The evisceration of collective bargaining rights for public employees in Wisconsin three years ago has been felt all the way into the classroom. New limitations and mandates have deprofessionalized the teaching profession. Despite the repressive restrictions, however, educators in Milwaukee are ending 2014 with a significant victory that helps them turn back the hands of time and begin to reclaim their profession.
In October, more than 300 educators and members of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association (MTEA) proved that collective action is not lost. Struggling from the effects of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 Act 10 law, which stripped their professional autonomy, educators, donning Kelly green t-shirts emblazoned with the MTEA logo, packed a Milwaukee Public Schools board meeting to reclaim more time in their work day.
Educators had been pressured to meet the demand of new state-mandated systems and initiatives—all of which were time consuming.
Bob Peterson, president of MTEA, says that members were trying to comply with the new mandates, but didn’t have time in their workday to learn new programs or found that the professional development they received was less than adequate. Moreover, in an attempt to fulfill their professional responsibilities associated with the mandates, quality teaching suffered.
“After we lost our contractual rights, we also lost the ability to determine how to best use our time for the benefit of our students,” Peterson says, explaining that non-student contact time was controlled An MTEA survey of more than 1,200 members found that administrator-directed time prevented them from developing high quality lesson plans, contacting and meeting with parents, and working with students. Instead, most educators spent more time in meetings than what was necessary.
“While some meetings are essential,” Peterson says, “when all your time is taken up, other important tasks are left undone—there needed to be a balance.”
After mobilizing members for more than a year and using the survey results to prove its case, MTEA persuaded the school district to convert the majority of administrator-directed time to teacher directed, returning some professional judgment back to its rightful owners—educators.
Additionally, previously scheduled professional development became an individual prep day for completing training connected to the mandates. Educators also were given the opportunity to engage in a meaningful way with the state’s teacher evaluation system and complete quality report cards on time for parents.
These changes may seem like small victories, but Peterson says they provide immediate relief for teachers who have demanded time in the workday, adding that it also shows the power of collective action in a state that has seen more restrictions than any other right-to-work state in the country.