Saturday, March 16, 2019

Leadership Ain't for the Faint of Heart

I've been chapter leader of a large school for almost ten years now. It's changed my life in many ways, mostly for the better. I did not actually want the job. Someone I respected greatly told me I had to do it, and I went for it. I ran against three opponents, and was pretty surprised when I won. I was even more surprised when I started to love the job.

People don't anticipate everything that comes with leadership. Whatever you do, someone is going to be against it. Nothing pleases everyone. If you're a teacher, maybe you're used to that in some way. Some kid will be mad at you for something. It feels different from adults somehow. Everything feels different from adults somehow.

Admittedly, I've got little right to complain. I have been giving as good as I get, likely worse, since well before I put up this blog in 2005. I can find fault in a whole lot of things (and I can write about those things faster each year). Lately I try not to get dragged into every online squabble there is. So little time, and I'd rather walk my dog for the most part. As time goes by, I'm a little more selective, and hopefully a little more thoughtful. But you can't please everyone.

This has been a most unusual year for me. Though opposition hasn't been particularly good to my friends or me, I still pay attention. When they clamored for fewer observations I knew it was a good idea. In fact, they didn't need to remind me. The all-intrusive observation machine has been the number one complaint in my ear for several years. It was a no-brainer for me to push for it on the contract committee. I'm happy that 85% of tenured teachers will have an easier time of it, and proud to have played some small part.

When I read a blog asking why NY Teacher didn't cover Forest Hills I thought it was a valid question. So I made some calls and asked if I could write a piece about it. I know a few Forest Hills teachers, and I'd already been writing about it anyway. I had some help and did it. I didn't expect thanks from opposition, but I didn't expect gratuitous swipes either.

The swipes got a little nasty in the comments on the UFT Facebook page. This page had influenced me in the past. For example, when the march for Eric Garner was happening on Staten Island I had no plans to go. But the comments on the UFT Facebook page disturbed me so much I made it a point to be there. I couldn't help but peek when my piece went up. There were an awful lot of comments in support of the Forest Hills staff. But not all.

"Propaganda," screamed one comment. That wasn't sufficient, so the commenter added:

I guess I must be a UFT shill. I'm UFT, and I support UFT absolutely. However, I don't work for UFT. I'm a teacher, in the classroom every day. I don't know whether NY Teacher pays for articles or not. I don't really care either. If I were in this for the money, I wouldn't have been writing this blog for fourteen years. In my capacity as UFT shill I'm on UFT Executive Board, and I don't get paid for that either.

Another comment got a little more personal:
propaganda at its best, UFT unity understand 10,000 of teachers are getting abused across the Doe. Elections are up so they pick one unlucky admin whos known for abuse and set up this huge show. They turn Auther away from more and his blog fans to help the show continue. Why is the admin still there???? The abuse is still going to continue across the for and Ben is still admin vote out unity 

For the record, Unity didn't turn me away from MORE. MORE never supported our work, barely showed at our meetings, ejected all my friends, and labeled our victory a disaster. When MORE dumped us, Unity invited some of us in. We were specifically asked to keep challenging them at Executive Board, and we were asked to sign nothing whatsoever.

There are a lot of teachers being abused. That's undeniable. If they want to stand up, I support them. I can tell you from personal experience that standing up against abusive administrators is not a fun thing to do. It's frequently time consuming and frustrating, and there's no guarantee of victory either. We've brought a whole lot of abused teachers to Executive Board. Some, not all, have had good results. If not, it isn't because we aren't trying.

It's not that UFT leadership isn't trying either. If there's anything they can do, they'll do it. When I need help I get it. It's problematic when people think only leadership should act, that Michael Mulgrew should fly into the school like Superman, break through a brick wall, and beat the crap out of your principal. (The VPs, I guess, should then come in and start kicking him while he's down.)

When real change happens, it happens differently. We've seen remarkable successes at CPE1 and Townsend Harris. In both cases, it was not central, but rather the school communities that rose up. UFT offered support, just as it's doing with Forest Hills. Why isn't the principal out of Forest Hills? Ask the chancellor. I did, at the end of the article I wrote. Mulgrew doesn't hire and fire principals, nor does any teacher union president I've ever heard of.

I see situations and look at ways I can make them better. In this case I wrote the article. At the moment I have a friend translating it into Spanish so we can release it elsewhere. Have I got an absolute solution? No I have not. But there are always things you can do.

I'm always open to suggestions. I'm pro-activism. But activism, for me at least, is a two-way street, and it emanates from the grassroots. I encourage it. At this time, though, standing outside 52 Broadway and throwing rocks is not my preferred MO.
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