Boo! Hiss!

image by Kristopher Skinner/Bay Area News Group-East Bay

I wasn’t at yesterday’s local control ceremony, but I read that a number of teachers — protesting the bargaining impasse — were shouting over the speakers, booing and hissing. (Is hissing particularly popular in the Bay Area/California? My first exposure to this form of protest was in Hayward, over four years ago.)

I often hear that teachers want to be seen — and treated — as professionals, and most would agree that they should be. Do you think such rude public behavior undermines that goal, in the eyes of the administration and the public? Or is it an effective disincentive to get on the union’s bad side?

More broadly, what kind of a message does it send about teachers — and about Oakland’s public schools, during this important (and difficult) moment?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • harlemmoon

    Katy, what you see is what you get.
    This reprehensible behavior represents the height of disrespect. It was quite embarrassing to hear the shouting, the boos as each speaker attempted to make his points (I’m no fan of Noel Gallo’s, but even he deserved the respect of being heard).
    This is the pathetic face that the district so often shows the world. And many of them, based on the way they misbehaved, are quite OK with it. Sheesh, what a bunch of utterly unprofessional loudmouths.

  • seenitbefore

    the wheels are fully in motion to bust the union…..

    we should stop shooting ourselves in the foot and not be supplying any more ammo to management.

  • Jessica Stewart

    I think it’s important to note that this subset of misguided teachers does not represent the professional, mature teachers that are in most Oakland classrooms.

  • Katy Murphy

    Thanks for noting that, Jessica.

    Here’s a question for you: If that kind of behavior does not represent the majority Oakland teachers, yet it could still reflect on them, is there any push back?

  • Cate

    I cannot believe that any group of professionals would act in such a way. There are so many more constructive ways to express disagreement and displeasure. How can a group that wants to be seen and treated as professionals justify doing such a thing?? And I don’t mean justify being upset, I mean justifying expressing their frustration in this manner. Is this really the behavior we want modeled for our students?

  • Michael Siegel

    It is interesting, Katy, that you mention the word “professional.” The term represents a long-time split among teachers (that I first observed as a teacher/ OEA member) — whether teachers are a “labor union” or “professional association.” Many Oakland teachers want only to focus on the classroom, while a few care most about political engagement. Unfortunately, although OEA has a great, diverse group of members and representatives, the activists tend to over-represent political partisanship and under-represent teaching and learning. I don’t know if Jessica or any individual can be held to account for the activists, though.

    (It’s almost like being an American traveling abroad and being asked to account for rude visitors that precede you. With 3,000+ OEA members, you are bound to have all sorts of opinions and tactics.)

    That said, after enduring six years of state takeover, Oaklanders may be justified in booing Jack O’Connell. It may be uncouth, to some, to prevent a person from speaking. But O’Connell has shown little respect for Oakland. Throughout the takeover, he has seemed more concerned with the educational visions of his campaign donors (i.e., Eli Broad) and his own gubernatorial prospects than with anything the people of Oakland wanted to say. If he refused to consider the perspectives of Oakland parents, teachers, and OUSD staff during the time he maintained control of the schools, why should the State Superintendent merit any better treatment himself?

  • Katy Murphy

    I know the term “professional” can be debated in some contexts, but the president of the teachers union — who obviously comes from a strong labor perspective — uses it to describe how teachers deserve to be treated by the district.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Yes, Katy–that is how teachers deserve to be treated. And the boos and hisses reflect the frustration teachers feel from being ignored year after year when trying to express our concerns in a less abrasive manner. Katy, I wish you would react this strongly when teachers–who are working sometimes under extremely difficult conditions–are ignored, mistreated, and unsupported by district policies. I hope I am not detecting a bias here…

  • TheTruthHurts

    I truly appreciated your points. I don’t for one moment believe that the majority of Oakland teachers would behave that way. What is problematic is it can look like they are represented by a small group that feels free to do so. On Comcast I’ve watched part of a couple of contentious Board meetings and it’s just embarrassing (not just the teachers either). I hope these folks aren’t the formal representatives, but just the “activists” as you put it.

    What I don’t think some understand is it doesn’t help encourage “professional” treatment to boo or hiss. It might feel good emotionally, but I doubt it meets the larger goal. My nieces and my nephews throw tantrums when they feel they’re being treated like “children.” Even if they’re right, the tantrum doesn’t help win me over.

  • Katy Murphy

    I raised this issue because the boos and hisses and interruptions that I see from time to time appear to be more of a tactic than a purely emotional response (though it’s probably a bit of both).

    I disagree with the idea that I reacted strongly in this blog post. Rather, I questioned the effectiveness of the heckling approach in resolving the very real issues facing Oakland teachers.

    Since you asked about my bias… My hunch is that this tactic isn’t very helpful, but I welcome evidence to the contrary!

