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Teacher retention? Not an issue in NYC

August 28, 2007 pm31 6:07 pm

The NY Times wrote With Turnover High, Schools Fight For Teachers. It got blogged by Leo Casey, and Fred Klonsky, and a whole mess of other people.

  • I can’t stand the gee whiz NY Times voice when they notice “local” issues.
  • Leo just notes the article. Fred mentions NCLB as a reason for turnover.
  • The districts discussed are doing massive recruiting. But efforts at retention are much more limited.
  • In NYC, there are housing incentives. But they really do more for recruitment, and the retention they promote is short-term.

I think there are, in New York City, two possible approaches to retention:

Bloomberg –
  • retention is bad.
  • Turnover is good.
  • Open Market hiring off the street while excessed teachers don’t have positions.
  • Lots of young non-union mindset and anti-union mindset teachers, leaving before they get too comfortable with their rights.
  • The contract’s not a problem in schools where it is not enforced.
  • Schools with no tenured teachers? Easier to control.
  • The word I’m fishing for is “churning.”
  • They are intentionally introducing instability into the system.
What would a good union response be, the other approach? We (the UFT) already do some of it.
  • Distributing “Know Your Rights” was a big first step. But we need to see retention as a war issue. What do our District Reps and Chapter Leaders, our leaders in the field and trenches, do with this bulletin?

(continues below the fold —>)

  • Chapters should jealously help and protect new teachers (at my first school the Chapter Chair warned me not to hold new teachers’ hands, they’d need to learn to get around on their own. That is advice from another era that has no place in our schools today).
  • Here’s the brief plug for strong, functioning chapters that involve many members directly, and communicate directly with all members, preferably through regular meetings. How many new teachers were bullied into reporting yesterday and today and tomorrow, before the contractual beginning of the school year? Central doesn’t know, and can’t know, without functioning chapters. (and once we have functioning chapters, the problem becomes much smaller)
  • Class size is huge. The UFT has come around on the importance of class size. With Bloomberg’s chancellor screwing the students, teachers, and schools with his CFE plan, we’ll see how aggressively the UFT responds.
  • Working conditions are huge. Safety. Physical plant. We have been aggressive here. We need to continue to be. Has central done all it can? As far as I can tell, yes. Where we have weakness, where safety issues are left to boil over, it’s usually the chapter not acting (because it doesn’t exist, or is too weak).

We should avoid pretending that there are common interests here. We act on behalf of teachers, the union, the kids. Bloomberg is out to disrupt and destroy public education in New York. New teachers need to know that the union supports them, wants them to succeed, to last. And that won’t be true until it is true at the school level… New teachers also need to know that they difficulties they face include many that have been intentionally placed in their way. New teachers make enough mistakes without the system imposing more on them, and forcing them to blame themselves.

Mostly we have to see retention as an important issue. Today I don’t care what we can get to support retention in the next contract, I care about what we as a union can do about it on an everyday basis.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Miss Teacher permalink
    August 29, 2007 am31 6:55 am 6:55 am

    You know, I totally agree with you. I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and I have to say you seem to be very level headed about this. And I always appreciate your view point.

    There is one more thing I think central can do…organize. I am going into my third year of teaching. I started teaching at a new school, and when we had union issues, the borough office didn’t even know who our new district rep was. We were sort of assigned two, which is good. Looking back on it now, I really have to ask why the reps don’t show up the first or second weeks of school to really get the ball rolling. In my limited opinion and experience, we have weak chapters because we are not trained to organize. In my school, the chapter leader WANTED to do a good job, but didn’t really know how. (I see this training as part of organizing.) Then, it seems as though she was intimidated/co-opted by the admin. What do you think?

    Honestly, I am pro-union, but sometimes I feel like not even the union is really listening to me or my colleagues. I believe that a union is only as strong as its members, so I have tried to get involved, but I have never felt really supported and/or qualified. I am really looking to get involved, but I am not sure how.

  2. jack israel - Walton H.S. Chapter Leader permalink
    August 29, 2007 am31 8:16 am 8:16 am

    I agree with the organizing part. However, the rep and the teachers have to take some reasonability as well. When you say “we are not trained to organize,” I say that reflects on the education we are receiving in our schools. We are not taught about how the great tradition of union organization worked and still works. I suggest that you can organize in the traditional union method, by having meetings, agreeing on agendas and planning action. The phone numbers for the UFT district offices are very available. Use them and if they don’t respond? You know what? Randi has answered my e-mails and the e-mails of other members of my chapter as well. Believe me Randi wants people like you to be involved! So, yes we need to be led by UFT leadership and also need to take responsibility as members ourselves! We are the UFT, the teachers, not central, or Randi. Strength is in numbers. You sound like someone who can be a strong union leader. If you need help Jon (Blogger) or I will gladly help you, answer questions etc. I am listening! Keep The Faith! Jack Israel – Chapter Leader Walton H.S.

  3. August 29, 2007 pm31 5:01 pm 5:01 pm

    Thanks, Jack. And thank you, Miss Teacher. The discussion of organizing, of how we strengthen chapters, of how we turn dues payers into active members, of how we train chapter leaders, of what role we want the District Reps (and Special Reps) to play, this discussion should be central.

    An easy place to begin is in the chapters, by holding regular meetings. In cowed chapters the meetings can even be dominated by milquetoast topics – organizing a luncheon, or handing out benefit forms. Bringing people together is a start to what Jack is talking about.

    We need to be stronger. And you’ve asked the right questions about how we are going to get there.

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