Archives For Movement of Rank and File Educators
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
Each of the proposed contract changes sells out new teachers.
First, and most obviously, the new two-tired healthcare system. Obviously, any two-tired system flies in the face of solidarity. It began with the pension, is now leaking into healthcare, what’s next? Differing salary schedules based on start date? It’s deplorable that we could do the same work for different benefits. Healthcare is a human right; we all deserve access to the same quality care.
Second, and also obvious. Raises lower than the rate of inflation are no raises at all. The cost of living in New York (rents have increased 3.9% annually). Givebacks now set us back for the rest of our career.
Third, less obvious and maybe more scary, the new ‘psychological fitness’ screening. Instead of supporting new teachers through their first few years, we’re going to weed-out those deemed ‘unfit’? I can’t imagine what it would be like to spend years in school training to be a teacher, take out tens of thousands in debt for this pursuit, and then be told I’m ‘psychology unfit’. As a trauma survivor who takes medication I find this particularly frightening. The trauma I experienced as a child is part of what inspired me to become a teacher, and helps me connect with and support my students with similar experiences. The idea that the experiences that led me to teaching could also be the barrier that keeps out future generations is frightening. As an educator of color, I know this criteria will continue the whitening of our teaching force. Not to mention that the details of this criteria are not yet released, will be created by educorporations, and are unlikely to be scientifically backed (Sound familiar? Reminds me of our value-added evaluation system).
And on evaluations- teachers rated developing and ineffective with have even more observations. Many teachers are rated developing in their first years (which is logical, since we are still developing our craft); instead of supporting these teachers to become better teachers we are going to just add to the heat of admin fire. That will push more people who have the potential to be great teachers out of the field- even if they’re paid a little more to teach in hard-to-staff schools in the Bronx.
On that note- did anyone ask teachers who are leaving hard-to-staff schools what would make them stay? Maybe pay is part of the answer, but I’d guess that mentoring, class size, and support services for struggling students would be high on the list. Where are those provisions in this new contract?
So this is the deal we’re selling to new teachers: Get your education degree, spend tens of thousands of dollars doing so, but if the system decides you’re psychologically unfit you won’t be able to get a teaching job. If you do make it over this ambiguous hurdle, you will have crappy health care for at least the first few years, so make sure you don’t get sick while working 50+ hours a week in a room full of children. If you’re not yet an effective teacher in your first years, instead of supporting you, they’re going to increase the intensity of the scrutiny from your direct supervisors. Oh, and plan keep searching for new roommates every year, because your pay won’t be keeping up with that of your peers.
So what would a contract that supports new teachers look like? Quality healthcare for all and wages competitive with our peers in other fields. Less admin scrutiny and more supportive, non-evaluative mentoring for established colleagues. A clear path to tenure. Debt forgiveness… the list goes on.
Don’t sell out new teachers. We are the future of the profession. We are the future of our union.
Dear NYC Opt Out allies,
We signed petitions. Wrote letters. Got on the bus to Albany. All to no avail.
Boycott/refusal/opt out—however you phrase it—remains the ONLY tactic that we have to force change so that ALL our children have the enriching, citizen-building public education they deserve.
The 2018 NYS ELA test is less than 4 weeks away! For opt out to be effective, we need families refusing the tests in every district and in numbers. That can only happen if we all pull together to organize and get the word out. Seriously, this is an all-hands-on-deck situation.
Can we count on you commit to one or more of the following?
1) Distribute postcards. We are especially trying to reach parents who have less access to information (whether due to language barriers or other disempowering factors) and so may not know their rights. We have 2 flavors of postcard this year, one of which is in both English & Spanish. Hand them out in person at schools, playgrounds, etc or leave a stack at a café, laundromat, library, etc. If you can do this, email firstname.lastname@example.org and write Postcard Distribution in the subject line. Indicate in your message how many cards you want and which design or designs.
2) Help organize a press conference. The Department of Education has been pressuring administrators and feeding the public flat-out lies in a deliberate effort to squelch opt out. So we’re joining with students to push back and to demand that the city respect parent and student rights. Our student-centered press conference is tentatively scheduled for 4 PM on either Thurs March 22 or Tues March 27 (depending on availability of the City Hall steps). Please email email@example.com (Subject: Press Conference) right away if you can help with this.
