“THEY Should Leave”: Why I Joined MORE

July 22, 2013 — 11 Comments
By
Dan Lupkin
Special Education Teacher & UFT Delegate
P.S. 58, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
 

I think it was when Bill Thompson walked through the doors of the UFT Delegate Assembly, seconds after we rubber-stamped the Executive Board’s recommendation that the union endorse him for mayor. They had stopped even pretending we had a voice.

At that moment, I knew I couldn’t wait and watch anymore, getting the lay of the land. I needed to act.

It wasn’t out of the blue. This was the final meeting of my first year as a UFT delegate, and I had seen some deeply troubling things. Unaccountable single party rule; dissent suppressed and mocked; a small, privileged clique monopolizing the power flowing from the paychecks, voices, and votes of over a hundred thousand dues-paying members, doling out perks like a medieval lord to his vassals in exchange for their loyalty.

The UFT members I represent, like most of the education professionals I have been lucky enough to work with in various schools over the years, feel largely alienated and apathetic about their union because the leadership has made no effort to engage them. My school is a hotbed of creativity and energy—exciting educational things are happening all the time. The staff will show up for union meetings, but what do the chapter leader and I have to present to them? What has our leadership done that will capture their passion and imagination, mobilize the limitless potential of the rank and file members of the UFT? The truth is that the leadership doesn’t want them roused; informed activists are unpredictable.  Passive dues-payers are safer within the “business union” model favored by the leadership of the UFT.

Even those of us who have been elected to represent our schools have a negligible amount of power within the union. The Unity caucus, currently in control of the union, began as a an explosion of energy and militant action, but more than fifty years of uninterrupted  and unchecked power inevitably leads to paralysis. The ossified power structure of the union has become satisfied, conservative, and unaccountable. Measures in the Delegate Assembly pass with unanimous votes, the token opposition allowed is mocked from the dais and the floor,  and the UFT Elections show positively authoritarian margins of victory combined with turnout numbers you might expect from an off-year, unopposed local election.

Once I saw them in action, once I did my research and traced how things had come to be as they are in the UFT, how Unity had stifled or successfully co-opted all opposition and developed a model dominated by full-time staff and the Executive Board that shut out the voices of the working educators who ARE the UFT, I knew there would be no way I could feel comfortable toeing their line.

But what alternative is there in a union in which power is so closely guarded? I saw the way MORE members were marginalized and snickered at, how the decision-making apparatus of the union is, at all levels, constructed to maintain and monopolize power.  Between the mayoral endorsement and imposition of the new evaluation system, June represented a profound crisis of confidence for me. I felt our union was failing us, garnishing our paychecks with no accountability, presiding over defeat after defeat and shutting out the voices and energy of the rank and file, the only reason the UFT exists at all (something the UFT Executive Board should probably keep in mind).

I was close to despair. It was tempting to give up, go limp, quit the delegate position, stop reading the news, shut the classroom door and teach my kids as best the Department of Education will allow (I teach a high-stakes testing grade, so that’s relative).


During this time of doubt, I heard an interview on WNYC with a nun named Sister Sally Butler who has worked in a housing project in Fort Greene for 45 years. She is a fearless whistleblower, and has faced enormous hostility and push-back  from those in the Church hierarchy who have been embarrassed or inconvenienced by the horrific sexual abuse and cover-ups by priests and their superiors she has dragged into the light of day.  The interviewer asked her:

“Have you ever thought of leaving the Church?”

and Sister Sally answered:

The Church, no. The Church is mine. THEY should leave.”

The humble yet immovable strength in this answer stopped me cold: replace the word “Church” with “union”, and it became startlingly apt to my situation. I do not, in any way, seek to to compare sexual abuse by clergy to anything happening within the UFT. Nor do I want to minimize the suffering of the victims of that abuse. What made the Sister Sally interview so inspiring to me was that she has refused to give up on her mission despite impossible odds, continuing her service from within the organization, even while being undermined by the entrenched, conservative, status quo obsessed hierarchy that is meant to be supporting her. We have our union dues deducted automatically from our paychecks, there is no opting out. Even if there were, it is clear to me that the answer is NOT to run away, to shrink from our responsibilities. More than ever, we need a union to protect the interests of the teachers, the students, and the communities that are being set upon by “reformers” at all levels who want to suck public education dry and sell off the skeleton to the higher bidder.

The solution is NOT to throw up our hands and declare that Unity is just too powerful, too established, too connected to allow the UFT to become a true, democratic vehicle for the voices and aspirations of the education professionals and stakeholders of the New York City public schools.

