[Editor’s note: Ms. Teach4Life is the pseudonym of a tenth-year teacher currently in her first year at a Manhattan public school.]
For the first nine years of my teaching career, I taught in the South where there are no teachers’ unions. In fact, I was told upon being hired to not even mention the word. So, as the dutiful, brand-new teacher, I never said “the U word.”
Because I was just starting out in my teaching career, I really could not grasp the concept of what it would be like to work in a district that had a union to support the teachers. I went to work each day and performed the duties that had been set forth by my district and principals. I’d like to share with you the daily work routine of a teacher and those work conditions.
Teachers were expected to be at school by 7:45 a.m. — even though school did not start until 8:30. We had to perform a number of morning duties: greeting students at the doors, directing traffic in the drop-off circle, supervising breakfast in the cafeteria, and monitoring the hallways.
Classes began at 8:30. Our schedule was arranged into core classes of teaching blocks that lasted 90 minutes each. I taught from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with no breaks. I would be lying if I said I was looking forward to my lunch break for mental and physical relief, because we did not get this luxury.
Our lunch period was from 1 to 1:25 p.m. Yes, you read that correctly — we had a 25 minute lunch “break”. Teachers were expected to accompany the students through the lunch line, sit with them at their tables, and supervise student behavior. At the end of our lunch period, we had to make sure that our area was clean (table, floor) before exiting the cafeteria. We did this every day of the week.
Following lunch, the students were whisked away to two 40-minute elective classes. This time, which my district called “planning,” was anything but! Teachers were given a ten-minute bathroom break, meetings began promptly at 1:35 and lasted for the remaining 60 minutes of our “planning.” On Mondays, we had grade-level meetings, Tuesdays were team meetings, Wednesdays were PLT (Professional Learning Teams) meetings, Thursdays were curriculum meetings, and finally, on Fridays, we were given a true planning period — if there weren’t conferences booked during this block of time.
After our “planning” period, the students returned to us for a 20-minute enrichment block where we were supposed to teach a reading or math lesson. At the end of the day, the kids were not focused on enrichment, as you can imagine, and the teachers were completely wiped out!
I’ve worked in NYC schools for the past 9 months, and I can not begin to tell you how much I appreciate the presence of the UFT. I look back on those nine years of my career and wonder how in the world did I make it through each day? I left work everyday exhausted, with stacks of papers to grade and tons of planning to do. I was tired and run down and frustrated, and sadly, there was nothing that could be done about the situation.
Besides the working conditions described above, we did not have anyone to speak on our behalf for other matters like pay, compensation, and benefits. Many times substitutes could not be secured, so we were required to cover classes without compensation. Furthermore, when I resigned in August of last year, my pay was $37,500 after 9 years of service.
I am very thankful to be working in a district that has the support of a strong union. The conditions outlined in the contract have allowed me to be a much better teacher because I have fair working conditions. Most importantly, I am able to grade papers and plan innovative, thoughtful lessons while at school, during my protected prep periods. This, in turn, allows me to also have a life outside of school, and in the end, I am a balanced individual who walks into my classroom each day and makes a positive impact on my students.