CTL 2011: Town Hall with Michael Mulgrew
March 23, 2011, 9:58 pm
As a New York City public school teacher, I am an obligatory union member. However, the more union meetings and events that I attend, the more I worry that the UFT seems willing to compromise the newest employees and the employees of the future for the interests of today’s veteran employees. While there is no easy solution to the new tenure debate or the debate about which teachers should be removed from their positions if these new budget cuts do come to fruition, the debate is not as black and white as many politicians and the UFT seem to argue.
Between new federal mandates, state and federal funding cuts, escalating district expenses and collective bargaining restraints, the world of public education is facing challenges the likes of which it has rarely seen. Still, despite all these difficulties, districts, administrators, and teachers are responsible for improving education quality and student achievement. As with any difficult situation, there are varying and often divergent points of view on how to address these new challenges while still maintaining the integrity of the public education system. In New York City, on the far extremes of the current education debate, are our Mayor, Michael Bloomberg and the UFT Chairman, Michael Mulgrew.
This weekend, while attending The Celebration of Teaching and Learning, I was able to see Michael Mulgrew address a small group of teachers and union leaders. He spoke passionately about the need for a new teacher evaluation system. He believes that an effective evaluation system must include a constant reassessment of the skill set that leads to successful teaching. A worthwhile evaluation system, he insisted, combined with an honest growth dialogue, mentoring, professional development and collaboration, will lead to higher student achievement.
He talked about how the city claims to recruit the “best and the brightest” to become our newest teaching force, but then drives a new generation of teachers away by demonizing the profession. He said the current environment in the world of education was akin to the atmosphere of the novel 1984, and that “our Mayor” played too many games with his threats of cutting the budget. Without delving too deeply into the complexities or the many nuances on both sides of the current collective bargaining issues, he spoke about “these politicians,” and the “tricks” they will try. Still, Mr. Mulgrew insisted, that he does not “thrive on conflict.”
Although Mr. Mulgrew warned that “We cannot let them pit us against each other,” he also stated, in no uncertain terms, that experienced teachers were the teachers with the highest test scores and in many ways the more successful teachers. He talked about how many new teachers are unwilling to stay in the profession. And, when a veteran teacher stood up to announce that the “youngest ones don’t contribute the way we do,” Mr. Mulgrew did not disagree. In fact, although I have been teaching for six years and am an active member of my school community, with each successive comment from the veteran teachers around me, I found myself sinking further and further into my chair, unwilling to be discovered as the adversary in the room.
At this event, Mr. Mulgrew did an impressive job of rallying the audience and celebrating the strengths of the union. It was not difficult for him to stick strongly to his side of the argument and make enemies out of those who view the issues differently. However, feeding into either extreme without outlining a clear plan of action will not lead to real change and new systems that make both sides happy and, most importantly, to high student achievement.
by Susan Horowitz, Literacy Coach at P.S. 196