Keeping My Contract on Halloween

By Anissa Weinraub

For the past couple weeks, my school has been buzzing with buildup to Halloween.  It is a tradition at the Academy @ Palumbo to host a "Parade of Horrors" -- where students get a chance to strut in front of their peers (i.e. the ENTIRE student body) in their costumes and compete for prizes.  And they got into it today -- in terms of the creativity and playfulness of the costumed contestants, as well as the extreme positivity and support pouring from the audience of their peers.  In what may seem like an anomaly from the usual depiction of Philly teenagers, this morning our auditorium was filled with hundreds of screaming youth, all focused on celebrating one another.   

It was incredible to witness this type of positive and loving school culture -- built by a school staff who work tirelessly to create opportunities like these for our students to feel special, engaged, and part of a community. 
As a little bonus, all of us teachers dressed up thematically as musicians from the 1990s. Four of my colleagues and I decided to whip up a little "Girl Power" of the Spice Girls.  Other amazing cameos were made by the Beastie Boys, TLC, Aaliyah, and Lisa Loeb, among others. 
In a school district where I feel constantly cast as "the enemy" and where, many days of my week, I feel like I have to mount a war with politicians just to continue doing my job, it was incredible to be laughing alongside my students today as we built a more cohesive school culture.  And then to go back to class (in a red wig) and work on helping them write better thesis statements.  
Today, I was #KeepingMyContract.  Just like countless colleagues of mine across the city who work everyday to meet our students' social, emotional, and academic needs.  

Convention Preview: Social Justice Unionism

In advance of our first annual convention on Saturday, November 8th, we're previewing some of the day's sessions on our blog. This preview comes from Amy Roat, who works at Feltonville School of Arts and Sciences and will be leading the session on Social Justice Unionism.

Many teachers consider themselves committed to social justice in their classrooms, but don't connect that to their Amy_Roat.jpgunion. Why do these two things go together?

Simply put, our working conditions are children's learning conditions.  I know people, especially teachers, tend to be squeamish about publicly voicing their needs and  rights because it may be perceived as selfish or self-serving.  Teachers are sensitive to public opinion because we are human, but also because we have been mocked and blamed for the last ten years from many sides.  It is humiliating, and I think good teachers fear the inevitable cat-calls and jeers of the "reformers" and their supporters. We are a tough group of teachers in Philly, but we are not immune to the onslaught of criticism. It hurts.

You've been quoted by practically every news publication in Philadelphia, and the New York Times, too. Many people are in awe of your work, but might feel intimidated by all that you do. Can you describe what the first steps are to becoming a more outspoken union member?

A year ago in August, PFT Communications Director George Jackson called me a few days before school. Our local Fox News was looking for a regular teacher to speak about the tragic cuts we were facing in 2014.  I was recommended by my staffer who had to listen to a lot of my views at the monthly Building Rep Meetings.  I was terrified of sounding dumb and nearly balked.  George had a PR guy call to prep me and talk me into it. after we talked for a bit he said, "Hey, you're the expert, you know what you're saying and you sound knowledgeable and sincere.  You can do it."  

After a protracted wardrobe consultation with my sister and a pep talk from my husband and brother, I was at Fox studios early in the am. You know what? They told me the same thing before I went on air. "You are the expert.  Tell us what you know. Be yourself."  The interview went well, and here I am today.  This is what I would say to teachers who want to speak out - be it at a Chapter Meeting, to a reporter, or at an SRC Meeting - "You are the expert. Tell them what your know. Be yourself. (And wear a solid color if you are going on television.)

Based on your experience, what's one change that you think people should make to improve how their union operates in their building?

The teachers in my school are friends - We go to happy hour. We eat cake when someone has a birthday. We have a shower if someone gets married or has a baby. If someone is sick, we ask after them. If someone needs a ride, we drive them. This is how we build our relationships and our school-based union. We actively include new members. They become family.

When there is discord, peace-makers step up.  It is a labor, but it is a labor of love.

