Remarks as prepared
Good morning members of the Unit Five Education Association.
Good morning members of the School Board and Administration.
Good morning other members of the Unit 5 family.
Those of you who have been here a while and have heard me speak — either here, publicly, or somewhere else less formally — know that there are two things that frequently come out of my mouth:
Swears and politics.
I am going to promise you all TWO things today:
1. I will not say politics.
2. I will not swear.
And, those of you that have spent ANY time with me know that I will be struggling to keep both of those promises with equal difficulty.
I began my tenure as the proud president of the Unit Five Education Association about three years ago today, and I am starting my fourth and final year as the president fearless, proud and with the resolve of a public education warrior.
Today, I challenge each of you to commit to the following with me:
Be a warrior.
I want to encourage all of us by returning to some of my words from 2014’s opening day speech, and by sharing some of your words that many of you shared with me on Facebook the past couple of weeks after I invited your thoughts and feedback.
Back in 2014, I stood up here and told you “public speaking is not one of my true gifts”.
It still isn’t.
The truth is, I still get nervous every single time I have to address you all, though I do my best to not let it show. If you want digital proof of how nervous I get, all you have to do is watch one of the bargaining update videos on the UFEA website, UFEA.org. I mean seriously, watch my facial expressions.
But don’t worry, the past updates are not the only bits of comedic gold you’ll be getting from me this year.
This spring we will begin bargaining our new contract and I’ll be making those updates again. And while I know my delivery is good for a laugh, it is important that all of us stay informed. Please watch!
When we negotiate this spring, together, we will work to ensure an even better working environment for all of our members, because we understand that our working environment is our students’ learning environment. And when we negotiate we keep our students’ well-being at the forefront of our labor.
We must be fearless in our pursuit of a fair contract, a negotiated agreement that benefits us, our community, and our students. We cannot, do not, and will not let fear be a part of our negotiations. Nor will we let fear be a part of our daily work. Fear can have no place within these walls, because allowing fear to walk these halls means fear becomes part of our students’ education. Our mission, educating children, is too important to be ruled by fear.
This morning, I say to each of you, be fearless. This work we do is hard. But this work we do is good. And important.
A few weeks ago I asked via Facebook, “As we get ready for school, what’s on your mind?” I got a good number of responses and a few themes started to emerge.
- We are anxious about technology.
- We are anxious about setting up classrooms.
- We are anxious about class sizes.
- We are anxious about finding job sites for our students.
- We are anxious about a state that continues to try to function without a budget, or at least without funding for schools.
Yet, while we express or internalize our anxiety, we do not let these anxieties stop us from doing the great work of educating children.
- We go to our classrooms and we check on our computers.
- We organize our work spaces, the places in which students learn.
- We prepare our classroom and our curriculum for each and every one of our students.
- We contact local businesses about partnerships for our students.
- We call our legislators and tell them to pass Senate Bill 1 and appropriate funding for schools in a fair manner, instead of using an outdated formula which hasn’t been addressed since 1997. Remember 1997? Coincidentally, that’s the year I graduated high school. And if costs had not risen, we would still be gassing our cars up for less than a dollar a gallon. Do you remember those days?
We move forward each day because we must be fearless in fulfilling our promise to students. The students and the community must know that despite our personal, and collective, anxiety all children are entitled to a free high quality public education regardless of where they live, and we are committed to providing it to the very best of our ability.
It’s what we do. Faithfully. And without fear.
In 2014, I also told you, “I have been both eager for this moment and dreaded it.”
That is still true. We don’t get together all that much.
There are over 900 of us in the Unit Five Education Association. And in this room, at this moment, only half our union is gathered. That’s a lot of seats to fill, a lot of people to please, and a lot of eyes,
That’s also a lot of opportunity.
See, that’s where the sense of eagerness and dread come from. This moment is an important one. It is a moment of unity. And of purpose.
