Finding Strength in Unity
After 36 years of teaching and union activism, Peter Matrow, a retired elementary teacher, finally achieved the bargaining victory he sought his entire career: a contract that guarantees equal planning time for all teachers.
Photo by: Xenophon A. Beake
I started teaching in 1973 in my hometown of Monson, Massachusetts. My second day on the job, the president of the Monson Teachers Association, asked me to be a building representative and I accepted. I saw the union as protection. Members worked together professionally, associated socially, and came together through the union.
Eventually, I became vice president and later president of the local. In 1980, I participated in my first collective bargaining session with the school district. At that time, elementary teachers had no guaranteed planning time during the school day, so we decided to bargain for it. We asked for a few minutes a week—not guaranteed daily prep time—and it was piecemeal, a little here and a little there.
The district believed we could plan our lessons while our students attended music, art, or physical education classes. But if the district didn’t provide substitutes when the teachers for those classes were absent, our students did not attend their specials, and we didn’t get our prep time. We always had to have other lessons prepared to fill that time with classroom activities. The district also considered recess, lunch, and other duty times planning time for teachers, even though we were expected to supervise students. As every educator knows, that’s not prep time.
With that first contract we secured a weekly amount of planning time. But we wanted a block of time each day. During the next 10 years or so, we pushed for daily planning time and with each subsequent contract we made progress. But it wasn’t enough just to have some planning time. We wanted teachers to have equitable time across the elementary, middle, and high school levels. After all, all teachers are on the same pay schedule, so all teachers should have the same hours and prep time.
Through the years, the high school transitioned to a block system, and as a result, the planning time for those teachers increased to 70 minutes. The middle school schedule evolved as well, giving those teachers 45 minutes of daily planning time and 30 minutes for team collaboration. The elementary schedule, remained unchanged and so did our lack of planning time.
In my last two years of teaching, I served my second term as local president. During the final contract negotiation of my career we at last secured a daily 45-minute planning period for the elementary teachers, as well as weekly time for the teachers to meet in teams.
Looking back, I’m proud to have served my membership on every bargaining team from 1980 until I retired in 2009. Through my bargaining experience, I learned that even though school boards will attempt to create friction between the different teaching levels to divide the membership during negotiations, the union brings all of us—elementary, middle, and high school teachers—together around a common concern. And when we are united we can accomplish anything.
Collective Bargaining Under Attack
Lawmakers in Ohio, Wisconsin, and a growing number of states have introduced legislation designed to limit the ability of public employees—including educators—to bargain collectively. Recent polls, meanwhile, show that the majority of Americans oppose such measures. Keep up with the latest news online at www.educationvotes.nea.org/. Be sure to sign NEA’s online petition to show your support for the rights of public workers.