Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Young Whippersnappers

I suppose it isn't giving much away to say that I work in a small high school, staffed primarily with younger teachers in the first few years of their careers. I've mentioned a few times already how happy I am with my no-longer-exactly-new position: how much I respect and trust the administration, how much I like and admire my colleagues. We are a hardworking bunch and, dare I say, the work pays off. We have good results in more ways than one. It is a demanding but not unpleasant place to work.

Yet my school also puts lie to the idea that younger teachers, full of our storied vim and vigor and passion for raising student achievement, are necessarily also anti-union. Our chapter meetings are well-attended and our COPE drive was very productive. We have an active consultation committee. Our CL reminded us to grieve any scheduling issues in a timely manner. And during breaks in the PD today, many of us scoffed at Mayor Bloomberg's pathetically obvious posturing regarding teacher layoffs. If anything, the great deal of effort we put into our chosen careers makes us all the more astute about our rights and all the more wary of protecting that for which we have worked so hard.

Yes, our work is for kids and their families. Without them, we would have no work, and, as I have said before, the only real accountability we truly face is accountability to them. But it would be hard to comfort ourselves with all of the achievements of our students if we are unable to afford a decent home somewhere near our work, if we watch our retirements slip away, if we can't afford quality medical care when we are ill. These things matter. To say that they matter is not to say students don't matter; it is to say that we are working, and working well, at a very difficult job, for which we deserve fair compensation under the terms to which we agreed.

Anyway, today just reminded me that to be young is not to be a martyr or to be unconcerned with the politics of our careers. If anything, the younger teachers need to be thinking more about where we will take the UFT and the labor movement when we are running the show. If the union is, in someone's opinion, unconcerned with raising teacher quality or student achievement, how can we get on that without endangering due process, fair pay, and decent benefits--the core of that for which the union has always fought? That should be our question, not eagerly offering up ourselves and our futures for "solutions" that will likely prove, if not illusory, divisive, short-sighted, and ultimately damaging for all involved. Including, dare I suggest it, the children whose teachers will be overpaid, underworked, and inexperienced forever.
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