I’m a special education teacher at a Brooklyn high school, so I spend lots of time in meetings: meetings with co-teachers, meetings with parents, IEP meetings, meetings with paraprofessionals and speech therapists, department meetings, meetings with guidance counselors and social workers. I spend my lunch periods meeting with 12th graders to help them with their research papers and I spend my preps meeting with 9th graders to help them with…all the things 9th graders need help with. Running for union office means even more meetings, and if I’m elected to the UFT Executive Board, there will be meetings, meetings, meetings. Oh, and I forgot to mention: I kind of hate meetings. So, why am I running?
Our union’s leadership, the Unity Caucus, says that New York City teachers are doing well. In some ways, they’re right. We get paid pretty well. Our benefits are very solid. Our union contract is incredibly valuable and every teacher, paraprofessional, service provider, and other school employee needs to make sure that (especially after the Supreme Court’s terrible Janus decision), we keep our membership up to date and we work together to keep the union strong.
But if things are so good, why do so many veteran teachers say that things in our schools are worse than they’ve ever seen? They’re not talking abut pay and benefits. They’re talking about the fact that teachers are under attack and our UFT contract is not enough. It doesn’t protect us from the absurd, arbitrary humiliations that we’re subjected to daily under the Danielson rubric. Actually, Unity Caucus loves Danielson. UFT President Michael Mulgrew has called the Kafkaesque experience of having our teaching subjected to Danielson “a model” that should be used “statewide.”
Teacher evaluation isn’t the only problem. Our students with disabilities are woefully under-supported and the union’s mechanisms for enforcing compliance are a joke. Teachers who fight for our special ed students are routinely harassed and intimidated by administrators who threaten our livelihoods because we fight for our students. I know. It happened to me back at my first Brooklyn high school.
Teacher pay and benefits might be okay, but they’re not enough. The UFT doesn’t just represent teachers. Our union sisters and brothers who work as occupational and physical therapists are paid tens of thousands of dollars less than other school workers with comparable workloads and responsibilities, and they recently voted down the contract that Unity tried to force on them. And they’re not just frustrated about their low salaries: their working conditions are often abysmal. Many of them don’t even have designated workspaces. They deserve MORE.
We all deserve MORE. We work in a city that just gave Amazon — one of the richest corporations in the world — a $3 billion tax break, while our schools run out of paper and other basic supplies. Unity keeps telling us how great we’re doing, they keep telling us we’re winning, but every teacher I know is overworked, overtired, and overstressed. Veteran teachers keep saying things are the worst they’ve ever seen.
The Mayor’s not going to fix our schools. Unity won’t fix them either; they seem to think that all we care about is the size of our paychecks, but teachers care about MORE. Our union leaders should fight for more; vote for MORE-UFT and that’s what we’ll do! We’ll fight for smaller classes, for time to plan lessons, for clean buildings with adequate workspace, for an end to Danielson and abusive supervision, for a commitment to equity at every level. We may not win every fight right away, but we’ll never tell hard-working teachers that we should be grateful that we can (barely) cover the rent.
I don’t want more meetings, but I’m running for union office for MORE-UFT because I believe our schools should be better. And I believe the only thing that can fix our schools is teachers, OTs, PTs, and paraprofessionals coming together to demand what we deserve: We deserve MORE.
by: Will Johnson
Special Education/English Teacher