Thursday, September 3, 2020

Thoughts on school reopening from Gladys Sotomayor, a teacher who has worked in the system for 21 years

From an email that Gladys sent to the NYC Ed list; reprinted with her permission.

I am a NYC teacher serving the school system in the Absent teacher reserve and a teacher for 21 years. But enough about me.

I have waited a long while to chime into the debate especially when there are teachers who are in a wide range of teaching conditions out there publicly or privately raising concerns. You know race, age, working from pre k to 12 rich poor, nabes, varying degrees of COVID-19 infection rates/ hospitalizations and more. Not to mention we are entering the labor day weekend where many of us are on vacation and families may engage in risk behaviors. I can pray that there will not be a spike in infections but I doubt it.

Yesterday I ran into a parent who lives in a primarily immigrant community telling him that students will return to school on September 21. His smile dropped and I could sense his heart sank I explained that it was a good thing because we can plan, be trained and see the "lay of the land" to ensure your children and  school community are safe.I said to myself, well the union was for once negotiated a stay of reopening using a "threat of a strike" . Well at least for now.  He said, ok I am calling my wife. He has elementary age school children.

I am happy if some schools were able to get what parents and the school communitypetitioned from the get go (meaning fall start) through the SLT process and their advocacy. This is not the case for all school communities. 

In person teaching as we knew it will not return.And yet, the nation as well as the world are watching what we all do to reopen and some hoping we fall on our face.The underfunded segregated largest school system in the nation is now fully exposed. Much of the debate and commentary is about what ifs and why nots and where is the money in the budget etc etc etc. We know the answers to these questions, little to nothing. The HERO act is  floundering in Congress. State and city tax revenue are at an all time low, well we are told that we are in trouble. 

Many of my colleagues are retiring or quitting and we face a huge staffing problem and this is citywide. For the first time,I am receiving so many offers to interview for positions. Thank God I am assigned to the school I served last semester. I am staying.

It was "nice" that the UFT took a position to strike. I said to myself wow really? I sort of thought well it would be a powerful negotiating tool and it worked. As for me I was not in favor of a strike this time around only because I serve in a working class and working poor communities in a time of a nationwide and world pandemic. This is my second "rodeo" when it comes to living in our city who became the epicenter of a worldwide pandemic. The suffering is immense.

I am glad that the unions were able to reach to an agreement for now!  I plan to return to in building work as scheduled and work the problems that are presented in uncharted terrain and waters. And will voice concerns when solutions are not presented or collectively reached. 


Gladys M Sotomayor, MPA and NYC Teacher 

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