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We hear you — your voice matters

New York Teacher
Janella Hinds

Janella Hinds
VP for Academic High Schools

Just as our students need safe spaces for learning, UFT members need safe havens where their voices can be heard and where honest conversation can focus on finding solutions to our challenges — especially during these times of uncertainty and anxiety sparked by the pandemic.

High school members from across the city joined forces with the union’s academic high school team in five safe spaces — distinct brain trusts — to talk about what works and what obstructs and to uncover better practices.

Members of the Ed Tech Committee are articulating the technology challenges and identifying the resources to address them. Prior to the lockdown, veteran special education teacher Larsharn Ferroudj worked on data, testing and tech issues at the School of Earth Exploration and Discovery in Manhattan. Upon going remote, Ferroudj began offering tech tutorials for educators and parents and troubleshooting Zoom issues. “We have the tools, we just haven’t been guided to bring our practice into a 21st century model,” she said.

Some 70 high school members formed the Team HS Huddle with a focus on addressing learning loss and students’ social-emotional well-being and ensuring a smooth return to school buildings. Denice Gamper, the chapter leader, a science teacher and a founding member of Bard HS Early College in Manhattan, felt a great sense of member solidarity in the huddle. Members discussed the struggle between in-person and remote instruction, what Gamper called “two parallel instructional programs that are not always in sync.”

The HS Safety and Scanning Committee has explored how school safety, and scanning in particular, should be reimagined. As they delved into the underlying issues of race and inequities in our students’ high school experience, a consensus developed among committee members: It is unhelpful for our children to start their school day greeted by an officer instead of an educator. “This is a movement — the UFT gives it more strength, credibility and power,” said Brooklyn Tech social studies teacher Adam Stevens. “We want to win over the broad membership in joining the parent and youth voices calling for a transformation of how school safety is achieved.”

The Zoom and Sip committee, an informal gathering, injects welcome camaraderie into our evening meetings. It gives high school members a safe space to share stories, discuss their mental health and blow off steam.

Abeda Khanam, a biology teacher at the Robert F. Wagner Secondary School for Arts and Technology, said she initially questioned herself about her students’ lack of engagement. “We don’t usually blame others. We self-reflect: What am I doing wrong?” she said. The epiphanies generated from sharing her frustration with colleagues led to a shift in her perspective. “It’s not a reflection of my teaching. Behind that camera is their family, dealing with the weight of this pandemic and every child is part of the family,” she said. Khanam says she tries to provide students with extended time and late evening check-ins while making the time for her own self-care.

Our newest group, the HS Environment Committee generates passionate exchanges. I anticipate bold ideas as we work toward informing union policy, especially on teacher evaluation and high school graduation requirements.

We’ve been through a lot together. These five high school committees emerged from member needs and prerogatives: supporting pedagogy and practice, meeting the moment.