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“We need the UFT”

The NY Post printed an op-ed today by a teacher, in response to Sager’s column from last week. We’ve gotten letters from several teachers with different refutations of Sager’s piece, but credit to the NY Post for publishing a letter from a classroom teacher.

Have you cried in frustration because when you decided to be a teacher, you thought you would be teaching students who understood that education is a way to get ahead in life, not something to be fought kicking and screaming?

Do you think that suburban teachers have to teach a classroom of 34 students — or to worry about their safety in their school? I don’t think so.

To top it all off, city teachers have been without a raise or a contract for over two years. Have you filled up your gas tank lately? It costs more to live today than it did two years ago.

Maybe if the city worried less about test scores and more about improving all aspects of the school system, conditions would improve. Maybe teachers aren’t writing on that Web site about how to improve schools or help children because we have tried everything we can think of and nothing has worked.

We are decent, educated, hardworking people who simply are frustrated and exhausted by what we have to put up with day after day in order to educate the minority of students in this city who want to learn and succeed.

UFT President Randi Weingarten recently said, “The sad truth is this: The city won’t be able to keep good teachers if it refuses to pay them what they’re worth.” How true.

Update: Read this speech from Diane Ravitch that makes a similar point about the importance of the UFT.



  • 1 ag2828
    · Aug 31, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    I agree with much of that letter, but I don’t think I’d characterize students who want to succeed as a “minority.” I haven’t got any scientific surveys handy, (nor, apparently, did the letter writer) but I’d say the overwhelming majority of kids I’ve come into contact with in 20 years in NYC wanted to succeed.

    It’s probably asking too much to hope one day Bloomberg and Klein will insist on small classes and quality teachers so as to support their aspirations.

  • 2 nycparent
    · Aug 31, 2005 at 9:44 pm

    I agree with Randi Weingarten’s statement about good teachers leaving but the key word here is “good” As an NYC public school parent, I have witnessed brilliant and wonderful teachers who are underpaid, underappreciated and overworked. My children have also had a number of teachers that were so sub-par, I was amazed they had managed to graduate from college. In my opinion, they were overpaid and my kids surely paid the price of a wasted year of education. Until teachers are willing to address the disparity, the whole profession is at risk. Regarding the teacher from the Post, if he/she thinks that only a minority of children in NYC want to learn and succeed, I beg her to flee to the suburbs immediately. We don’t need her attitude here. Teachers have been without a contract for 2 years and a majority of children in our schools have been without an adequate education for a generation.

  • 3 ag2828
    · Aug 31, 2005 at 11:21 pm

    I agree completely with your sentiments, nycparent. I’m a parent too.

    I must tell you, though, that it is not the UFT, but the city that sets standards and hires teachers.

    I posted this elsewhere:

    “Bad teachers are the problem, if you listen to Klein, Bloomberg, or the NYC tabloids. Why, then, are they so keen on hiring them?

    Soon after Bloomberg purchased his position, he took the LAST test, correctly proclaimed that any high school graduate ought to be able to pass it, and expressed surprise so many teaching candidates missed the mark. He made a great deal of noise about how NYC would have certified teachers.

    But when push came to shove, Bloomy sent Klein to Albany to beg for the right to hire and retain those who failed the test! Underqualified teachers are paid less than NYS certified teachers.

    Now many will say that certification alone does not ensure a good teacher, and I couldn’t agree more. But failing that LAST test virtually guarantees a bad one. Why, then does Bloomy do this? He does for about 3,000 bucks per teacher.”

    That’s not to mention the inability of these teachers to rise very high on the salary scale. They are a bargain.

    There are things Bloomberg could do immediately if he truly cared about teacher quality. He chooses not to.

    The UFT has pushed for higher standards for teachers for years. NYC once had a Board of Examiners that with challenging tests, oral and written, for teachers. It had the highest, rather than the lowest standard in the state. It had many applicants for positions, and in fact turned many away. It was one of the best systems in the world, rather than what it is now.

