For those of you who are not sports fans: The Philadelphia 76ers, a professional basketball team, are bad. Very bad. Not Washington Generals bad, but close. So it was a nice reprieve when the Sixers retired guard Allen Iverson’s jersey retired and raised it to the rafters. Iverson was emotional and classy. The fans were appreciative. It was wonderful.
Except that in the broader zeitgeist, Iverson is not known for his play, awards, accolades, or legacy. His image has been cemented in a single 120 second rant that even a casual fan will recognize by a word: “Practice”
I believe this as an English teacher. I tell this to my students all the time: Not just how people see them, but how they view the world. We live in a much richer planet when we have words like vociferous and clandestine. In my other life, I am an above-average religious school teacher for elementary-age children1. There, too, we learn that words are paramount. Genesis begins with the Almighty saying “let there be light” – ויאמר translates to “then said“.
When I talk to my staff, the words we use in discussing the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers are removed from ownership. “The Union” or “The PFT” or “Them” or “Jerry”. That’s calamity. Love, hate, whatever – if teachers cannot say “my union” or “us” when they talk about fighting for strong schools, we lose. This is the first and most important battle. If you are reading this2 and you are PFT, I’m betting you’ve seen the same thing.
I truly believe words matter. And this, above all else, is why I am excited to be a part of the Caucus of Working Educators.
I’m not laying blame. There are wonderful people working in the PFT and I want to work with them. By forging an open and democratic union, we build trust and ownership. From ownership comes empowerment. And empowered teachers are a scary thing.
I’m so excited about Working Educators because those are the words we need. W.E. are the PFT. W.E. are the union. The word “we” has power, and internalizing that power is a big step in bringing our schools back from the abyss.
If any of this rings true to you, visit our website. Come to our Launch Party. Make yourself heard and listen to what we want to do. We are the PFT. We can do this.