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First Person: For New York City teachers, there’s more than one important election in 2016

We all know that a presidential election is important. New York’s presidential primary was held on April 19, and the general election is set for November 8. Those dates have likely been on your mind for months, since the outcome will determine the course of our country for at least four years.

If you teach in a New York City district school, though, there’s an election coming soon that will affect you, your colleagues, and your students. On May 5, our union, the United Federation of Teachers, will mail out ballots that will allow teachers to vote for the people who will fight for us for the next three years.

The president, seven vice-presidents (drawn from different kinds of schools and other sources), delegates to the national American Federation of Teachers convention, and other board members and representatives are the people we empower to be our advocates. Some will run in organized slates; others will run on their own. Some will argue for a steady hand; others for a radical change from the current relationship between teachers and the district.

Whoever ends up in office, it should be because teachers voted for them. But in the last union-wide election, only 17 percent of classroom teachers voted.

In order to have our union champion the issues that are most important to ourselves and our students, teachers must come together and have their voices heard.

At my school, as at so many others, we’re looking at new ways of handling school climate and discipline. There are pilot programs in restorative justice running at schools all over New York City, and the next set of UFT leaders will play a key role in seeing whether these important experiments are halted, continued, or expanded. The same goes for new and experimental approaches to any issue facing our classrooms and our students: These are the people who will fight to put it into action, or fight to keep current approaches in place.

We’ve got a contract now, but negotiations are practically around the corner, and the public and private back-and-forth that underpins the relationship between teachers and the district is something that never ends. Whatever your position is on what that relationship should be, this is your opportunity to make your voice heard – and if you care about our profession, it’s an opportunity you have to take.

So go to the polls on November 8, of course, but don’t think that’s the only election that matters this year. The UFT is set to count ballots in the leadership elections on May 26, so once you receive yours, you’ll have about two weeks to vote and mail it back.

As teachers, we encourage our students to take an active role in their communities. We need to lead by example, and not miss the chance to shape our profession in the years ahead. When your ballot shows up in the mail this May, make sure you vote for the future of the UFT.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.