    I’m afraid the press points to the UFT as the culprit on a regular basis. As long as there is only one, or even fewer candidates for NYC teaching jobs, as long as the mayor has to rely on gimmicks like 800 numbers, intergalactic recruitment, and emergency licencing (for this 30 year plus emergency)you won’t get what you want.

    There are very good reasons why every Nassau vacancy draws candidates in the hundreds. That was once the case in the city, and it could certainly be the case here if education were remotely as important as the Jets.

    Just one more thing–there are a lot of great teachers in NYC, and I know and have known many of them personally. That’s a minor miracle, considering the care with which Klein, Bloomberg, and 30 years of their predecessors have selected them.

  • 4 nychsteacher
    · Sep 1, 2005 at 12:02 am

    “Regarding the teacher from the Post, if he/she thinks that only a minority of children in NYC want to learn and succeed, I beg her to flee to the suburbs immediately. We don’t need her attitude here.”

    As a nyc high school teacher, even some of my worst students express a desire to suceed. It is rare to encounter a child that does not want to pass their classes and graduate from high school. Why would anyone want to fail?

    However, expressing a desire to suceed does not mean that students will do the work. I have encountered many students who want to do well but at the same time, not willing to put in the effort and time. I have had students who never did any hw nor participate in class, failed all their exams, and were constantly late to class. Yet, these same students demand a passing grade from me. A lot of these students do not ask. They believe that they deserve a 65 just because they showed up to class. I’m sorry, but a 40 average student does not deserve a 65 in my eyes. It is an injustice to the other students who actually put in the effort to succeed.

    I’m not saying that such students are the majority but they do exist. I think parents need to consider all sides of the equation before they conclude that a teacher needs to leave the system and take their attitude with them to the suburbs. There are always multiples sides of the story.

    I don’t think non-educators really realize how incredibly difficult it is for nyc teachers in rough/hard to staff schools to motivate students to learn every single day. I sometimes spend hours thinking about how I’m going to teach a certain topic in math. Do I get paid for it? Hell no.

    In the end, it’s all about money. It’s costing the city millions of dollars to recruit and train new teachers, even though 40% of nyc teachers leave within their first 3 years of teaching. They run to the suburbs after they get their subsidized masters and training. At the same time, a new teacher earns a much lower salary than a tenured teacher on the highest scale, which saves the city money. Money is spent but it is also saved. Does the mayor care if the students are getting shortchanged in the process because they’re getting new, inexperienced teachers in the toughest schools?

    A new teacher is one thing. In my own school, instead of hiring a new teacher to replace a tenured, retired teacher, it will hire a long term substitute instead. Why?

    If you think about, the school would save money even if they hired a new teacher because he or she will start at the beginning of the salary schedule. It would be best thing in terms of not shortchanging the kids. However, the schools are so pressed for money that they will hire the substitute instead because it will save them even more money.

    If you were a parent, would you want a new teacher or a substitute to take over your child’s class?

    Personally, I’m not voting for Mayor Bloomberg whether we get a new contract or not.

  • 5 get_me_a_contract
    · Sep 1, 2005 at 12:23 am

    I would agree with much of what the letter write to the NY Post wrote and also what the NYC parents wrote.

    I taught in a very chaotic school the first years I was in the system and was blessed with some awesome students and also some students who were gang members. I had great success with many of my students–some of whom even became teachers. I also was threatened by some, had my car keyed, my tires slashed and so on. I have been cursed at in the classroom, spit at and so on. The school was so chaotic because, like New Orleans today (sadly), there was no law and order in the school.

    I am in another high school now that has more order and is more consistent. It is a better place for students and teachers.

    However, aside from not having a contract, we NYC teachers face a far bigger challenge–meddling influence from the regions and from the chancellor. We now are required to update bulletin boards monthly and we are supposed to have student work on the bulletin boards with rubrics and comments and all sorts of other stupidity. We have to have a skill of the day or week posted and we have to follow a rigid teaching program. Every Monday we have a read aloud. Every Tuesday the students do a “jigsaw” etc. etc.

