We are organizing to create and preserve a healthy learning community across the six Carmen Schools. We believe a sustainable workplace is crucial to student success and is built upon financial fairness, sustainable workload, workplace transparency, and equity. Our mission is centered in a love for our job and students, and the belief that our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions.
“Those… who exhort patience in the name of a false peace, are in fact supporting segregation and exploitation. They would have social peace at the expense of social and racial justice.” – A. Philip Randolph
Carmen has stated its commitment to equity and justice and we applaud Carmen leadership for doing so. However, right now, the statements often do not match outcomes. To become an institution that centers liberation for all, it needs to equalize power among all its stakeholders.
Often, teachers of underrepresented identities shoulder an unfair burden in developing and delivering professional development. Additionally, they face a disproportionate workload in supporting students grappling with issues related to identity. This additional workload and nuance puts teachers of an underrepresented identity under a spotlight that may feel unsafe without the protections of a union contract. Many well-intentioned policy reforms to better achieve equity fall short in implementation due to the lack of input from stakeholders. Additional policy reforms that could help are missed by administration due to the lack of input teachers can provide.
Teachers are on the front lines with students and families and directly see the equity ramifications of administration’s decisions; we deserve to have a seat at the table to advocate for more equitable school policies. We can and should use the negotiating power of a union to also bring more decision making power to students and families, as well. We can utilize our space at the bargaining table to advocate for incorporating more student and family support; as teachers get more say, students and family should, too.
By having a union, we want to prioritize the hiring and recruitment of more diverse staff along lines of race, socioeconomic upbringing, immigration status, sexual orientation, and gender identity by offering a more competitive compensation and benefits package, along with offering workplace protections and educational/licensing support. Finally, we as a union and a school network should be institutions that support and work with existing grassroots organizing in our communities, such as Voces de la Frontera, Black Leaders Organizing Communities, and others.
“The great social justice changes in our country have happened when people came together, organized, and took direct action.” – Dolores Huerta
Teaching is a profession, and teachers have necessary expertise and skills that are required to teach well. When teachers have to complete numerous non-teaching responsibilities, this takes away from their ability to attend to their craft – to the detriment of students and the school.
At Carmen, teachers have the normal responsibilities of planning, teaching, and grading for our classes. However, teachers are frequently required to teach classes without any curricular resources and must create the majority of their instructional materials ourselves. We have longer school days than other schools, and morning and afternoon duties extend that further. In addition, many Carmen teachers serve as advisors – a role which requires hours of work outside the normal school day to closely track and support students’ academic and personal progress. This culture of overwork negatively affects the entire community, as teachers barely have time to adequately prepare their class, and doing so – let alone going above and beyond – comes at a direct cost to teacher’s personal and family time. The claim that soft skills will diminish or eliminate this problem is not only patently false, but exploitative, ableist, and unfairly puts the blame on teachers.
A contract with specific safeguards to mitigate the culture of overwork can combat this systemic issue. The daily hours that teachers are required to be at school should not exceed professional standards. Schools should continue to invest in finding curricula for all classes and providing teachers paid time to explore and implement these resources – including resources for advisors.
Teachers should also be in the decision-making processes for what can reasonably be asked of teachers, as we can best define what is realistic for our job. It is the responsibility of leadership to manage and maintain a sustainable workload for its employees. Implementing these changes will help teachers to do their jobs better, for longer, and create the school to which we all aspire.
Transparency & Voice
“I work for the liberation of all people, because when I liberate myself, I’m liberating other people.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
Organizations work best when all stakeholders have agency and voice in determining the future of the organization. At Carmen, we believe current and previous leadership has taken some steps to include stakeholder voices in decisions, a step in the right direction, but have not gone far enough.
Many decisions that directly affect staff and students have been made with minimal input. Changes to the schedule – including daily working hours, bell schedule, and content of specific classes – were made, even in the middle of the year, without consulting the teachers and students who actually have to live by these changes. There is no clarity on teacher disciplinary policies including procedures for official reprimands or loss of employment. These changes directly affect teachers and students, and by extension families and communities, yet we rarely have a substantial voice in them. While admin does sometimes gather input, for example on school-wide behavior management and student uniforms, there is little consistency or system by which this feedback is gathered or implemented.
We want a voice during these decision making processes in order to achieve both a higher level of transparency and to contribute to growing a cohesive, positive culture. A union contract should include specific mechanisms for teachers and students to hear possible changes and provide input, as well as safeguards for these suggestions to be included in administration’s deliberations. Teachers should also be included on the Board of Directors, and budget information should be made public. These changes will contribute to more meaningful and collaborative decision making, for a better future for our schools.
“Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez
Our ideal school aspires to high-quality education, to a culture of empowerment, and to create the foundation of life success. Our ideal school also acknowledges the weight of those aspirations for its staff in their salary and benefits. It is inequitable to ask for an investment of time, effort, and identity from staff without providing sustainable financial compensation.
Currently, Carmen offers one of the lowest base salaries for teachers in Milwaukee and, unlike other institutions, does not compensate educators for advanced degrees or additional certifications. The school does not have a stated pay scale or clear path for financial advancement, so teachers with similar qualifications are paid differently, often with gender or racial inequity. The low pay often necessitates teachers to overwork themselves to receive marginally more pay (for example, teaching a course overload or coaching a school sports team). This situation worsens the culture of burnout and demoralization among teachers, while also encouraging them to leave for higher pay, all of which destabilizes the student experience.
The creation of an employee contract that contains a higher, transparent, and equitable salary scale and more comprehensive benefits communicates a level of respect for employees, and supports teachers in reaching our school aspirations. The pay scale should match comparable schools and be clearly defined based on experience, with specified raises after given intervals of service and for additional qualifications. Health care options should include plans with lower deductibles and prescription costs and better coverage for mental health resources. Retirement contributions should have a higher match rate and faster vesting plan. Days off should be combined sick and personal, and include more extensive paid parental leave. We believe that these changes will curb teacher turnover and aid in the recruitment of more qualified staff.
“The labor-hater… is virtually always a twin-headed creature spewing anti-[Black] epithets from one mouth and anti-labor propaganda from the other mouth.” -Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.