by Kaitlin Lindsey, Minneapolis Public School Teacher
The arrival of ballots in the inboxes of Minneapolis Federation of Teachers members can mean only one thing: another union election is upon us, and with it, the chance to make our voices as classroom educators heard. The union election presents an all too rare opportunity for us to reach out to leadership, knowing that what we have to say will be taken to heart. As such, we are writing this open letter to the next President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, whomever she may be, to express our hopes for the next two years.
Active member engagement must be the key goal for the next MFT President. Too many teachers do not actively work within the union, and do not feel that it represents them. An engaged membership strengthens the union’s ability to meet our shared goals, elevating our profession and improving student achievement. Our union gains credibility when it speaks from and for large numbers of diverse teachers. We sincerely hope that the next MFT President will acknowledge the wide plurality of teacher experiences and the reality that teachers are not all the same. We hope that she will embrace and seek to build consensus amongst different perspectives after the election, rather than take a winner-take-all approach.
To achieve this goal, the MFT will need to get back to basics when it comes to internal organizing. Leadership must engage in actively seeking out opinions of its members – through listening tours, one-on-one meetings, surveys, and other opportunities to reach diverse audiences. Leaders must be ready to listen, not preach, through challenging conversations, not turning away from the difficult issues. There is real work to be done, and these next two years will be no time for squeamishness. It is the time to seek innovative approaches to policy changes that will work for a diverse group of real, working teachers. Doing this will help teachers, but it will also strengthen the union by bringing more people into the fold.
While broadening the dialogue is a critical step, it is not enough to simply talk about problems –teachers agree on what the issues are. The area where we are divided, and where our union leadership must step in and help, is the focus on solutions. We need the MFT to demonstrate the impact of union advocacy on student learning, advocate for policies that represent the shared goals of diverse teachers, and engage in a positive, productive discourse. The union must be oriented towards results. That is its very reason for being.
Lastly, the newly fostered engagement must be authentic, and relevant to a 21st Century educational world. Teachers needs to hear from their union across multiple platforms – email, open meetings, site-based discussions and listening sessions – rather than the limited, one-sided outreach of the past. Union meetings must be welcoming and open, for everyone to feel comfortable expressing their needs and ideas. And there must be follow up on those ideas, so that teachers see the results of union engagement.
If MFT members are given more responsibility and more opportunity to have our voices heard, the entire profession will benefit. A diversity of ideas – and of results – can only benefit teachers and students. We’re stronger when we work together. That idea is at the very core of union organizing, and we strongly encourage the next group of MFT leaders to take it to heart.
Kaitlin Lindsey teaches Kindergarten and 1st Grade English-language learners at the Anne Sullivan Communication Center, a Minneapolis Public School.