Tuesday, May 21, 2019


Sleeper is a 1973 Woody Allen movie where someone goes in for surgery and wakes up 200 years later to find a completely different world. One of the jokes in Sleeper shows how teacher unions were thought of back in 1973.

From IMBd:

Miles is told the old world was destroyed when a "madman named Albert Shanker got hold of a nuclear weapon". Albert Shanker was the longtime head of the NYC public school teacher's union, the United Federation of Teachers, and was often criticized for his extremist views and actions. 

There was actually a time 46 years ago when a teachers' union was considered powerful.
Now let's go to 2019 popular culture by looking at the HBO series VEEP. Former Vice President and former President Selina Meyer is running again to be President and looking for endorsements in Season 7, Episode 3. As Selina discusses endorsements with her staff, they note how one of her opponents got endorsements from two senators and a union. Selina answers that she needs a union endorsement too but not the teachers. She wants a good union.

Even with the recent strikes, popular culture today treats us as a pathetic joke.

The contrast between the popular culture portrayal of us in 1973 compared to now could not be clearer: from able blow up the world to not even worth being courted.

Sad and scary too.


Anonymous said...

According to the New York Post, we are still indeed, "The powerful teachers union". They literally call us that every single time they run a union story in their paper. In reality, we all know that the UFT is about as powerful as a busted windmill. Why? Why are we so powerless today when 40 short years ago we were a mighty giant? I'll tell you why. The teaching profession is no longer considered a decent profession by tens of thousands of teachers these days. The ridiculous gig economy ideology, along with TFA and Teaching Fellows have whittled down our power. 40% of new teachers quit the profession within their first 5 years. Many, many, ivy league teachers are just in it for a couple of years to pad their resume before they go off to start a "real job". Teaching is not considered a long term, life career like it used to be. Due to this fact, most teachers simply don't give a shit about fighting for our working conditions. They just want to be meek sheep and lay low for the small amount of time that they are actually going to stay on the job. It is so sad. Teaching can be an outstanding, life-long civil service job. However, so many newbies just don't look at it that way. (Oh yeah, it does not help that teachers these days are overly micromanaged, evaluated via student test scores, and are not supported by the very administration that they work for) Teachers have no time to fight the powers that be be when they are merely fighting just to get through a day of teaching. Is it any wonder that we are walking skeletons?

Anonymous said...

The blame lays with us - we’ve allowed everyone to shit on us - our employer, the administration, the kids, the media and the government. The UFT reflects our true nature - passive, afraid, apathetic, amoral and greedy.

ed notes online said...

"The ridiculous gig economy ideology, along with TFA and Teaching Fellows"
I'm amazed at how people neglect to mention charters as a reason. Eva alone has cost the UFT thousands of members and member numbers give some clout. To think the UFT has no power is not being serious - they do have some power just for their political operation - but they use their power to serve the leadership not the membership needs.
You did see where Cuomo was years ago with attacks on teachers and how the UFT did push back. He is an opportunistic phony but the UFT managed to get stuff toned down. And all you people lamenting the old power of the UFT - Woody Allen was part of the liberal anti-UFT crowd due to the 1968 strike and Shanker who was larger than life was the target. But as for power in the schools, I saw some of the same crap we saw today back in the 70s. Teachers have always been powerless. The height of the UFT power was when it closed down schools for months in '68 - and the attacks on Shanker after that made him more timid. The last really good contract was soon after from mayor John Lindsey. You could see union power begin to wane soon after. The 75 strike was a sham. I still have some lit we put out in the 70s saying the very same things you are saying now.

Anonymous said...

Hey Ednotesonline, CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE 100% PART OF "The ridiculous gig economy ideology". Charter school teachers only work in charter schools for a few years before they go off to medical school or some high paying philanthropy job. Charter school jobs are without a doubt the epitome of what a gig job is. However, charter schools in and of them selves are not what is causing teachers unions to loose clout. Rather it is the teachers who choose to work in these schools who are causing us to loose clout. Charter school teachers treat the profession like the peace corps which is a temp job at best. I've been teaching in the DOE since 96. I even remember a time when the UFT handed out black armbands to my staff and we marched outside our school demanding a decent contract. There was no ATR pool, Danielson, or all the other nonsense we face back then. Year by year as veteran teachers left, the UFT decided to get lazy and not fight the good fight anymore and it was a result of newbie teachers who do not treat teaching as a life-long career. This is my two cents on this.

James Eterno said...

Compared to the sixties, the UFT was considerably weaker in the seventies.

However, when I started in the mid eighties, the UFT was still functioning as a real union in many ways. As late as 1996, we won Circular 6 to finally get us out of involuntary lunch and hall duty. The provisions had some teeth. Read them.

The real downfall was Joel Klein. I remember our reserved principal coming back from a meeting in the first Klein year and saying he didn't have to listen to me or the teachers any longer. One of my friends said it was "Principal on viagra."

This was not a high school only occurence. A colleague in an elementary school who went on childcare leave in the nineties and came back in the middle of the Joel Klein era told me the big difference was the union no longer had any power to do much in the schools. Sad but true.

You and I fought the 2005 contract Norm. That was the end of the UFT as a real union in terms of improving working conditions in the schools. It has never recovered since then.