During the Fall 2017 semester, the UFT presented its first annual tuition assistance award to four of its member-leaders to pursue a Master’s Degree in Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute, CUNY. Paul Egan, UFT Political Director announced this annual award: — $1,000 to go to five UFT members — at a Chapter Leader meeting this past summer. Applause to the UFT for their foresight and congratulations to the first awardees, Mr. Dexter Braithwaite, Mr. Brandon Davis, and Mr. Robert Hardmond and Mr. James Van Nort. These UFT teacher/students have expressed a motivation to enhance their contributions to their students and their Union. These are their stories:
Dexter Braithwaite, UFT Chapter Leader
I have been an English teacher with the New York City Department of Education for the past 18 years. At the end of the last school year, I was elected the UFT Chapter Leader. Beginning this school year, and for the past nine months, the union has graciously provided me with tools and training that have assisted me in fulfilling the requirements of the position. It was not until I had been placed in the position to put some of that training into action, however, that I felt a certain amount of inadequacy — which instilled a need to learn more in order to further my work with the Union. My job is to ensure that agreements between labor and management, which have been made in the best interest of the children, be enforced.
I also have been awakened with the desire to advocate for equity for my colleagues. One of them stated matter-of-factly: “Dexter you have to be the voice for us in the building, this is why we elected you,” which drives me every day. What I think my pursuit of studying Labor will facilitate is to understand the political aspect of teaching that often goes unnoticed, but is nonetheless severely impactful to what we do as teachers; the knowledge of what activism looks like, so I can facilitate the necessary changes; and an opportunity to continue my growth and possibly serve the Union in an expanded capacity.
Robert Hardmond, UFT
I have been a teacher in the New York City schools for over 27 years. As a teacher, I have sought out opportunities to learn more about the craft of teaching and assist my colleagues.
It did not start out that way. Like all newcomers to the profession, I was told to just “shut up, shut your door and teach.” In fact, I had not attended a union meeting during my first two years as a Temporary Per Diem teacher. That changed when I obtained tenure. I was assigned to Brooklyn Technical High School in 1993. I learned quite a bit about how teachers, despite all the rhetoric about how influential and important we are, were treated. Respect and appreciation were hardly ever shown. I soon began to take leadership roles in my department and school. I was a member of the School Base Management (SBM) and School Leadership Team (SLT). I was very active as members of both the local Chapter Committee of the United Federation of Teachers at Brooklyn Tech and a delegate to the Delegate Assembly of the UFT. I also participated in the many rallies for our contracts and lobbied in Albany for more funds for NYC schools.
I am interested in remaining active in the labor movement and enhancing my skills and credentials as a labor activist, and also my critical thinking, negotiation skills, and organizing skills. I look forward to working with people who understand the need for trained personnel to participate in the preservation of working people’s rights.
Brandon Davis, UFT
My grandparents emigrated from Peru, so English was always a learning process for them. My grandfather worked at a big box studio company as a delivery driver with low wages, long hours, and general unawareness of his worker and social rights. Countless mornings, I would watch him leave home already exhausted by the long hours. Despite sometimes having to drive seven days a week, he was denied delivery routes because of his lack of English skills. Furthermore, the company threatened and intimidated him, telling him he was easily replaceable. During my senior year of high school, he was fired after developing arthritis in his knees and hands, making it difficult to complete his daily tasks. From that moment, I decided his drive and sacrifices would not be in vain.
After having worked in the Department of Education in both Hawaii and New York City, it is clear to me that they are systems in which there are definite areas of need. Currently, I serve as a cluster teacher representative to our school-based improvement team, allowing me to voice concerns and make changes to our subject content areas. Over time, I have recognized biased practices that take place during the teacher evaluation process, which focuses solely on expectations from the administration and detracts from time spent planning lessons or teaching students. My goal is to transition into attending collective bargaining meetings to address such major problems. The Labor Studies program will give me the tools to use learned knowledge and have a strong voice for my fellow teachers. I hope to gain a deeper understanding about the way workers’ rights, social justice, and current political issues directly affect both my fellow teachers and students.
James Van Nort, UFT Chapter Leader
I’ve been active in unions since I became a teacher. I started teaching in Arizona, at Scottsdale Public Schools. Arizona remains a notorious ‘Right to Work’ state, and only half of the faculty of the district joined the NEA’s local, because non-members received the benefit of collective bargaining without paying dues. I realized the weak position of the local and became active. I eventually joined the Executive Board and also served on two contract negotiating teams there.
I discovered that the New York Department of Education was recruiting experienced teachers to work in urban communities. The Excelsior Program allowed me to move to New York and teach in the Bronx at Banana Kelly High School. After seven years in the Bronx, I moved to The Green School in Brooklyn. After another year, the staff elected me to be the Delegate Assembly Representative for the chapter. The next year, the chapter leader changed schools, and I was elected the new Chapter Leader. I have held the position for four years now.
I have been contemplating how to become more active in the current struggle for public education, journaling about how to implement and sustain cooperative processes and consensus building. While I still enjoy teaching students, simply teaching only maintains the status quo. This program provides an opportunity to take the fight further. Teachers must become leaders who will fight for our students to have more than a data-driven education that treats them as numbers. The union movement provides me with the mechanism to organize and fight. This program at the Murphy Institute provides me with the academic environment to develop my ideas around cooperative process and consensus-building into cogent, effective policy.