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Challenge for the United Federation of Teachers

December 31, 2007 pm31 11:50 pm

Early this month, the United Federation of Teachers designated a number of schools, every level, every borough, where administrative abuse was rampant and where we would collectively, including UFT Central, including members from neighboring schools, would target those school, would engage in a full court press. Excellent idea. Overdue, even.

But when I heard the list of schools, I was shocked. Where were the Bronx small high school hellholes? I can think of five for the top of the list without thinking. There must be more than a dozen that should be there… But I was wrong. The kind of assistance that we are providing, it requires that an engaged chapter be in place. We are helping those who are already fighting. This makes sense. It is a good and positive initiative. It is needed.

Organize functioning chapters in every school.

But what of the small high school hellholes? The ones with 50%+ turnover each year? With incidents unreported? With members working 4-in-a-row or lunches? Where chapters do not meet? Where principals are abusive and teachers are afraid? (continued –>)

When my small school opened, the principal took advantage of us. We were six teachers, a counselor and a secretary. We did not know the range of our rights, and even where we did, we were not united about asserting them. But over time we built a chapter and asserted our rights. It took several years.

Now, we have low turnover. Each year it was more or less the same people, plus new hires. When we established that we would not work lunch (October of our first year was the first and only attempt to violate this), we did not need to reinvent that right each year. Each year we made advances (regular meetings, all per session posted, safety meetings, all incidents being reported, regular consultations, honoring program preference, right to UFT representation at a meeting where disciplinary action would be discussed, etc, etc), and we didn’t give them up as we moved on to acquiring/asserting more of our rights.

But what about these nightmare schools? If almost everyone with the wherewithal leaves at the end of each year, who’s left? Frightened teachers, mostly without tenure, lots of first years and second years. They will not start to magically meet or assert their rights on their own. Every day one of these teachers faces abuse, it is a day our union becomes weaker. Every time a principal violates a teacher’s rights, but the chapter is too weak to protect that teacher, our union becomes weaker.

So there’s the challenge. Organize functioning chapters in every school. Not down the road. Now.

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