Unsatisfactory? The Evaluation Fight of 1985

When it comes to school evaluations, student grades by teachers probably come to mind. However, the winter of 1985 saw the teachers of the Boston Teachers Union (BTU) confront a very different kind of assessment: the Boston Public School (BPS) administration and its evaluation of its teaching staff. The cartoon below, published in the January 1985 issue of the Boston Union Teacher, captured the problem: busybody administrators and superintendents looking for reasons to fail teachers and keeping them from educating children. What was going on that school year and how did teacher evaluations play a role?

Advertisements in the Boston Union Teacher: An Introduction

Section of an advertisement from page five of BUT‘s October 1976 issue. Courtesy of the University Archives & Special Collections Department, Joseph P. Healey Library, University of Massachusetts Boston: “Boston Teachers Union Newspaper”

One of the most important parts of any endeavor today is funding. Projects rise and fall–have a sudden boom and stall out–all depending on money. This has long been the case, especially for ventures like newspapers and other news delivery services, including union papers like the Boston Union Teacher. The Boston Union Teacher has been the news outlet for the Boston Teachers Union since the mid-1960s. Flipping through our digital facsimiles of early issues, I started to wonder how this newsletter was able to become and remain so prolific. It has been a well-received staple of the Boston teaching scene for decades and has even gotten national recognition. How was it able to keep going when so many other sources of news fail? Though of course, the primary reason that this newspaper succeeds is its people, money has to have played a role. Looking at the digital copies of the paper that we have on hand, I couldn’t figure out their initial sources of funding but I quickly found one prominent source:


Time to Eat! The Right to a Duty-Free Lunch

Just a few quiet minutes to yourself to eat lunch, every day – everyone deserves that, right? Well, for decades Boston educators, especially elementary school teachers, did not have a guaranteed right to a duty-free lunch.

That’s why the BTU made it one of their earliest contract demands.

The calls for a duty-free lunch started early. The Boston Union Teacher newspaper for December 1963 included “duty-free lunch” in a list of topics to discuss at an upcoming membership meeting at the Hotel Bradford. (Side-note: The same issue contained a touching memorial to John F. Kennedy, whose sudden assassination shocked the world only the month before on November 22, 1963.)

Lunchbox 1980s” via Wikimedia Commons (Greg Mote from Los Angeles, USA, CC BY 2.0)

The Unified Facilities Plan and the BTU (Draft)

A cartoon published in the December, 1979 edition of the Boston Union Teacher decrying the hypocrisy present in the Unified Facilities Plan: https://openarchives.umb.edu/digital/collection/p15774coll27/id/356/rec/76

In the March, 1979 edition of the Boston Union Teacher, the banner headline called attention to a formal protest issued to the Boston School Department over the closure of eleven elementary schools in the city, effective September, 1979. The announcement of closure was made in mid-February. The Boston Teachers Union was not alone in this protest, nor were they the first, following the Citywide Parent’s Advisory Council. Both the BTU and the CPAC accused the School Department of breaking promises that parents would be fully involved in what was termed the Unified Facilities Plan. What was this plan? And why did it involve closing schools? What did the BTU do to try and curtail its effects that they considered negative?

An Elephant in the Room: Desegregation in the BTU

A political cartoon showing two children walking through a school hallway, talking to one another. One is white and one is Black. The white child says to the Black child, "My father wants me to have everything he didn't have as a child - like an integrated education."
“Judge to Rule on Staff.” Courtesy University Archives and Special Collections, UMass Boston: Boston Union Teacher, October, 1974. Detail.

Women’s Voices in the BTU

Being a woman in the American workplace, especially prior to the twenty-first century, often means association with education. That’s certainly no exception for my family. My mother was a teacher’s aide for kindergarten classes. Two of my aunts are teachers. My maternal grandmother worked in administration, and my paternal grandmother was a school crossing guard. Most recently, my sister left an early education center for an elementary classroom of her own. Their careers taught me at a young age how much the education system relies on these women to not only nurture young minds, but to be the pillars of the system’s daily function as well.

Speaking Out: Letters to the Editor

Clippings of letters to the editor from the Union Teacher
Top left:
For Boston Union Teacher: “Dialing a Wake-up Call.” Courtesy of University Archives and Special Collections, UMass Boston: Boston Union Teacher, November, 1965. (Detail).
Top right:
For Boston Union Teacher: “What I should Have Said.” Courtesy of University Archives and Special Collections, UMass Boston: Boston Union Teacher, November, 1965. (Detail).
Bottom left:
For Boston Union Teacher: “Ed Reform Shouldn’t Scapegoat Teachers.” Courtesy of University Archives and Special Collections, UMass Boston: Boston Union Teacher, November, 1965. (Detail).
Bottom right:
For Boston Union Teacher: “Young Teachers Want to Participate.” Courtesy of University Archives and Special Collections, UMass Boston: Boston Union Teacher, November, 1965. (Detail).

            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.

Solidarity in the BTU

       When someone thinks about what it means to be in or have a Union one of the first words to come to mind is ‘solidarity.’ Solidarity, defined from Merriam-Webster dictionary, means “unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards.” The Boston Teachers Union (BTU) was created in 1946 and has been advocating for the teachers (and eventually teacher aids and nurses) of Boston’s Public Schools ever since. But they haven’t only stood in solidarity with themselves, they have also expanded their support and stood in solidarity with Unions across the country. The 1970s, the decade looked at here in this blog post, has a lot going on with conflict about Desegregation as a backdrop alongside many national Union movements that take root.

An Arresting Photograph

BTU President John Reilly leaves the Charles Street jail as a child looks on.
Release from Charles Street Jail.” Boston Teachers Union Collections, University Archives and Special Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, UMass Boston.

Without its caption, this image might feel ordinary. A man in a suit leaving a sturdy-looking government building stops to shake the hand of the uniformed officer at the door while a child — perhaps waiting for the man — looks on from the steps outside. When we learn that we are witnessing the release of Boston Teachers Union President John Reilly from the Charles Street Jail in May of 1970, however, things get interesting. Why was the president of the city’s teachers union incarcerated? Why does he look so chipper in spite of this fact? Who took this photo, and for what purpose? And who’s the kid?

Collective Bargaining: This Changes Everything

Front page of the Boston Union Teacher celebrating BTU's election as collective bargaining agent in 1965.
Boston Union Teacher front page celebrating collective bargaining, November, 1965. University Archives and Special Collections, Joseph P. Healey Library, UMass Boston.

For most Bostonians, November 9, 1965, is remembered as the day of the Great Northeastern Blackout, when power grid failures at the US-Canada border knocked lights out from Toronto to Boston and south to New York City. For the Boston Teachers Union, however, the blackout was merely the backdrop to another once-in-a-lifetime event. Thanks to a new Massachusetts law that allowed public sector workers and their unions to bargain collectively with municipal governments, the BTU was contesting an election to represent Boston’s teachers at the bargaining table on November 9, 1965.