Whether it's speaking out for adequate funding or getting the truth out about testing or tenure, NYSUT is re-setting the conversation on education reform to start with respect.
"Too often, the voices of educators and parents have been ignored and dismissed by policymakers," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "Yet we know the public respects and trusts teachers to do what's right for our kids."
Respect, Magee said, must also be part of the equation for parents, School-Related Professionals and those who work in not-for-profits — "those closest to what our children need."
The union's leadership on campaigns to stop bullying underscores the importance of respect for students. "We emphasize to our students how important it is for them to respect each other and themselves," Magee said.
In western New York, union activists from dozens of schools and colleges launched the school year with a Day of Action dubbed "Our Classroom Matters — Respect Public Schools."
Educators wore blue in a far-reaching show of solidarity and took this pledge to convey to parents and their communities their firm commitment to students and public education:
"I strive to create a positive supportive learning environment and educational experience for all students and pledge to respect each of my students as a unique person, not a test score."
The community, said John Mrozek, a guidance counselor from the Hamburg Teachers Association and a NYSUT Board member, "should be laser focused on making sure every student has the resources and programs that allow them to be successful adults.
"When the focus is on standardized testing, we all lose."
West Seneca TA President Joe Cantafio told reporters covering a Day of Action event that students and teachers "are dealing with a tremendous amount of stress. It takes time away from the important nurturing environment that we need in our classrooms."
Participants in the western New York Day of Action posted pictures and messages of support on social media with the hash tags #OurClassroomMatters and #RespectPublicSchools.
Group photos were posted by locals from Medina, East Aurora, Springville, Kenmore, Batavia, Orleans-Niagara BOCES and local retirees. Cleveland Hill TA members wore their blue T-shirts on a field trip and posted a photo with a caption, "Our classroom is EVERYWHERE."
Magee said grassroots efforts like the ones in western New York resonate and build community support.
"Emphasizing respect will be the foundation for our activism in the coming months," Magee said.
Magee noted that polling shows teachers are the ones most trusted by the public to do what's right for kids.
Survey respondents in upstate New York placed teachers higher than anyone else when they were asked who they trust to do what's best for New York's students, according to a poll in June by the Albany Times Union/Siena Research Institute.
And, the most recent Phi Delta Kappa national poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward Public Schools shows that 65 percent of respondents have "trust and confidence in teachers."
Polling also shows the public knows what's really needed to improve education. A Hart Research Associates poll identified the three top fixes:
- putting a larger share of education budgets into classrooms;
- reducing class sizes; and
- improving student attendance.
"Improving attendance is a pro-active practical step forward to countering poverty's effects," Magee said. "As we push these common-sense solutions, we're also going to partner with parents — whose voices also need to be respected."
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