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- A Q&A with Baltimore Teachers Union President, Diamonté Brown - May 20, 2022
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- Want the Best Instructional Feedback? Ask Your Students. - October 20, 2021
- First-Year Teachers: Raise Your Hand If You've Been Bullied Too. - September 24, 2021
Recently unions have been a topic of discussion following the successful unionizing of Amazon’s JFK8 warehouse in New York and Starbucks stores nationwide. In the education industry—where not outlawed— unions can be found in most places across the country. For many educators, unions are the collective bargaining unit that negotiates their contracts, resolves their grievances, and provides support and legal representation. But if you Google anything about teachers unions, you’ll find both overwhelming support for them and stiff opposition.
This month, I had the opportunity to do a Q&A with Baltimore Teachers Union (BTU) President, Diamonté Brown. In this email exchange, we discuss what inspired Brown’s work with the BTU, how unions are often mischaracterized, and how school districts can appreciate teachers.
The Educator’s Room: What inspired you to start your work with the Union?
Diamonté Brown: There were several factors that inspired me to start my work with the union. The first Black labor party in Maryland (once we get ballot status), Ujima People's Progress Party (UPP), which I am a member of, taught me about how unions can be used as a powerful tool in organizing, the power of the working class, and how unions can be a force in ensuring full employment for all those willing and able to work at a livable wage and humane and safe working conditions.
While learning about unions and labor parties, I was organizing around criminal justice reform and campaign finance reform issues. As I was organizing around these issues, I met a member of the Baltimore Movement of Rank and File Educators (BMORE), a social justice caucus of the Baltimore Teachers Union. One of the BMORE co-founders asked if I would join BMORE and be on the steering committee.
I accepted and in 2016 I entered the Baltimore City Public School System (BCPSS) as a full time teacher. I immediately joined the union and immediately noticed union rank and file members needed more decision making power in our union. I became a building representative to become more engaged and better understand union operations. While being a building representative, I consistently went to trainings on unions, labor, and organizing.
Through BMORE, I was introduced to the United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators (UCORE), a nationwide group of reform caucuses supported by Labor Notes. UCORE has a mission to transform unionism from mainly focusing on bread and butter issues to focusing on bread and butter issues and issues that impact our communities like homelessness, food deserts, safety, racial equity, etc. In order to reach this mission, UCORE sought out to have social just caucuses like BMORE encourage transformation within their unions and when the opportunity arises to seek leadership positions.
UCORE tasked BMORE with running for union leadership and we accepted the challenge. BMORE decided that I should run at the top of the ticket and I accepted the charge. My running mates and I all organized to turnout more union members than our opposition and we won 19/41 seats (including the presidency) on our 2019 union board."I would argue that [teachers unions] have the same demands as parents, which is that our students should have the schools they deserve." A Q&A with Baltimore Teachers Union President, Diamonté Brown Click To Tweet
Diamonté Brown, Baltimore Teachers Union President/ Courtesy of Diamonté Brown
TER: Is there a project or initiative you helped launch with the Baltimore Teachers Union that you're particularly proud of?
Diamonté Brown: Yes. I was a major part of launching a campaign (still ongoing) to reform the school board of the Baltimore City Public Schools System (BCPSS). The campaign so far has included successfully creating the Voices Towards an Elected School board (VOTES) coalition, a coalition of organizations and individuals working on reforms such as, increasing the amount of student members on the board, giving the student board member equal voting rights as adult board members, and restructuring our school board from a fully appointed school board to a hybrid appointed/elected school board, with the majority of the members being elected.
The VOTES coalition successfully championed getting Maryland state legislation, Senate Bill 157, passed. This bill will increase the student board member’s voting rights, among other things. We have a lot more work to do and our current focus is reforming the selection process for appointed members of the board as we continue our work to reform the composition of the school board.
TER: What is something that people misunderstand about teachers unions and the work they do? Why are teachers' unions important?
Diamonté Brown: Oddly, teachers unions are sometimes mischaracterized as having competing demands with parents of students. I would argue that we have the same demands as parents, which is that our students should have the schools they deserve. In order to get our children the schools they deserve, teachers unions remain essential in advocating and organizing with parents, students, and community members to get the resources, funding, staffing, culture, and power necessary to improve working conditions, student learning conditions, and our communities.
TER: What are some ways school districts can show they appreciate teachers?
- Pay us what we deserve
- Give us more time within the school day to plan for instruction and reflect on instruction
- Put as much energy into supporting staff development as they do putting in accountability measures
- Give us back the autonomy we need to effectively teach our students
- Treat us like professionals
- Stop making us out to be villains when we stand up for ourselves and our students
- Retention and Sign On bonuses
- Let us eat lunch uninterrupted
- Remember we are people too
TER: Is there anything else you would like educators to know?
Diamonté Brown: You are all amazing! You don’t need permission to put yourself first! You deserve to be happy!
Much gratitude and appreciation to Diamonté Brown for participating in this Q&A. To learn about the work that Diamonté Brown and the Baltimore Teachers Union are doing click here.
This interview is a part of Educators Unsilenced, a monthly interview series on The Educator’s Room by Lanee Higgins. Each month Lanee interviews educators making their impact on education. See last month’s interview here.
*Responses may have been edited for clarity and/or length.
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