"Sisters and brothers, I am asking you to come to Albany June 8; come to Albany - not by the hundreds, but by the thousands - to cry out with one voice to Fight for the Future of Public Education."
When I was elected president of this great organization in 2005, I pledged to myself that I wouldn't let the workload strap me to my desk in Albany. I committed to spending significant time with NYSUT leaders and members on their turf and in settings that would provide meaningful conversations and, more importantly, opportunities to listen and learn from those doing the important work of our professions.
Well, anyone who looks at my schedule usually chuckles at the mileage I cover; a conservative estimate would be close to 400,000 miles since taking office, and that doesn't include the miles on planes and trains! I thoroughly enjoy traveling this state to meet with NYSUT members in their schools, on their jobs and in their union offices. I look forward to talking to activists - new and seasoned - at governance meetings, conferences and work. Shops. Very often, I am billed as the featured speaker, but in truth, I am more of a featured listener, and I always leave educated and inspired by our members.
That has certainly been the situation as Vice President Maria Neira and I have traveled the state as part of our "Tell it like it is" listening tour. We are about to head out to the ninth stop of the tour, and members throughout the state have been sharing their frustrations about the state's obsession with standardized tests and its impact on their students. (See related article.)
State tests these past few weeks have demonstrated the absurdity of placing assessment before instruction, and educators have illustrated this with horror stories about crying students and the look of failure in their eyes - not because they didn't do their best but because they were asked to do what they hadn't been taught. The kids felt as though they had failed their parents, their teachers, themselves. The same frustration was expressed by teachers over their own angst at not being given the tools, guidance and professional development needed to nurture the appropriate skills in their students.
Despite passionate pleas from parents, educators and students, SED continues to view education through the myopic lens of high-stakes standardized testing.
And, of course, delegates to the just-concluded NYSUT Representative Assembly provided all the officers with their own perspectives on an array of diverse issues and concerns they have about what's happening to our professions and to the New Yorkers we serve.
I have heard many, many voices over the last few months. While the circumstances vary, the message is consistent and the voices all carry the same passion and sincerity. It's a collective voice that speaks loud and clear.
But, there is still more to do and those voices must be united in the struggle for the future of public education and getting it right. June 8 in Albany is our opportunity to speak with one voice.
This is how I put it in my speech to the 2013 RA:
"Sisters and brothers, I am asking you to come to Albany June 8; come to Albany - not by the hundreds, but by the thousands - to cry out with one voice to Fight for the Future of Public Education.
"It's a fight that's about celebrating, not demonizing, educators!
"About supporting quality in high.er education, not pathways that lead nowhere!
"About informative assessments, not the tyranny of obsessive standardized testing!
"About schools and children, not corporations and billionaires!
"About fairness and equity, not tax caps and shell games!
"About dreamers and the DREAM Act, not denying access to children and immigrants!
"About the truth, not the lies we suffer through every day!
"It's a fight that's about the future of public education - and getting it right!"
This year marks a decade since we last called on you to come to Albany on a Saturday in the spring to deliver a message en masse. We are asking you to come back June 8 and to speak with one voice to say, "Enough is enough."
Come to Albany June 8 to Fight for the Future of Public Education.
You've earned it - and our students deserve it.
We need your voice.