I knew Erik was a barista organizing in Starbucks and later found out he has traveled around the world doing that kind of work, even in China. While some would classify Erik as an activist, to me it is more important that he is an organizer - someone who thinks about what it takes to build an effective organization and then goes out and does it. MORE is lucky to have him.
Here are some excerpts from the Gothamist piece.
NYC Teacher Talks: "The Weight Of Standardized Testing Is Absolutely Crushing"
Erik (Jennifer Preissel / Gothamist)
Last month, 240,000 students and their teachers returned to the corridors of New York City’s 500 public high schools. Gothamist sat down with teachers at different stages of their careers—some entering service, some with a few years under their belt, and a couple of vets. We talked about why they chose to teach, how they feel about the government's education policy and their thoughts on the charter system and the United Federation of Teachers. We wanted to know: are the teachers all right?When I was in college, I worked at Starbucks at the Mall of America. I saw that there were lots of problems—poverty wages, inconsistent scheduling, arbitrary firings, sexual harassment from the boss. So my coworkers and I started a union and we were able to change a lot of things. We got much more stable scheduling. We were connected to Starbucks workers doing some of these things across the US. We saw that when workers stand together you can have a voice and you can change things. So I got very involved in union organizing in the fast food industry for about seven years.
We'll run a different teacher profile each day this week (read them all here). Today we feature Erik, who is in his second year of teaching English as a second language and social studies in the Bronx. Erik is also the United Federation of Teachers' chapter leader for his school.
I also began working as a substitute teacher. I had this experience of essentially working with the people in the fast food industry whose kids I would then encounter in the classroom. And I saw that there was this very direct connection between poverty and academic success. I thought you could attack poverty both by union organizing, which is probably the most powerful tool we have, but that education also has to play a role, to give people the confidence to believe that we can live in a better world, to open their minds to different possibilities for themselves and for the whole society.
Eventually I decided to go into teaching, which took me into the New York City Teaching Fellows here in the Bronx. I had not planned on getting active in the union when I started as a teacher, but I rapidly saw that so many of the problems we have in the school system are actually workplace problems—they are problems of capitalism.
------I think we have to transform the UFT. The UFT is, I think, like most unions in the United States, it's based on a model of service unionism, where people pay their $54 a paycheck and in exchange they get services. They get advice, help with dental insurance, a catalogue with discounts on a security system for your home, maybe some professional development courses. But that's not where the power of the union lies. The power of the union lies in members talking to each other, figuring out what problems they have, what problems they share with the community and taking action. If we did that, the UFT would be an unstoppable force.
The weight of standardized testing is absolutely crushing. It makes it difficult for teachers to foster critical thinking when students could be tested on more facts and figures than they could ever conceivably learn in a school year. All teachers do a dance of trying to make sure kids do well on these tests.
Charter schools can kick kids out, so they take the kids who are easier to work with, need less support to succeed and they kick out the kids who have behavioral problems, learning disabilities, who are struggling to acquire English. Over time, this creates this gradient where the students who need less support do better because maybe because they have more stable family lives or they come from a higher socioeconomic class, they end up in the charter schools and the public schools get the kids who need the most help. But they are getting fewer resources than the charters to do this. The charter system is creating a two-tiered education system and that's been morally wrong always, and legally wrong since Brown vs. Board of Education.