    The workshop model is mandated at all times even when it doesn’t work. New math is being forced down the students throats (I learned the old math and do not suffer from dyscalculia). We are now told to “scaffold” our lessons and we have Stanley Kaplan breathing down our necks (after they were awarded a very lucrative contract) telling us how to prepare students for Regents exams…..

    I think all this is pernicious to students and burns teachers out……

    Our contract is worthless under Bloomberg anyway….how many oversized classes will we see in September?

  • 6 get_me_a_contract
    · Sep 1, 2005 at 12:25 am

    Pardon my misspelling…I meant to type:
    New math is being forced down students’ throats.


  • 7 saber
    · Sep 2, 2005 at 12:57 am

    You know what? I’m going to agree with the writer of the article. Students have said to me that they’re just in school to hang out, and they’re going to mess around with their friends, fail their classes, and generally wait until the school kicks them out when they’re 21. They know that they can play the system and most likely will just keep on being assigned classes that they will deliberatly fail. I’ve given open-book tests to classes, only to have almost everybody fail. I’ve given middle-school work to high-school students, only to have them say, “I don’t understand, it’s too hard.” I’ve had students demand to pass my class even though they have averages well below 65, because they think they’re entitled to pass just because they show up. Not that they do any work, just because they show up to class. It’s disgraceful. Maybe the NYC parent above is one of those parents who do support their child’s education, but I don’t see that all too often. When I call parents to talk about their failing children, they will tell me that they’ve given up on their kids, and they don’t know what to do with them. And yes, I’ve had “awesome” students in my seven years of teaching as well, but not many. A good number of the students I’ve come into contact with are apathetic about school in general, and really don’t care about passing. “Why would they want to fail,” you ask? I don’t know what to tell you. They just don’t see the importance of passing.

  • 8 saber
    · Sep 2, 2005 at 12:58 am

    Excuse my spelling, I meant “deliberately.” It’s late.

  • 9 divina
    · Sep 2, 2005 at 9:05 am

    I think there are kids with good attitudes, and bad attitudes in school. I think some districts have a large proportion of one type, or the other. So you are both right.

    A child’s attitude is often a result of how involved the parent is. (Not always. Sometimes the parent does everything right and it doesn’t matter. Sometimes a teacher can inspire a student that doesn’t have an involved parent.)

    That said there are so many factors to blame for good and bad results. The effectiveness of the teacher is only a small part of a larger equation.

    The methodology used to teach may be the right methodology for 90% of the students. But some students may need a different approach. From my understanding, teachers are not given latitude to try other methods due to micromanagement.

  • 10 a-realist
    · Sep 2, 2005 at 10:10 am

    Our school system is very large. The fact that we serve 1,000,000 students from all different parts of the globe, with different cultural backgrounds makes us truly unique. Yet, we are mandated to follow the criteria that is tailored for students that come from middle class America. In addition, we teach these students under conditions in some schools that would be considered outrageous and totally unacceptable in most school districts. Here are a few examples. Classes are overcrowded with so many desks squeezed into a room that a teacher has difficulty working the floor for individual help and assessment. At least once per year a rat or mouse will be observed running across a room. Often, toilet tissue, soap, or hand towels are not available in the teachers’ toilets. The noise level is usually high making it difficult for anyone to concentrate. Teachers must street park their cars where vandalism is common. It is not a nice feeling to leave work after a long day only to find your car with a smashed windshield or, worse yet, stolen. I do not think the DOE has any idea how much money we teachers spend from our own pockets to help us enhance our lessons. So, you see, all these small things (I could write a book on this) add up to on going disturbances and challenges which turns off many new teachers. Hence, they leave for greener pastures. The DOE should stop worrying about the small percentage of poor teachers, and be more concerned with making every effort to keep the good ones from leaving. In fact, such a policy would result in a natural reduction in the number of poor teachers as the better ones remain with us in the system.
    Nothing difficult is ever easy but it is often worthwhile.