As teachers, we are hardly empowered. We are seized upon as scapegoats for growing societal poverty. Instead of being seen as people who try to help sometimes needy kids, we are seen as the ultimate cause of neediness. With oversized classes, we are over-evaluated. Experience is a liability. There are few with much of it anymore and they are costly. If they cannot work miracles, they will be the first to go as increasing poverty invariably causes decreasing test grades.
As a union member, one might think we are empowered. Sadly, it is not so. Less than 20% of active members vote. Our votes aren't worth much anyway. UFT-Unity is pleased to win with a majority of its votes coming from retirees, many of whom may have little-to-no idea how bad the situation has become on the ground.
When the union negotiates a sub-par contract, it is sold as a victory. When people realize the victory seems hollow, a new message is passed down the line: "The cupboard is bare." We are told to vote for the new contract or risk becoming #151 in negotations, going to "the back of the line" in the worst elementary-school sense. Instead of operating from a posititon of power, the union tells teachers to cower. Beg at the table and hope for some tasty scraps.
When union reps go off to vote, and at great expense, they all vote the same way--and, sometimes, they seem to vote contrary to our interests. We were told the Common Core empowers us. Let UFT President Mulgrew grab "it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands" and say, "it's mine"--just so long as he keeps it as faraway from American classrooms as possible! Let President Mulgrew keep it--only I don't think he wants it anymore either...
The Core has brought misery to a majority of students and teachers. Where someone seems to like it, there is a strong possibility you can find Bill Gates' money. Teachers provide test prep in place of learning for life. Who but Stanley Kaplan really wants to teach to a standardized test? I don't.
The large teacher unions, and, here, UFT, NYSUT and AFT, sometimes slowly come round to common sense or popular opinion. In the meantime, however, they have act as a drag, holding back smaller, more democratically minded unions. In the opt-out movement, the action is on Long Island. The City seems to sleep. We are told by UFT Unity that kids need annual standardized tests. We are supposed to believe that high-stakes testing is civil rights at work, a path to freedom, an end to poverty. It can never be.
Sometimes, the same Union that fails to empower teachers tells itself it has our best interests at heart. It tells itself that 22 domains will protect teachers. It didn't matter that teachers didn't want 22 domains. They had to endure them while President Mulgrew gummed up the works of everyone.
In comments posted at this site, I again had the sense that UFT-Unity views itself as a mega brain with the power to decide what teachers want--instead of taking the time to ask them. Commenter Mary mentioned that she questioned Leroy Barr about the new test-based teacher evaluation system on her first day of chapter-leader training. TeachNYCkids returned, "Last year I heard that the new evaluation produced "I" ratings at 1/3 the rate of "U" ratings in the old S/U system. So who was right Mary? You or Leroy?"
We are supposed to believe that the APPR system is superior because fewer teachers receive negative ratings. We are supposed to believe that one statistic tells the story like a standardized test grade. We do not consider the stress faced by qualified teachers who could be brought down in any year of their career by tests manufactured to destroy, by kids who fail to study or fail to speak English or suffer the dire effects of poverty, by anyone of a number of factors out of their control in this warped world of junk-science.
We do not consider that teaching has become all about testing. We do not consider that kids hate this system as much as teachers. We do not consider how many teachers have left the profession in utter disgust. We do not consider how many kids may drop out of school or fail to come, particularly if music and gym are cut to finance more test prep. "Without music, life would be a mistake."
I am only empowered as a parent. And, when times get tough I remind myself of this. As a parent, my vote counts more than any teacher or union member. As a parent, I may see Arne Duncan take a few swings, but I will never remain a scapegoat. As a parent, I am not alone. I stand with twenty percent of NY State's students. Our numbers will continue to grow. Politicians must listen.
Now, I suppose if I owned a hedge fund or if I had tons of money to throw at the Governor or other politicians, I might be the most empowered of all--but I also might know little to nothing about education. I also might lack integrity. I might even lack common sense. I might think you could run a school like a business. I might think that the solution for poverty is grit. I might think that firing older teachers is a cheap solution. I might think that measures of quality boil down to a standardized test grade. I might think I'm doing a fine job. I might be drunk on my own power and, like DWI, I might be headed for a rude awakening. History teaches us that power is often ultimately on the side of the right, but sometimes the road is long, almost too long...