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Union Provides Support When Facing Challenges

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Jessica Jacobs
UFT Chapter Leader, P.S. 52R

I am a teacher of 5th grade special education in an elementary school on Staten Island. I am the UFT chapter leader at my school, because I believe that the union is one of the most important benefits of working as an educator. I know my rights are protected by the union and I know that the rights of my students are protected through my union. I know who to contact if I need something and I know that person will be at my school within a day, if warranted. I am comfortable knowing that my union leaders are working tirelessly to keep my benefits intact and to protect me in the workplace.

As a special education teacher, I am up against some of the toughest challenges on a daily basis. As a chapter leader, I represent the 100 members of my building facing challenges on a daily basis. I work side-by-side with my principal. We brainstorm survival techniques to weather whatever storms come our way. She supports the efforts of the UFT and stands behind every idea my colleagues and I come up with.

She tries her best to keep class size down. She tried her best this past September to bring back three of the four excessed teachers. She is still working on getting the fourth one back. She finds funds where funds don’t exist. She is a phenomenal budget person.

In my classroom, I have 13 children with IEPs who have various learning disabilities. I work individually with each and every one of them and differentiate my instruction to meet their individual needs. I don’t need a test score to see how my children are doing. I see the excitement on their face when they’ve grasped a concept. I see sadness on their face when they haven’t. I see it in their eyes if they’re following my lesson.

Test scores don’t mean much to me. Who knows how the child slept the night before, or how he/she was treated when rising in the morning? It’s one day, one test. I teach the whole child. I reach the whole child.

If Johnny can’t see the fraction for instance, I make it come to life for him. I keep showing him until he can explain it to me. Then I know he’s mastered it.

Each day, I read the papers looking for articles and commentary about our union. I look to see what Mayor Bloomberg has done now. I look to see how the public is bashing us, based upon the mayor’s influence. I recall how when I was a child in elementary school and the United Federation of Teachers was formed. I recall the teacher strikes, the walkouts that teachers held, to fight for their benefits. Benefits we still have today. I went to school before the Taylor Law came about. Almost every year there was a strike at the beginning of the school year. I recall how in the 1968 school year, there was a long strike, then a tentative agreement and then out again. This went on till November of that school year. It was so bad that interim schools were set up in churches and synagogues, and teachers (I now know they were crossing picket lines) worked those classes, just to provide instruction so that we don’t fall too behind while they were out on strike. I recall reading Al Shanker’s column in the New York Times from the time I was in junior high school all the way into adulthood. He was a great leader.

I remember how I grew up hoping and wishing to become a member of the UFT. When I did enter the school system, I was extremely proud to say I was a member of the UFT. When I first started I was a paraprofessional and I eventually became the UFT para rep at my school. When I started teaching, I had to give up that position, but being that I was teaching at the same school, I remained involved in the union business involving the paraprofessionals. A year later, I became the school’s chapter leader. I attend all the union meetings, monthly delegate meetings in the city, and local chapter leader meetings. I volunteer my time for the rallys, press conferences, meetings with politicians, Lobby Day, local education panel meetings, etc.

Every night, I prepare for my next day in class, correspond with my parents, and handle all my union business.

My value and my worth is not and cannot be measured by a child’s test score. I’m a successful teacher because my students can read better than they were able to last year. They can perform math work better than they could before. They’ve become better citizens than last year, more mature, more capable of handling life experiences. They might not be good test takers, but they are good human beings. I’ve helped them rise to that level.

I remain and will remain involved in this great union simply because I know that if we don’t stand together on these issues, we might wake one day and find that the great union that was formed when I entered kindergarten over 50 years ago no longer exists. NOW MORE THAN EVER, SOLIDARITY IS OUR KEY TO SURVIVAL!