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President's Perspective

Educators deserve seat at policy table

New York Teacher

Too often, policies and decisions concerning public education are made without the most important people sitting at the table: the educators who do the work.

The past two years have proven that New York City is home to some of the most skilled and hard-working educators in the country. Not only should they be saluted for their dedication and resilience, but they should be respected for their expertise. The highest form of respect comes when education policymakers really listen to what classroom educators have to say.

With new leadership in our city and at all levels of the city Department of Education, we need to be intentional in reminding people about who does the work and who knows what is best for our students. Our educators should be included when decisions about public schools are being made. They must weigh in before new curriculums are selected and new practices and policies are adopted.

This spring, the UFT is taking the time to focus on our educators as experts and take a step toward that goal. On April 14, our “Listen Up: The reality is…” panel called on our education leaders and elected officials to do what is not usually asked of them in education: show up and listen. This panel is very different from a school visit when educators often feel like they are being put on the spot and judged. This panel is a space where educators are the voices that are heard. New York City public school educators who’ve worked through it all have a lot to say about what education in city public schools has looked like through this pandemic. They know what our schools need and should help determine what education looks like now as we embark on the recovery.

The eight panelists we chose were selected from more than 500 applicants through a vigorous process. But they represent all of us: We all should have a voice in our working conditions, school policies and shaping the future of education as a profession. These educators speak about lowering class sizes and the very real struggles we face with packed classrooms of children who need more from us at this moment. They speak about the value of our time and giving us autonomy over it — every minute of an educator’s day should not be scheduled and packed with requirements that are not of their own making. And they speak about the school environment: how our schools and classrooms should be something we care for, invest in and make us and our students feel comfortable and ready to teach and learn.

The “Listen Up: The reality is…” panel is taking place in just one moment in time, but we need to make a shift going forward, and we hope this event sets a precedent for that change in direction. The panelists will also be featured in our morning town hall at the Spring Education Conference on May 21.

Chancellor David Banks made a big statement by getting rid of the city’s executive superintendents and making all superintendents reapply for their jobs in March. But he also mentioned the need to empower superintendents and principals. What about educators? They need to be empowered most.

After years of teacher-bashing, DOE bureaucracy and difficult jobs made more challenging by the pandemic, there is a lot of turnover of educators in New York City schools. The city and the DOE need to make it a top priority to recruit and retain quality educators.

Our educators are an invaluable resource for the city’s future. The first step is tapping into their thoughts and ideas.

Related Topics: President, Political Action