The personal learning network for educators
For the past four years I was a principal in a NYC unionized school. Although my relationships with my union representative and the majority of the union members were positive, it was difficult.
Many days I felt like I was in a battle choosing between teachers and students. I understood that teachers didn’t want a workload that was insurmountable but I knew that our students needed more than the contract allowed and it often left me frustrated. At many times, I felt like I had failed our population of students because my hands were bound by union law.
Although this was my environment, I still support teachers unions. The union provides a vast array of services and support. We must thank unions for establishing many of the working conditions we take advantage of everyday. Once minorities were allowed to join unions, it promoted the establishment of the minority middle class. There are few families, myself included, that have not benefited from union jobs.
But the teachers unions must change. The regulations around meetings, schedules and duties limit the individual school’s ability to create an environment that works best for the whole community-parents, students and teachers.
When I was a teacher at Central Park East Secondary School (CPESS), there was no mention of a contract. Although all the teachers were a part of the UFT (United Federation of Teachers), we worked to serve our students. The founder of the school, Deborah Meier, had left before my arrival but the environment she had created was still strong. The school was run in a collaborative manner and all voices were heard. The teachers created the master schedule, scheduled students and facilitated professional development. According to the contract, we all taught too many classes and didn’t have enough preps but the only ones we could blame were ourselves who created it. At CPESS, teachers were given the autonomy and accountability to develop an after-school program, new courses and create a positive learning environment for students and ourselves. I enjoyed all of the benefits of union membership but we didn’t feel confined by it.
Schools like CPESS shouldn’t be the exception. School communities need to be given the autonomy to build with the student in mind and still pay their union dues.
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This post is also available on my blog: The Education Traveler