UFT Unity: Working for Teacher Diversity

Teachers of color are role models of academic success for our students, and they bring to the classroom a practical and firsthand knowledge of the challenges our students face. Yet like the rest of the nation, New York City public schools have a teacher diversity problem: teachers of color are vastly underrepresented in our teaching force, leaving us inadequately equipped to fully serve our diverse student body.

It’s a complex problem, with different aspects to it. There is a pipeline issue: there are not enough new teachers of color graduating from traditional teacher education programs. There is a recruitment issue: NYC does not do enough to recruit new teachers of color to its schools. There is an integration problem: teachers of color are concentrated in some NYC schools, and only minimally represented in others. And there is a retention issue: like the rest of the country, NYC retains far too few new teachers of color in our ranks.

UFT Unity had a deep commitment to teacher diversity. And for us, this commitment begins at home: we are the only caucus in the UFT that is truly diverse, from our leadership to our chapter leaders to our rank and file members.

Here is the work we have been doing to address this important issue:

  • Led by UFT Unity members, our national union, the American Federation of Teachers, published a groundbreaking study on The State of Teacher Diversity in American Education which fully documented for the first time the extent of the teacher diversity problem across the U.S., including here in New York City. The AFT report blazed the trail for a body of research on teacher diversity in the U.S. and New York City that has emerged since its publication in 2015.
  • Under Unity leadership, the UFT has pioneered programs that prepare more teachers of color for our classrooms.
    • The Success Via Apprenticeship  program recruits students from New York City’s Career-Technical schools, and supports them in both in obtaining a B.A. with teacher education preparation and industry certification in the subject they will teach (such as an electrician or plumber). The current UFT Vice President for Career-Technical Education and his predecessor, both African American men, were NYC public school students who became teachers through the SVA program.
    • The Paraprofessional Career Ladder supports paras who are working to obtain teaching licenses with release time for course work and tuition payments. The new teachers from this program are overwhelmingly women of color.
    • UFT supported the development of high school programs, such as Richard Green High School of Teaching, that are focused on providing New York City students with a career path in education.
    • Under Unity leadership, the UFT has partnered with programs such as the Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers, NYC Men Teach and Young Men’s Initiative. These programs mentor high school and college students of color who are interested in careers in teaching.
  • Led by UFT Unity members, our national union, the AFT, has successfully lobbied to provide crucial aid to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)s, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Asian American and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions (AAPISIs) who educate many teachers of color. As well, the AFT has supported federal funding for teacher residency programs that prepare many new teachers of colors. These programs provide intensive classroom work with accomplished mentor teachers, leaving their graduates better prepared for actual teaching.

There’s much, much more, that needs to be done to address this problem. When you do the work, you learn how challenging the road ahead is. And it’s not for the fainthearted: there are setbacks as well as advances. The UFT supported the development of teacher residency programs in the New Visions and Internationals High Schools, and for the years they were in operation, they had an impressive record of preparing teachers of color who were successful in the classroom. But when the NYC Department of Education failed to invest the needed resources in the programs, they died.

The opposition caucuses in UFCUFT seem to believe that angry tweets are the most effective form of action. They use tweets as a substitute for doing the work that elects supportive legislators and convinces them to support important issues like teacher diversity; as a substitute for fighting to get programs like SVA and the Paraprofessional career ladder in our contract; as a substitute for doing the research that documents problems like the lack of teacher diversity and creates pressure for solutions; and as a substitute for building the relationships with community and organizations working on problem like teacher diversity. Yet if all you did was read their prolific social media presence, you would not even know that New York City public schools have a teacher diversity problem.

You can’t angry tweet your way to teacher diversity.

You can’t strike your way to teacher diversity.

You can’t achieve teacher diversity with a “just say no” attitude toward educational initiatives and policies.

You can’t achieve teacher diversity by pouring all your energy into organizing demonstrations outside of the offices of the union that is in the trenches doing the teacher diversity work.

You have to do the hard, unglamorous work, like UFT Unity does.

UFT Unity: we do the work of social justice unionism.