  • Betty Olson-Jones

    Katy, it is regrettable that the very critical issues that we raised at the press conference on Monday have become focused on boos and hisses from a handful of people. I hope that the public can understand that teachers are frustrated, overworked, NOT treated as professionals in a profession that is ever-more stressful, and that some of our members react in ways that may not be seen as productive. As President of the Oakland Education Association, I urge readers to focus on the real issues here — that teachers are once again being made the scapegoats in the scenario that’s being played out. We have been negotiating with the State for 14 months, during which time it’s true very little has been accomplished — because the State continues to insist “there’s no money” yet diverts millions to consultants and other programs while threatening teachers with pay cuts. I will post more shortly — I’m at a 15-minute station at the NEA Rep Assembly…

  • Katy Murphy

    Betty – Are you saying that OEA leadership doesn’t engage in or condone this sort of behavior? Is it something you talk about when you’re preparing for various actions? These aren’t rhetorical questions; I’m really curious.

    I wasn’t at the press conference, and I have — and will — report on the issues of teacher compensation and conditions. (This is just a blog post, by the way, not a Sunday headliner.)

    But anything that happens at a press conference or a board meeting is fair game for coverage, as far as I’m concerned. So are questions about union activism and tactics. Those are real issues, too.

  • http://realschoolreform.net Craig Gordon

    I completely agree with Betty Olson-Jones’s comments above. I’m surprised that your first musings on the impasse and the fact that it coincided with the end of the state administration focuses on such a tangential point at best. The real disrespect has been shown by the district over and over in negotiations and in the way it treats its workers every day.

    As you noted, you were not there. I was, and while I can attest to a few boos and hisses when O’Connell came to the podium and at a few other moments, Tribune Reporter Kristin Bender’s statement that many teachers “shouted over the speeches” is absolutely inaccurate. Occasionally a teacher called out comments, and audibly gasped at Jack O’Connell’s outrageously laughable claim that the state administration had put the district on sound financial footing. (It increased the district’s debt to $80 million, from an initial amount of anywhere from $23 million to $65 million, depending on who you believe.) I think that the teacher who spoke up the loudest during the district/state press conference was me, but I wasn’t heckling; I was asking Noel Gallo a question: “Now that you have local control will you step back from impasse? You say that you can work with your teachers better than the state. Why not step back from impasse now?” I’ve reported his answer at http://realschoolreform.net and have also reflect there on some important aspects of this story.

  • A Life Time Educator

    Another example of Betty Olsen Jones and Emanuel Lopez’s tactics that show poorly on us all. As a teacher I am ashamed and want my dues returned

  • Public School Fan

    Way back in May 2009 on this blog (in the discussion under, “Pay Cut For Oakland Teachers?”, one Oakland teacher made a big point of noting that the union’s contract demands were meant as a political statement and that the union knew that it would not be able to get what it was asking for. I think that pretty much sums it up.

  • Cranky Teacher

    A lot of talk about the teachers not budging on their demands, but I have heard nothing about the state administrator offering any compromises.

    Yes, there’s a budget crisis, but OUSD salaries are stuck at 1999 levels ten years later. We’re last out of the 17 closest districts in pay. Where is the money going?

    And why would the state declare an impasse just before turning the district back over to the board? Does that make any sense at all?

    Talk about rude…

  • Miss Nancy

    Gagging us with “professionalism” again, ya’ all….?

    That is the problem with this “profession…”
    Smile in my face, then force your way down my throat and up the ying-yang…or blackmailed with stigmatizations…gag me ’til I vomit!!!

    And I thought Oakland was so well-read in its political history…Since when is heckling, if it occurred at all and as stated (or misstated) by a Tribune reporter, so “unprofessional,” or “unbecoming of the education profession?” Why wasn’t there any banana cream pie in the face(s) as well???? Some watched their relatives beat management with baseball bats in the early Labor History Struggles around America…

    It appears that those ready to stigmatize teachers basically struggling for a living-wage must have lots of money to fund their bare essentials…Or perhaps inflated personal service contracts with the District? Why are student test scores which should be used by the professionals in the classroom or at the grade-level be sent to outside sources sucking lots of money out of District finances? (Just to name one waste).

    Can anyone tell me with my husband out-of-work, what I should forfeit come August/September, 2009, the rent or the food/gas, to pay for my child’s preschool bill? Is there a free space for my kid at a CDC so that we can put-out another needy kid? I’d be happy with a child-care/preschool voucher, a rent subsidy, or any other in-kind certificates to exchange for food or other life necessities if their going to do a pay cut next.

    I will hiss and boo anyone who doesn’t have a straight answer based on a calculator or some other rational reality…I even like the pie ideas…I think this was a wonderful lesson to all of our children, including my own…

    Who are those in Sacramento that again have California issuing IOU’s?

    Oakland, CA

  • Debora


    Yesterday, I heard part of Tony Smith’s speech. Do you know where I can get a copy of his entire speech.

    I heard a couple of disturbing things – even things that parents should not complain or question although they are in the teacher contract. I want to make sure I did not mis-hear what he had to say.

  • harlemmoon

    Look, people, Boos and Hisses are indefensible – in any arena.
    Shame on you all for demanding respect, but acting like petulant little children when you don’t get your way!
    Your acts make you no better than your target.

  • Miss Nancy

    How about the “boos” on BUSH at Obama’s Inaugural?


    Save the “professionalism” for meetings behind closed doors, in fact isn’t that the buzz word to “get someone” behind closed doors anyways…boos, hisses, and pies are to be expected in the Court of public opinion…What are you basing such “morals” on anyways?