The solution is to stand up, refuse to surrender to despair, and do the hard work it takes to mobilize the capable, passionate, brilliant educators and stakeholders in this city and beyond… and I have come to believe that MORE is the vehicle for that effort.

We have the example of Sister Sally Butler to inspire us, and recent successes in Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Newark to show us that it CAN be done, that seemingly invincible foes CAN be brought to heel through nothing more than people power and the will to make things better.

MORE is happy to announce that Dan has joined our social media team and will be posting for us on Facebook.

 

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11 responses to “THEY Should Leave”: Why I Joined MORE

  1. 

    You are saying what I am thinking. Outstanding introduction.

  2. 
    Communist Teacher July 22, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Dan,
    Thank you for your passion and willingness to call out these corrupt, complicit UNITY bastards.

    I would almost welcome a “right to work” law in NY so that the thousands of our brother and sister teachers who feel as we do, that UFT is a worthless apparatchik of the DOE, would be able to “vote” by opting out of paying their dues and force these lazy do nothings to get off their asses and become a working union.

    • 

      While I completely understand your frustration, undermining the union itself feels like cutting off our noses to spite our faces. “Right to Work” or similar anti-union legislation is likely to result not in a more responsive union leadership, but in no union at all . We’d find ourselves in a more hostile work environment than we already do, having done the work of our antagonists for them.

  3. 
    Adjlevin@aol.com July 22, 2013 at 11:56 am

    bravo ! look forward to meeting him Dave Levin

  4. 

    inspiring blog

  5. 

    Dear Dan,

    I love what you wrote. You are an amazing person.Thank you so much for sharing. i too am frustrated by our union. I too will not give up and I will put my boots on the ground and have others join me in holding OUR UNION accountable. As a teacher in the traveling pool since the start of the School Year 2011-12, I have not only been frustrated, but have felt alone because the union refuses to address me or others in the pool respectfully.

    Nowhere is there any accountability to those of us in the ATR pool. There is no mention of us in the Newspaper, in fact, I dare the union, OUR UNION to have a page called “The Traveling Teachers”. It would be great to have an ATR Bill of Rights that addresses all of our concerns, as we travel from school to school–there should be a lits of the schools with the go-to persons, telephone numbers, ways of getting to the school, what kind of school it is–A, B, C,D, F, phasing out or closing..kids out of control, respectful and kind students, good or bad administrators, in a good neighborhood or bad, who the union rep is..name and extension, time we start and end the day. It would be nice to have the Union hire out a Hall for us to celebrate us for all the hard and arduous work we do and the humiliations we endure each day in our rotating schools. It would be wonderful to have a union chapter chair in each borough to meet our needs, a go to person to help us with any issues we face in our schools.

    As a teacher in the Pool, I can’t find a job. When I apply for a job, I’m either not called or called, and then never called again. In the very limited times that I have been called back, I go into an interview room and sit and listen to all of the “re-purposed jargon”, Common Core buzz words, Danielson, ad nauseum. In two school years, I have been sent to over 15 mandated interviews–I have done four demo lessons ( In one the AP counted the time down, by shouting from the back of the room..45 minutes, 40 minutes and so on (shouted out loud to me in the front of the classroom), in another one, I was to teach an ESL class –It was an ELL class, I was put into a SPED class without knowing it, and my last demo went awry when their computer failed, and when I was given another one, they kept the passcode on the computer, which timed the computer out every 10 -15 minutes– I have been to two or three hiring halls, I have had little to no P.D., and now, I have no real prospects for a “real job”. Everyone knows what I’m talking about, when I say a “real job”. I don’t want a babysitting position. I really don’t!

    Once I was in the Pool and I had my first problem, I was told to call, Amy Arundell,who is supposed to be our go-to person. She has a very stand-offish manner. When talking to you,she is rude most of the time. She talks at you most of the time. She then tells you, if you call her, that you need to speak to “your rep”, the person in charge of your school district. For example, I had a problem my first year in the Pool, where I was told to sharpen over one hundred pencils. When I called her to tell her what was happening, now she knows me by now, she says in a very infantilizing manner “Clare? You know that you’re not supposed to be sharpening pencils. I knew that, but I needed her to be nice and say, “I’m sorry that they are doing this to you, I will personally call the school now and put an end to this practice.” All I want is for her to do her job in a very, kind and thoughtful manner. After all, I am a union dues-paying member. Is that too much to ask?