Change the way you think about THE union. The union is not just the people who work on Chestnut Street. We are the union. The teachers in this school. We meet monthly, including, secretaries, counselors, paras and the nurse. We talk to the principal as a Building Committee about our mutual concerns and possible solutions. We develop our own game plan for pickets or actions. Together. No one on Chestnut Street needs to tell us what, when, why or how we do it. We are professional,  we do it all together because we are THE union!


Amy is just one of many Caucus members who will be sharing her wisdom and skills at the convention. Register now and learn more from her on November 8th!


The Caucus Guide to Getting Out The Vote

Educators are hard at work at creating plans for how they can help with Get Out The Vote (GOTV) efforts on Election Day. Here are some helpful tips for PFT Members and our community partners:
The Week Before Election Day:
  • Early in the week, talk with your colleagues about how your school can GOTV in your community! Discuss quick points of interest to tell families about what resources have been missing from your school, what is needed, and how voting can help public education and democracy in our city.
  • Make plans for a neighborhood canvass around your building any day before election day.
  • On Wednesday, 10/29, help PCAPS complete their "voter pledge card" campaign by helping them stamp and mail postcards to Philadelphia voters at the Fight for Philly office (846 N. Broad Street)
  • On Thursday, 10/30, participate in a phone bank with PFT members.
  • On Friday, 10/31, hold a special edition of Full Funding Friday urging parents, families, and passersby to GOTV! 
  • Take a moment to do a teach-in with your kids on the importance of voting. Send a letter home encouraging parents to continue the lesson by taking their kids with them to vote on the big day!
  • If you want to do some direct work on your own time, contact Wolf for PA's Regional Director in Philadelphia, Stephen Ekema-Agbaw at [email protected] or call at  570-854-0499 to coordinate plans with the Wolf Campaign.
The Last Four Days of the Campaign: 
The #1 goal for the Wolf For PA campaign is to have as many volunteers as possible to KNOCK ON DOORS!  This is crucial in the all important last four days!  The PFT is hosting one at Lincoln High School on Saturday Nov. 1st -- sign up here to volunteer.
On Election Day:
The Wolf campaign will be hosting Get Out the Vote Door Knocking for unlikely voters at the below locations. There are shifts from 9am-12pm, 12pm-3pm, 3pm-6pm, and 6pm-8pm. Show up at any time to help with canvassing or phone banking.
NE Philly
8566 Bustleton Ave
NW Philly (Germantown)
5537 Germantown Ave
and 5730 Greene St.
South Philly
Sheet Metal Workers Local 19
1301 Columbus Blvd
West Philly
4153 Lancaster Ave
And even if you can't help GOTV:
  • VOTE! Do everything you can to make sure everyone else votes too! Organize and take action! 
  • Post pictures in your WE & PFT shirts! Use the hashtags #WeVoteAskUs and #PFTGOTV
  • If you are not taking a personal day to work the polls, you can still get out during your lunch hour or after school and encourage people to vote.

This post will be continually updated with more opportunities and staging areas. Check back soon! Once again, it is vitally important that people get out there and KNOCK ON DOORS!


Caucus Members Discuss "A Love Supreme"

Check out this amazing commentary from African-American male educators in Philly -- including Caucus members Brendon Jobs and Sam Reed -- and remember that Philadelphia educators remain caring, thoughtful, and innovative despite the attacks on our work and our livelihood.



SRC Testimony: Diane Payne

I am speaking today to Stand Up For The Truth!  This Commission took an unprecedented action in a deceitful manner and with the support of this whole body.  It was most disturbing that the newest member, Mrs. Neff, was in full cahoots with this plan since a lot of people viewed her appointment with hope.  That hope was dashed on Monday when Mrs. Neff joined Mrs. Simms as silenced speakers of truth.  Ms. Simms' audacious comment “We have to stop playing games with children”  would have been laughable except for the harm it causes. The largest players of a game are sitting right here in front of us and in Harrisburg, Mrs. Simms.

I am picking one truth to talk about today.  The truth that what the SRC did on Monday is only a piece of a bigger plan that has been in place for 13 years and is succeeding amazingly well.  That truth is close down public education and hand it over to private, corporate interests.  Accomplish that mission by asserting that public education is failing.

