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A Vital Partner: The United Federation of Teachers

It’s not the smoothest time for teacher unions these days. They’re a a pretty easy target when people wring their hands about the state of K-12 public education. But, hey, what would their critics do without them. Who would they have to criticize and blame? (The answer is: teacher colleges and school boards, in case you haven’t heard.)

If you look around at most of the arts education programs nationally, you will find that the local teachers union is rarely part of the project. I believe that most people tend to view these unions solely through the lens of labor issues. And in an era when charter schools are the simple answer for many, many people, the teachers unions are in a difficult spot public-relations wise.

We have a slightly different perspective. This Saturday, The Center for Arts Education is presenting the first of three city-wide professional development conferences in partnership with the United Federation of Teachers Teacher Center (UFTTC). The UFTTC Teacher Center is the long-standing educational arm of the local New York City teachers union: The United Federation of Teachers. This first conference will focus on the integration of the arts, grades K-5.

Our colleagues at the UFTTC refer to this as a professional teacher conference.

The second conference in February will focus on arts education curricula and resources grade K-12. The final conference for this year, in May, will look at Career Readiness and Awareness Through the Arts, Grades 6-12.

Partnering with the teachers union is an easy call for me. First, they helped to found The Center for Arts Education, being incredibly supportive from the very first moment. Second, we’ve worked with them in an assortment of ways over the years, including partnering with them to create our Promising Practices publication in 1999. Lately, they’ve become an important partner in our advocacy work. Third, perhaps most important, is that we believe the best route to working with teachers in a school system that is becoming increasingly decentralized, is to find the pathway right to the teachers. What could be a better way than through the educational arm of the UFT, which has provided a wide range or professional development and support for teachers and para professionals for many, many years.

Moreover, these partnerships are expanding to include NYSUT, the state-wide teachers union in New York, as well as the American Federation of Teachers, which is the national union for the UFT and other local AFT chapters across the country.

I have been to just a few conference on arts education over the years. What I have found is that the number of school teachers and administrators that attend is always very, very small. So, the thought of working directly with teachers through their union holds great promise for connecting with the teachers without having to depend on the school district for access.

What has it been like to work with them you may be wondering?  I cannot say thank them enough. The two point people we’ve been dealing with at the UFTTC, Aminda Gentile, who runs the UFT Teacher Center, and Roberto Benetiz, our liason (he’s a former teacher and administrator) are huge champions of the arts and have rolled up their sleeves to get our conferences, which I view as a beginning, off the ground.

I should also mention that the UFT has a new President: Michael Mulgrew. His pathway from professional carpenter, to Career and Technical Education Teacher, to union leader, gives him a very strong understanding and appreciation of the arts.

I am looking forward very much to this first conference on Saturday morning at the UFT Headquarters in Lower Manhattan…

Maybe I will have some pictures for you.


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