Teachers have stepped up during the pandemic. They deserve a Mayor who steps up, too.

Peonies. Photo © Art Chang.

“I will confess to being a parent that has been frustrated by how slow our schools have been to open, and I do believe that the UFT has been a significant reason why our schools have been slow to open,” Andrew Yang told Politico last week.

Coming in the midst of my grief and outrage over the racist Atlanta hate killings against our AAPI community, this statement by a fellow New York City mayoral candidate was almost one thing too much more to process. But I couldn’t let it go. Yes, there is a valid need for improvement in our educational system. But there is a greater need for an inclusive and unifying leadership that will foster innovation, efficiency and preparedness for the future. Yang’s statement troubles me.

I am dismayed by and strenuously object to Andrew Yang’s statement about the UFT, the union that represents our educators.

Let me start with a story.

When I was a kid, my mother raised a massive bed of peonies that lined the rear of our home. If you know peonies, they come into magnificent bloom in May and June as the school year is ending. And if you know anything about Asian culture, we have a reverence and respect for teachers.

My childhood home in Akron, Ohio.

So each year, my mother would carefully cut stems of these huge, delicate and fragrant flowers and carefully arrange them for me to bring to school. I remember the first year, my little arms so loaded that I could barely see over the top, excited to deliver my gift. But as soon I entered the schoolyard, curious looks were followed by titters . “Teacher’s pet. Nerd. Chink. Suck-up. Go back to China.” By the time I reached my homeroom, I zombie-walked to my teacher with the bouquet which filled her desk, whispering a mother-ordered, “Thank you.” And I scurried back to my desk, afraid to meet my classmates’ furious eyes, cheeks aflame with shame and embarrassment. I did this for one or two more years before I begged my mother to let me stop.

But even today, I remember the teachers’ eyes, their surprise and delight. Since then, as an adult whose first job was teaching music and as a friend to many career educators in this city, I know the importance and impact of a small thank you to a teacher.

When Yang attacked UFT, I felt it as an attack on all teachers. Nearly 80 teachers have died and many more have fallen ill since COVID reached NYC last year. Our 120,000 educators struggled with changing winds of remote learning, just as our students did. Just like those of us working from home, they also juggled responsibilities for their own children, parents and family members. And each educator carried the burden of up to 120 students, their well-being and their educational progress though impossible conditions.

I know how hard teachers work from my two years’ service on the School Leadership Team (SLT) at Brooklyn Technical High School, where one of my sons had the privilege of attending. And I brought my resolve to stand for our educators and students to our fight over the Principal C-30, the DOE’s broken process for choosing Principals. You can see the full text of our letter to the Chancellor here.

Sure, the UFT has room to improve. I have had the privilege of participating in meetings of MORE UFT, the dissident caucus of the UFT and have felt their pain and heard their complaints. But at the root is a crippling dysfunction between the Mayor’s office and the DOE leadership. This must end.

This is the outcome of an executive approach infused with politics instead of management. Prioritizing ideology over pragmatism. Valuing decision-making over collaboration. Solving problems piecemeal over holistic approaches. The end result? The reactive and punitive City Hall we suffer with today. The next Mayor must fix this.

As a parent and fierce advocate for New York City, my Spidey-sense is alerted when someone displays early tendencies of the current Mayor as Yang has done.

I don’t want a City Hall run by someone who doesn’t show partnership and co-ownership. We already have a City Hall that doesn’t take ownership and responsibility for the whole City. We don’t need another one. We already have a Mayor who blames others for the bad and takes sole credit for the good. We don’t need another one. We already have a Mayor who fails to recognize that the buck stops on his desk. We don’t need another one.

We need a Mayor who moves forward to make positive changes with the tools at their disposal. And then creates some more. I will be that Mayor.

Unions are critical partners in our city’s recovery. I will be the mayor who takes the opportunity to forge a new labor-management relationship. In education the tools are abundant if you are willing to leverage the collective intelligence of the 75,000 frontline UFT educators. My North Star is the Labor-Management Partnership at Kaiser Permanente. My work helping SEIU 775’s Training Partnership create Carina.org inspires me about the future possibilities when we add families to the labor-management partnership.

My son will graduate from Brooklyn Tech in June filled with confidence and curiosity. He credits Tech’s intellectual and human diversity and the faculty, who have forever raised the bar on what teaching will mean to him. I wish I had a peony to give every one of his teachers. I can say loudly, “Thank you for all that you do.” I can say that I fight for the people who fight for our students, our educators.

On Friday March 26 at 8pm, I am hosting a Zoom Town Hall on public education; I would be honored and delighted if you would join me. Please click this link to register.

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Art Chang

Art Chang

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Founder of Allie for Every Micro Org. Former 2021 Candidate for NYC Mayor. https://theallieapp.com