    Also, this summer, many of us in the Pool who have not had any PD had little to no opportunity to sign up for summer workshops. Many of these workshops required the principal to select you. So, what if you are in the Pool and don’t have a home school? Good question? Well, I called Amy. She told me that she would sign me up and to have other members, from the Pool, to call her and have her sign them up. I thought that was what she told me. I had called her about signing me up. She said that she did. Then, a Traveler must have called her, and she told me that she didn’t tell me that she would sign up the ATRs. She told me ” I told you that I would do this as a courtesy to you.” Well, I called the UFT Teacher Center and guess what? I was told that I was not on any workshop lists. I called her back, she sounded annoyed that I had told her that my name was not on any workshop list. She then asked me which workshops I was interested in, I told her and then she called an signed me up. Just as an aside, the Teacher Center only allows you to take one workshop over the summer. So, even if you have had no PD all year, you can only register for one. Amazing!

    As a person in the Pool, especially for teacher’s whose schools have phased out or closed, WE need all of the help that we can get. So, I would suggest for all of us to put her to work starting now. Call her as many times as you need to. Call her when you are being disrespected in a school–not given a bathroom key or elevator key, put in a stairwell to watch a locked door for periods at a time, be careful in the SAVE Room–I have had bad luck..I was assaulted in the SAVE Room…what did the union do? Nothing. Did I report it and put it on the UFT site, yes? Did they call me or ask me how I was feeling? No! Instead, I got an e-mail telling me that my complaint was received. Wow! So nice to know that my union cares about me.

    One more thing..to date, I have been attempting to get a Leaves Comprehensive Incident Report signed by the HS Superintendent’s Office. I was assaulted in December of 2011. The days were coded as medical. I was injured and needed medical assistance and rest. Guess what? The days were taken out of my CAR. To this day, the days are coded as medical despite ALL attempts to get the Superintendent’s signature. Where is MY UNION? Why do I feel like no one is listening? It’s been almost two years since the assault and it feels like I’m being assaulted every time I call the union for assistance.

    The next time you see an ATR, say hello and introduce yourself. Ask how they’re doing. Tell them who the union rep is and where to find him/her, what their extension is. Tell them where the bathroom is, where the elevator is located, which side of the building (if it’s a big building) they belong on, where the nearest exit is to the subway or bus, where a good place to eat is located, if there is PD while they are there, tell them if there is a position opening up in your school…and anything else you think is important for them to know while they are in your building for the week. They would do it for you, so now you have the chance to make good on what it is to be a good colleague.

    I believe in “boots on the ground”! I believe that OUR UNION should work for us and be kind and considerate, and thoughtful. I am like this naturally, and so I expect MY UNION to treat me well, all the time. I do care about my well-being and the well-being of all teachers, in particular, the one’s without a voice right now, the women and men who find themselves in the ATR Pool, through no fault of their own. Like me.

    In closing, I’d like to say that we in the pool feel defeated, neglected and we worry about our jobs all the time. We want to work in a school of our own, we want a group of our own students we can teach and call our own, we want to be in the classroom! We want to bond with our colleagues! Don’t let others tell you any different. We need OUR UNION to show us respect, to show us some kindness, and to have the gumption to get us back into our own classrooms NOW!

    • 
      etaarts@aol.com July 24, 2013 at 6:27 am

      My son was in your boat until 1 week when he received 3 “U” and out the door. He is now working in a pre-school for half the pay. I went to Mr. Mulgrew and presented his case. He didn’t care. Another non-tenured teacher hits the dirt. Support MORE with all your heart. THEY ARE THE ANSWER!

    • 

      Clare we stand in solidarity with you, we are fighting as hard we can to have a union that would never allow this to happen to you or any of the members.
      Please email us at more@morecaucusnyc.org, we would like to take this comment and make it a main post on this page if you allow. We would also, of course, like to offer any help we can, which at this time is not much, but we do have an ATR group that meets regularly.

    • 
      Cynthia Waite July 24, 2013 at 9:22 am

      As a fellow colleague I am so sorry to hear that you and others in the pool are going through the demoralization and the insensitivity of the DOE without the support of our union. It is unbelieveable what is going on with our union.

  6. 

    Why did Chicago strike over test-based evaluations and NYC did not? It was snuck in. The teachers didn’t really understand it till it was too late.

  7. 
    Communist Teacher July 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Clare, thanks for your thoughtful and sobering input on the current situation of our brothers and sisters in the ATR pool.

    I ask that all of you reading this extend your friendship, support and solidarity to our ATR’s that are assigned to your schools. Keep in mind that we all could be in the same situation.

    I say violence is necessary. It is as American as cherry pie.
    -H. Rap Brown

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