A Teachable Moment

Former local teacher union pesident Morty Rosenfeld periodically attempts to make sense of the increasingly senseless world of public education.

The Anger In Our Ranks

The anger seething within the ranks of New York teachers over the recent deal on teacher evaluation between our state union, the State Education Department and our anti-labor governor is both heartening and ominous. For the first time in many years, I’m encouraged to think that our union movement may be in the process of rekindling the militancy of its youth, when teachers boldly demanded to be treated with respect, when they felt entitled to a professional status appropriate to their education and responsibilities. Today, with more and more of our teachers working to the rhythms of corporate created programs, with their value as educators to be determined in large measure by the their students’ results on tests of very dubious quality made by the same corporations, they again hunger to be treated with respect and to fight to restore their professional dignity, A new generation of teachers may be beginning to see that for too long they have been lulled into believing that bureaucratic, service oriented unionism married to conventional political action could provide all that they needed. They are beginning to see, like the pioneers of our movement before them, that organizing for direct action is a much more powerful alternative.

Yet, we must be aware that the anger that may spark a resurgence of union militancy can just as easily turn within. That which may energize and organize us can just as readily divide us and render us impotent. I have already heard too much talk about our leaders “selling us out” and threats to leave our state and national organizations. While I can viscerally feel the anger that motivates such intemperate language, I know all too well that we must find the way to resolve our internal policy, strategic and tactical differences because deep down we all realize that to win the battles before us will require greater solidarity, stronger commitment and more resources harnessed to imaginative leadership.

I’m optimistic that we will recapture that fighting spirit that launched our movement. I believe we can and should have a vigorous internal debate about the direction of our movement. I trust that our leaders won’t confuse debate with division and that union members will not impute nefarious motive to leaders with whom they differ. I believe that while we will always have our family differences, after all of the internal debate is over, we will close ranks behind a democratically determined course of action to save public education and our professional dignity.

posted by Morty in Uncategorized and have Comments (3)


  1. Comment by Anthony Felicio, Jr. on February 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    Until we get our membership engaged with the political process, at minimum getting out to vote, all this anger, debate, discussion, criticizing who did or didn’t do what, finger pointing, etc. means nothing. We, the members of NYSUT are to blame. Take a look at the number of teachers from your locals who do not vote. I see numbers like, 4%, 8%, & 10% in many locals where their members actually go out and vote. My local had 35% vote in last November’s elections. That is terrible! It’s sickening and we should be ashamed of ourselves and is unacceptable. This wave against public employees, unions, and teachers would never have occurred had 60%, 70% and 80% of teachers voted. We wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
    Since day one, I have told my Board of Directors and my members that this is no longer just about what happens here in our local, but we must take a more global approach to defending and promoting our profession because if we do not, it will not matter at the local level any more.
    I say to my colleagues, as leaders of our respective locals, WE need to light a fire under our member’s so that they are mobilized and passionate about the cause. If lighting fires, motivating your members to take action, kicking some butt is not your style, get someone else in your organization who can and will. If no one in your organization can, go outside your organization and bring someone in that can. I listen to some people speak and I don’t think they could get anyone motivated to move if their life depended on it. this does not imply that such a person is not a good union president, however, people need to see passion, strength, and anger to get in the game. The bottom line is that when my members or your members do not vote, it affects us all in a negative way. You and I should take that personally. I challenge you as you should challenge me. I will not accept your local only getting 4% of its members to vote and you shouldn’t accept me getting 35% of my members to vote, nor should we accept another local who has gotten 45% of their members to vote. It is not enough!
    Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts.
    Tony Felicio, Jr.
    Connetquot Teachers Association

  2. Comment by Morty on February 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    By all means, we need our members to vote. But even if they all vote, and vote the right way, it won’t be enough. Vote for whom? Andrew Cuomo?

  3. Comment by Anthony Felicio, Jr. on March 5, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Andrew cuomo only has his power because when they see that only a quarter to a third of our members actually vote, whats there to be afraid of. I always hear, 600,000 strong! That’s BS! You are only strong if your members vote. Voting is where it starts.
    Also, my comments were not directed at only you. Being new to this site, i thought when i responded, my comments would go on the message board. Obviously, they did not.

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