We are all gathered with one singular mission:
We gotta be ready for those kids when they walk in that door tomorrow.
There are going to be approximately 13,000 students getting on buses and walking into classrooms.
That’s a lot of students for only 926 educators.
And these kids, they’ve been on break for nearly three months.
They’ve been playing with fidget spinners. They have been going to the bathroom whenever they felt like it.
And so have we. But, that’s over.
They’ve been texting, snapping, insta-face-tweeting their friends and they have been doing it all day long.
And for the next 9 months, for the next 180 days, we are going to try to convince them that those things that we have to say, those lessons that we have to teach, those assessments that we are going to administer,
those are more important than literally EVERY other thing that they would rather be doing.
And you know what?
I have EVERY single confidence that we will do it. In fact, I know that we will not only do it, but we will do it well.
I spent a little time perusing the state report card for Unit 5. I want to share some facts. Not the alternative kind. Some real, true facts. Ya’ll remember those? Yeah, these are some facts from the most recent published school report card.
We exceed State averages in:
- PARCC results
- Freshman on track to graduate
- Graduation rates (and that’s five years running)
- ACT scores
- College enrollment
- The number of days in a week a student has PE
- Retention of teachers
And one other tiny important detail, we exceed the state average in class size. And we have exceeded the state average class size 3 years running. In fact, last year we exceeded the state average by five students.
We are only behind the State average in a few areas:
- Students needing remediation in college
- Attendance days
- Per pupil spending
All of these facts tell me that we do MORE for MORE students.
And we do it more efficiently, we do it better, and we do it with less and for less than the average educator here in the state of Illinois.
So, do not let anyone tell you that you are less than excellent.
And speaking of Excellent, in 2014 I told you about a little misquote of Charlotte Danielson. “Excellence is a place you visit, not a place you live.” Well I have something to share with you. Last year, 550 of us received summative ratings on our evaluations. Of the 550, more than 80% received an Excellent summative rating. That’s because we don’t visit excellence. We moved in. And we built a subdivision.
Statistics like that, real TRUE facts, these facts tell us that we are doing well.
Evaluation is no longer just an opinion. It is based on EVIDENCE, concrete facts, from observations. Done by humans. But that is not enough. Nope. Our excellence in ALSO directly tied to our students’ learning.
There are some that would have us believe alternative facts. They would have us believe that our public schools are failing. They would have us believe that our students are not learning. They would have us believe that we are NOT doing a good enough job. And to them we say, look at the data.
- Our 23 public schools in Unit 5 are doing well.
- Our teachers are excellent.
- Our students are learning.
And we got the data to back it up.
UFEA, we are proud of the work that we do and I am proud that in one year I will be returning to that work.
It’s good work. It’s important work. In fact, I think it is the most important work in the world and I know that you believe the same thing.
For this good work, we can be proud.
We can be proud when we meet every one of our new students exactly where they are.
We can be proud when we work to set up our classrooms, when we plan our lessons, when we reflect on our progress, when we make our copies, and when we grade our papers.
We can be proud when we meet our students’ parents and get to share everything that their children are learning in our classes and answer every single one of their questions.
We can be proud because our work is important, our work is good, and we do our work well.
UFEA, be proud.
But members, being fearless, and being proud is not enough. In 2014, I quoted P Diddy and reminded us, “Vote or die”.
That is still true.
Public education is under attack. We are under attack. We have to be engaged with those who make decisions for PUBLIC schools.
There is a quote that I think people often get wrong. I have heard people say, “Those who can, do, those who can’t, teach.” I believe that these people have it wrong and I looked it up on Google, so you know what I am going to say has gotta be true. Here’s the quote I found, the quote that I prefer:
“Those who can, teach, those who can’t, move to Springfield and pass laws about teaching.”
Let that sink in.
We cannot fight among ourselves nor be pitted against one another by polarizing partisanship.
We must instead be united as public school warriors fighting for the children that we serve EVERY … Day.
