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Certified victories

New York Teacher

When most people think about the job security that comes with union membership, the first thing that comes to mind is protection of due process rights — making sure teachers get a fair hearing if they are threatened with losing their job for any reason. Guaranteeing a teacher’s right to due process is one of the most important things we do and goes to the heart of unionism. Workers should be treated fairly in the workplace.

But there is another kind of job security: Making sure your experience and credentials are fairly assessed in the state certification process. The state’s Office of Teaching Initiatives, which evaluates credentials for teacher and paraprofessional certification, has its own intricate bureaucratic process that can baffle the most meticulous applicants. Oftentimes, the process goes awry.

Last year, several thousand teachers and paraprofessionals were at risk of losing their livelihoods when they were rejected for certification. In most cases, applicants followed the rules, met their deadlines and submitted the appropriate evidence of their compliance with state standards. Their applications, nonetheless, were rejected because state evaluators lost or misplaced paperwork or failed to credit courses that fulfilled the certification requirements [see story on page 7]. Thanks to intervention by the UFT and its educational liaisons, the majority of those who at first had their credentials rejected ultimately received certification.

There’s certainly room for improvement in how the state conducts certification assessment. Hiring more evaluators and developing a better training system would be great, for starters. The state could also make it less expensive; each application for certification is now $100. The cost of errors committed by the state is borne solely by the applicant. That’s another reason why the UFT advocates for teachers and paraprofessionals who get caught in the malfunctioning bureaucracy.

Certification also means job security, and help for members trying to navigate the certification process is another important benefit of union membership.