Doc. Hite was a graduate of the Broad Superintendents Academy.  This Academy is funded by billionaire Eli Broad, who is a member of the 1%.  Eli Broad is one of an influential group of billionaires who believe they can control the landscape of education for their own profit, benefit and ideology.  The method they use is simple.  Control the dialogue!!  Put out the sound bites of what sounds reasonable and wrap those sound bites, slogans and messages in myths and lies.  Get mainstream media to print it, politicians to support it (because they bankroll the politicians)…then implement policy.

Dr. Hite, this commission and a large number of our politicians are implementing the policies that support the ideology of the Broad Academy.

*Slash and burn public schools and open charters in the name of choice

*Attack and attempt to weaken unions

*Strangle budgets to help the illusion of schools failing and make it easier to promote your slash and burn policy

*Implement the business model of chaos and disruption

*Introduce high stakes testing and tie it to school and teacher evaluation and high school graduation

*Force Common Core Standards onto schools, standards that are mired in controversy and debate

*Enlist TFA recruits who enter the classroom with 5 weeks of training and who rarely stay in the profession for more than a few years in place of fully accredited, qualified, dedicated teachers

Here’s the thing about all of these policies - they are built on the premise that public schools are failing....our public schools are not failing!!  Zip codes are failing.  This commission does not use evidence or research…here are just a few respected authors that refute your policies with evidence and research.  But, hey, that is not the dialogue that will allow you to pillage and plunder our schools and neighborhoods. Our urban schools are a reflection of the larger problems in our society and deserve unfailing support in every sense of the word and honest dialogue about ways to improve that are carried on with educators and community members AT THE TABLE. 


SRC Testimony: Jesse Gottschalk

On Thursday, October 16th, ten members of the Caucus testified before the SRC. This week we will be posting some of their testimonies in written form.



My name is Jesse Gottschalk, and I am a 3rd grade teacher at Henry Lea Elementary, a PFT member, and a member of the Caucus of Working Educators.


And when I tell people that I’m a teacher in a Philadelphia public school, people respond with wide eyes. They treat it like such an immense challenge and sacrifice, that I start to wonder. What does it mean that one of the most important careers in the world is now considered so impossible in this city that people think you have to be some kind of martyr to do this?


And the sad part is, I can’t say they’re wrong. In order to do my job, I’ve already spent $1,000 out of pocket on this school year, and I consider it an easy day if I work for less than 10 hours. I’ve not had a lot of easy days. And meeting teachers across the District, I see that that is not an exception, that this kind of work is the norm, because with as little support as we get, it becomes impossible to do our jobs without that level of commitment. And I’m a new teacher, so I haven’t had to deal with frozen wages or unsupported graduate expenses like my colleagues.


We all say that our schools are in crisis. We are in crisis. And to the SRC, I say that I know that you did not create this crisis. We all know that. But as teachers, we say that you should be standing beside us. And to take the unprecedented step of backing out of negotiations…cancelling our contract…in a secret meeting? And then to stand by while your allies go on the airwaves – and you yourselves join them! – to call us the enemy? Saying we are not sharing in the sacrifice? It’s shameful. It’s tragic.


Furthermore – setting aside the fact that our Union has already said it is willing to negotiate on benefits, may I just say: Dr. Hite called this "sharing in the sacrifice as we’re trying to navigate tough fiscal times," but let me be clear. This is not just about “tough fiscal times.” Teachers unions are perhaps the most publicly vilified professional group in the country -- any sacrifices made in "tough fiscal times" will NOT be restored when times get better. And we all know this to be true.


One of the most profound honors of being a teacher is getting to work alongside colleagues who are some of the most selfless, dedicated, intelligent people I have ever met. Teachers sacrifice every day to keep our contracts with our students. But our contract with you can be erased – just like that? What message does that send to our students? What message does that send about our city? I’m ashamed of this body’s actions. How can YOU not be?


