Tired of attacks on education? Sound off at the voting booth

Tales from the Front Lines

I was derelict in my duties to write last year.  It wasn’t by choice though.

While at the NEA Representative Assembly this year I was out to dinner with some friends.  They were ribbing me about not having written much last year.  I shot back with, “It’s my subtle protest against the state right now. I’m not writing until they pass a budget.”

Little did I know that statement wasn’t a joke, it was frighteningly accurate.

Going into last school year, my association had overwhelmingly voted down a tentative agreement we had reached with the board. We started the year still negotiating. We reached another agreement, but that too was voted down. Eventually, we reached an agreement in November. Third time’s a charm, I guess.

However, there was a reason we struggled so much. It wasn’t due to unreasonable demands by our school board. It was due to the uncertainty of the state and not knowing what our finances would be moving forward.

Throughout the entire process, the lack of stability in the state made both sides made an already difficult job border on impossible.

When will there be a budget?  What about pension cost shift?  What about a property tax freeze?  What if they change the funding formula?  Illinois is already ranked 50th in how much money the state gives schools, what if the proration is larger?

It’s impossible to understate how much impact these unanswered questions had on my district.

Luckily, through collaboration and an inward look at how my association communicates, we were able to come to an agreement and move forward. In doing so, we had to find a way to not only ride the wave of change we had embraced to pass the contract, but also to find a way to move the 10 months’ work we put on hold during negotiations back on the front burner.

Both sides never truly felt they could get their legs under them coming out of that experience, which brings us to today.

I have become fairly adept at not being surprised at anything politicians and the pubic say about teachers. Sadly, too many of us in this profession have reached this point.

In July of this year, during the Republican National Convention, one of the Republican presidential candidate’s sons compared teachers to Soviet era Communists.  The day after, emails became public in which our illustrious governor claimed that half of all Chicago Public Schools teachers were virtually illiterate.

In an era when taking shots at teachers is essentially a national sport, these ones really stuck in my craw due to the timing and the stage on which they took place.

Attacks on public school teachers have reached the frequency where most of us have become numb. However, these last two resonated with me due to the fact that they were unfounded hyperbolic rhetoric from a family member of the possible leader of our country (I almost threw up saying that), and the “leader” of our state.

While I wish these people’s words meant nothing; it isn’t true. They mean more than anything most of us can comprehend. This ridiculous rhetoric fuels a narrative that continues to plague us. However, we are not helpless against it.

We have people. We care about kids. We can vote.

This is precisely why we need to be ready this fall. This country is about as polarized as any of has seen and this isn’t a time when we can afford to let us become collateral damage in this fight.

MerriamWebster.com defines union as, “An act of joining two or more things together.” We are more than two “things.” We are more than 130,000 “things.”

It is contingent upon us to show up and vote for people who can make a positive difference for our students and for public education.

When NEA and IEA endorse candidates, it’s after NEA and IEA members get the chance to ask political candidates questions. Members get to speak with candidates and ask them where they stand on the issues that face our students, our public schools, and our teachers.

These recommendations aren’t made lightly. There is much debate and discussion as to which candidates are best to make our public schools stronger. These recommendations involve grassroots political activists, local presidents, NEA directors, and multiple other layers of leadership.

We need to back candidates that have our back at the polls. As we watch the debacle going on with education in the State of Illinois right now, let’s remember that we don’t have the deep pockets that our opponents have, but we have something they don’t.

We have people.

This fall, pay attention to who IEA endorses. Pay attention to who NEA endorses. If we don’t fight for our rights, no one will.

Greek philosopher Pericles once said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics, doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”  This gets more and more true every day.

This fall, IEA will be asking for people to help us mobilize our members to vote for people who will protect our most vulnerable citizens: our children. We need to be ready to answer the call. We need to be ready to advocate. We need to be ready to act.

We have slightly more than two months left before the general election. It’s time to make our voice heard.

Register. Advocate. Vote.

As always, I love to read your comments and love to hear feedback. Please be sure to leave feedback in the comments below.

Paul Gamboa is a teacher leader in Indian Prairie School District 204 and an IEA member. You can follow him on Twitter at @paulgamboa.