The most jarring experience I have on a regular basis is the 70-minute trip I take once a month from my school in the North Bronx down to the UFT headquarters in Downtown Manhattan.
I start on the fourth floor of my school, go down a stairwell that, by the end of the day, is often filled with food, condoms, or fresh graffiti, and head out to Gun Hill Road. Across the street, I see an entire city block of shops that have been boarded up for the five years I’ve been working there, walk about 10 minutes past litter-filled gutters, past the YB gang that stands daily at the corner of Gun Hill and White Plains to terrorize our students, and board the 2 train.
I emerge from the train nearly an hour later at the Wall Street stop. I walk half a block, only to be met by the stare of George Washington in front of the neo-classical Federal Hall where he was inaugurated, take a left to pass the New York Stock Exchange, move past the tourists, and a few blocks later arrive at the teachers union headquarters, located in a towering office building. The experience is just as jarring going to Department of Education headquarters at the Tweed Courthouse, even more so if one enters the Gilded Age monument to corruption, but I take that trip less regularly. Tweed and the UFT headquarters feel a world, and a mindset, apart from my daily education reality.
At my school, I am the most experienced social studies teacher; at the UFT last Wednesday, I was the youngest in the room. There are important things that go on at the UFT, and I support most of the union’s efforts, but there seems to be a large distance between what the UFT does and what I do. Likewise, I am sure some things that happen at Tweed have a directly positive or adverse effect on my school’s dally existence. But when someone said at the UFT High School Committee meeting last week that the UFT is now in a state of war with Tweed over school closures, if felt to me like a war between the Olympian gods where little thought or consideration is given to its effects, if there even are any, on the daily lived existence of most teachers and students in this city.
I stand with my brothers and sisters at schools that are being closed without warrant after seeming to have been intentionally sabotaged by Tweed. I know the world is bigger than the third and fourth floors of the Evander Childs building and the 500 students my school serves there, and I know that some decisions need to be made on the macro level. I recognize at some point in my career I will need to stand up and take a side. But right now, I really just want to stand with my students in my history class, and with anyone who will do anything to support them.
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