At this week's delegate meeting you would expect that the big issues would be teacher retention, classroom conditions, and improvements in teacher benefits, and salary in the upcoming negotiations. However, my union leaders of the UFT seems to have their priorities in a different direction. What are these priorities? The war in Iraq, Darfur, and same-sex marriage. While I may support two of the three issues the UFT supports, I question why am I paying $83.34 monthly in union dues for issues unrelated to classroom teaching?
In the New York City schools there is a culture of disrespect of the classroom teacher that is encouraged by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and their pet anti-education newspapers, the New York Post, The Daily News, and the New York Sun. This culture of disrespect is very obvious as the DOE will get the three newspapers to publish headline articles about teacher misconduct while allowing the DOE to hide similiar misconduct by DOE educrats and administrators. When they do appear in the newspapers its usually well after the DOE employee has resigned or retired and is associated with a small article well inside the paper.
The DOE "rubber rooms", where teachers accused of misconduct are bursting at the seams as even the smallest infraction of the vague rules can get a teacher removed from the school. Further, any questioning of an administrator's action could get you a discipline Letter-To-a-File (LIF) that cannot be grieved. The DOE, increasingly lead by lawyers & business people who have little knowledge of schools and the classroom will mandate edicts that make no sense and when knowledgeable people question the DOE actions they are dismissed as malcontents or ignored. With the DOE abuse of the classroom teacher you would think our so-called powerful union would be on the front lines and counter the DOE attack of our schools? However, we are talking about the UFT whose leaders haven't been in the classroom in decades and have obviously forgot how it was there. Unfortunantly, for the classroom teacher our union is more interested in world events then school issues.
What should our union priorities be? Here is what I and many other classroom teachers think.
First, Let teachers teach as they see fit for the best academic results for their students. Eliminate the "one size fits all" approach that has strangled innovative teaching and make student learning boring.
Second, eliminate the mindless micromanagement of the classroom and curriculum. If the classroom teacher has to worry about the rugs, the bulliten board, and test preparation, where is the time for student learning?
Third, enforce student discipline codes. In many schools enforcing discipline codes can get the principal a visit from the DOE on why can't you control your school? The result is that the administrators are reluctlent to try to suspend students for non-criminal actions. Therefore, the classroom teacher feels that the school has no consequences for student misbehavior.
Fourth, ensure that "not ready to be promoted" eigth graders" be directed to alternate high schools where they can get the extra academic help they need rather than dumping them in the large comprehensive high schools where they are doomed to failure.
Fifth, stop the mindless persuit of small and or charter schools at the expense of the larger public schools. At the high school level the small schools are allowed to "screen the 8th graders". to ensure that they get the smallest percentage of the weakest students and no obvious discipline problems. This unequal selection process causes the large comprehensive high schools to compare unfavorably to the other schools and results in poor grades for those schools.
Sixth, ensure that all schools are air conditioned, especially if they are used for summer schools. The union's silence on using hot classrooms for summer programs is puzzling.
There are others, but suffice to say my union's priorities should be on the six issues I have listed above. World issues are important, as are social issues. However, until the UFT solves the problems in the classroom they should be using the dues money to improve the teaching conditions not non-education issues.