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If you want to help a student, ask a teacher

New York Teacher
Richard Mantell VP for Middle Schools

Richard Mantell
VP for Middle Schools

The holidays may be long over, but the giving is not. It’s what we educators do. We provide our students with the resources they need to succeed in life, whether it’s educating them in the classroom, giving them extra support or that nudge, or acting as a cheerleader or a coach.

Sometimes what we do to support our students occurs outside the school building. For the past 11 years, the UFT’s Middle School Division has organized an annual Thanksgiving winter coat drive. Over that time, we’ve provided more than 15,000 children who live in temporary housing with a brand-new winter coat and accessories. It gives me great pride knowing we have helped so many children, but what I am proudest of is our members’ generosity.

Over the years, I have sent letters to some of the biggest corporations, Wall Street brokerage houses, banks and law firms asking if they would consider donating to our coat drive to help the neediest students. I didn’t receive a single response. Nothing. These institutions make millions, if not billions, of dollars every year, but they can’t so much as donate a single coat or dollar. Their indifference reminds me of a line from the 1987 film “Wall Street.” The main character, an unscrupulous Wall Street trader named Gordon Gekko, tells an audience that “greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Based on my own experience appealing for donations from them, art truly imitates life.

That’s where our members come in. I’ve sent similar emails to UFT members, both in-service and retired, asking for donations to the union’s coat drive, and, without fail, they donate. Individual members contribute money or donate new winter clothing, some school chapters organize coat drives, and others collect money. UFT functional chapters, including the Retired Teachers Chapter, have gotten together and donated, too.

Some teachers have even turned the coat drive into a “teachable moment.” Jason Batus from Mark Twain IS in Brooklyn created a social awareness club where the students learn what it means to work for human rights, animal rights and environmental issues and learn how they can make a difference in the world. For the initial activity on human rights, they have run a coat drive each fall for the past 10 years. “It’s great to help students see learn how they can help others, especially other children,” Batus told me. This year alone, the club sent more than 27 boxes of brand-new winter coats and accessories to the union.

UFT members in District 21 in Brooklyn organized a happy hour and asked those who attended to bring a new coat. The event was a rousing success, with more than 150 coats collected. District 7 in the Bronx held a “paint and sip” to raise money for both the coat drive and the union’s toy drive.

This willingness to do whatever we can to support our students is what sets us apart from many others. We didn’t get into this profession to drive a Mercedes or own a house in the Hamptons. For us, it’s not about the money, it’s about the children.

The bottom line is if you want to help a student, ask a teacher. We are the antithesis of the Gordon Gekkos in the world.

Related Topics: VP for Middle Schools