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Members Prepare to "Reclaim the Promise" at TEACH 2013


With professional development workshops, thought-provoking sessions, and inspiring speakers, the 2013 AFT TEACH conference held July 22-24 showcased the work that educators are doing to make a difference for kids, despite the challenges they face. Dozens of IFT members joined nearly 3,000 colleagues from across the country in Washington D.C. under the theme “Reclaiming the Promise: Uniting for Public Schools.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten led the charge, urging educators to join with parents and communities to reclaim the promise of public education for every child:

“Reclaiming the promise of public education is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that teachers are well-prepared, are supported and have time to collaborate. Reclaiming the promise is about enabling them to teach an engaging curriculum that includes art and music and the sciences. And reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that kids have access to wraparound services to meet their emotional, social and health needs...

“This is not a campaign. This is our core. And it must be the focus of our work going forward. Ours is a vision that works. It’s a vision of what parents want for their kids. And it’s a movement that can stop the privatizers, profiteers and austerity hawks in their tracks.”

Watch highlights of Weingarten’s speech below.

Jane Russell, president of the West Suburban Teachers Union, Local 571, said the AFT president’s vision will help all local unions focus their efforts. “In our worksites and in our local unions and councils, we often find ourselves trying to do too many different things as we deal with the challenges we face,” she said. “President Weingarten has detailed a simple, clear way to combine our many efforts into one effective vision for achieving our shared goal of reclaiming the promise. I’m ready to get to work!”  

Parents are strongly behind the union’s effort to bolster public education, according to a new report released by AFT during the conference. Among key findings in “Public School Parents On The Promise Of Public Education” were:
  • 77 percent support strong public schools over expanding vouchers and charters.
  • 2/3 soundly reject austerity-driven policies that they believe reduce the quality of public education, including teacher and staff layoffs; increased class sizes; school closings and more.
  • 72 percent believe the adoption of common standards is a step forward for education.

Survey details are available online, and a related article was published in the Washington Post

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), now adopted by 45 states, including Illinois, will play a key role in educator’s efforts to reclaim public education. But educators and stakeholders agreed with the AFT’s position that making the standards effective will require thoughtful, well-supported implementation that cannot be rushed. Watch the roundtable discussion about CCSS from AFT TEACH below.

AFT TEACH panelists reinforced IFT members responses to a survey conducted last spring. More than 4,000 IFT members statewide, Chicago to Quincy, weighed in on common core readiness. Only 14 percent felt their readiness to implement the standards was “expert” or “strong.” Read highlights from the IFT CCSS survey online.

But we know it will take much more than common standards to reclaim the promise of public education. In a powerful speech during a panel discussion on “Building Our Strength Through Partnerships,” Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) urged educators and union members to stand up and “fight more than ever before” against those who would turn back the clock on civil and human rights, including those to union representation and a high-quality public education for every child.

“It’s time for us to get into trouble, to make some noise and save our public schools; not just for this generation but for a generation yet unborn,” Lewis said.
A key part of reclaiming the promise of public schools will be to ensure they are safe and welcoming for all students, so AFT TEACH gathered an expert group of union leaders and allies to talk about this critical issue. Among the panelists was Tom Kuroski, president of the Newtown (Connecticut) Federation of Teachers. Kuroski explained the lessons learned from the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where five teachers, 20 students and the school principal lost their lives in a tragic shooting last year. Watch Kurowski and highlights from the school safety panel below.


While TEACH 2013 focused on what needs to be done to move education forward, there was plenty of support for the amazing work educators have done and continue to do. On the final day of the conference, well-known guests, including actor Tony Danza, MSNBC host Ed Schultz and opera singer Denyce Graves celebrated the extraordinary educators who made a difference in their lives. Watch highlights of their presentation below.

To help educators continue to make a difference, TEACH 2013 offered a wide-variety of professional development workshops. There was something for everyone, from seasoned educators to those new to the profession.

IFT members not only attended the workshops, they taught them, too. A team of members from the North Suburban Teachers Union, Local 1274, shared their successful, innovative efforts to enhance instruction and teacher retention in their own school district as part of a panel of presenters in the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) workshop. 

Steve Grossman, Local 1274 president, said sharing experiences with other members across the country is one of the best aspects of AFT TEACH. “The conference is a great combination of information, collaboration and learning from one another,” he said. “No matter how long you’ve been in the classroom, you come out of TEACH with new ideas, new ways of thinking, and inspired. This is what our union is about.”

One lucky IFT member left TEACH with even more than great ideas and inspiration. Local 571 member Katy Padberg won the conference grand prize - an Apple Mobile Learning Lab for her classroom! As the winner, Padberg will get to choose either 10 iPads, 10 iPad minis, or 20 iPod touches for her students.

Another 571 member, Lisa Cuscaden, was also a proud “winner” at TEACH. Cuscaden’s daughter Julia, a recent high school graduate from Chicago, was one of only four outstanding students selected to receive the 2013 AFT Robert G. Porter scholarship. Julia plans to major in early childhood education.

Congratulations to our IFT winners!

Join with colleagues across the country to reclaim the promise of public education. Sign the AFT pledge today!




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