The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) newspaper offers a rich history on the views of its members throughout the past sixty years, particularly through the letters to the editor. There are many opportunities to explore and learn from this resource and it can be easy to overlook important snippets of the voices of teachers within the Union. How often do we take notice of the smaller headlines in the news or the articles that offer some simple piece of advice over the topics that clamor for our attention? Letters to the editor are often missed by the reader, deemed as banal or trivial. As a student teacher myself, I am interested in what teachers had to say about the events and problems they faced. These letters are wonderful examples of teacher voices and how they interacted with their Union.
Letters to the editor can help to show what the opinions of teachers were and how they contributed to the newspaper to share their thoughts. These writers confidently shared their love, advice, and critical feedback on what the Union was publishing in the paper. It is common for the contents of a letter to the editor to simply be about the writer’s appreciation about a certain piece. However, in the BTU newspaper, one is more likely to find a letter that calls the accuracy of a previous article into question or that outright criticizes the viewpoints of the editors. Additionally, these letters are often published on the third or second page of the newspaper, which is noteworthy as it shows the high esteem the Union holds for its members.
The teachers writing to the BTU newspaper were not afraid to share their thoughts on the current issues. February 2001, Michael Maguire of Boston Latin Academy writes about education reforms saying, “Educational reforms will not work as long as our public schools are overcrowded. We need to hire more teachers so that class sizes will decrease.” It would have been the teachers who were experiencing first-hand what needed to be reformed within the schools, and thus, it is important to highlight these voices so that they are not lost to time. January 2004, John Glynn of West Roxbury High laments his silence in response to hearing about a teacher’s experience of being laid off as they rallied for BTUnity. Glynn explains how he should have said, “‘Thank you for being here today! Your team spirit is what unionism should be about! Even though you have lost your job, you still care about the well-being of your brother and sister Union members.’” The thoughts that these teachers shared with the newspaper can tell us so much about the events that the Union members were living through. Additionally, the difficulties the teachers were struggling with are just as important and relevant today. We cannot let the ink and paper of these newspapers yellow and fade away since the experiences of these teachers can help us seek solutions today.
Teachers’ Advice Still Applies Today
Teachers and members also offered advice within their letters that can still be used today. November 2002, Beth Dietz of Madison Park Technical Vocational High School writes critically about a previous article, “Is the Younger Teacher Union-ist?” She explains, “I see the younger teachers as trying to fit into a system that they haven’t quite gotten their heads around – they see changes that need to be made…What the younger teachers have not understood is that they can gain these changes using the Union, especially in our contracts.” While defending young teachers, Dietz goes on to offer advice as a solution to this problem, saying, “In my time in the BTU, no one has asked me to phone call members about political issues or referendum questions…I encourage all new and older members to form these rank-and-file groups in their schools and then set up times to phone call, go to other picket lines, and train people…” Dietz’s call for creating more community among the members to help the younger teachers learn how to use their Union comes from a place of experience and hope. This letter leads one to wonder, why were there gaps between the generations of members in the Union? Was Dietz’s advice ever taken and did this generational divide ever change, or did it become worse over the years? These important questions could not be asked if her letter was forgotten.
How the BTU Allowed Teaches to Openly Criticize the Union
Lastly, teachers even wrote to the newspaper to openly criticize the leadership of the Union. October 1999, Maureen Shea of Charlestown High writes, “Pardon me while I vent. It’s been two months since our last BTU elections and I am still in disbelief…I’ve witnessed and been part of the rise of this Union…Unfortunately, I have lived to see the decline, in the last several contracts, of many hard earned contractual rights…We need CHANGE. We need new blood…new attitudes, and much more involvement…” If we do not highlight the voices that criticized the problems of yesterday, how can we expect to find solutions today?
The teachers who wrote to the BTU newspaper made the time to seek solutions to the problems that they and the Union were facing in the education system. It is the teachers who had to suffer through the issues every day, and it is the teachers who would know how to think of answers to the questions that the Union was raising. However, in addition to respecting the voices of teachers, by bringing attention to these letters to the editor, we can also begin to see how the BTU itself respected the members’ contributions. By posting their letters at the beginning of the paper and publishing letters that began with, “Pardon me while I vent,” the Union at least created a space where teachers could feel respected in a world that often left them to be forgotten about in the schools. By highlighting these letters, we can show just how important teachers voices are and the Union that allowed them to speak.
Grace Wargovich is a student in the Accelerated Master’s in History program at UMass Boston currently finishing her undergraduate degree in history with a minor in secondary education. She is a student teacher at Randolph High School where she teaches Modern World History and United States History. She has always been passionate about history and is excited to share this interest with others as a future educator. She is particularly interested in teachers’ voices and how they have been expressed through the Boston Teachers Union newspaper.
Ball, Gerald. “A Non-Option.” Union Teacher. March 2000, 3. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/198/rec/270 (accessed March 20, 2022).
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Shea, Maureen. “Dialing a Wake-Up Call.” Union Teacher. October 1999. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/194/rec/265 (accessed March 20, 2022).
 Michael Maguire, “Ed Reform Shouldn’t Scapegoat Teachers,” Union Teacher, February 2001, 2. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/266/rec/279 (accessed March 20, 2022).
 John Glynn, “What I Should Have Said,” Union Teacher, January 2004, 3. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/163/rec/307 (accessed March 20, 2022).
 Beth Dietz, “Young Teachers Want to Participate,” Union Teacher, November 2002, 5. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/127/rec/295 (accessed March 20, 2022).
 Maureen Shea, “Dialing a Wake-Up Call,” Union Teacher, October 1999, 2. https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/194/rec/265 (accessed March 20, 2022).