Delegates to the 53rd annual Louisiana Federation of Teachers convention cheered news of the union’s biggest growth spurt, honored legislators and union leaders for their dedication to public education, were buoyed by keynote addresses from nationally recognized speakers, and were inspired by a best-selling author whose work with disadvantaged children became a popular motion picture.
One of the convention’s best moments came when Chief of Staff Marcus Fontenot announced that LFT’s back-to-school organizing drive was the best in LFT history, with almost 2,000 new members recruited. Growth was strong in every area of the state, he said, with the biggest gains in Red River United in the Shreveport area, the Calcasieu Federation in Southwest Louisiana, and the Jefferson Federation in Southeast Louisiana.
LFT President Larry Carter, elected to his first full term in office, roused the nearly 200 delegates with his vision for the role of the Federation and the future of public education in Louisiana.
Carter laid out to members why it is essential for the union to be politically active, pointing out the pivotal role LFT played in the election of Gov. John Bel Edwards.
“We belong to the only profession that does not set its own standards,” Carter said. “Doctors, lawyers, engineers all have standards, practices and codes that are set by the experts who must deal with them every day.
“But in the education profession,” he said, “the decisions that impact our activities in school are set by elected officials who don’t ever have to set foot in the classroom.
“If anyone ever questions why the union endorses candidates and takes positions on issues’ he said, “the answer is clear. That’s the only way our profession can have an impact on the laws, rules and policies that guide our professional lives.”
LFT is dedicated to preserving public education, Carter said, and will fight for adequate education funding and will oppose efforts to divert public funds away from our schools.
A key goal of the union, he said, is to protect educators’ due process rights, and to defend them from arbitrary actions, from favoritism, and from meddling by administrators.
“We believe that educators deserve salary schedules that reflect their experience, their educational achievement, and their efforts to improve their professional standing,” he said. “When educators are evaluated, it should be done with instruments that are fair, accurate, help them to improve their skills, and lead to better results in the classroom.”
Real reforms in public education cannot happen without the input of organizations like the LFT, he said.
“A single teacher or school employee can’t do much to stop the anti-public education agenda,” Carter said. But if we’re smart, use our resources wisely and bring our collective strength to bear, the 20,000 members of the Louisiana Federation of Teachers can make a difference.”
Carter urged LFT leaders to “build a union that engages members, listens to their concerns, and truly represents them.”
A strong union, he said, is necessary to support education advocates like three who were recognized at the convention, Friend of Education Representative Patricia Haynes Smith of Baton Rouge, Senator of the Year Dan “Blade” Morrish of Jennings and Representative Sam L. Jenkins of Shreveport.
Strong words of support and encouragement for the union came from national AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shumer, who reminded members that the labor movement is “the most powerful force for working families on the planet,” and from New York State Assemblywoman Christine Pellegrino, who said, “When you stand with your union brothers and sisters, you never stand alone.”
Teacher Erin Gruwell, whose bestselling Freedom Writers Diary recounted how her students changed their lives by telling their own stories, brought the audience to tears and reminded them that every teacher has an opportunity to make a real difference and affect the future through their students.
Gruwell’s book was turned into a motion picture starring Hilary Swank and real high school students.
The LFT convention, hosted by Red River United and President Jackie Lansdale, ran November 18 through 20 at the Shreveport Convention Center.