During the author’s 30-year stint as a Fresno Unified School District (FUSD) instructor, teachers were encouraged to appropriate the so-called cycle of teaching in regular educational practice. The phases of this cycle included effective ways of planning lessons, but it went beyond just that. It also included a phase of reflection after a lesson had been implemented.
What had gone well?
Where were improvements possible?
How could the lesson be introduced more effectively in the future?
Recently, a district-wide strike action was averted at the 11th hour. Given the opportunity cost that such a strike would have precipitated for student learning, it would be helpful to reflect on the events of the past several months with an eye toward making improvements when contract negotiations become necessary again.
Both the union and the district would be well advised to consider such matters, of course. But some of the FUSD’s actions merit special scrutiny.
Consider the following:
- In the early stages of negotiation, representatives of the FUSD arrived at meetings without having adequately prepared for them—something that was clear to the union representatives present and others who viewed the proceedings.
- In the weeks leading up to the might-have-been strike, the FUSD disseminated misleading information, for example, overstating the amount of money that FUSD teachers were earning on average at that time. Spreading fake news hardly helped to promote speedy progress in the negotiations.
- For several weeks, the FUSD stressed that, were a strike to take place, it would have ample substitutes “ready” to shoulder the burden of classroom instruction and that it was willing to shell out an exorbitant amount of money for these substitutes. The absurd implications of the FUSD’s stance were that a) student progress wouldn’t be impacted or harmed in any significant way during a strike action, and b) giving $500 per day to such temporary instructors would be money well spent.
Part of a teacher’s life is evaluation. Administrators meet with them, observe them in their classrooms and assess their performance. When teachers receive a poor or lackluster evaluation, they are expected to take the matter seriously and to make substantial changes in their instructional practices. When their work is less than adequate—if it fails to meet standards—they are supposed to change course and make improvements in a timely way.
It remains to be seen if FUSD leaders will now do the same—if they will now take note of the missteps that have been taken and implement some substantial changes.
The new contract, for all the benefits that it includes, covers a scant three years. It would be a shame—and it would be shameful—if the FUSD didn’t resolve to improve its approach in negotiation. Was last-minute crisis management really necessary? Fresno students—and the community at large—deserve better than this. They deserve leadership that meets standards.