A Thought or Two about Don Whatley

A little too busy to give the subject adequate time, but I do want to pass on a thought or two about Don Whatley, former Albuquerque Federation of Teachers president. In addition to a lack of time, I also have a horrible memory, so keep in mind that the pictures/events noted below might never have really happened.

Mr. Whatley died yesterday, and my most vivid memory (faulty or no) is him holding a bull-horn talking at a bunch of us teachers as we walked in a circle holding up signs saying things like “APS is anti-education” and “Stop treating teachers like dogs”.  The signs actually were better than these slogans, but I can’t remember them and they weren’t, frankly, that memorable.

Anyway, Mr. Whatley is wearing that cowboy hat and blaring at us through the bull-horn as we walk in a circle outside the old APS Central Office on University & Coal.  It’s 1995 or thereabouts.  My bi-weekly take-home pay as a rather inexperienced teacher is roughly $600.  While walking, I hear and talk to much more experienced teachers who report earning about the same amount.  They been earning that or much less for years and years and years.

I don’t know anything about Don Whatley at the time, but he’s wearing a cowboy hat, so I figure he must be something of a character.  Where I come from, guys who wear cowboy hats are either in charge or really pissed off that they aren’t in charge.  Mr. Whatley appears to be in charge…maybe it’s the bull-horn.

Now here is where the memory gets especially hazy.  I don’t recall if our walking in a circle really accomplished much of anything back in 1995 or so. I seem to remember that, after some extremely diluted calls for a “strike” or some sort of job action, some concessions were made and we teachers succumbed to happiness.   I seem to remember that we ended up feeling good about our walking in a circle.  I also seem to remember we ended up being more pissed off at the local media than APS because only one TV station showed up to our little circling of the sign-wielding teacher wagons.

And that’s really about all I remember when it comes to Don Whatley.  Which is not meant to indicate squat about his life or abilities as Union President.  I just don’t remember that much.  I only remember, or mis-remember that hat, the bull-horn, and that he was an engaging bull-horn speaker.  I remember wishing he would talk at us more through the bull-horn while we walked in that circle of signs.  The walking and chanting of slogans like “We’re mad, we’re disgusted, we might even go on strike if it was legal for us to do so as public employees, but it’s not” got boring after a short while.

I work with some older teachers, and they remember much more about Mr. Whatley.  I plan to ask them plenty of questions about him today.  That’s how things work.  You have to die to have people start really talking about you.  I’m planning to eat faster today at lunch so I can hear some Don Whatley stories.

And I guess that’s the closest to a memorial service I’ll be having for the guy.  I’ll eat somewhat faster.  I wish I remembered more about him, and that I could do a better job of memorializing him, but I’m just too busy these days.

Maybe some other teachers out there feel the same way.  Maybe that says something about the profession of teaching, or how teaching has changed over the last 15 years or so.  I don’t really know, or remember.


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