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Your union is here for you

New York Teacher
Karen Alford

Karen Alford
VP for Elementary Schools

Welcome to the new school year! After recharging over the summer, we are excited to return to our classrooms to do what we do best. And we won’t let the mayor’s school budget cuts stop us from providing our public school students with a robust academic experience that includes the arts and social-emotional learning.

At one of our events to welcome new teachers, the UFT collaborated with the American Federation of Teachers and the nonprofit First Book to distribute free books (see story on page 44) at the UFT’s Bronx borough office, where new educators — who are now brand-new UFT members as well — also had a chance to learn about their union benefits.

At the Aug. 13 book giveaway, new physics and computer science teacher Justin Samples was drawn to sci-fi and fantasy books like those that captured his imagination in high school. His students at DeWitt Clinton HS in the Bronx will be able to borrow them and find that same excitement. “I just want to open them up to the joy of reading,” he said. “Reading is so important, no matter what you end up doing.”

As a partner in education, the UFT helps its members develop their craft and reach their potential. The UFT Teacher Center, which has alliances with higher education institutions, helps teachers obtain their master’s degrees and A+ and college credits so they can reach the highest salary level. The union also offers content-based workshops for CTLE hours throughout the school year.

Educators reach into their own pockets to pay for supplies to enrich student learning. The UFT lobbied for and won the same level of funding as last school year for the Teacher’s Choice program that reimburses some of those costs — savings that are especially important for new educators.

The union also helps members burdened by student debt. Yolanda Smith, a kindergarten teacher at PS 92 in Manhattan, said she was overwhelmed by loan payments before she took part in the UFT Student Loan Forgiveness Program. With the program’s help, $41,000 of her debt has been forgiven. She’s now looking forward to potentially buying a house. “I am forever grateful to the UFT for sharing this resource and opportunity with its members,” she said.

The city Department of Education is hiring fewer new educators this year given declining student enrollment and the need to find appropriate placements for those educators who were excessed. We all remember how tough our first years were, and we want to ease the way for these new educators, who bring such enthusiasm for their new profession.

Samples was working toward his PhD in engineering and computer science before he entered the New York City Teaching Collaborative, an alternative certification program for hard-to-staff subject areas. He wants to inspire students the way many teachers inspired him.

“I want to be the person who’s able to provide opportunities for my students, to open them up to new ideas, new possibilities and different paths,” he said.

Jun Lu, a special education teacher at PS 169 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, traveled to the book giveaway from Staten Island to find books that would get his 4th-grade students excited about reading.

“I always tell them it has to be fun. It doesn’t matter what you read,” said Lu, who found his love of reading through comic books.

As you begin the year and inspire new students, we at the UFT offer our support. We are your partners, and we are here for you.