Monday, March 21, 2022

Don't Forget to Vote for Unity

I'm running for reelection to the HS Executive Board. I'm running with and supporting the Unity Caucus. Every significant accomplishment I've been able to achieve for my colleagues at Francis Lewis High School and elsewhere has been via working with Unity.

We've just been through the most traumatic chapter of my teaching career, and likely everyone's. I don't know how long you've been doing this, but I've been at it since 1984. There were a lot of things that could've been done better, particularly when the apocalypse commenced, but the fact is we caught up quickly, and we soon went remote. I personally hated remote, but like a whole lot of people, I'd have hated dying of COVID even more. We got out too late for some, and that was awful.

Meanwhile, a whole lot of our colleagues in nearby districts didn't get out at all, ever. Accommodations? Forget it. You came to work, wore a mask if you could get one, and taught whatever of your students actually showed up. Those who didn't were watching your classes via the cameras in your classroom. I got an email from a teacher a bit upstate from us whose vulnerable wife got an accommodation that entailed a classroom with some extra windows.

The following year, we demanded safer working conditions and threatened a strike if we didn't get them. Accommodations were freely available to virtually all who needed them. I was among those who took advantage, and I was able to help others get them too. A lot of of things could've been done better, but the fact is we navigated this crisis better than a whole lot of Americans, and better than a whole lot of our colleagues in neighboring districts and states.

Being on the Executive Board has enabled me to work directly with leadership, particularly during the last round of contract negotiations. I was close to former VP Evelyn de Jesus, and pushed her to reduce observations from four to two. Evelyn was persuaded this was the right thing to do, and made it a priority. Shortly thereafter, I was bounced from the observation committee to the class size committee, and replaced by Michael Mulgrew, who sat in front of the DOE bigshots and demanded two observations rather than four. We won that. Observations still suck, but now only half as much as before.

My colleague Mike Schirtzer pushed for parental leave. He brought thoughtful and eloquent Emily James to Executive Board. Emily had written a petition and remarkably, collected almost 90,000 signatures in support. We were able to bring this to leadership, and Mulgrew was able to negotiate a parental leave agreement for the first time in our history. I've read people saying it should be longer, it should be this, and it should be that. They're right, of course, but this is a whole lot better than the nothing (!) it replaced.  When I adopted a 2-year-old girl from Colombia, I had to travel twice to South America and deplete most of my CAR days.

I'd argue the fight needs to be making this a national mandate as it is in so many other countries. Until that happens, working UFT members won't need to halt their families after one child simply because they're afraid of losing CAR days. I know multiple women who've had to do that. Some opposition members argued against this because it didn't meet their exacting standards. All I can say is I wish I'd have had six paid weeks off when I needed it. My sister-in-law in Canada got one year, with pay and full health coverage, for each of her two sons. If you want to know why that's not happening here, read this book and we'll talk.

The class size battle lingers, but there have been improvements. The recent agreement with the DOE means, while class sizes have yet to be reduced, at least current class sizes are enforced. There is far less ridiculous nonsense like one day a week off of your C6 assignment for teaching a class of 50, and there are far fewer oversized classes. My last year of chapter leader was the first year I didn't have to go to class size grievance hearings. It turns out principals do not want to explain to their superintendents why they can't manage to do their jobs. UFT's position is we ought not to fund class sizes by taking less money. If the city gave a golly gosh darn about quality education it would abandon nonsensical slogans like, "Children First, Always," and do what has to be done to actually help children. 

As a longtime chapter leader, I appreciate the new operational complaints. I was able to resolve several tough situations in our building with these. They are far quicker than traditional grievances. You don't have to waste time going to Step Two decisions where loyal DOE reps rule in favor of principals no matter what outrages they may have perpetrated. You also circumvent the very real danger of being at the whim of overpaid arbitrators either unwilling or unable to comprehend basic English.

I stepped down as chapter leader last year, anticipating retirement. I thought there would be an incentive. When there wasn't, I decided screw them all, I'll go back to work. That will teach them. I'm really glad I did. I'm pretty happy teaching five classes. After having been CL of a school with 4500 students and 300 members for 12 years, being a teacher again is a new life for me. I'm still writing op-eds about education, and TV stations call me to comment on stories. I'm really happy to represent when I can.

Of course we could have better working conditions, and despite what you may read in brain-dead newspaper editorials, even in the so called liberal papers, helping us helps students as well. We live in a city that's ready to roll out the red carpet for Jeff Bezos, build him a heliport or whatever he needs to get his gold-plated ass to Long Island City, but won't create adequate space for our kids to learn. That said, I worked with Unity members to negotiate a long-needed extension for our school. It's slated to open next year. No more trailers for us. I hope we have a big old barbecue and sit in lawn chairs watching the day they're finally demolished. 

Here's a thing I did when I was elected to Executive Board--I started posting notes of everything that happened there, available for all to read. Thousands of members read these reports. For reasons that elude me, no one had ever done that before. I'll continue to do that.

There's still a lot of work to do and I want to do it. I tried working with opposition for years and it's a dead end.  This year they're making nice, but next year they'll devolve into the same incomprehensible ideological battles on which they thrive. It's a longstanding pattern. Unity is not perfect, but Unity is what will move us into the future. 

I'm ready to make real progress and move forward. I'm voting for the entire Unity slate and I urge you to do the same.

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