"Often teachers are segregated. They don't have time to talk to each other because they are all in different classes," she said.
This conference gave teachers a chance to sit down and discuss issues affecting their workplace and their performance, she said.
A number of teachers said they attended the conference for their students. Those teachers said they came to learn something they could take back to the classroom to help them educate Calexico's youth.
Wolfe-Keaton said there were six workshops. One dealt with the ramifications of "high-stakes" testing.
The "high-stakes" — according to the union — associated with testing refers to the pressure they feel is put on teachers to raise test scores and applied to new teachers who have to take a battery of tests before earning credentials.
Wolfe-Keaton said the workshop was well attended because "the state is hinging your credentials on tests."
"Not only are they testing the students to death they're also testing the teachers," she said.
While a number of Calexico's teachers do not have to take some of the tests because they came aboard years ago, all new teachers are required to take tests with acronyms such as "RICA" and "PRAXIS."
Wolfe-Keaton said teachers coming in have to take these tests in addition to all the other work required to gain a teaching credential.
During the workshop teachers discussed changes to the credentialing and scholastic testing system that they could lobby for at the state or federal level.
Another workshop aimed at helping teachers maintain control in the classroom by using "positive support." Wolfe-Keaton said the goal was to make sure a teacher doesn't come off as threatening.
"We want to be more, not efficient exactly, but we want to bring a different attitude into the classroom so that we can make a more positive impact on the students," she said.
Another workshop showed the teachers how to deal with difficult students. Since there is not just one way to do it, the workshop setting allowed teachers to bounce techniques off each other and discuss what worked when, and how.
Often, Wolfe-Keaton said, she'll learn a new technique from a younger teacher.
"I'm learning something all the time," the 25-year teaching veteran said.
After the workshops, Enrique Cervantes of the union's negotiating team briefed union members on the status of negotiations with the school district.
Recently, the union declared an impasse in the negotiations because the sides are far apart.
Holding a copy of the list of the district's most recent counter-proposal, Cervantes said, "Their responses were not acceptable to us."
After declaring an impasse, the union will work to bring in a mediator to hash out the differences between the parties. Cervantes said a mediator should be available during the third week of April. That mediator has his or her work cut out.
· The teachers union wants a 9.17 percent raise. The school district is offering a 3.57 percent bump (2.4 percent in salary and 1.17 percent in health and welfare benefits.)
· The union wants K-6 teachers to be entitled to one full day of preparation time at the beginning of the second year. The school district is offering elementary teachers three hours of prep time at the beginning of each year starting with the 2002-03 school year.
· The union wants a retiring teacher to receive a bonus of one-fourth of his or her annual salary at retirement. According to information provided by the union, "The CUSD does not want to encourage retirement. There is a regional teacher shortage and the district is seeking to maintain its teaching staff."
· In the case of untimely death of a union member, the union is asking for the district to pay health benefits to the surviving spouse and dependents for one year. The district has offered to pay for six months or the remainder of the school year, whichever is longer.
· The union wants the summer school salaries to be paid per diem. CUSD response: "No."
· The union wants teachers to be paid $8 a head per head for every student in a classroom over the maximum standard. Currently the teachers get $4 a head. CUSD response: "no."
Cervantes said all the issues really boil down to respect.
"We want to be treated as professionals; we want to be compensated as professionals," he said.