Thursday, April 12, 2018

Can UFT Leadership Wake the Sleeping Giant?

Yesterday I heard someone speak on how we need to be activated. I heard about how we are powerful, and capable of much more. On that I agree absolutely. We are large in numbers and could be a force to be reckoned with.

And yet we are afraid. We are all afraid. Why is that?

I'm a bad example, but that's only because I'm not afraid. I'm not sure when I lost my fear. When I first started this blog, it was anonymous. Though I haven't specifically attached my name to it, you could now click on the Twitter button and find out who I am in less than a minute. I don't remember when I changed my mind about this, but even when I was anonymous it seemed to me that anyone who really cared knew who I was anyway.

What is it that causes us to be this way? I think a lot of readers will argue that we're following in the footsteps of leadership. NYC Educator actually appeared a little before the 2005 Contract. My goal in putting this up was to counter the anti-teacher spin I saw so frequently in the NYC papers. But the 2005 Contract, full of extra time, goodies for Bloomberg, and particularly the ATR, made me turn a critical eye toward leadership.

What happened to militant unionism, or even speaking up? It's not simple, but it's largely attached to 2005. I remember 1986, when as a new teacher with a temporary license, I drove to work one day in September only to find I didn't have a job anymore. I decided to look for a job in Queens rather than the Bronx so my next stop was the Queens hiring hall. A secretary there showed me a room full of teachers in folding chairs and told me she needed to place every single one of them before she could place me.

I called the union. A rep told me there was nothing they could do for me, but that when I was a more senior teacher I'd be glad of this policy. Of course, that changed in 2005. Now, if my principal puts me up on nonsensical charges, I'm not terribly likely to be fired. But there is this DOE policy of splitting the baby, which means I'll almost certainly be found guilty of some minor thing or other and be fined a few thousand bucks. When that happens, the principal who brought the crazy charges can generally make you an ATR.

I would hate to be an ATR. Teaching is a big part of my life, and I take it seriously. I would have a lot of trouble doing that if I were a wandering sub. I see this do bad things to people, and I understand completely. I see people who've found ways to cope. Blogger Chaz has decided to acknowledge and celebrate the oddness and humor in his situation and is the healthiest-minded ATR I know. I hope, were I ever to be in that position, that I'd find the courage to meet it the way he does. I have no idea, though, whether or not I could.

I find myself in conflict with some of my ATR friends, in that I'm absolutely keen on preserving union. For all my complaints about leadership, they hung tough against Bloomberg and declined to sell out the ATR for the raise other unions got. This was the right thing to do for multiple reasons. One is solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the ATR. Another is we're all just a school closing or 3020a from being ATRs ourselves. Opening up the ATR with a time limit would mean DOE could manipulate the system to fire almost anyone.

This notwithstanding, teacher morale is in the toilet. Few are inclined to take a stand. Why is that? One factor is certainly the ATR. We used to be placed in schools when we were bumped. Another is the evaluation system. Leadership can talk till they're red in the face about how few teachers get rated ineffective. That's a thing. Another thing, though, is how working teachers feel, and they feel afraid. There are a lot of crazy vindictive supervisors all over the city, and uprisings here are not happening spontaneously, despite what we see happening in Oklahoma, West Virginia and elsewhere.

I have a supervisor who is not remotely insane. I don't expect to get bad ratings. But I certainly understand the feeling of hatred for this system. I know and I feel that it was borne of a desire to fire my brothers and sisters. I heard Cuomo say so. Later, I heard him call it "baloney" because so few teachers were fired. I watched him and the heavy-hearted Assembly vote for his new system. Like all teachers, I know and I feel what this system is intended to do. Though it's a large failure, as would be any system conceived in junk science, it's hanging over my head, and all our heads, every moment of our lives.

Of course there are powerful forces right now trying to destroy our union. They absolutely wish to push us into the same corner in which WV and OK find themselves. Maybe if they're successful, they can ruin us. Maybe, at that point, we'll take a stand city or statewide. But there's one big impediment to activism, and that impediment is leadership.

It was leadership that told us we must be smoking something if we thought we could do better than a contract that raised maximum to 25. Back then we had a streak of self-preservation, voted it down and got it reduced to 22. It was leadership that told us we needed to accept the crap we got in 2005, and we no longer had it in us to say no. It was leadership that posted an idiotic piece suggesting the crap 2005 contract "scraped the skies."

It was leadership that sold the last contract via fear, telling us if we didn't accept it we'd move all the way back in line behind 200 unions, and that there was no "God-given right" to retro pay. It is leadership right now loudly telling us we do not make public demands. Leadership tells us there is a 400-member negotiating committee and only they have the sacred right of negotiating the contract. In fact, the last such committee passed the leadership proposal before even having seen the Memorandum of Agreement. My expectations for rank and file voice on the current committee, of which I'm a member, are not high.

It was also leadership that sold us Danielson and junk science with the question, "Do you want to go back to the bad old days when principals controlled 100% of your evaluation?" For one thing, no, no one's ever said that. It's a strawman. For another, the days were not so bad when the principal also held 100% of the power to leave you alone if she so chose. But mostly, it didn't feel so bad back in those bad old days. These days, the fear is palpable.

Leadership manipulates us with appeals to fear and is shocked when teachers are fearful. I'm not. Leadership can maintain we need not be afraid because of union, and that's potentially accurate. This notwithstanding, I'm not afraid, but I feel it's mostly in spite of union leadership. I've developed my own voice and I've had to think out of the box to do it. Meanwhile, almost all the people UFT considers activists have signed  loyalty oaths. These people, on pain of losing perks and jobs, will not utter a public word that contradicts leadership. Some of them are outright ridiculous. But guess what? They're acting out of fear too.

Hey, if leadership wants to groom and build an activist membership, I'm all for it. I'll help. But to do that, they themselves will have to stop indulging in fear tactics. I'm up for it.

Now show me.
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