Monday, April 23, 2007

Internet Teacher Unionists: What Does The Future Hold?

During contentious contract negotiations, teachers have used conventional methods to get their message out to the public. They show up en masse to local Board of Education meetings, picket district buildings informally, work to the rule or even strike. The school district is allowed to use its resources like copiers, computers and internet connections to get its message out to the parents in its boundaries. One district has even gone as far as forcing teachers to stuff elementary students’ Friday folders with letters home to parents sending a pro-district stand on negotiations.

In the past, teachers’ unions have had to take their message to the people through the media, not always a completely reliable institution. Depending on the disposition, loyalty and effectiveness of the local media outlets, the general public may or may not be able to get an unbiased view of the conflict between the board and the teachers’ union.

Beginning over ten years ago, many local teachers’ unions began to go online, hosting a web page and keeping contact with their membership online. As older, less tech savvy teachers retire, newer teachers who have grown up with the internet as an indispensable part of their lives are beginning to take leadership roles within their organizations and they’re using technology in a way that hasn’t been seen, especially with the advent of Web 2.0.

Many locals have begun their own blogs, creating a forum allowing for the exchange of ideas and opinions between membership that would have been separated by grade level or geographic placement within a district. The AFT has been the first and only national-level affiliate to host a blog on its website; the NEA does offer discussion boards to its membership and sometimes prints responses in their monthly publication “NEA Today”. Particularly notable is New York UFT’sEdwize” and the AFT’sLet’s Get it Right”.

YouTube, long a repository of homegrown movie clips and music videos has become the newest stomping grounds for teacher unionists. While different caucuses in New York’s UFT used the site for hosting political messages during the union’s fall elections, the door opening introductory event for YouTube has been the Hayward Teacher strike in Hayward, California and the posting of amateur videos by union members.

Three Hayward middle school teachers are responsible for much of the content already uploaded, having created “Channel 16.84”, a series of "on the spot" amateur reporting that follows the strike from a pro-union perspective. The number refers directly to the percent raise desired by teachers-- it has already been given to three Hayward assistant superintendents. They have created a rallying point for teachers and parents; a number of teachers have created their own blogs (blog # 2)and a parent support website recently went online. Striking teachers have even created a “Scab Blog” where digital pictures of substitutes who cross the picket lines are posted for everyone in the world to see.

Baltimore Teachers Union members are being encouraged to participate in a virtual rally by adding their names to a petition on the union’s website and sending emails to school board members to protest the progress of contract negotiations. A flesh and blood rally will be held later in the month of April, but in the meantime the virtual one is sure to attract attention.
The future holds much promise for net-savvy teacher unionists. Soon, sending an email, writing a blog entry or posting your own commentary on YouTube will be as commonplace and as easy as making a phone call.


On the Edge said...

Great post. Thanks for the links.

Dr. Homeslice said...

You're welcome. How are negotiations going for your district, oh frog sticker wearing teacher?

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I put up a link on Communicate or Die, where I have been writing a bit about the use of the internet for union democracy. I'm curious to know if you think the internet has had an impact on member participation and democratic control in your local/union.

I also have your site listed on the AUD bloglines list of union member sites:

Darren said...

The NEA doesn't trust its members enough to host a blog where members can add contrarian (i.e., against the party line) comments.

Dr. Homeslice said...

Hey Darren--

long time, no post!

I would like to believe that's not the case (and I do). My theory is that NEA seems to be (technologically speaking) somewhat behind the trends that have been happening, whereas the AFT is on the forefront. Just my two cents.

IMC Guy said...

This is all pretty interesting stuff. If our negotiations start to head down the wrong path, I will not hesitate create videos explaining our side of the story. I'll also encourage many members to do the same. I also just thought that the Negotiations Team could create videos of bargaining topics and post them on our Association website or YouTube for members to view. Perhaps getting the message out this way would encourage more involvement and understanding of what's going on.


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