Saturday 5 October 2013

The spirit of Chicago comes to London on World Teachers' Day

Karen Lewis, CTU President
Today, on World Teachers' Day, the NUT in London is holding a meeting  for young teachers. We were privileged to have Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers' Union, as our main speaker

Karen and the CTU, with a leadership based on CORE, the Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators, have a proud record of struggle. That spirit of struggle was an inspiration to all the teachers hearing her this morning.

Here's just a few of the key points that Karen had to make:

"The joy of teaching and learning has been stolen away from us. The days are gone when you could just close your classroom door and teach. Right now, teaching is a political act"

"We are the stopping block to the privatisers, that's why they want to divide us, that's why they want to vilify us"

"On what planet do teachers not care about children? But [the politicians]  claim that they're 'putting students first'. No they're not, they're putting their ideology first. Teachers are putting students first, they're putting teachers last. But if teachers are miserable, the students are miserable too"

 "They'd not counted on the fact that CORE were not going to be just another set of union bosses far from rank-and-file teachers. We organise and always ask three questions about what we're going to do as a Union: does it unite us?, does it make us stronger?, does it build our strength?"

"We have 50% turnover a year of [primary] teachers in the US. They're being taken over by business, but this is no way to run any business! They don't provide the resources, they don't provide the mentoring"

"Performance Pay will only isolate teachers and stop them helping others. Good teaching is about collaboration - in the classroom and amongst colleagues"

"Tackle these people with logic and reason - because that's Kryptonite to the crazies"

"Ask who are the winners and losers? Who writes the rules of the game? The winners tell the losers 'if you work hard, your test scores will improve'. We can help move test scores a little bit but the socio-economic factors will always have the biggest effect".

"They're expecting us to be miracle-workers. We have to make people realise the absurdity of what they are doing to education. We have to defeat these spirit-breakers and career-breakers"

The meeting was clearly inspired. Young teachers reported about the huge staff turnover in London - especially in some Academies, about the pressures of teaching in inner-city schools when the expectations imposed from above are so great, asked how to win a curriculum that's relevant to students, discussed how to link up our campaigns with parents.

CORE have helped to galvanise the CTU and prepare members for action, action that won parental support and achieved victories. We have to galvanise the NUT as well and prepare members for the calendar of action needed to defeat Gove's attacks on education.

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