    Boos, Hisses, Pies in the Faca are all AMERICAN…

  • turner

    I agree with Katy. Booing and hissing isn’t very helpful. It does express a lack of interest in listening to the other side.

    I also agree with Harlemoon. It just isn’t professional. I wonder what the union people would say if Tony Smith or Vince Mathews did the same while they were speaking. It’s totally disrespectful.


  • A Life Time Educator

    While I still think the current OEA tactics are unprofessional and unproductive, I should not name names. I offer an apology to those named. I was acting out of frustration.

  • Cranky Teacher

    There is a larger problem the union faces than “unprofessionalism” at a press conference: A younger generation of teachers have no knowledge or understanding of the labor movement and what it cost us to get where we are, however modest that place is.

    Teaching schoolchildren who were not wealthy was originally the purview of pre-married women earning starvation wages supplemented by the food and coal donations of grateful parents. It has never been a lucrative job! As the economy demanded more educated workers, the job was professionalized and unionized to increase stability, while still relying mostly on goodhearted and college-educated women willing to work for less than their college-educated male counterparts who pushed paper in offices.

    But now, because of our regressive tax structure and dependence on phony economic bubbles that serve a tiny minority of high-rollers, we are looking at a steep erosion of what has been accreted through decades of strikes, economic growth and public pressure. Already charters like KIPP are demanding teachers work longer hours for less money, while districts like Mt. Diablo are wholesale slashing their workforce, cutting PE and so on.

    And older teachers seeking security are not just angry for themselves — we see our qualified peers leaving every year for suburban districts or other professions when they are faced with real-life choices surrounding raising their own children, health problems and so on.

    When teachers are underpaid or mistreated it is the students who will suffer, mostly from the devastating effects of constant turnover, as well as absenteeism as teachers moonlight to make ends meet. Many work side gigs in addition to summer jobs, even as we lay out hundreds or even thousands of our own money to support our classroom.

    Young teachers see older teachers who they don’t necessarily respect — and yes, some are “burntout” — as supporting the union and think the union’s defensiveness is harming the improvement of schools. Of course, unions can be extremely conservative institutions and thus often don’t mesh with the mindset of a twentysomething. But these young folks need to see the forest for the trees: Grieving small violations of the contract is part of holding ground that was won through enormous sacrifice.

    Many young teachers who flood into the empty spaces in OUSD every year are definitely not in this for the money, nor do they need much. However, as high-minded as they are, just like everywhere else in America, the reality of the job and the opportunities they have elsewhere in life — travel, children, money, advanced degrees — siphon off at least half from the profession by five years out, and many more leave “ghetto” districts for the stability and support of wealthier districts.

    Olson-Jones is a true believer, and I mean that in the best way possible: She was a classroom teacher of poor children and believes that to succeed in the classroom teachers need respect, support and, yes, proper renumeration. She believes in the goal of equal educational opportunities for all. And she sees that the issue of OUSD salaries goes way beyond Oakland.

    Much has been made of how the OEA’s demands were “political” in nature. The point of this is that there are much larger political issues at stake in determining teacher salaries: This is a statewide issue related to taxation, values and political agendas.

    OEA is telling the state, you need to find this money if you want to make this system equitable for poor children. Don’t tell us you don’t have it, because we see the fabulous wealth all around us. You can’t go 50 feet without running into a $70,000 car, a $200,000 kitchen or $100,000 landscaping job.

    And save your free market stump speeches. We’re not talking about socialism here, we’re talking about taxing and budgeting enough money to a system which creates order, productivity and growth in the state and nation.

    Sorry for the long comment…

  • Ms. J.

    Cranky teacher, well put. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. I totally agree.

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, it’s eloquent, food-for-thought arguments like this one that highlight the potential of online forums as a means of constructive public discourse. Thanks, Cranky.

  • Abuela Araña

    Katy, I was at the press conference and any booing and hissing was minimal. While I don’t entirely approve I have to sympathize. It was far less insulting than the treatment and lack of good faith that the teachers have received in the last 12 months of supposed negotiations. I hope you will take Betty Olson-Jones comment to heart. Let’s try to focus on substantive issues, please.

  • Public School Fan

    The sanctimonious dismissal of the booing and hissing issue as not being a legitimate cause for concern is odd. How two parties (and their constituent members) behave to each other and with each other particularly during a time of acrimonious negotiating is certainly a substantive issue in and of itself. How the parties treat each other is important as it bears on the progress (or lack thereof) of negotiations and future relations between them.

    Certainly had OUSD officials, staff, or Board members booed and hissed during a press conference by the union we wouldn’t be hearing a repeated refrain from the union and/or its teachers that we ought not talk about such behavior and focus instead on the actual contractual disagreements. Nor should we as a community turn a blind eye toward how these two parties (and, again, their members) behave toward each other. I’d want to know it (for the same reasons) if OUSD staff and officials heckled the teacher’s union at a public forum. It would certainly tell me something about them as well. It would tell me a lot about the relationship between the two parties and, again, would probably presage how their relationship would progress in the future.