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IL AFL-CIO Member Highlight: Meet Terry Turley

The Illinois AFL-CIO recently featured IFT Vice President and East St. Louis Federation of Teachers (Local 1220) President Terry Turley in their newsletter. Read the interview below.


Meet Terry W. Turley, Sr., President, East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220:

What is your job, union and local?

I am a member of the East St. Louis Federation of Teachers, Local 1220

where I serve as President.

I taught High School Biology for several years in the East St. Louis School District 189. After many years of service, I resigned to accept a position with the Illinois Federation of Teachers, (IFT), as a Field Service Director.

What is your involvement with union activism? How did it all begin and why is it important to you?

During the last eight years that I worked as a full-time teacher, I simultaneously served as the President of the Local.

Before becoming president, I felt that there was a need to have a greater voice in addressing the needs and rights of teachers. Addressing those needs and rights would allow individuals to become better teachers and thus better serve students.

When the opportunity to work with other local unions in the Metro-East area presented itself, I resigned as a teacher in East St. Louis to accept a position as a Field Service Director for the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

I retired from my role as a Field Service Director with IFT until I was approached by the then Local President, Sharon Crockett (also a full-time teacher), who asked if I would return to the Local to serve as their grievance chairperson.

At the time, the school district was experiencing tremendous challenges, many that I saw firsthand during my early years of union involvement. Appreciating the challenges that I faced as a full-time teacher serving as president, and that union members face in general, I accepted the position.

After serving a few years as the Local's grievance chair, it was impressed on me by officials of the Local that there was a need for a president who was not a full-time employee. I, therefore, agreed to run for the position of President. I was elected and I have been re-elected for four (4) additional 2-year terms.

We often hear the phrase “A teacher’s working conditions are a child’s learning conditions.” How do you see this phrase play out in your role as a teacher?

Evidence shows us that a child's learning conditions are better when teacher's have good working conditions. Therefore, when the working conditions are better, the learning environment is greatly improved. With the improved learning environment, the teacher's effectiveness improves, and thus that results in student achievement and success.

What are some of the more memorable challenges you have faced in your career as a teacher and how did the union support you?

While serving as a young teacher with very little financial means to pay for an advanced degree that would improve my teaching skills and knowledge, the Union successfully negotiated with the School Board of the District in which I was employed to provide tuition reimbursement. The tuition allowed me, and others, to return to school in pursuit of an advanced degree and additional professional development courses.

As a biology teacher, special equipment and supplies are essential to meet education standards and provide a quality learning environment for the students. The Union was a big part of successfully negotiating with the school district to provide supplies needed to best perform my duties as a teacher.

Education is seen as the great equalizer in the United States. However, East St. Louis has some of the highest poverty rates in the Midwest and is even memorialized in the famous book Savage Inequalities. What are some examples of the ways in which you and your local mobilized to close loopholes in our education system and improve classroom conditions?

As union leaders, we focus on advocating for better working conditions that translate into improved learning conditions. Among those conditions are for the School District to provide the support that students need to be in a position to maximize their learning experience. This, in part, is done by having student counselors and social workers available at all times to meet the student's needs. In addition, advocating that resources and training be available and provided to parents as they are needed.

We have also negotiated so that the District supplies equipment, technology, and professional development for both teachers and other staff members on a continual basis. And, that the District has all of the teachers, and other staff members involved in the decisions that enhance the learning potential of the students and families we serve.

Talk to me about Invest in Kids which is one form of the privatization of public resources that dominates our country's neoliberal landscape. How do voucher programs like this contribute to inequality both in the Metro-East while also impacting education standards in wealthier communities?

This is especially concerning to me. Having taught, and now serving as an official of a local in one of the impoverished school districts in the Metro-East area, I am keenly aware of the importance of the state providing resources that are needed to at least make up the shortfall in revenue that some of the local communities are unable to provide.

Even after maximizing the resources that the State can provide under the present formula, it still would not provide the resources that are available to wealthier school districts. Nevertheless, the State can help to reduce the disparity.

When public tax dollars are siphoned off by various ways of disguising it as benefiting those in impoverished school districts, that takes away resources that would be available to help reduce the disparity. Public dollars should not be used to support private schools at the expense of the masses in the public schools, usually those that are in the greatest need of public funds.

Let’s talk about Black History Month. Across the country, new laws are forcing schools to grapple with the limits of being able to teach Black history. In fact, lawmakers in 30 states have proposed restrictions. How does the union protect teachers in Illinois to ensure they are able to teach without censorship?

The Union protects the rights of teachers by being an advocate against censorship. The Union advocates for an inclusive curriculum that provides for a wholesome learning environment.

We also push back when laws would restrict the teaching of Black history and the contribution of blacks in the history of this country, as well as the conditions that were endured by and are currently being endured by Black Americans.

On the political front, when we support candidates who understand the need for a wholesome curriculum, we are ensuring that our students have a curriculum that reflects the true history of the United States by the teaching of Black history and the contribution of blacks to this country.

As a union activist, why is Black History Month important to you? How can unions contribute to more equality in the workplace?

As a union activist, I am in a position to advocate for the need and retention of Black History Month. Black History Month allows for a focus on the many contributions that Blacks have made to the history of this country. The Union, especially in school districts where there are few, if any, Blacks and other minorities, can insist that there are programs, efforts, and policies adopted to provide for diversities in their workforce, and thus their membership.

What do you think is important for other union members, especially those who may not work in the public sector, to know about the role teachers unions play?

I think that it is important for other union members to know that teacher unions have concerns that they share.

Many of the concerns of teacher unions are those that impact their children and community. Teacher unions want working conditions that will allow them to best perform their duties and thus be in a position to provide the best education for their children.

Good working conditions will positively impact the quality of the school district and thus the value of property in communities. This often determines whether or not businesses would want to locate in those communities, and thus the availability of jobs in those communities.

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