SRC Testimony: Tamara Anderson

On Thursday, October 16th, ten members of the Caucus testified before the SRC. This week we will be posting some of their testimonies in written form.

I am a parent of an 8th grader and a community member of the Caucus of Working Educators, Alliance of Philadelphia Public Schools and Opt-Out Philly. I am very aware that the budget crisis in Philadelphia is a symptom of no full fair funding formula and years of fewer and fewer dollars being sent to this county and the entire state. Then I heard the news last Monday, that the SRC unanimously voted in favor of a cancelled contract without any input from the PFT and hid the announcement for the meeting in a clandestine manner in the back of a newspaper. And I realized that the problems of funding public education is not just a Harrisburg problem, it is right here at 440 North Broad Street too.

This latest and lowest act is a blow to our morale, our dignity, and overall trust. The last time I checked every union in this city (no matter the outcome) was given the opportunity to talk, haggle, and talk some more until a consensus was met. And if this can happen in one of the largest school districts in the country than it can happen anywhere, and it will become a place that repels new talent and will further the divide that discourages teachers of color from joining the work force. And since fairness and legality has been thrown out of the window altogether they may not even have to be recruited and hired in the first place, but I digress.

This house has been burning for a very long time. But, Monday symbolized the complete ashes and ruin that public education has been eroded to by corporate interests, racists and unequal policies, and simple stupidity.

Fortunately for the children of Philadelphia there is a phoenix attempting to rise from the ashes in the form of its citizens. Citizens who are no longer willing to be bamboozled and led astray. Citizens who are willing to fight and return this city back to an even better place by reforming and reinstating democratically elected local control. Citizens who are willing to see this entity erased!


Convention Keynoter Speaks out about Philadelphia

yohuru-williams-200.jpgOn Saturday, November 8th, The Caucus of Working Educators will be hosting their first annual convention.

One of the many reasons to join us on that day: keynote speaker Yohuru Williams, who recently wrote about the situation in Philadelphia for the LA Progressive. Here's a taste of his analysis:

In spite of Commonwealth Foundation and various other entities efforts to paint teachers as the bad guys, a poll conducted by the Pew Charitable Trusts in September of 2013 found that 31 percent of residents placed responsibility for the crisis in the Philadelphia School District on the Republican-controlled state legislature and Governor. Another 31 percent blamed the Democratic Mayor and City Council and 21 percent blamed school administrators and the state-controlled State Reform Commission. Only 11 percent of those surveyed held the union or teachers responsible.

This is ultimately why the Commonwealth Foundation likely felt the need to hire counter protesters. The fact that they were willing to go to this extreme was of little surprise to Philadelphia teachers. They know that much of the drama in the city has been orchestrated by shadowy behind-the-scenes organizations, with popular sounding names, but funded by billionaires who have been very clear about the agenda to destroy the teachers union on their road to dismantling the public schools. Their broad reach extends through state and local politics and knows no party bounds. Both Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, a Democrat, and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, have received support from them — apparently in exchange for supporting the corporate education reform agenda including privatization of schools in the city of Brotherly Love.


SRC Testimony: Amy Roat

On Thursday, October 16th, ten members of the Caucus testified before the SRC. This week we will be posting some of their testimonies in written form.

My name is Amy-Nicole Roat. I am a citizen of Philadelphia. I am a member of the PFT. I am a member of the Caucus of Working Educators. I am a teacher.

My father was a firefighter and my mother was a teacher. When I was in college and sat down with my parents to discuss my decision to become a teacher, they could not have more proud. My father reminded me that while I would not have material wealth, I would have the great reward of helping others. I would have to work very hard and in return I would have a predictable income, decent benefits, and the respect of my community. Eventually, after contributing with every paycheck, I would even have a pension to rely on in my retirement. Now this story isn’t unique – most civil servants will tell a story similar to mine.

For many years, the members of this commission have done everything in their power to undermine every single aspect of our humble, yet noble plans. You have systematically undermined our trust and the trust of the public by erasing our contract.  You have also raised the ire of every union member in this city. 

