I’m proud to be a UFT member, but we should not sit back and depend on top UFT officials or Mayor De Blasio to resolve problems that affect us as educators. As UFT rank-and-file members, and as working people, we have to organize from the bottom-up for the conditions that would make safe, culturally-relevant, meaningful educational work possible for all students, teachers and others in education.
Above: John C. Antush, Chapter leader at City-As-School High School, MORE-UFT Candidate for Vice President of High Schools.
First, within our UFT chapters we can play a role in overhauling the UFT to make it an agenda-setting member-led union. MORE-UFT members and other rank-and-file UFTers petitioned in our chapters, conducted walk-ins, took to social media, and protested at City Hall to help win parental leave. We can use similar tactics on a larger scale to reverse the erosion of rights for new teachers such as longer pre-tenure probation, proliferation of meaningless tenure application requirements, and the lack of feedback and transparency when tenure applications are rejected. We can also push to restore defenses for higher-paid senior teachers, who are more likely to be targeted ever since principals were made more responsible for school budgets in 2007. Are older teachers, teachers of color, or LGBTQ+ teachers facing a higher-rate of 3020a hearings? In our chapters we can start to discuss and build momentum to find solutions for these and many other problems.
Second, we can connect our chapters with our larger school communities including other DOE employees, parents and students, to address common issues. For example, we need a real conversation about class size. According to city statistics, in 2017, 595,000 students–over half the city’s students — were in overcrowded schools and classrooms. Encouraging Chapter Leaders to inform UFT central about class size violations is not enough. We need a grassroots movement to get at the roots of overcrowding. Active, organized chapters and school communities can start to ask: why do class size violations occur? Is it due to the structure of school funding? We can think bigger: Are legal class size limits too high? How would enforced lower legal cap sizes, with loopholes eliminated, transform schools? Another issue is staff-to-student ratios. What kinds of increases in staff are needed to ensure all IEPs are adequately serviced? What kind of staff ratios are needed to make schools safe so that effective restorative justice practices can be implemented?
(Above: MORE-UFT members Annie Tan, Karen Arneson, and John Antush celebrating the victory of 83-85 Bowery tenants in Chinatown at Jing Fong Restaurant with National Mobilization Against Sweatshops and Chinese Staff & Workers Association.)
Finally, we can organize with others to address larger problems affecting us and other working people as a whole. Educators are scapegoated for problems of class and racism that affect students’ performance — such as the housing crisis. In the 2017-2018 school year, 114,659 of our K-12 students were homeless; one-in-ten lived in temporary shelters. How many more simply dropped out of school? I work at a transfer school. Some of our students live in temporary shelters or with friends. Many more have trouble in school because they are working jobs to pay for, or contribute to, rent. Aside from being a human rights violation and a horrible hardship that disrupts education, the affordable housing crisis impacts our job security. As student populations are displaced, school staff are excessed, depriving remaining students of arts, phys ed and the full range educational opportunities and support services. Wrap-around services, “community schools,” the Bronx plan, and “renewal school” aid are obviously not sufficient to ensure young people’s basic human right to an education. Further, many teachers cannot afford to live near their schools or even within the five boroughs. To address this problem, MORE-UFT members have joined others in the Citywide Alliance Against Displacement to organize for alternatives to De Blasio’s housing and rezoning plans, which are pushing low- and middle-income people — including education workers, students and their families — out of New York City.
(Above: MLK Day 2018, Educators Against Displacement)
By organizing in our chapters to push back erosion of our working conditions; by uniting in our school communities with students, parents and other DOE employees around common issues like class size; and by organizing with other working people around larger issues we hold in common, like opposing housing and rezoning policies that displace our communities, we can fight for conditions that will make meaningful educational work possible and help establish the schools our students deserve.