Who we need:
- Spanish speakers. More and more Spanish-speaking parents are interested in opt out. If you are able to help organize or translate, please contact us.
- kid speakers (possible topics: what opt out has meant to them, learning in a test-prep-heavy environment, learning in a non-test-prep-heavy environment, attending a school where test score-based closure is imminent, the experience of testing days, how their family found out about opt out, etc)
- point person to be a liaison with student organizers
- elected officials point person (getting quotes, requesting and facilitating their appearance at presser)
- press release/media alert (writing and sending)
- social media pushers (do any or all: create memes, FB event, social media blasts—in conjunction with students)
- day-of media (shooting video, taking photographs, etc)
- your body! (check NYC Opt Out on Facebook or optoutnyc.com/events for details once we confirm a date)
3) Be a speaker/presenter at community meetings. We are being asked to send speakers to various parent meetings throughout the city. Some of you have lead meetings before. Others have not, but you can learn! (If at all possible, we would try to have you buddy up with someone who is more experienced.) If you are willing and able to assist as a parent speaker, please email firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject: Parent Speaker)
Please do your best to pitch in to the full extent you’re able. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, join our Facebook group and use (and share!) our newly redesigned website, optoutnyc.com. Both are incredible resources!
Special thanks to Amy Gropp Forbes for all her hard work on the website redesign and to Ilana Greenberg for another attention-grabbing postcard design.
During the week of February 5th-9th, in schools across the country, educators are taking part in a National Black Lives Matter Week of Action. The week of action has three central demands: 1) to end zero tolerance discipline policies and implement restorative justice, 2) to hire more Black teachers, and 3) to mandate Black history and ethnic studies be taught throughout the K-12 curriculum.
The Black Lives Matter Week of Action is part of a long history of teachers standing up for what is right, in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our communities. Most teacher unions agree: The Chicago Teachers Union, the New Jersey Education Association, the United Teachers Los Angeles, the Seattle Education Association and the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association are among the growing list of teachers unions that have voted to support this crucial and timely week of anti-racist action in schools. The National Education Association’s Human & Civil Rights Department has even developed a website for teachers to share stories and resources.
Yet at the United Federation of Teachers Delegates Assembly on January 17, 2018, the largest teachers’ local in the country, at the leadership’s suggestion and after only five minutes of debate, voted against supporting the NYC Black Lives Matter Week of Action. Delivering the union leadership’s rationale against the resolution, LeRoy Barr, the Assistant Secretary of the UFT and the chair of the ruling Unity caucus, called Black Lives Matter a “divisive” issue. He argued that with the anticipated Supreme Court ruling on Janus v. AFSCME, which will likely allow public sector workers to receive union representation and benefits without paying union dues, it is crucial to remain “united.”
But united in support of what? The Black Lives Matter week of action is about uniting to support students by implementing restorative justice, hiring Black teachers, and teaching Black history and ethnic studies. These are basic anti-racist demands that any organization of educators should get behind. Furthermore, most of the students we teach and the families we serve in NYC are Black and Latino. No doubt they can unite behind these demands. This week of action is just one of the ways educators can build greater solidarity with the communities we serve. Far from being divisive, this is about unifying and strengthening our union and the communities we serve.
If, in the face of the attack on collective bargaining that Janus represents, we are in fact divided, it is because we have failed to engage and organize the union’s membership. The privatization of schools has disproportionately hurt the careers of Black teachers. As a union, we should know that an injury to one is literally an injury to all. A union that can’t support a movement to make “Black Lives Matter” won’t be able to build the solidarity necessary to overcome Janus and other right-wing attacks on working people.
We have to rebuild our union from the bottom-up and educate ourselves and each other about the problems we face and the steps we can take together to confront them. Grassroots collective actions in our schools—such as the Black Lives Matter Week of Action—can be part of this process. We invite teachers across New York City to join us and other teachers around the country by taking part in February’s Black Lives Matter week of action as a first step to building a school system where Black Lives Matter.
NYC Black Lives Matter Week of Action Organizing Committee
Movement of Rank-and-File Educators (MORE) Steering Committee
New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCORE)
We are asking UFT members and members of the community that support our statement to sign on as an individual. We will release the names of everyone who has signed on after February’s week of action to show the broad support this statement has and encourage UFT leaders and members to support the week of action in the future. If you’d like to sign on as an individual please fill out this form.