When her former principal at PS/MS 108 in East Harlem declared, “The UFT is bad for teachers, bad for students and bad for schools,” Chapter Leader Amanda Walsh accepted the challenge and stood up to him.
“For two years, we fought a principal who had no respect for us or the contract,” said Walsh, who teaches 2nd grade. Staffers were afraid of him and reluctant to file grievances because they feared retaliation, she said.
Walsh began serving as chapter leader seven years ago, working the first four years with a cooperative principal. But the atmosphere suddenly changed in 2015, she said, when a new principal made teachers write five-page unit plans, instructed them to attend “lunch and learn” sessions, observed teachers on the day of state exams and gave out Ineffective and Developing ratings for flimsy reasons.
“I could go on and on,” she said. “So I began explaining to colleagues that they could grieve and that our contract will defend us.”
Twenty grievances were filed over the next two years.
Once Walsh began setting the record straight — assuring members that the UFT and the Department of Education had agreed on a one-page unit plan and that the contract protected a duty-free lunch period — PS/IS 108 members began to fight back. Walsh recruited six of her colleagues for the union consultation committee and she made sure she had the required number of UFT members on every other school-based committee.
“We banded together, spoke up and had each other’s backs,” Walsh said. “We showed that principal we would not be intimidated anymore.”
Since the “horrible principal” left in September 2016, no further grievances have been filed.
As a member of the consultation committee, 8th-grade science teacher Sunny Kam saw Walsh stand her ground at meetings and ask the former principal, “Can you show me that in the contract?”
“She steps up and takes leadership,” Kam said, “and that’s powerful.”