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New York TeacherFebruary 18, 2021

Volume LXII, Number 4

The UFT and its members are taking their best shot to keep students and schools safe from COVID-19 and to maximize learning in and out of the classroom. In this issue, read how more than 25,000 educators are seeking immunizations through the union’s vaccine distribution network; learn how the UFT Teacher Centers are doing their best to spark learning; read how functional chapter members are coping in this unique year; and find out about the UFT Welfare Fund's new digital process for getting eyeglasses and contact lenses.

Cover Stories

Margaret Negrelli
News Stories

UFT vaccine program takes off ‘with flying colors’

When Margaret Negrelli, the chapter leader at PS 370 in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, attempted to get the COVID-19 vaccine on her own, her doctor said it would be a while before she would have access to it and urged her to sign up for any program available. Not long after, she received an email from the UFT asking her if she was interested in getting the vaccine through the union’s new distribution network.

“A couple of days after that, I received an email saying I was matched with NYU Langone and the next day I received an appointment, with options on where to go for the vaccine,” said Negrelli, who received her first dose on Jan. 13. “The union came through with flying colors.”

Q&A on the UFT Vaccine
Q&A on the Issues

UFT vaccine program

We answer some of your most common questions about immunization and the UFT’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution program for members.

A Shot at normalcy Vaccine
President's Perspective

A shot at normalcy

The change in leadership in Washington, which has brought us a president who supports public education and honors teachers, is a solid foundation for the enormous work we must do as we continue to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it has created.

Latest News

A volunteer offers a beverage
News Stories

UFT initiative helps stop hunger

The UFT stepped up to help New Yorkers confronting hunger because of the pandemic through its We Feed NYC initiative, which supports community-based food pantries in high-need neighborhoods across the five boroughs. By mid-January, in partnership with local restaurants, We Feed NYC had delivered 20,000 hot meals.

Exterior façade of NYC City Hall
News Stories

UFT members size up 2021 candidates

UFT members size up 2021 candidates (Sidebar: come to our next mayoral forum)
With many major city government positions up for grabs in the next election, the UFT is organizing remote member screening panels and virtual town halls to get to know candidates and determine who the union should endorse in 35 City Council races as well as races for mayor, comptroller, four borough presidents and Manhattan district attorney.

Feature Stories

Ina Friedman, school secretary

Tales from a unique school year

The 2020–21 school year is demanding ingenuity, flexibility and patience from New York City public school educators in all job titles. Both in-person and remote functional chapter members are grappling with the unique challenges of serving their students during a pandemic. These are their stories.

A tale from Margie Pardo, school counselor

I’ve been working remotely since we left in March and it’s been extremely difficult because I’m a hands-on person with students. It was very long hours — it still is — because reaching some of the students is harder. We had the wrong numbers for some students, and some had their phones disconnected. When we can’t find the students, our attendance teacher and our principal make home visits. Everyone is supportive.…

A tale from Ponzella Johnson, school nurse

My greatest challenge this on Staten Island school year…

Staten Island Technical HS teacher Joe Buro with the 3D replica of his skull that he uses in his computer-aided design class.

Using his head

Joseph Buro's students at Staten Island Technical HS can really get inside their teacher's head during Buro's 3D computer-aided design class. For their remote teaching lessons on biomedical engineering, Buro uses images of his own CAT scan, taken when he had skull surgery in 2019.

A man and woman both wearing masks pose in front of a computer and desk.

Creating a burn to learn

The UFT's 115 in-school Teacher Centers, located in all five boroughs, support educators as they investigate best practices, seek out new materials and collaborate to improve their instruction and, during the pandemic, have also helped with the successful transition to remote teaching. 

Member Spotlight

Heather Fefferman and Dana Botwinick
Chapter Leader Shoutout

Kudos to Heather Fefferman and Dana Botwinick, PS 21, Queens

Heather Fefferman and Dana Botwinick, co-chapter leaders at PS 21 in Flushing, Queens, decided to add some morale-building activities to their usual union leadership responsibilities after seeing the roller coaster of emotions their members were experiencing this year of the pandemic.

“Staff have been hit pretty hard worrying about exposure to the virus,” said Fefferman (right, in photo). “We want them to know their resiliency in the face of so many challenges is appreciated.”

Mysterious Post-it note messages of appreciation and encouragement began appearing on bathroom mirrors: “It’s a good day to have a good day!” and “Your attitude determines your direction.”

Small gifts of candy, stickers, highlighters and candles began turning up on staff desks and in their mailboxes.

But now their cover is blown. One of their colleagues guessed who it was.

Fefferman said she scoured dollar stores for the gifts “to bring us together when…

Woman with a winter coat on performing American sign language
What I Do

Kathleen Taylor, American Sign Language interpreter

Kathleen Taylor is an American Sign Language interpreter for the city Department of Education, providing interpreting services for students, staff and parents at meetings and events such as parent-teacher conferences and suspension hearings. 

Zully Brons-Baily
What I Do

Zully Brons-Bailey, school nurse

For nearly two decades, Zully Brons-Bailey worked simultaneously as a school nurse and a hospital nurse in the Bronx. Now serving 640 students in grades pre-K through 8 at the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx, she tackles everything from routine care to medical crises.

