Educators are under attack. This is not news. What has changed in the last 30 years is a decrease in the effectiveness of the UFT to counter the power of the DOE. There are many reasons for this decrease starting with a young, new workforce with many barriers to union activity and a lack of connection to unionism. Teachers today have no connection to the necessary strikes and job actions of yesterday that produced workable conditions in our schools. There is no solidarity, union or otherwise.
Second is the change of pedagogic philosophy from an education model to a corporate model. We recognize some of the elements: top-down structure with no feedback or collaboration from teachers, data driven based on massive testing and without regard to proven educational practices (educate the whole child), establishing a subjective pay system based on merit and bonuses, and strongly anti-union.
The third major trend is the breakup of large schools, particularly the High Schools which were always the most fertile ground for union militancy. Working in a small school with less than thirty young, untenured staff, teachers no longer see the potential of their collective power. In addition, newer, non-tenured teachers are insecure and less likely to stand up for their rights even when they would like to. Newer teachers are easier for principals to victimize. Newer teachers are easier to push into doing extra work and more likely to agree to extra-contractual proposals. In schools where the proportion of newer teachers is particularly high, all of the teachers find their rights eroding.
Fourth is centralized authority without centralized responsibility: the autonomy given to the principals and the laissez faire attitude of superintendents. Tweed mistrains principals and encourages them to misuse authority, and then claims not to be in direct control. No one in authority seems concerned with the contract – it is often abused or ignored. While all of us work for the DOE, teachers are made to feel that this is not the case – that they now owe their allegiance to the principal (many trained in the DOE’s Leadership Academy) who hired them.
In addition the public is fed a constant stream of news stories depicting teachers as incompetent (ATR’s) or dangerous (“Rubber room”). Unfortunately, the national spotlight is focused mainly on teacher evaluation and creating more charter schools to escape the clutches of the “anti-reform” school unions.
The past several years have been a disaster for our members. Working conditions are perhaps the worst in the history of the UFT. Demands on teacher time and productivity have significantly increased to include excessive paperwork, tying data to planning, scripted lesson plans, setting individual student goals, and teaching for the test.
Add to this mix hundreds of abusive or incompetent administrators who are given absolute authority. Plus we have the constant creation of new small schools, the assault on experience and seniority, and the willful opposition to following our legal contract. This is a recipe for a school system that stifles teacher creativity, promotes a climate of fear and forces thousands of potentially good teachers to leave if they can.