Friday, November 15, 2013

How to Get a Voice in the UFT

While I face dozens of complaints about the new paradigm of endless observations, incessant testing, and listening to King and Silent Merryl recite that they understand, they really understand, but are prepared to do nothing, I continually wonder what the UFT is doing about it.

Here's what I know for sure:

1. We support Common Core.
2. We support the rating of teachers via junk science VAM.
3. We support endless observations.
4. We'd like them to kind of slow down a bit, and hope it becomes marginally less awful under Bill de Blasio.

This is not inspiring to my colleagues or me. Yesterday I was speaking to a supervisor about the Wednesday night rally in Mineola. She asked me why I don't get more involved in the central union. That was actually the most interesting question anyone had asked me for a while.

There are only a few ways to be involved in the union. You can be independent, like I am, and blog, and write for anyone that will publish you, shout from the rooftops, and hope for the best. You can even stand for chapter leader. But once people realize you aren't Unity, you can't get recognized in the DA. If you're called on by mistake, you may perhaps inspire some hilarious joke. A few months ago I saw a guy who questioned the Thompson endorsement being told he didn't believe in democracy.

The other way is to join the Unity Caucus. Then, you can go to conventions, get the coveted decoder ring, and learn the secret handshake. You can go to their meetings, you can wear a fez or do whatever it is they do. Nobody much knows what that is, since they're not talking and most members don't even realize they exist. To join Unity, you pledge that you will support all Unity positions in public. In effect, once you get in, you aren't allowed to express your own opinions in public, unless they happily coincide with those of the caucus.

Can you imagine being a chapter leader and having to support Common Core, VAM, mayoral control and endless observations? I'd hide in the basement if I were sworn to do that. Though there's an NEA poll suggesting that teachers overwhelmingly support Common Core, they clearly didn't ask any teachers in my building. I do not know a single one who supports it. Not one. And I'm seeing parents of young children, people who never gave a crap about union activity whatsoever,  furious about it. They tell me mostly about articles I've already read, but now they're telling me bearded karate guy/ troglodyte Chuck Norris is mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. I'm really relieved my kid is now a senior (and yes, in a public high school).

I realize that a majority of the 14% of working teachers who bothered to vote selected the Unity Caucus. I realize that the retirees, who shouldn't be voting for anything but retiree matters, love it when they come down to Florida and give them free lunch.

But getting a voice in the UFT is a tough thing. Either shout from the rooftops until you're hoarse, or join the cabal, go to a few conventions, and shut the hell up.

It's Catch 22. The best catch there is.
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