Jan 3, 2011
From The Bottom Up!
By, Candi Peterson - WTU General V.P.
I started out my union career as a Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) Building Representative for itinerant teachers and related service providers. Years ago, a soon to be departing colleague urged me to take on this role because she was planning to retire. She argued after all that I would be good in this job because of my outspokenness. I remember thinking how could I reach the almost 200 or so union members who were spread out in our schools. Building ties to people, came easy for me in part due to my background in the field of social work. I reasoned to myself that a great deal of my career had been spent working with those who didn’t want to be reached. Surely, I thought I’d be up for the challenge connecting to union members.
Since itinerant staff worked in city-wide schools, I knew I couldn't use a union bulletin board to reach them. Emails, list serves and blogs became an essential for communication with members. I worked hard by regularly emailing members updates and writing on my blog about issues that impacted our union, public education and our workplace. While The Washington Teacher blog started out as a way to educate members about the perils of the red and green contract proposal , it eventually became an online voice for teachers and school personnel. My work as a blogger paid off as I quickly earned members’ trust. When The Washington Teacher blog first reached 2,000 weekly readers , this was concrete proof to me of the blog's success in reaching not only members but those well outside our education circle. On days of more noteworthy news, numbers were as high as an average of 4000 weekly visitors. Many readers emailed me asking me to write on topics ranging from IMPACT evaluations, Teach For America to wrongful terminations.
Just as the success of The Washington Teacher blog garnered interest from union members, it also drew the ire of the Rhee/Henderson administration as it covered the other side of the public education reform story that was rarely told by the mainstream media. My advocacy on behalf of teachers came with a high price and earned me a mandatory summons to meet with the Chancellor in 2008 about my involvement in political activities (i.e. protests, writing about DCPS , speaking to the press, etc). These events marked the beginning of the harassment that I endured. What came next was being stripped of ten points on the Core Professional component of my IMPACT evaluation due to what was described by my supervisor (words paraphrased) : “Someone is out to get you.” My attendance at a rally while on approved leave was cited as the reason for my loss of the ten evaluation points. Next, I received notice this past summer of a one day suspension without pay from Dan McCray, DCPS Chief Labor Strategist, an agent of Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson due to allegedly violating the DCPS email policy of the Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). The suspension without pay took place on September 21 and the reason given was that I sent out too many labor related emails (on my own time). By the way, the emails I sent to members included excerpts from The Washington Teacher blog and the latest subject was none other than former holdover WTU president George Parker. The very tool that I used to create an online voice for teachers and school personnel became a threat to my own job security. The irony of my story is that now as the WTU General Vice President, I sit across the table from Interim Chancellor Henderson's top staff who assisted in orchestrating my suspension. What I have learned from this experience is that ordinary people like me and you have the power to turn the tables, and make changes that start from the bottom up.
Readers of The Washington Teacher blog often asked me during the Washington Teachers' Union race to continue blogging should I win in our union election. And starting Tuesday, The Washington Teacher blog will become the 'official blog' of the Washington Teachers' Union. Let's celebrate because it can only be good if our union is willing to speak up for all of us and tell our side of the public education reform story. Happy New Year !