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Lessons learned

Every educator worth his or her salt comes to school with a lesson plan. And every student, willingly or not, will be tested on the lessons they learned.

There's no doubt we've all learned some painful lessons in the past three weeks, as we watched or participated in some way in the Medford teachers' strike. It lasted 16 days, although, officially, it was an 11-day strike because that's how many school days were missed.

In reality, the strike hasn't ended. The Medford Education Association members haven't ratified the agreement and the Medford School Board hasn't signed off on it. Despite a cheerful, upbeat front being put on the return to school, a lot of hard feelings remain.

How do we put the strike behind us? How do we make sure it doesn't happen again anytime soon? Perhaps by absorbing a few of its lessons.

Begin with the basics: "Collaboration" is routinely the word that comes up when discussing a successful negotiation. There seemed hope that would be the word used for this contract when negotiations first began a year ago. After all, the teachers believed the district had promised to take care of them once school budgets improved.

But any hope of a collaborative settlement evaporated when the district hit the teachers with more than 100 proposed contract changes, many of them seemingly out of the blue after numerous meetings had already been held.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that the teachers didn't view many of those changes as helpful. Instead, they came away angry.

One MEA member described the talks that followed as the "most adversarial" bargaining she had seen since joining the district in 1996.

Lessons learned: Know what your opposing number is expecting; know what they think you promised and live up to what you did promise. "Shock and awe" works only against a relatively defenseless opponent.

Communication 101: With probably the biggest story in recent Medford history, the public wanted to know what was happening and the media wanted to tell them. The school district and school board members were generally open in that regard. The teachers, not so much.

Much of what we take out of school is how to communicate. Even if you're a math major, you have to be able to explain your work if you want to get ahead in the world.

So it was beyond puzzling that MEA representatives consistently responded to media questions with terse responses or no comment at all. And then would be upset when they felt their side of the story wasn't told. The district won the communications battle with the nonaligned members of the public by being open.

Lessons learned: Tell your story. You may have the greatest idea in the world, but it won't do you much good if no one knows about it.

Watch out for strangers: It's too easy to blame this on outsiders, but certainly the Oregon Education Association and the Oregon School Boards Association bear some of the blame for the negotiating failure. They brought their game plans and played them till the end. Then they left town, off to the next battle in some other community.

Lessons learned: Have your own game plan because you're the one who will have to live with it.

Playing well with others: No strike that ends up with people on a picket line while other people fill their jobs is going to be pleasant. But the level of nastiness was still shocking.

Substitute teachers were abused, teachers who crossed the picket line were abused (and are still being abused), teachers on the line were at times abused by passers-by and too many students acted out in class with a disturbing lack of respect.

When a group of people come together in defense of something they care passionately about, it's disappointing but not surprising that some of them will cross the line. The crowd provides cover for bad behavior, but it doesn't provide an excuse.

Lessons learned: You should hold yourself to a high standard, even if you don't think the other side is doing the same. Bullying is no more acceptable for adults than it is for children.

The final bell: Mistakes were made by just about everyone involved. Those mistakes can be compounded by holding onto the anger, or we can all learn our lessons and move forward.