New York TeacherSeptember 10, 2020
The 2020-21 school year got off to a rocky start. But the UFT prodded the city to follow a reopening plan for schools that was endorsed by independent medical experts. In this issue, we showcase the dedication and creative strategies of UFT members during this crisis.
This new school year is shaping up to be unlike any other. We face serious challenges on multiple fronts at the same time: We must protect our safety and health. We must teach and support our students in the best way we know. And we must fend off the threat of layoffs coming from the mayor’s office.
Our journey began in March, when we succeeded in forcing the mayor to close the schools as the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear. We lived through a collective trauma in New York City in March and April. No school system in this country has had to face what we have endured. We lost 68 of our in-service members to the coronavirus.
That is why I vowed we would not return to our buildings unless adequate safety procedures are in place.
In March, the city dragged its feet closing the schools. This put our members, our students and their families in grave jeopardy. Yet only when we threatened to strike in August did the mayor push back the first day of school for students and agree to a comprehensive safety plan approved by independent medical experts. Our current plan has more aggressive policies and greater safeguards than any other school system in the nation. That is the power of our union in action. We will not have a repeat of March.
The DOE, in consultation with the UFT, has issued new protocols and procedures for staff for the 2020–21 school year. The following Q&A answers some of the most common questions about safety, instruction and student support.
UFT members returning to their school buildings on Sept. 8 for the first time since March had an experience unlike any other.
The UFT has been working tirelessly all year with its members and with public school families to try to boost New York City’s participation in the U.S. Census.
The New York City Department of Education has agreed to pay nearly $1.2 million to three African American teachers and an assistant principal to settle both a federal civil rights lawsuit brought by the U.S. Attorney as well as individual lawsuits brought by the affected employees.
A federal judge in Washington, D.C., has blocked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ attempt to reroute federal coronavirus aid from public schools to private schools.
After days of nonstop negotiations and with the threat of a UFT strike looming, the mayor on Sept. 1 agreed to the demands of the union to postpone the start of in-person classes to ensure school buildings pass the UFT’s safety checklist.
Tom Brown, the UFT’s assistant treasurer, was re-elected last spring as a trustee on the Teachers’ Retirement System board and will serve a new three-year term.
The most successful teaching strategy of Big Apple award winner Laura Blau, a visual art teacher at Millennium Art Academy in Castle Hill, the Bronx, is empowering students throughout their project-based learning process.
Blau brainstorms with students, discussing everything from content to materials, so they understand what is expected of them. They work together to create projects tied to the students' ideas and interests. Worksheets break down the steps required to successfully complete assignments.
"Students need buy-in," Blau said. "They help me define elements of each rubric."
When teaching and learning went remote, Blau had students design their own crossroads, a metaphor for their identity, inspired by a Diego Rivera painting they viewed online. Students could use whatever materials they had at home, including paints, pencils and crayons. The worksheet guided them as they created symbolic work around topics including sexual preference, Mexican-American culture and the Black Lives Matter movement — issues that were personally relevant to her students.
The PS 19 school community was hit hard by illness, layoffs and food insecurity. Luckily, the Corona elementary school is part of the UFT’s United Community Schools initiative. “Everybody came together in a time of need,” said teacher Christina Tholl.
Fifth-graders from PS/IS 184, one of the UFT’s United Community Schools in Brownsville, Brooklyn, grapple with these issues in their online book, “Tales From a COVID Kid!” They created the book to share personal experiences from the pandemic.
Weekly UFT online family workshops allowed public school parents to connect with each other and get solid information.
“I Will Not Die,” 3rd-grader Samantha Mercedes’ winning pandemic mask design, told the story of her grandmother’s victorious fight against the coronavirus.
The pandemic couldn’t stop New York City high school students from learning the benefits of unionized careers, thanks to the first virtual Future in Focus career fair on June 4 on Facebook Live.
“Let’s Talk About It,” a UFT Member Assistance Program (MAP) initiative designed to educate and support students around addiction and mental health, had an additional challenge this year: helping students deal with the emotional toll of the coronavirus.
More than 180 city public high school seniors and graduate students were honored this year with Shanker Scholarship Awards. The union-funded awards provide almost $1 million to high-achieving students from low-income families annually.
Over the years, the Member Assistance Program has supported thousands dealing with issues including work stress, marital or parenting difficulties, eating disorders and alcohol or substance use. In response to the pandemic, MAP began offering all its services virtually.
While the opening of school this fall has been surrounded by uncertainty, one thing you can count on is your defined-benefit pension, thanks to the Teachers’ Retirement System and the UFT.
Are you a Department of Education-employed UFT member who is preparing to welcome a new child into your life? You can attend a virtual UFT Pathways to Parenthood workshop to learn about your parental leave benefits.
Whatever your age or the type of medical insurance you have, you can be left with extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses if you have a serious medical issue or require convalescent, custodial or home health care.
There is now another reason it pays to be a UFT member. The union has negotiated a free legal service plan for members only. The program gives UFT members access to an attorney who can answer legal questions, write letters on their behalf, review documents and prepare a will.
UFT Vice President for Special Education MaryJo Ginese writes about how special education teachers and related service providers are figuring out how best to serve their students with disabilities amid the challenges presented by the pandemic.
It’s a moment in history when the nation needs a strong and nimble education secretary to guide the course. Instead, Betsy DeVos has only one thing on her mind: figuring out how to exploit the public health crisis to advance her political agenda.
In less than two months we’ll have the chance to put the country back on the right track. There’s never been a clearer choice. Voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris will be a vote for good government, public schools and working families.
I have concern that this pandemic has robbed pre-K students of the crucial lesson that prepares them for a productive future: how to get along with others. That skill cannot be taught remotely.
Teachers using Google Classroom have found that the platform has the potential to foster collaboration with colleagues and communication with families. It also poses a challenge: striking the right balance between consistency and flexibility.
Early childhood educators face a unique challenge with remote learning. In our classrooms, learning occurs through hands-on experiences guided by an intentional facilitator. How can we recreate this virtually?
This fall, as we begin a school year like no other, you will face many challenges, but you are not alone. The UFT is here to protect your rights and support you in your new career.
Two things define Phylicia Stone, a third-year teacher at IS 364 in Starrett City, Brooklyn. First, she can’t sit still. “I don’t waste a minute,” she says. Second, she is self-reliant. “If I want to do something, I sit down and figure it out.”
Lily Tomlin: “Man invented language to satisfy his deep need to complain.”
In the White House, the occupant has been whining, finger-pointing, dividing and complaining since Day One. Imagine having him in your classroom as a student. But the complainer in chief isn’t alone. We all indulge.
My message is: Complain but act. There are times when nothing satisfies like verbally licking our wounds. That works for a while but then we must take action to do something that makes things better.
From its earliest days, the labor movement has been optimistic, believing that problems created by mankind are open to solutions. But those solutions depend on moving from complaint to action. Campaign 2020 offers redemption to all of us who complain. Let’s take the opportunity to consign this national nightmare to the pages of history.
We face three crises simultaneously: the pandemic, the unresolved legacy of racial injustice and the economic recession.
The 7,500 UFT retirees who live permanently in Florida, as well as thousands of winter part-timers known as “snow birds,” continue to await the reopening of the remodeled Florida Retiree Center in Boca Raton, the busy hub that serves them all.
Jennifer Hardy’s new life as a competing equestrian in the state renowned for the Churchill Downs racetrack and the Kentucky Derby is a dream come true.