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Time to show what we can do

New York Teacher

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Michael Mulgrew Headshot 07-19
The political climate for teachers and unions here in New York City has changed drastically since the election of Mayor de Blasio. We finally have a mayor and a schools chancellor who want to work with — not against — us and who respect the hard work that we do in the classroom every day.

But at the state level and across the country, it’s more of the same. Anti-teacher, anti-union Republicans once again have control of the statehouse in Albany, with Gov. Cuomo happily prepared to work with them, and right-wing Republicans have swept into office as governors across the country.

Their agenda is the same as always, too: promote charter schools and vouchers and the privatization of education; roll back collective bargaining; and cut the public services on which we all depend.

We will fight back against these politicians and the billionaire “education reformers” who back them as we have always done. They think that because they were once students they know what is best for education and for children. In fact, they’re doing what is worst, and it is up to us to stop them.

The best defense is a good offense. Rather than accept their terms for the debate — failing schools, teacher tenure, evaluations — we have changed the terms and are going on offense.

Forget the “reformers.” They’re irrelevant. Our goal is to continue to work with the mayor and the chancellor to show the public — in New York and beyond — what a great school system looks like and the role that empowered teachers have in building it.

Our new contract and our partnership with Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Fariña provide just that opportunity. The contract gives unprecedented voice to teachers in school-level decisions so that they can introduce the innovative, community-oriented strategies that we know will improve our school system for our students. Educators are back in the driver’s seat — and now we need to show what we can do.

From model and master teacher positions that encourage mentoring and the sharing of lessons and best practices to the PROSE program, which allows entire school communities to develop unique processes that work for them, it’s all about empowerment. We’ve reduced paperwork so we can get back to teaching and have formed staff development committees that work with the administration to move away from the old way of doing professional development and toward a more dynamic model that considers the challenges teachers face in the classroom and meets their needs.

Our Community Learning Schools initiative, which transforms schools into local community hubs that offer a wide array of social services, is also part of this work. It stems from our belief that poverty — and not “failing schools” or “bad teachers” — is at the root of our school system’s problems.

It’s by doing this work at the school level that we will ultimately show our public schools’ potential and reveal our opponents’ misguided ideas for what they are. In contrast to them, we want only two things: fairness and equity.

That’s why we’ve launched our new Fairness and Equity Campaign, which will bring together a broad coalition of teachers, parents, clergy, and community and union members to demand that all schools get fair treatment and equal funding. We’ll be calling on you in the weeks and months ahead to participate in this campaign at rallies, press conferences, legislative visits, phone banks and other activities. In the month of December, we are sending delegations to meet with New York City’s Assembly members in their district offices.

Conservative hedge-funders and Wall Street executives may have bought the state Legislature, but we will not allow them to buy public education.

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