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Commentary & Opinion

Andrew Pallotta: Starting To See The Light

It’s hard to believe that one of the most challenging school years in memory is finally coming to an end. Like me, I know that a lot of educators and parents are breathing a huge sigh of relief. From remote and hybrid learning, to unscheduled class disruptions due to unexpected quarantines, uncertainty was one of the few things we could count on this year.

This academic year has tested us like no other. But despite it all, we persevered and made it through.

So to all you educators and school staff out there — thank you for your work over this past year. You did a great job. It’s my privilege to represent people like you who make a difference in people’s lives.

Along with uncertainty, the past 12 months have also brought a lot of change.

A year ago, many Americans were unemployed, and the economy was in serious decline. Economists predicted that 20-30 percent of all public sector jobs, would be lost.

A year ago, there was no evidence of any vaccines coming our way and we had no idea when or how we’d recover from the pandemic.

We’ll all be forever changed by COVID-19. But what will you remember? What stories will you tell your grandchildren?

I’ll definitely remember the uncertainty and the losses. But I’ll also remember the many moments of pride and hope.

I’ll remember our medical professionals battling the pandemic on the front lines. They worked long, exhausting hours to care for the sick and suffering … often serving as vital connections and sources of comfort for patients isolated and alone due to visitation restrictions under COVID.

I’ll remember people working together like never before to take care of our students – delivering Internet hot spots and packets of schoolwork – doing whatever it took to ensure that our students were supported.

I’ll remember our retirees calling other retirees to check in, because isolation is a challenge in itself. The pandemic was a reminder that we all NEED each other.

I’ll remember our school food service workers preparing, and our school bus drivers delivering, food to students.

I’ll remember drive-by teacher parades and watching little faces light up with joy as their teachers drove by.

I’ll also remember the economic suffering experienced by many in our communities. We’ve said for a long time now that the wealthy need to pay their fair share. But in the wake of the economic suffering caused by the pandemic, the looming inequality between the ultra rich and the rest of us became too big to be ignored.

Thanks to NYSUT’s ongoing advocacy on behalf of students, educators and working families, this state budget year we made historic gains.

During the pandemic, NYSUT called on the state and federal government to take action — a two-pronged approach to set New York state on a path forward. The biggest win in the New York state budget was tax reform. Finally, billionaires, multi-millionaires, and corporations will pay more in taxes -- over $4 billion a year more.

Increased state revenue from tax reform, in combination with resources from the federal government, will help keep New York State’s pandemic recovery heading in the right direction.

I’m heartened that, a year later, we’re finally starting to see some light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

Years from now, we’ll remember 2020 as the year we all learned how to live life at a distance, while still staying connected as a society. I hope we won’t have to keep living those lessons for much longer, but it’s good to know that we can if we need to. 

In the days ahead, I wish you good health and joy. But most importantly, I wish you hope for a brighter year ahead.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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