More in Member Spotlight

Around the UFT

Student Enrichment Program

Student Enrichment Program

The UFT Teacher Center, which typically provides professional learning for educators, expanded its mandate during this unprecedented school year to provide a free program of student enrichment — tailored to different age groups — on three consecutive Saturdays in December to help build learning for thousands of students from pre-k through high school. 

Ely Tracktenberg Erin Oates

Ely Trachtenberg Awards

Twenty-eight chapter leaders received the Ely Trachtenberg award in recognition of their service in the 2019-20 school year. The award, named for a teacher whose rank-and-file  organizing skills were critical to building the union, recognized chapters and their leaders who carry on that tradition with strong member engagement and advocacy.

You Should Know

Grants, Awards & Freebies
A teacher with young students

Grants, Awards & Freebies

See our list of current opportunities for educators to receive funds and recognition for their hard work and dedication. 

Secure Your Future
Elderly man and woman sitting next to each other smiling while woman speaks on the phone

Planning to retire in June?

We outline the steps you need to take if you're planning to retire in June and give you a schedule of remote pension clinics, presented by UFT special pension representatives, tailored to your tier.


UFT nurses wearing masks

Nurses find strength in union

UFT Vice President Anne Goldman, the head of the Federation of Nurses/UFT, writes that nearly a year after the pandemic began, New York City hospitals are once again at full capacity, but this time our own ranks have been thinned by illness. But Federation of Nurses/UFT members continue to demonstrate courage, compassion and relentless dedication while caring for patients in battlefield conditions.

Colored silhouettes with words above

G&T wake-up call

The city's Panel for Education Policy refused to continue standardized testing for preschoolers for admission to the city’s gifted and talented programs, opening the door for reshaping the program and the criteria for admission and taking a crucial step toward addressing inequities in our segregated school system.

Image of a magnifying glass with the words pandemic funding

Funding our future

Now is not the time for the state to withhold funding that could help New York City students who have been traumatized by the life-changing effects of the pandemic. The governor’s executive budget proposes to reduce needed state school aid and then fill the gap with part of the $2.1 billion that New York State received for schools in the federal stimulus bill. Shortchanging our students now will have long-term consequences for them later.

Editorial Cartoons

Teaching Resources

Learning Curve
Online classroom with presenters slide displayed

Four ways to improve remote teaching

Here are surprising takeaways teachers can use to make remote instruction more effective: digital  games can be incorporated into learning in small doses; students may be “digital natives” but they may need to learn how to use digital tools; digital tools may work best when they replicate familiar experiences; and remote rewards are still rewarding.

Linking to Learning screenshot

Three tools to enliven online learning

Among the many engaging online resources to help increase student engagement are three tools that are easy to use, good for any grade level and work well alongside and within Google Classroom. FlipGrid, Pear Deck and EdPuzzle can help teachers bring a jolt of excitement to their virtual classrooms.

Teacher to Teacher
Cameras, mics teacher to teache

Cameras, mics and rethinking classroom engagement

Much of what happens during remote learning is beyond our control. What is not beyond our control is our ability to think critically about what meaningful lessons look like in this landscape, what content students need at this unique moment and what philosophy shifts we can take with us to be more responsive educators when we all return to school buildings. 

Building Your Career

Inside My Classroom
Ruth Chan,  4th-grade teacher at PS 536, the Bronx

A safe space in her classroom

A 4th-grade teacher in the Bronx created a safe space in her classroom to let her children know that even though the world is different now, school is still a fun place to be.

New Teacher Articles
State certification

COVID-caused changes to certification, tenure

The UFT fought for amendments to some of the regulations that govern certification so educators are not penalized by the interruptions caused by the pandemic.

New Teacher Profiles
Jillian Demery

Learning can be a piece of cake

Long-time student Jillian Demery is now a second-year teacher, making the grade at the front of the classroom, teaching 5th-grade special ed students. Her accounting background, she says, has helped prepare her for remote learning. A self-described organizer, she makes numbers, spreadsheets and technology work for her.

Retired Teachers News

Retiree Social Services
RTC Service

Retiree Social Services provides key COVID lifeline

Phone calls from UFT retirees are up 100% since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic as members seek information and support from the UFT Welfare Fund Retiree Social Services Department.

Christopher Chin, the department's director, reports a continuing surge of calls from retirees having a difficult time managing the challenges of the yearlong pandemic. Some retirees need practical, concrete assistance with problems such as food delivery, access to Meals on Wheels or referrals for home care, while others are feeling overwhelmed as the threat of the virus grows, making them feel vulnerable, anxious and isolated.

"Their fears are understandable given the scope and length of the pandemic," Chin said. "So we want to make sure retirees are aware of the ways this department is available to provide practical and…

Tom Murphy
RTC Chapter Leader Column

Making hope & history rhyme

Those of us who worked to end the national nightmare of the last four years often called for a return to some sense of normal. Now we must figure out what that means. First, we need positive action to conquer the pandemic, And second, we need to fix the economy. My inclination is not to return to normalcy or normality but to join in a call for national purpose.

A woman with white hair and a pink shirt smiles while sitting at a desk.
RTC Second Act

Protecting NYers through COVID tracing team

Retired science teacher Virginia Jackson had been off the job only a month before she was recruited in March 2020 to work in the COVID Test and Trace Corps of New York City.

More in Retired Teachers Chapter News