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More on Retention

April 27, 2006 am30 10:54 am

Last week the DoE announced, with UFT agreement, a housing incentive to recruit teachers in science, math and special ed teachers. There was a flurry of discussion on the need for retention incentives.

Links: the agreement, UFT commentary, the NYCDoE press release, a post on this site, and a good post and discussion on Ms. Frizzle.

There is more recent discussion of retention / the housing deal at nyceducator (he's angry that EdWize hasn't covered the housing agreement) and insideschools (who strangely believe that hiring good administrators will solve our retention problems).

Last night at the UFT Delegate Assembly the following resolution was passed unanimously (I am omitting the all of the whereas clauses):

Resolved, that the UFT engage in a vigorous, many-fronted, high-priority program of chapter-building to jump-start a pro-unionist awareness among newer members, re-educate our veterans, and spark among the whole Organization, school-based and beyond, vitality in activism, conciliation, and a new militancy

I kind of like that. (Except what is "conciliation" supposed to mean here?).

If we want to build chapters, we need to do something about how quickly teachers move in and out of the job.There are some new teachers who are great unionists, but that is the exception. Especially someone who will be teaching for 2, 3, 4 years, why would that person get involved in their chapter? If we can't improve teacher retention, chapter building is going to be very difficult.

So I made a comment, to similar effect from the floor of the Delegate Assembly, and I think some of the delegates heard the connection. Randi Weingarten responded at length, but only to retention (the chapter building piece was lost). Even though I was disappointed, this probably means that she has been focused on retention issues recently, which is positive.


I can't prove that retention rates stink, but I know they do. I can't prove that retention is more of a problem today than it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. But I can make the case

Senior corps lost, not replaced. 10 years ago we still had our corps of teachers hired immediately before the fiscal crisis. With age and incentives, they are now entirely gone. The percentage of teachers at 20+ years has (anecdotally) dropped sharply. Without replenishment, we will be going through a "lack of collective experience" crisis. This is part of the process (plot??) of deprofessionalization.

Mini-schools magnify effects of retention crisis. 10 years ago we didn't have hundreds of mini-schools. Now we do, and in more than one no one, not a single teacher, has any real time in the system, and worse, no one has any sense of being a UFT member (aside from check-off). Instead of these 25 teachers being new, inactive members of a big, partially functioning chapter, these 25 teachers have, essentially, no union. Multiply that by 100. Or 200. Given a few years, we might organize that chapter. But if these teachers only stay 2, 3, years, what are our chances of success?

Steps to take:

1. Retention. Retention. Retention. Say it over and over. Let your colleagues know it is a top issue. Let your chapter leader know. Make sure it is mentioned at each meeting, in each union conversation, in each casual "state of our school" conversation. It should be showing up in The NY Teacher, the blog (EdWize), and the website, whether they are writing about it directly, or whether members are writing in. We can change the agenda. The first step is to convince each other that this is important.

(I don’t much care at this point if the DoE or Albany or the public know that we are focused on chapter building and new member retention. I would very much like each new teacher, however, to understand how seriously we, meaning all of the teachers in their building, all of their union representatives, all the way up, are committed to them becoming and remaining successful teachers in NYC)

2. Focus chapters on supporting new members – build stronger chapters. These two must be linked. There is more than one kind of support for new members.

  • We need to hold their hands and help them fill in their forms, keep track of certification, etc
  • We need to make sure they are not getting abused by administration (think time issues, uncompensated work beyond the work day, but also harassment, bulletin boards, unfair observations…).
  • We need to provide them with professional support – this is important, and not as hard as it sounds. The people in the building who've already taught the stuff, with the ideas, etc, they are UFT members too. The chapter can be the venue where ideas are shared, lessons are shared, and professional relationships are built.
  • We need to teach them about our contract and our rights (and our history). They must be taught that classes are rotatable, that sessions are rotatable, that administrative assignments (yuck) if they exist, are rotatable.

3. Focus, as a union, between contracts, on the "little issues" that destroy the quality of life in our workplaces: repairs to buildings, adequate supplies, parking, well-appointed teachers’ rooms (and of course, safety.)


During the fall I met an elementary school teacher, third year. Her chapter never met. Her principal required new charts for a bunch of indicators, up on the bulletin board, each week. Her principal did not supply chart paper. And new teachers and old teachers did not interact, except with animosity. (She is leaving New York in June to teach elsewhere).

A teacher at a new small school told me that she had a regular coverage – that someone had quit and the classes had been doled out, but that the principal was not paying the coverages. "This is a small school, everyone pitches in" (this was not this year, that particular problem was resolved, and the teacher changed schools)

If you start asking, you can find dozens of stories like these. Things that drive new teachers out of the system are linked to weak chapters. The two issues should be addressed together.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 29, 2006 am30 12:25 am 12:25 am

    I agree about retention.

    I find it disingenuous when Unity discusses militancy, given their repeated proclivity to give into whatever comes down the pike. It sounds like another dues-based propaganda campaign.

    Your new site looks great. One thing that Blogger did was automatically ping for you so that new posts would be noted on blogs like mine. If you want that done now, you may have to do it manually.

  2. April 29, 2006 am30 3:20 am 3:20 am

    Thank you. I like the look here. Honestly though, I moved from blogspot on the advice of someone who knows much more than I do. All of this is new and there is much for me to learn about blogs and html and all kinds of related stuff that I avoided learning for years. I welcome hints, advice, suggestions, criticism.

    As far as Unity, I’ll judge actions, not party labels. You put up good resolutions, I will support them. You do good work, I will help and encourage to do so. You put a bad contract to the memebership, and I will oppose it.

    Good DRs (and mine is dynamite), strong chapter leaders, active members – these are the heart and soul of our UFT – and they belong to every caucus, more Unity than any others, and also some belong to no caucus at all.

  3. April 29, 2006 pm30 2:32 pm 2:32 pm

    Well, I judge actions too, but clearly our conclusions are different.

    If you want to let the world know you’ve updated your blog, you might try this site:

  4. April 30, 2006 am30 12:42 am 12:42 am

    “If you want to let the world know you’ve updated your blog, you might try this site:

    So after I post, I go there and ping?

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