Feature stories

What a difference the UFT makes

Seung Lee, former charter school teacher

Members who taught elsewhere share their stories

Seung Lee, teacher and chapter leader, PS 1, Manhattan

Being in a charter school means being alone. I would not recommend my experience to anyone.

I have been a New York City public school teacher for 15 years, but early in my career I taught for two years at a charter school in Manhattan.

At that charter school, I didn’t negotiate my employment contract. I just signed it.

Although the salary was on par with public schools, I could be asked to work weekends or to work late. I wasn’t getting paid for it, but I felt obligated. I couldn’t say no. I could complain to my principal, but he was usually the one who made the request.

I had no one to talk to if I had a problem. There was also no training. It was sink or swim.

The health benefits were so confusing; the same with dental insurance. I probably paid out-of-pocket much more than I should have.

When the board reformatted the entire school after my second year, I would have had to interview for my old job if I wanted to stay.

In my charter school, parents had an issue with my co-teacher and she was let go. In my public school, if a parent raises an issue, there’s an investigation and we get evidence. That’s due process.

In public schools, having recourse helps protect union members. One reason I’m the chapter leader is because I know members need someone in the building to go to. You always feel like everyone is connected because someone somewhere in the UFT is always going to help. I feel very secure that I will be taken care of.

My weekends are now for my family, and my public school job gives me a good work-life balance.

I went into teaching to change the world. I love my job and making a positive impact on students’ lives. That’s much easier to do in a public school where you are represented by a strong union like the UFT.

Seung Lee, teacher and chapter leader, PS 1, Manhattan

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