Feature stories

What a difference the UFT makes

Rachel Maller, former charter school teacher

Members who taught elsewhere share their stories

Rachel Maller, teacher, PS 314, the Bronx

I don’t think most people realize what you can be asked to do if there is no union.

In 2012, when I accepted a position at a charter school, I signed a whole bunch of things, including a piece of paper that said, “In our school, everyone is an administrator and everyone is a custodian.” I thought it was a euphemism for “We all help each other out,” but it turned out that they took it quite literally: Everyone acted like an administrator and everyone acted like a custodian.

What that meant was all teachers had to sign up to be “openers,” “sweepers” or “closers.” I was a closer. As a closer, two or three times a week, I had to stay in school from 5 to 6:30 p.m. mopping the floors, cleaning the lunch pans and cleaning the toilets.

It was very strange and awful. I felt terrible — I went and got a master’s degree to teach children, I didn’t sign up for this.

Our students were in school from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and initially, teachers did not get a break in the day. At lunchtime, food was delivered to my classroom and I had to put on gloves and a hairnet and push the tables together to make a — “buffet” is not the right word because I had to serve them. We were expected to eat school lunch food with our students.

As an “administrator,” I was given a $1,000 budget for the year to purchase everything I needed for my classroom. With that money, I had to buy my own desks — fill out a purchase order, do all the paperwork, things that didn’t seem like things I should be doing. There was no supply room. If I needed pencils, I had to order them with my own money, submit the receipts and be reimbursed after.

There was a faculty member who argued with the executive director and said something that got him fired — there was obviously no due process. I could have been fired for saying, “I’m not going to do this anymore.”

I knew that I could not return the following year. I’ve been at my current school since I left the charter and I don’t have to mop the floors and clean the toilets. The union gives you a lunch break and a prep; there are things the union does for everybody even if you can’t see them.

Rachel Maller, teacher, PS 314, the Bronx

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