Two weeks ago, I was asked for the umpteenth time why a teacher like me would support the UFT, let alone want to be chapter leader. Realizing that answering the question by myself would do little to change anything, I reached out to some colleagues, and very quickly the EDUSolidarity project developed. Twelve of us, including my hero, Deborah Meier, signed on as co-sponsors, and a week later, we had the pleasure of watching over 100 teachers stand up in solidarity to answer this question. Each poster interpreted the “like me” part in her or his own way and used it as the foundation for why she or he supports unions.
In a Gotham Schools Community post (where I also blog), Ruben Brosbe claimed to stand up with us. EDUSolidarity was an open thread and he was certainly entitled to write whatever he wanted in response to it. His post, however, was an insult to everything we were trying to do, and failed to address who he is as a teacher. I want to explain this through the lens of what I meant by “teachers like me.” A teacher like me teaches students first, using the content in my class to engage them as people and current or potential citizens. Among the different things I teach my students, I teach them about philosophy, democracy, and character.
Philosophy Means Defining Your Terms
One of the subjects through which I teach my students is philosophy. Teachers like me teach students how important it is to establish the definitions of key terms, as this is what allows for intelligent conversation when there is disagreement. So let me start there: what did I mean when I wrote about “teachers like me“?
First and foremost, I was writing for teachers who, like me, are damn good teachers. The National Board thinks I am one, and my principals agree: I’ve been called a teaching treasure by one, and I am deemed “highly effective” under the city’s new teacher evaluation guidelines by another. I am a progressive educator who does everything I can to ensure my students get the skills they need to succeed in college and to be critical citizens through my history classes, despite the fact that the Regents stand in the way of this goal. Nonetheless, my pass rate for the US Regents is better than the city-wide average, despite the fact that the majority of my students were 1’s and 2’s in middle school. I’m the teacher who every year is asked to write more college letters of recommendation than any other. When we ask our alumni what prepared them to be successful in college, my course is one of the two most often cited. I’m also the teacher who asks to take on the most challenging students every year. I always take nearly all of the special education students and English language learners into my sections. Last year, I took the 15 fourth-year students in most danger of not graduating and essentially taught them everything and prepared them for all of their Regents. Twelve of them have since graduated. I am a teacher whose classroom is routinely visited by guests to the school; some have been impressed enough by what they saw that I have been asked to do professional development for teachers in the turnaround high schools this year.
But I am also what many rightfully distrust in education. On paper, I am the type of teacher who usually does it for a few years before going on to so-called “bigger and better” opportunities: I am a young, white, middle class guy from Ohio who has moved to NYC to teach black and brown students. I graduated in the top 1 percent of my high school class, and have Ivy League degrees from Brown, where I earned my teaching license, and Columbia, where I earned a master’s in African-American Studies. I am clean-cut and well-mannered. I work hard and I have positive relationships with people in power. I am the top 1/3 some people are trying to get in classrooms. Unlike most of those who are like me in these ways, however, I have no intention of leaving the classroom until I have my thirty years.
This is What Democracy Looks Like
Through my US History and Government class, I teach my students about the meaning of democracy. Teachers like me are fully committed to democracy and its messiness.
I am the democratically elected union rep of my school. As such, I am a member of the key decision-making body of the UFT, the Delegate Assembly, where decisions are made democratically (I am going to get eaten alive for that comment by members of the minority caucuses within the UFT, and probably rightfully so, but that’s another topic). Democracy means you don’t always get what you want, but that you still accept the will of the majority and the system that delivered it. It means that when you don’t get what you want, you don’t seek outside powers to force that change on your democratic bodies. If those who opposed Bush or oppose Obama sought support from other countries to force change, we would call that treason.
But outside support is exactly what Educators 4 Excellence seeks to get; thereby discounting the democratic opinions of teachers. They do not agree with the democratically determined positions of the UFT, so they take outside funding to support the passing of laws that would go against these positions. This shows a commitment to the union only when they agree with the union. It is simply not possible for a member of E4E to stand in solidarity with the union if they are going to outside forces to push through a change that are antithetical to what the union stands for. The so-called LIFO bill they supported is a fundamental attack on due process.
This bill, and Brosbe wrote about his support here, would have taken away the due process protections that are the very heart of the union’s positions. Brosbe and E4E claim to be against the simple binary Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory evaluation system we currently have, but they supported a bill that would have used that binary system without the current due process mechanisms built into it to allow teachers to be laid off. Brosbe claims to think tenure is given too swifty, yet he supports allowing teachers whose probation has been extended to lose their jobs solely because their probation was extended. It also must be noted that there is no due process appeal procedure for the decision to extend probation. This bill was a fundamental attack on all the core positions of the UFT, and is an act of treason against those of us who stand in solidarity.
What It Means to Have Character
My most important class, though, is advisory. As an adviser, teachers like me teach students that to be of high moral character, they must have integrity, commitment, and accountability.
People with integrity are honest. Organizations with integrity don’t need to resort to bribery and deception to earn members. E4E claims to have over 1,300 members, yet they get these “members” by sponsoring free happy hours at bars throughout the city . They encourage people to come to discuss how to support their students and to win classroom supplies, all while getting free drinks( who could resist?). At the door, they then require that you sign on to the group’s Declaration in order to enter. So when they make claims that 1,300 educators stand in solidarity with them, don’t believe the hype. Their number lacks integrity.
People who are committed realize that it takes more than three years to serve the people you wish to serve. Organizations that value commitment have people at the highest levels who have seen those commitments through. With the exception of Mulgrew, all the key leaders of the UFT still teach students every day. All the key leadership in the UFT taught students full-time for a long time before claiming to speak as experts. The leaders of E4E taught for three years each (with no formal training to do so), then quit to run E4E full time. Their works shows a commitment to their selves and their politics, not to their students.
But perhaps more important than anything else I teach, I teach my students to be accountable to themselves and their community. I have never met Brosbe, so I don’t know if he’s failing to be accountable to himself, or the larger world, but Ruben, let me be perfectly clear: by choosing to give an “E4E take on EDUSolidarity,” you insulted everything we were trying to do. You are either failing to be accountable and honest with yourself, or you are being disingenuous in your post.
You don’t stand in solidarity with us. You write in your post as if the union is not something that you are even a part of. You work with an organization that lacks integrity and commitment and that is fundamentally opposed to the democratic voice of the majority of teachers. You supported a bill which would have used the very systems you claim don’t value teachers’ work to take away jobs from these same teachers.
But more than any other area, Ruben, where your post lacked credibility and integrity was in your failure to explain in any way what kind of teacher you are. In our letter asking people to join us, we asked teachers to “explain how being a union member supports and enables you to be the kind of teacher that you are. ” I challenge you, Ruben, to take on that question: What kind of teacher are you?