Parents and students are the most important allies that teachers’ unions must embrace to secure a strong contract and better education for children.
Families see a site for just the few years that children attend a school, and many misunderstand the gradual return of some staff over the past few years as improvement, without seeing the net loss over the longer term. We still have not returned to pre-2013 levels of funding and staffing, and we cannot allow the lingering “Doomsday Budget” to become the “new normal.”
Parents need the constant reminder that educators’ working conditions are their children’s learning conditions, and once a year we have the opportunity to build solidarity with thousands of families across the city: Back To School Night!
So... Get A Rally Going At Your Back To School Night!
For the past two years, staff at several schools have hit the pavement with signs, flyers, chalk, and political theater before BTSN with a great response from parents and the press. We need to take our message city-wide this year! It will look different at every school, but here are some tips:
- Mobilize your comrades on staff to take action. Here’s a sample mailbox flyer to download and edit.
- Stage your rally immediately before your official BTSN start time when parents are arriving.
- Build solidarity with your parents by contacting your Home & School Association or key parent leaders in advance and ask for their support in raising awareness. Invite parents to come early and join educators outside the school before the official BTSN begins.
- Get the real numbers affecting your school, and don’t just include your pay and benefits. Be sure to highlight the direct impact that cuts and freezes have on kids: Larger class-sizes, lost programs, no library, fewer counselors, part-time nurse, old textbooks, broken furniture, dirty classrooms, deferred maintenance, no NTA’s, cuts in total budget, cuts in per-pupil spending. Ask your principal for some of these numbers.
- Make a leaflet to hand out. Include those numbers, and links for families to get involved in the struggle! Here’s an example leaflet you can copy.
- Turn that leaflet into a press release and send it out. Example press release
- Make signs that parents and students can relate to.
- Sidewalk chalk your messages near the entrance.
- Translate materials into the languages that your families speak.
- Create theater and symbolic displays that drive home the impact of cuts. In the past, staff have brought out student desks to show what a 59-student classroom looks like, set up displays of battered old textbooks, staged a bookselling of Driven By Data books, and collected supply donations from parents.
- Make a What’s NOT Back To School banner
- If your principal is sympathetic, ask her to join you, and see if some staff can remain outside for a short time after the start of BTSN, and plan for some parents to stay outside to continue the message.
- Take Photos and share your action
- Once inside, continue the conversation as much as possible. Add a slide to your back to school night presentation about how budget cuts are affecting your school this year.
The beginning of the school year is very busy, but colleagues working together can pull together a successful rally very quickly. Central teacher KD Davenport describes how she turned an idea into a hugely successful rally in just a matter of days:
I got an immediate positive response from my colleagues. People were amazing about contributing their gifts: One creative colleague suggested that we line up 59 desks to represent the number of students in an Algebra class; another put together a flier of facts and figures; still others translated that flier into Spanish and Chinese. Once we had a flyer made up, we adapted it into a press
release and sent out a blast via email and Twitter to the media. Word quickly spread and on Back To School Night we were joined by reporters and photographers from NBC 10, ABC 6, The Inquirer, and WHYY Newsworks.
Our PFT building committee was incredibly supportive and publicized the event to the entire staff. Our administration was also on board. Our principal came outside and spoke to the press, and we even got our Alumni and Home and School associations involved. Helen Gym showed up, as did Jerry Jordan. And we did it all in a matter of days!
Go and do it!