• Chuck Clark
    “Coming together is a beginning. Staying together is a process. Working together is winning.” Henry Ford

8.25.14

New Teacher Orientation

Welcome, you princes and princesses of Massachusetts, you kings and queens of New England.

Welcome, new teachers, idealistic dreamers, unrecognized royalty of society; you are empowered with the public trust to educate our youth.  If there is a more vital profession, a more noble calling one can devote their time and energy and heart to, I have yet to find it.

I am Chuck Clark, President of the CEA.  Elected at the end of May, new to the job as of July 1.

I have been married to the same woman for 39 years.  We have 3 children and three grandsons.  I have taught for 31 years, the last 17 at CHS.  I hold professional teaching licenses in history, 9-12, and Theater Arts, K-12.  In addition to my membership in the MTA, I am also a member of AEA, the Actors Equity Association, the professional union of stage actors.

Today, I am joined by two of my CEA colleagues, Barbara Itkin and Josh Chrzanowski, who will introduce themselves in just a minute.  We are here today to join in welcoming you to our profession.

I congratulate you on securing what for some of you is your first serious job.  Your parents may still think of you as an idealistic youth but to your students you are a symbol of authority; some will come to admire you, others will challenge your authority from the get go.  You will be evaluated by your supervisors and your students, on subject knowledge and on your ability to engage, command respect, and wisely maintain control, by establishing a safe learning environment where all voices are welcome.

Your character, scholarship and integrity is above average.  You few were chosen out of many applicants to be here this morning in this teacher’s cafeteria.  How do you feel?

Being a public school teacher is not for the faint of heart.  Some might say your willingness to join the teaching profession is more like volunteering for a recognizance mission in enemy territory.

The truth is, you are part of a vital, often misunderstood, rapidly changing profession.

Some say the change began in 2001, under the Education President, George W. Bush, with No Child Left Behind.  The less said about that, the better.

NCLB was followed by RTTT, President Obama’s Ed reform … Which led to the Common Core, the New Evaluation system, and PARCC.  These untested mandates raise valid questions that many educators and concerned citizens are asking:

Is the PARCC, (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) related to actual teaching and learning in classrooms?  Is over testing undermining the work of educators?  You will help answer these and other questions.

You will battle against public prejudice, dogma, and inertia. You will be seen by many as part of a pampered, protected, and over compensated profession; because you are a wage and salary, public-sector worker, who belongs to a union.

Your union is the Chicopee Education Association, 1100 members strong. Teachers, supervisors, VPs, secretaries, clerks, and paras.

The CEA is a large local chapter of the MTA. The Massachusetts Teachers Association has 110,000 educator members from pre K-higher Ed.  The MTA is affiliated with the 3,000,000 member NEA.

We are all part of a relatively small but fortunate group of workers.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that today, just 11.3 percent of American workers belong to unions.

So, I say again, welcome, you princes and princesses of Massachusetts, you kings and queens of New England.

Before we go any further, an exercise, suitable for the boardroom or the theater.

It is a simple Greeting Exercise.  For the next two minutes, please rise, move about the room, and greet as many other people in the room as you can.  I encourage you to make eye contact, touch in an appropriate way, and say hello.  Two minutes.  Go.

Let’s settle back in our seats.   What happened?  What did you feel?  (When we genuinely look at people, I see you, you see me, we can see people for who they are and therefore they exist for us and we for them.)

If you want to engage and include people, it begins with an authentic hello.

Before I turn things over to Barbara and Josh, I want to share some background on unions in our country’s history to give us a common starting point when we think about our employment.

In the 19th century, as manufacturing moved out of small family owned homes and shops into large factories, the process of making consumer goods, say cloth or a gun or a dress, became specialized.  Master craftsmen who understood and previously performed all steps in the process were replaced by workers who operated a machine that mass produced one part of the whole.  Workers relocated to urban centers where they exchanged their labor for wages.

Manufacturers were motivated to keep expenses low and profits high.  With no government regulation, early factory conditions were exploitive, often brutal; 14 hour work days, child labor, unsafe conditions, low wages.

In response, workers began to organize on the theory that, in union there is strength.  The motto of the Industrial Workers of the World, (IWW) was, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Early American labor unions faced stiff opposition from both wealthy industrialists and the government.

When workers protested their harsh conditions by going on strike, the results were usually violent with the national guard or federal troops being called out to break the strike.  Union organizers were seen as agitators and anarchists.  Many were jailed or hung.

At the beginning of the 20th century, support for organized labor was minimal.  But with the aid of muckraking journalists, like Upton Sinclair, who exposed the horrid conditions of Chicago’s meat packing plants, and Thomas Nast whose cartoons exposed Tammany Hall’s political corruption to illiterate immigrants, public opinion and government sympathy for workers began to change.

In 1906 Theodore Roosevelt signed the Meat Inspection Act and the Pure Food and Drug Act to protect consumers.  Workers continued to be exploited.

The deadliest industrial disaster in NYC history occurred in 1911.  A fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in Manhattan resulted in the death of 146 garment workers.

Because the owners had locked the doors to the stairwells and exits, a common practice used to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks and pilferage,many of the workers who could not escape the burning building jumped from the eighth, ninth, and tenth floors to the streets below.  

The fire and its aftermath led to legislation requiring improved factory safety standards, like sprinklers, and helped spur the growth of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union, which fought for better working conditions for sweatshop workers.

In 1935, FDR signed the National Labor Relations Act that made it illegal for any employer to deny union rights to an employee.  This act established the legal right for workers to collectively bargain.

Collective bargaining gives workers the opportunity to participate in the establishment of workplace rules, governing terms, conditions, and wages.  Collective bargaining gives workers some control over a major aspect of their lives, their work.

In 1965, public school teachers gained the right to negotiate with their employers on matters of wages, hours, and conditions of employment.  The resulting terms of the collectively bargained agreement are binding on both the employees and the employer.

Since then, many union manufacturing jobs have moved overseas.  A prolonged economic recession has led some state governments, like Wisconsin’s to reduce and curtail public employees union rights.

In Massachusetts the MTA is a vibrant union, with new leadership poised to lead a movement to take back our schools from corporate interests that would privatize them. The CEA is working to improve its ability to promote, secure, and protect educator rights in Chicopee.  I am proud to be a part of that movement.

It is challenging but exciting time to be a public school teacher.  As the President of the CEA, and on behalf of our Executive Board and our members, I am happy to welcome you to the profession, our school system, and our association, you princes and princesses of Massachusetts, you kings and queens of New England.