Help Baltimore City Teachers fight back against surprise observations

By Joel Pally

Educator, High School Physics and Chemistry

Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School

Baltimore Teachers Union - American Federation of Teachers: Local 340

Since this summer the Mayor's appointed School Board has been considering a policy to make our formal observations, which determine whether we can work in the city and our pay, unannounced. This overwhelmingly unpopular among teachers, with 99.4% against unannounced formal observations in a BTU run survey.

Over the summer 35 teachers showed up to a school board meeting to protest the issue, which was unprecedented participation for the BTU at a summer action according to long time members.

On the evening of August 27th, after the first day of work, when teachers were under enormous pressure to stay and work on our classrooms (we are not given the time needed to properly get ready for the students) we had about a HUNDRED teachers at North Ave to speak out against the issue. The school board had introduced a 'compromise' bill that reduced the number of unannounced formal observations that they hoped would sail through. BTU members resoundingly rejected it.

It appears that rank and file presence was the ONLY reason the Board wobbled and backed off from ramming through the surprise formal observation policy. After two failed votes, the Board decided to delay their decision to a subsequent meeting.

The BTU convened a strategy meeting a few days letter to democratically decide how the union should proceed.

Some members in leadership, who had met with school board members throughout the week, saw taking the concession of one surprise formal observation as the risk-averse position. But, DSA and other activists teachers present saw it differently. We felt that we needed far greater rank and file involvement than we currently have if we have any shot at making the kind of transformational demands that are needed. Ceding on an issue that's so central to teachers' quality of life and pay would have had the opposite effect.

As a group, we agreed to fight for a delay of any vote on this policy until a working group that included teachers gets a chance to re-evaluate the observation rubric, observation cycles, training of observers and the use of informal observations.

That decision came to be in major part to both previously uninvolved rank and file teachers turning out to the steering meeting to share how this fight had now mobilized them and activist teachers who stressed how important this opportunity this was to engage even more of their co-workers. The alternative was to cede on the issue in the hope of squeezing out other concessions from a board that is largely hostile to teacher's interests.

At the strategy meeting, we decided on a core group of speakers to testify. That plan includes having Joel testify to provide the new teacher perspective on the issue.

The Board then delayed again, pushing the vote back from September 10 to the 24th. BTU is organizing internally and the union plans to have 200 or 300 members there.

That will make this the biggest BTU demonstration in a long long time. And there are reasons to believe the 24th will pave the way for BTU mass Action becoming a routine instead of an exception.

I'm really proud of the progress socialists have already made in advancing the rank and file strategy in the BTU. But, on the 24th the case that mass mobilization is our most powerful weapon will be on trial. How it goes will likely shape the kind of organizing BTU will want to engage in for months.

We think that there's a critical role for community members to play at the event. We need a hold a strong picket line outside the boardroom to both inspire teachers as they walk in and put pressure on commissioners before during and after their decision. Leadership and rank and file in the BTU need to feel that when the union mobilizes membership, community will be there in support.

If you can't make it in person make sure to contact the Board of Commissioners:

Board Policy Committee

School Board Main Account

Linda M. Chinnia, Board Chair

Durryle Brooks, Commissioner

Muriel Berkeley, Commissioner and member of the Policy Committee

Michelle Harris Bondima, Commissioner

Andrew "Andy" Frank, Commissioner

Martha James-Hassan, Commissioner and member of the Policy Committee

Ronald S. McFadden, Commissioner and member of the Policy Committee

Vernon A. Reid, Jr., Commissioner

Johnette Richardson, Board Vice Chair

Joshua Lynn, Student Commissioner and member of the Policy Committee

Learn more here:

Those interested in learning more should check out:

PART 1: Debunking Myths about Unannounced Formal Observations

PART 2: Baltimore City Teachers Welcome Accountability and Feedback, in Fair System accountability-and-feedback-in-a-fair-system-e206888cf788

Misusing the Instructional Framework: