June 5, 2013

Teachers Talk Back: Carrie Hernández

Carrie teaches kindergarten at Andersen United Community School in Minneapolis. She is also a member of the E3MN Teacher Action Team on Teacher Contracts.

What inspired you to become an educator?

At first, I avoided teaching. I just never thought it was right for me. But, I knew that I wanted to find a profession where I could make a difference. After a practicum experience working in a classroom, I finally realized teaching was a good fit for me and my skill set.

I have been teaching for nearly 15 years now. One of the biggest things I have come to appreciate about the teaching role, though, is that it is still possible to be an activist.

One example for me was the experience of living in a community that was less diverse and then teaching in a community that it is highly diverse. It was worrisome to me that teachers were coming into the profession without understanding the diverse assets our students are bringing.

I felt like teacher prep programs could do a better job of helping teacher candidates being informed on the perspectives and needs of our changing student demographics. So, I began advocating around that issue in particular through my work as a teacher leader in my school.

Why did you decide to join the E3MN Teacher Action Team on contracts?

First of all, I joined E3MN because I felt like I wanted to start making change in my profession and not just focus on the negative aspects of it. I feel like, unfortunately, complaining is where our conversations begin and end in schools, but now with E3MN, things are framed differently.

So, when I heard that the contract team would be looking at contracts from around the country and making recommendations, I knew I wanted to join. I was interested in looking at ways that things were being done in different cities and coming up with positive changes for Minneapolis.

With the contract team, we are able to make a difference because we have the ability to say how things could be more efficient or effective for teachers and for kids based on how it has worked elsewhere.

As a member of the contract team, you have gotten to study and debate the merits of contracts from around the country. What has been your biggest takeaway?

It’s been really eye-opening to have conversations surrounding the positives and the negatives of the current contract in Minneapolis.

At first, when we were exploring issues around site-based management, I felt that the contract was worded in a vague way, but then we discussed how that could be a positive aspect. Having certain sections be open for interpretation could empower teachers and leaders at the school site to make choices that are better for their kids.

I have enjoyed exploring the happy medium between having flexibility in language with certain provisions, but having really defined expectations in other sections. On the contract team, we have been able to articulate where it is important to have really clearly defined roles and outcomes and then also where it might be better to provide school leaders and teachers with flexibility.

What is one change you would like to see in the Minneapolis teachers' contract in upcoming contract negotiations?

I would like to see changes made around site-based management options for schools. I think providing flexibility for the ways schools approach things like budget, time, curriculum, and composition of leadership teams will make sure that policy decisions are right for the unique needs of the students at the school site. At that same time, each school should be held accountable to certain outcomes.

The important factor for making a system of site-based management successful is recruiting and retaining the right leadership team. We have such a diversity of schools in Minneapolis, but I would like to see a process or system for selecting leaders that is less ambiguous. I would prefer one that defines who holds what roles and responsibilities, what areas they oversee, and how the school model is shaped by the decisions they make.  

Why is it important that teachers get involved in what's happening outside of their classrooms?

The contract is a perfect example. In the past, it has been something that I wasn’t really informed, but always knew that it had a large effect on my job. It was just something that I vaguely heard about, and only remember talking about it in terms of what was NOT working rather than what was possible.

The E3MN contract team has made me realize that if I want something to change or if I see something not working for teachers or for kids, then I need to have a voice and advocate for other possible solutions.

In using our voices, we are defining the teaching profession to not only our jobs more rewarding and fulfilling, but ultimately we will benefit our students.