One of the most important things unions do for their members is fight to protect and preserve their professions. As educators that also means fighting to protect the people we serve — the students we help to inspire, motivate and nurture every day.
When charter school advocates tried to water down teacher standards for their schools, our union fought for our members, our students, and our communities. And we won.
Thanks in part to a NYSUT lawsuit a state appeals court recently ruled that the SUNY Charter Schools Committee cannot set its own standards for certifying teachers. The standards they wanted to adopt would have created a two-tiered teacher certification system. One composed of highly qualified, professional educators in public school districts; and a second of unqualified, poorly prepared teachers in some charter schools.
Becoming a good teacher doesn’t just happen. It takes years of education, training and mentoring. There’s a good reason for that. Highly skilled and trained educators are the key to unlocking the potential of students.
The SUNY proposal would have allowed certain charter schools to certify classroom teachers with only 40 hours of practice teaching. They would have eliminated the requirement that new teachers complete a certification exam and hold a bachelor’s degree.
By comparison, initially certified public school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree, pass a series of certification exams and complete a full year of mentored teaching.
If they had their way, there would have been stricter requirements to become a dog groomer than to become a certified charter schoolteacher.
We said “no way.” We stood and fought for our professions and New York’s schoolchildren.
Union activists picketed outside the SUNY Charter Committee meeting carrying signs with slogans like “Real teachers for ALL,” “No EZ-Teach!” and “All students deserve qualified teachers!”
We had no choice but to fight back. This “fake” certification would have undercut the quality of the teaching profession across New York State. So … we filed a lawsuit contending that the new rules would “significantly undercut the quality of teaching in SUNY-approved charter schools” and won.
For union members, the message is clear: this is a huge victory, and it happened because your union fought for you. Together, we stopped SUNY’s fake teacher certificate scheme in its tracks.
Because your union fought for you, we’ve preserved what it means to be a professional educator in New York State.
We also sent a powerful message on behalf of parents and students: Every child in this state receives a quality education. We will not stand by and let charter school advocates water down the professional standards of teachers.
This is a key part of what strong unions do. Yes, we fight for fair pay, better benefits and safe working conditions for our members.
But we also fight to protect the professionalism and ensure our members’ voices are heard in the halls of power.
We sent a powerful message to SUNY’s Charter Schools Committee — NYSUT will always fight on behalf of its members to preserve the quality of the teaching profession in New York State.
But even with this win, we have no plans to rest on our laurels. Yes, we made a lot of progress on behalf of members over the past year.
But next year will bring new challenges.
So while we’re thankful for the victories of 2019, we’re busy prepping for the battles to come — because 2020 is right around the corner.
And we’ve got your back.
Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.
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