Tuesday, October 13, 2020

UFT Can't Remain Third Person

 Teachers are incredibly frustrated this year (which is not to say that non-teachers are doing any better). The focal point of my career has always been the classroom. Despite the litany of complaints I've issued on this page about virtually everything, you haven't seen me bitching about kids or classroom work. These days, though, we're not doing what I signed up to do, or what anyone signed up to do.

I'm teaching online, and while there are moments I really feel, they're fewer and further between. It's better than last year, in that our school has pushed for students to show faces rather than avatars. I feel like I'm dealing with people more than pictures. Still, there are those who don't turn their cameras on, and who don't answer when I call their names. This wouldn't be possible in a live classroom.

On top of that, of course, was Bill de Blasio's unilateral decision to stab us in the back, and effectively rob us. If you weren't already freaked out, that pushed you over the edge. On top of that, TDA urged everyone to max out their TDA contributions, and I know teachers bringing home very little on that last paycheck. I maxed out my TDA too, but I've been doing this for a while and I'm not feeling the pain a first year teacher would feel. I know teachers with years of experience who are feeling that too.

I remember people telling me stories of financial emergency and New York City. I remember tales of the last time the city did layoffs. People told me of classes of 50, because during a financial emergency agreements are simply tossed out the window. I heard about teachers being transferred all over the place, because this one got fired, and you teach this, so now you stand in for whomever. It sounded like a huge mess.

Given that, I expected a much worse result than the one we got in the arbitration. I was relieved. Most email I've gotten from members at my school reflected that.

In fact, I came into this profession almost a decade after the financial crisis, and the city was still reeling from its ill effects. Thousands had left, and they weren't coming back. There was no, "Thank you sir, may I have another"" for New York City. I became a teacher because I had a degree, I saw a subway ad, I took a short test, and someone said, "Go teach English at Lehman High School in the Bronx." I was lucky I could even find my way there.

As for teaching, I had no idea what I was doing. I got an observation report, essentially confirming that, on my ninth day teaching. I was advised to be more "heuristic." No matter how many times I look up that word, I still don't understand that advice. When my supervisor suggested I didn't know what I was doing, I said, "Well, I told you that when you hired me."

The union, in 1984 at Lehman High School, was some guy in the men's room asking me to fill out a card. It all seemed very mysterious. In fact there were large union meetings taking place downstairs somewhere, in blatant protest against an abusive principal, but as a newbie I wasn't invited. In actual fact, I didn't get much involved with the union for another twenty years. 

Frankly, not much has changed. People still talk about the union in the third person, as this thing that maybe exists over at 52 Broadway. There's a lot of sound and fury packed into various corners of the internet, but there's still a high level of disengagement. I'm going to go out on a limb and say the disengaged are a large portion of our membership. I haven't got stats, but that's an overarching issue that we have to address when and if we get through the apocalypse.

Whatever you think about the way we resolved de Blasio's brazen holdup, it was handled from on high. Some people are saying we should strike over this, but we shouldn't. For one thing, we wouldn't get the public support we'd have gotten for a safety strike. More importantly, I'm not entirely sure how many were going to be picketing with us for safety. This is the result of the disengagement that infects us like a rot.

Things are not coming up roses in America right now. We need to look seriously at the future. We're going to need to engage a large portion of UFT, we're going to have to let them know we are UFT, not just those who work at 52, and we're going to have to put boots on the ground somewhere, preferably in front of Tweed and City Hall. 

This mayor deserves to feel our collective wrath.

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