We have to be warriors.
Warriors for our classrooms.
Warriors for our profession.
Warriors for our students.
Warriors for our communities.
As a public school warrior, this morning is bittersweet for me. This is the last time that I know I will be addressing all of you on opening day. Some of you might believe that this means that my time as an activist and public school warrior is ending.
It is not.
This is the last year in my term as president of the Unit Five Education Association, but I am not going anywhere. Next year, I will return to the important work of teaching. I could not be prouder nor less afraid.
While I will no longer be serving as a public school warrior who happens to be the president of our union, I also serve as a public school warrior on the board of directors for the Illinois Education Association, as well as the National Education Association. And I have every intention of staying an active, engaged part of UFEA.
Ending my term as UFEA president will not stop my activism as a public school warrior.
I will continue to be a proud, fearless public school warrior because:
- I believe that in public schools we stand on the front lines combating generational wealth inequality and institutional racism.
- I believe that public schools are the single most stable factor in the lives of far too many children.
- I believe that public schools provide ALL children to a free high quality education regardless of their zip code.
- I believe that from Carlock to Benjamin, from Towanda to Fox Creek, from Cedar Ridge to Hudson, from Community to West and at Every. Single. School in between, the educators of the Unit Five Education Association believe these same basic truths.
And I believe that we will not stop standing up for children until the threat of privatization and charterization has ended.
We will not stop standing up for children until all schools are adequately, equitably and fairly funded. We will not stop standing up for children until our students are viewed as people and not data points. We will not stop standing up for children until we are allowed to teach more and test less.
That my brothers and sisters is why WE MUST ALL BE PUBLIC SCHOOL WARRIORS.
We live in a state that tries to pit school district against school district through unfair funding mechanisms. We have a Legislature and Leaders who refuse to make hard choices, to compromise, or to pass a bill that would fairly appropriate funds for all schools. At the same time, they mandate that we test, test, test and PAY textbook corporations to tell us what we already know, that students are learning. We live in a democracy in which the Nation’s highest public school official would like to see public dollars funneled into private unaccountable institutions under the guise of school choice.
We are too proud of the work that we do to let this happen.
We MUST stand up as FEARLESS PUBLIC school WARRIORS committed to ensuring that EVERY single child receives a free high quality public education, regardless of their zip code. We must stand up, take action, and use our collective voice to help overcome student achievement gaps that exist not because of ability but largely because of poverty and inequality.
We will not do this alone.
We will stand together and we will do this together.
In this room we are gathered as committed public school warriors, fearless and proud.
Will you please recognize with me a few public school warriors as they stand?
- We have public school warriors serving as UFEA officers: Vice President Lindsey Dickinson, Secretary Tracy Freeman, and Treasurer Rebekah Spears.
- We have public school warriors who have previously served as officers.
- We have public school warriors who serve and have served on the executive committee of our union.
- We have public school warriors elected to the representative council of our union.
- We have public school warriors who have served as representatives in the past.
- We have public school warriors who serve on countless district and union committees.
- We have public school warriors who buy school supplies for our students who cannot afford them.
- We have public school warriors who come to school early and stay late.We have public school warriors who take school work home.
- We have public school warriors who worry about the students in our classrooms.
- We have public school warriors who listen to students cry and who heal their wounds.
- We have public school warriors who do this good, important work because it is our calling and our career, it is our livelihood and it is what we love.
- We have public school warriors who don’t do this work to get rich, but who deserve to be compensated excellently for the excellent work we do.
WE HAVE ALL THE MEMBERS OF THE UNIT FIVE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION!
926 Public School WARRIORS FEARLESS AND PROUD!!!
I am a warrior, you are a warrior.
Every. Single. One of us is a fearless, proud, public school warrior standing for our students, our communities and standing for PUBLIC education.
We are the Unit Five Education Association.
Brothers and Sisters in 2017,