By Mike Schirtzer
UFT Delegate/Teacher Leon M. Goldstein High School-Brooklyn
E4E is an organization that seeks to recruit young educators entering the school system here in New York City. Many of these teachers are attracted to the chance to meet other teachers, many of whom may be new the city as well, and a message that your voice counts. In reality it is a privately funded group that works against the best interests of our public school and educators that work in community schools. For the most part these teachers are well intentioned, but experienced educators have to challenge their membership in a group that works against, not for, NYC’s schools.
One E4E teacher I know told me how seniority rights need to change. He told me what matters most is “teachers’ performance based on test scores and how many absences they had”. We know that seniority rights are there to protect workers. Experience matters and we should never devalue that, especially when working in NYC where our schools have a variety of differences. The teachers from E4E need to be aware that our workforce is predominately women, seniority and tenure protect women’s right by ensuring they are not unfairly targeted because they take (unpaid) childcare leave or are the primary caregivers. We also need to take into account how absences may be because of childcare issues and one should not be penalized for it. It is important to recognize that age discrimination is occurring all throughout this country, companies are hiring cheaper workers who can work longer hours. Our seniority and tenure rights protect workers’ rights.
On the matter of rating teachers based on tests scores or the convoluted “Value Added Measures” (VAM), all teachers and groups they may belong to need to be aware that there is not any evidence this is a fair scientific method for evaluating us. The E4E teacher told me “as a special education teacher he values test scores and can learn about the progress of his students. It should be one of multiple measures, but an important measure”. These thoughts seem to reflect the narrative that have been delivered by politicians and corporate-reformers nationwide, but again we who are in the classroom for a long time must challenge this flawed message. We know some students do not perform well on tests, because they only measure a narrow spectrum of content knowledge, if they measure anything at all. Standardized tests or VAM can not measure musical, artistic, or other creative talents. There is conclusive research from the American Statistical Association stating that VAM is an invalid form of evaluation. The other startling fact is that children from wealthy families do better on standardized exams. The direct correlation between one’s economic background and their results on these tests should never be ignored. Simply stated, poverty matters and if an educator chooses to teach in a school where there is not economic privilege, they should not be unfairly evaluated by tests.
I explained to the member of E4E that best teaching practices means having experienced administrators who are recognized as expert instructors working with teachers. These administrators stress collaboration among staff members and work with newer teachers to support the development of their pedagogy. Current evaluation schemes have a negative connotation, as if the administrator or peer is there to grade you, whereas collaboration is about making everyone better for the sake of the students.
My fellow teacher from E4E met with me to discuss the topic of democracy in the UFT. I explained to him the view we have in MORE is it’s our responsibility to democratize our chapters. We emphasize chapters that are inclusive, work together, organize with the community, and work as a collective, because there is strength in numbers. MORE-UFT chapters have open chapter leader and delegate elections, active UFT representatives on School Leadership Teams (SLT) and PTAs, and a diverse group of educators on a consultation team that meets with the principal monthly. There has to be regular chapter meetings where member’s input is welcome and encouraged. We believe that working with parents, students, and community members is integral to ensuring our schools serve the needs of all our children. If chapters have all these elements then the UFT is democratic.
It is important that young educators come in to a school community and have conversations with veteran educators who will have valuable insights. You may have one position based on your experience in college or what you get from the media, but those that have been working with our children for a long time have different views that are based on empirical research. We work with our children each and every day for years. We see the impact of poverty, racism, child abuse, guns, drugs, and other injustices that may not fit into the “bad teacher” or “bad schools narrative”. Experienced teachers base their views on what works and what does not in their classrooms, conversations we have with educators in the chapter and around the city. Having discussions with members in your building and in nearby schools is extremely important in growing as an educator and democratizing our schools.
The E4E member reiterated to me that his voice needed to be heard. I told him we, in MORE-UFT, believe we do not speak for ourselves; we listen to each other at chapter meetings; we listen to our students; we build relationships with parents and the communities we serve. We organize together to make positive change. Since he sought me out to discuss democracy in our union, I think it was important for him to realize that the best way for his voice to matter was to start by listening to others in his chapter. He, like every E4E member, signs a declaration in order to become a member, this is not democratic at all. These few teachers who declare their loyalty to this organization and lobby politicians on their behalf, do not represent the many voices in our school communities. E4E may seem like a place where his voice is heard and he can “influence policy makers” as he said, but it is more important that we, as teachers, listen to the major stakeholders in our school, our children, their parents, the communities we are a part of, and experienced educators who have dedicated their lives to making their school community a better place.
Please see the attached fact sheet on E4E for more info and the links below