We are not our union. I haven't exactly figured out the relationship yet. I know teachers need the UFT and the UFT needs teachers. In defense of tenure, I feel the relationship is one of symbiosis, but at other times, as with the Common Core, teacher evaluation systems and treatment of ATRs, the parasitic relationship seems essentially harmful.
We pay our union dues, yet we are not our union. On Long Island, PJSTA union leader, Beth Dimino, who spoke so passionately against the Core, actually teaches. She is a veteran science teacher. She is on the front lines every day. She sees beyond theories that may look pretty when pushed along by millions of dollars. She witnesses first hand the harmful effects of the Core. She never forgets she represents teachers. She never forgets she serves the kids. And as such, she is a "mandated reporter" of child abuse--even if it's called the Common Core and its Sugar Daddy has millions to offer.
I realize the exigencies which make it preferable for our top UFT officers to be relieved from classroom duties. Yet, this seems all the more reason why these same officers should encourage free thought. This seems all the more reason why they should frequent the halls of schools not to sell contracts, but to pick up on the pulse. Reps must come to see how membership can best be served and then they must start serving.
Chapter leaders are not our union. Instead, Unity advises its members to toe the line. Caucus members must cease and desist from any independent thought that might challenge official leadership positions. They are advised to steer clear of anti Core positions. The same Unity that holds the purse strings to lucrative double-pensions pulls the puppet strings of its own members.
Active members are certainly not our Union. Only 17% of active UFT members bothered to vote in the last elections. You might think the UFT would be actively concerned that this is a serious sign of illness. Instead, Unity seems more focused on stymieing the voice of current members and guaranteeing its death grip on power by increasing retiree votes. More than half of the recent votes in leadership elections came from retirees.
ATRs are not our union. This one gets me worst of all. We have let a class of people who worked in some of the hard-to-staff schools linger in limbo. Many of these teachers are veterans, seasoned professionals, who deserve the best. They are lumped together in a class repeatedly stereotyped by the media as derelicts. When a resolution is presented to give ATRs their own chapter given their special interests and second-tier due process status, Leroy Barr has only to speak against it and all must follow. The resolution is shot down. Do you think Leroy Barr might feel differently if he walked in the shoes of an ATR?
NYC teachers must be the UFT. But we are not. Conditions are so bad today that many do not stick around for even five years. As long as our dues keep coming, the UFT could pretty much survive without ever caring to ask what we want. Sometimes it thinks it knows what we wants. And, sometimes if does know. But at other times, I'm pretty sure it doesn't care what we want.
Our union is separate from us. We are besides the point. I feel more kinship for the PJSTA than my UFT. I pretty much want from the UFT what the PJSTA wants from NYSUT. I want a union that is not separate from teachers. I want a union of teachers, not a union controlling teachers. And I believe it must start with veteran and career teachers and even some of the passionate recent retirees who understand life on the front lines. If teachers want to win back education, it must begin by winning back the UFT.
Views expressed herein are solely those of the author or authors, and do not reflect views of my employers, the United Federation of Teachers, the MORE Caucus or any other union caucus.
Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.