compared to BEST, this was a cake walk.  I have in fact never, EVER, heard one good thing about BEST, so am thrilled it has been trashed.  As I pondered on the words Linette spoke and thought about my own early education excursions, I realized just how important the program was.  While it was a stressful struggle to be a new teacher and balance the million things a new classroom bombarded me with, I had to research and experiment in the classroom while tracking results, being observed, and log a final report.  The process for 2 years was daunting, but I can honestly say it made me a better educator.  I still use pieces of a token economy I implemented in year one and all of the research in innovation has led me to where I am today: constantly trying new things.  I have flipped my class, gamified learning, and am rolling out Mastery Based Learning and Standards Based Grading next year.  My mentor has continued to be my guide in the district long after the program has finished, and knowing that many educators don’t get the guidance to find current trends in education post-college, I always provide information on that topic at the start of professional development seminars I run.  So, TEAM, to me you are like high school English class.  I hated you at the time, but looking back, I am so fortunate you were there to give me the skills that are contributing to my current success.  Thanks, Linette. Just for fun, if you want to see an unknown draft of my first TEAM paper, you can do that here: Brian’s First TEAM Paper.

The entire fourth floor of CEA’s building is devoted to workman’s compensation, which is a legal matter that my mind has never dwelled on much.  Still this seems like a floor worthy cause, especially as we are first of all a labor union and also looking to include mental impairments in coverage as well. For more information on that, please see the following article: Workers Comp to Cover Mental Impairment

The third floor houses legal counsel.  Everything I gleaned about their operation comes from Chris Hankins, head of that department. From his seven minute synopsis, I could tell this is the type of guy I’d love to have a coffee with; authentically enthusiastic and humorous at the evening hour he spoke with us, his demeanor definitely made him a joy to listen to.  Chris and the two other members of his counsel have a 72 page booklet for distribution called “Teachers and the Law” which they will bring to a PD of the same name if 30 or more educators in the district attend.  He says the 3rd floor is rather empty, but that legal has to have its own floor because when the press comes to cover CEA activity, if they caught crying teachers seeking consultation, it would be bad publicity.  On that topic, Chris says it is their official policy to have a box of tissues in every single room and that “men cry harder than women.” He hit a noticeable number of tangents cursing DCF, so while legalities restrict him from talking about what exactly he sees teachers for, it is not good.  The hierarchy for problem solving in the union goes like this: 3,000 building reps–>157 Union Presidents–>24 Regional UniServ Reps–>3 Counselors.  We were assured that the counselors get involved only after the hierarchy has been exhausted and it is almost certainly a career ending event.  Basically, if you see Chris Hankins come into your school, you’re going to want to talk to him because he’s probably an awesome guy, but you’re also about to have the worst day of your life.

 

Men cry harder than women.

 

The second floor houses the American Federation of Teachers, which I believed was the other “rival” union in the state.  When I worked in New Haven, they represented us and as I learned in orientation, they serve mostly large urban districts.  Apparently in the 1980’s these two unions were poaching each other’s members.  If CEA was perceived to not handle something properly, a teacher from a district where this happened was likely to call AFT who would then rally the district to switch the entity that represents them and the long, expensive tug-of-war with membership would begin.  By the late 80’s the strain had been seen, and for the greater good, both unions called a truce.  They decided to join their powers and collectively bargain with politicians for better schools, better support, and better outcomes.  So while the unions remain two separate entities, they act as friends of a common cause that have united to improve the lives of educators, students, and families which will have an untold ripple effect across our state and nation.

 

Sandy Hook Memorial. It was promised to be built on Capitol property, but was denied for unknown (to me) reasons. It's now housed in the CEA lobby across the street.

Sandy Hook Memorial. It was promised to be built on Capitol property, but was denied for unknown (to me) reasons. It’s now housed in the CEA lobby across the street.

To see the high resolution photo album from the trip, click here: Brian F Germain’s Flickr Account, CEA/NEA Orientation Album

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Various staff members in our building were trying to band together to be Nintendo characters for Halloween this year.  Emails with suggestions were sent out multiple times with people calling dibs on the iconic Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Link, and Donkey Kong (one particularly hairy teacher).  I had things narrowed down to the dog from Duck Hunt or a Nintendo controller that I would craft out of WB Mason paper boxes.  Even though I love group bonding and team building like this, I decided last minute to swim against the current and use a costume I could tie to instruction.  As my US History classes study the Robber Barons and Captains of Industry that shaped big business after the Industrial Revolution, I felt I couldn’t waste an opportunity to make learning come alive as much as possible.

Just two days ago, I was playing devil’s advocate with a student who was writing a persuasive essay trying to prove John D. Rockefeller as a Robber Baron.  As we went back and forth, he finally said, “Why don’t you just go as him for Halloween?”  I thought to myself what a great suggestion that was and immediately committed to it by saying “I WILL!”  It didn’t take much planning as I am just wearing an old suit I got from the Salvation Army for $12, a hat that cost $2 and a golden chain that was $0.25 from a vending machine.  All of these items were previously used when I went to a Titanic theme party on the 100 year anniversary of it’s sinking; since then everything has just been sitting in my closet waiting to be used again.

Dressing up is nothing out of the ordinary for me, as I always go to ridiculous lengths for learning.  Some students notice immediately that I am John D. Rockefeller as I throw quotes around like “The most important thing for a young man is to establish a credit — a reputation, character” and “Try to turn every disaster into an opportunity.”  I stood at my door handing out dimes to every student that walked in.  As a class we had just learned about how Rockefeller was one of the first people to hire a PR agent to cast a favorable light of public opinion upon himself.  One of the first suggestions this man gave was that Rockefeller carry around dimes in his pocket and hand them out to every kid he saw in the streets every single day.  Rockefeller did this and his popularity skyrocketed.  The equivalent today would be if someone walked around and handed out $2.27 to every child they saw.  What kid would not like that?  It was good review for my students who had already mastered the study of this business tycoon.  It was good reteaching for my students who had forgotten a bit and needed a refresher.  It was a good first glimpse at the material for my students who are habitually absent or hard to reach by traditional means, but were more alert and interested because today is Halloween.

Rockefeller_Halloween_Text

The best part about the day is teaching people I don’t have in class.  Everyone is curious about costumes and wants to know 1) What people are dressed up as 2) Why they chose that particular costume.  The guesses got hurlded at me like pumpkins out of a trebuchet (http://science.discovery.com/tv-shows/punkin-chunkin/videos/punkin-chunkin-trebuchets.htm) as I walked through the halls this morning.  “Al Capone” “Dick Tracy” “Frank Sinatra” were all good guesses, but not quite on the mark.  Sure, I could just tell people and make them happy, but I have just accomplished the goal that every good teacher tries to reach daily- I got people interested.  I succeeded in building hype and anticipation, people were yearning for an answer.  Instead of an answer, I gave clues and let motivation and the power of self interest inquiry do the rest.  I told people I was the richest man in American History (possibly even world history, although some dispute Rockefeller to actually be at #2 there).  I said I was the biggest oil tycoon who has ever lived.  I dropped quotes, handed out dimes, and left the conversation just when I knew people’s interest was piqued enough where they would actually search out the answer.  Let’s be clear here…this was not just with students, but staff as well.  So sure, I could have pulled off an awesome costume like this http://i.imgur.com/hUIBq.jpg, but instead I chose one that would have more impact.

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