I’ve only been a member of a teachers’ union once before. My first two years in the classroom were spent in my hometown of L.A. at Samuel Gompers Middle School. By default I was part of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA). I wasn’t an active member by any means, mainly because I was a new teacher trying to keep my head above water. We had an awesome chapter rep at our school who encouraged us to be more engaged but I just couldn’t make it happen. As a first year teacher I was trying to figure out what the heck I would do with my 6th graders the next day! I spent the next eight years of my career in charter schools in California and New York and none of them had a unionized staff – even though in one of them, we tried to organize. One of the many reasons I wanted to return to a traditional public school district was to be part of a union. My three years in the education policy world expanded my knowledge about the work that teachers’ unions and education associations do and I wanted to be engaged in that work. Today I started that journey.
Afterschool I attended the United Federation of Teachers Meet and Greet for new teachers in the borough. UFT President Michael Mulgrew and NYC Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña were both there and I left feeling inspired, humbled, and reminded that I’m in the right place. While the event was geared towards first year teachers I learned a ton. There were booths set up with information about professional development, National Board Certification, pensions, Homework Helplines, health insurance, you name it. I met some other Bronx teachers and almost won a prize in a raffle. (Better luck next time!) What I enjoyed most was watching Chancellor Fariña and Michael Mulgrew engage with each other and with us. From an audience member’s perspective they seem to have a strong rapport and comraderie and it’s so clear that Chancellor Fariña is an educator. Her advice to us as teachers was practical and clearly from someone with years of experience in educational practice.
I loved what she had to say to us and the close to 7,000 new teachers in New York City this school year. Some of her nuggets are below.
· On staying positive - Stay out of the teachers’ lunchroom.
· On learning from each other - Be humble and ask for help from a colleague.
· On parent teacher conferences – Role play parent teacher conferences so you’re prepared for all kinds of conversations.
· On parent teacher conferences - Have an index card with 2 positive comments for each of your students so you have something to say about each of your kiddos.
· On supporting each other and teacher retention - Write a kind note when one of your colleagues has had a hard day.
· On supporting each other and teacher retention – A regular Friday check-in based on two questions: 1) What’s the best thing that happened to you this week? 2) What was your biggest challenge?
· On schools with silent hallways - “I judge a school by the buzz.”
· On multiple adults in a classroom – “It drives me crazy to walk into a class with two teachers and one paraprofessional and only one person is teaching.”
I look forward to getting more involved in my union and in my district. While teaching is incredibly difficult, it’s the exact work I want to be engaged in because the learning never stops. I’m grateful my union recognized the value in bringing together new teachers in the Bronx so we could learn together. Can’t wait to see what’s next.