My greatest fear, however, is not for my future; it is for the future of Philadelphia’s children and families.  Not many parents in this day would encourage their child to be a teacher. The steps you have taken have seriously hampered the potential to attract quality teachers in this city. One can hardly pick up a paper without reading of the plight of the students and PFT members. Rather than a seasoned teacher corps, we may be lucky in the near future to have glorified temp workers that burn out every two or three years.  I know that most people in this city will see your cynical vote for what it was – a deliberate move to bust our union and further erode the education of the kids in this city.  Know this: we will not rest until we have undone your heinous deed.

In all honesty, I cannot say that I was surprised by last week’s ambush – I didn’t know what or when, but I knew you - Green, Hite, Jimenez, and Simms were planning to harm us.  My only surprise was that Neff joined you.  Neff, you were one of us and you betrayed us.  It will never be forgiven and never be forgotten.  You will forever be a shameful footnote when history records that students and parents, the PFT and its many other allies, fought back against you, and won. We won’t let you erase our careers and our union.


Show the world how WE keep our contract with students

In a new project started by writer and WE member Marta Rose, writers from around the world are teaming up with Philly teachers to show the world how WE keep our contracts with students every day-- at the same time as the SRC is breaking their contract with teachers and schools.

Check out an excerpt below featuring school nurse Eileen Duffey, and go to KeepingTheContract.Org to be inspired by many more stories of teachers keeping their contract with the students and families of Philadelphia. 


Eileen Duffey, School Nurse

Eileen Duffey (r) with poet Daisy Fried

Eileen Duffey (r) with poet Daisy Fried

Eileen Duffey

by Daisy Fried

“People think school nurses slap on bandaids,” says Eileen Duffey, the three-day-a-week nurse for over 900 students at The Academy at Palumbo, a South Philadelphia high school, and two-day-a-week nurse for more than 500 kids at Allen M. Stearne Elementary School in Frankford. In fact, Duffey, who’s been a Certified School Nurse for 20 years, does give out bandaids. And sometimes deodorant and mouthwash, and safety pins and duct tape, if a kid’s clothes tear, items she supplies herself, not with district funds. “Because when you’re a teenager, your day is ruined if somebody says ‘ew, I smell something, is that you?’” My job is to get kids back to class. And I’d rather have a teen come sit in my office for 20 minutes because life sucks, so they can salvage the rest of the day, instead of going truant.”

But that’s only part of the job.

The goal of school health programs according to the National Association of School Nurses (NASN) is to “meet the needs of the whole child and support school achievement.” This gets complicated when, according to NASN, 16% of the nation’s 52 million school kids have chronic physical, emotional or other health problems, and schools have become the only source of health care for many children and adolescents. Asthma, diabetes and autism are among disorders for which diagnoses have risen sharply in children in the last decade.

The maximum nurse to student ratio allowed by law is 1:1500. But NASN recommends a ratio of 1:750—and that’s for kids with non-complex health needs. Duffey watches over more than 1400 kids. Low-income kids have more health problems and less access to medical care outside of school. 97% of Stearne kids and 75% of Academy teens are classified as “economically disadvantaged” by the School District of Philadelphia.

Kids with chronic health problems need emergency as well as routine daily plans. If a child has diabetes, says Duffey, “you have to communicate with a lot more people than you’d think—administrators, classroom and phys ed teachers, a CHOP Endocrine nurse, sometimes the Department of Human Services—while also making sure the child is following any protocols necessary.” When a child of undocumented immigrants (who is legally entitled to public education in the U.S.), who has no health insurance, is diagnosed with a serious hereditary heart problem, Duffey talks to doctors to figure out how the child can get the expensive medicine the child needs. She maneuvers through red tape to plan for the possibility of an ER visit during school hours. And she needs to get other people at the school, from the principal on down, in on the protocols, so that when Duffey’s away on her other assignment, the child gets essential care. “I trust myself as a professional to manage that—as long as I’m there,” says Duffey. “After all, I don’t have to oversee the PSATs and 50 other things that a principal might. I am a medical person—the only medical person. This job cannot be done well on the cheap and it cannot be done well at current staffing levels.”

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