Tuesday, January 27, 2015

MORE Workshop(s) on Chapter Leader Upcoming Elections Strike(s) a Chord

The reason there are bully principals who can discontinue people with no worry of a union response or harass tenured teachers into oblivion is due to a weak, ineffective and disinterested UFT leadership. ... Yeah, I said that.
Until vast number of schools elect independent and capable chapter leaders who build an internal organization at the school level nothing will change in the UFT - which is why I am so skeptical about the UFT general election process every 3 years and why those basic numbers don't move much decade after decade. Unity controls most chapters and building chapters of resistance is not their priority. I measure things based on how many schools have effective chapters -- and I don't just mean MORE but independents and even those Unity chapter leaders who do this hard work. I think a survey will show a small minority - one of the biggest condemnations of the UFT/Unity leadership. Their middle managers - the district reps - mostly do nothing in this area - they are there as henchmen/woman of top-down UFT policy, not bottom up chapter building. And YES, electing district reps, which Randi eliminated in 2002, would be a start to making a more effective union.

Linking chapters together into loose networks of support will empower people, especially at the district level -- and now that Farina has empowered Supts, that becomes more relevant.

That has been a major focus of my own work within MORE - and it hasn't always been easy to get that point across. The UFT puts all its eggs in the one-person chapter leader instead of building networks. While monthly district chapter leader meetings should be used to work together to solve individual school issues, they are instead used to push central UFT policies through the district reps down to the schools. The UFT would never want independent acting chapters.

So if the UFT won't do it, MORE needs to focus on issues emerging at the school level and become a support network for those people and schools ready to act -- not as much an opposition per se. Some MORE members have already gone local - holding small non-advertized meetings after school with teachers in their school neighborhoods. Don't worry about the big union picture as much and put resources into support networks.

MORE has gotten down to work - sometimes after much nudging and nagging - by focusing on the issues people are facing in the schools and trying to come up with strategies to address them by offering useful workshops - instead of just holding meetings for the sake of holding meetings. (Fighting Back In Your School). 

It is not enough to complain about conditions but try to come up with possible solutions. Since the UFT does not seem capable of standing up for people at the school level against vicious principals, it is up to rank and file teachers to get together and figure out strategies.

So it was a bummer when I awoke to the pre-"blizzard" snowstorm this past Saturday, the day of a long planned workshop addressing the upcoming spring chapter leader elections. I was kicking myself for printing as many as 30 copies of an intake form I prepared for the MORE Workshop(s) on Chapter Leader Upcoming Elections. "We'll be lucky to get 10 people," I thought. So I was surprised when between 30 and 40 people trekked into Manhattan from the outer boroughs and Long Island on a snowy Saturday, with a bunch of people we had never met. I viewed it as a sign that things are not kosher in the state of Denmark. It is one thing for people to email and call bitching but quite another to go to the next step and try to do something about it. 

The biggest single complaint I get from teachers is that their principals are tyrants and their chapter leaders are either in the pocket of the principal, under assault for not being in the pocket or basically ineffective. And then there is the ineffective, if not collaborative District reps and the UFT leaders above them who often tell teachers and chapter leaders who fight their principals that it is their fault for not getting along with the principal.

But we do know chapter leaders in MORE who do an excellent job, even in schools with difficult principals. Since they are openly part of the opposition by being identified with MORE, the UFT is often more attentive and cautious and they feel they get better service from above.

So people like Kit Wainer and Kevin Prosen and other experienced chapter leaders - including me - shared out experiences at the workshops in dealing with school administrations and organizing our colleagues. We heard some stories of the "model" Tweed/Leadership Academy principal -- youngish, arrogant, manipulative, aiming at senior teachers, divide and conquer, etc. - from people we had never met. Hearing other stories on how people organized their chapters even when they weren't chapter leaders made them feel they had a chance.

Thanks to Mike Schirtzer for leading the organizing effort to make this event happen.

We are doing another one on March 14. I am on the committee and am pushing for a workshop on how to use Danielson and common core to respond to the blizzard of unfair observations, along the lines of my post a few days ago which has received a lot of favorable comments:  Are You a Target of Misuse of Danielson Observations? Advice From Former Chapter Leader.

That former CL has been in touch with a lot more material which I will be publishing. I believe we can develop some tools to put in the hands of teachers to begin to counter this war on them at the school level.

The reason there are bully principals who can discontinue people with no worry of a union response or harass tenured teachers into oblivion is due to a weak, ineffective and disinterested UFT leadership. It is time for people at the rank and file level to rise up and take control.


  1. One of the main reasons chapter leaders are so impotent, fearful and fractured is that there is no cohesiveness in the large campus buildings. There should be on CL for the entire building. They wouldn't have to fear reprisals from APs and Principals (at least in the schools they aren't appointed in). They would have to teach very few classes and could be hands on for the building staff. As it is now they are disjointed, misinformed, fearful and (no offense to few effective) useless. This is definitely something that would benefit everyone and the union.

    1. Chapter leaders in elementary schools are very vulnerable so I wouldn't put it on the large campuses though those are a problem. Even of there were one rep for the building that wouldn't make much difference in that each school is pretty much dependent on its principal. A real union would not accept assaults on chapter leaders -- the district reps should plant themselves in schools where this happens -- or use the tactics police use -- send in troops to dangerous places - get soem of those people out of their comfort zones and into the schools. Make it clear - principals who play this game will become a focus of attention -- maybe suddenly the staff will shut down all voluntary activities -- try to run the school if you can on your own. There is no sense of outrage on the part of the union -- it's all business as usual. So let's place the blame where the blame should be placed.


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