In the last few days, my thoughts have often turned to Sandy Feldman, who recently passed away after a long and difficult struggle with breast cancer. As most readers know, Sandy was a past president of both the UFT and our national union, the American Federation of Teachers. But she was also a special person for me. Sandy was the person who initially convinced me that I could best pursue my goals as an educational activist, that I could best achieve my efforts to ensure that my students would have a chance to build lives of meaning and purpose, from within the UFT. She knew the power of collective, democratic voice for teachers, and she knew that such organized power could be used to great effect for our students, especially those with the greatest needs, as well as for ourselves. Sandy and I met in strained circumstances, but we nonetheless quickly bonded. We shared a great deal in common, including love of political ideas and a passion for intellectual debate, as well as a background in the democratic socialist left and in the civil rights movement. I could call Sandy a mentor, but it would be an inadequate description, because in many ways, she felt like an older sister or a second mother. I never finished a conversation with her, including our last one in late spring, without feeling that she cared deeply about me and my welfare, as much as she was interested in the project on which I sought her opinion or the paper I wanted to discuss with her. With the crush of events these past weeks, it has been hard to steal the time to grieve Sandy’s passing and to find the peace of mind to remind myself of the special moments we shared. Every time I would begin that process, I could hear her saying, “there is important work to be done,” in the way that Sandy would talk when she was serious about getting something done. But something inside me kept saying back, “remembering you is important work.” Remembering Sandy is important work not just because she left us with fond memories of rich friendships, but even more, because she helped create a legacy for this union that is vital at this moment of trial. Sandy’s legacy, and the legacy of her mentor Al Shanker, is that teacher professionalism and teacher unionism must be inseparable. That legacy must guide us now. When the UFT first organized, the factory model school and the industrial mode of organization reigned unchallenged in American education. The Mayors and Chancellors of the day declared that the substance of education was a management prerogative, and that the still fledgling UFT should only have a say on questions of wages and working conditions, just as the autoworkers union only negotiated wages and working conditions for their members. But Sandy and Al always insisted that there was a world of difference between the production of automobiles and the education of children, and they never missed an opportunity for the UFT to assert the professional voice of teachers on educational matters. They had a vision of teacher unionism in which teachers would take control of and responsibility for our educational labor and our professional knowledge, guaranteeing the quality of the service we provided to the public by educating and policing ourselves. One initiative which captured that Feldman-Shanker vision of teacher unionism was the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, a Shanker idea that has been successfully implemented nationally with the full support of both the AFT and the NEA. The National Board was modeled after the practice of board certified doctors in the medical field, and organized around professional standards of teaching excellence. A National Board certified teacher undergoes a long, rigorous process of certification in which she demonstrates excellence and accomplishment in her field of teaching. Sandy and Al conceived of the National Board in part as the teacher’s answer to calls for “merit pay.” Whenever critics said that teachers don’t want to recognize and reward teaching excellence, and that is why we oppose “merit pay,” we could simply point to the work of the National Board, and the lie is exposed. Unlike the zero sum games of “merit pay,” every teacher can seek National Board certification. Moreover, the National Board’s objective standards for teaching excellence were developed by teachers, and teacher peers evaluate the professional portfolios submitted for certification. Most importantly, National Board certification identifies real teaching excellence, not managerial favorites. Progressive-minded school districts – not New York City – provide salary differentials for Board certified teachers. Cities such as Rochester NY which have pioneered ‘lead teacher’ and ‘master teacher’ programs, in which accomplished teachers remain part-time in the classroom while taking on mentoring and professional development responsibilities, often use National Board certification as the qualification for teachers to achieve this status. Sandy’s and Al’s vision of a professional teacher unionism had its critics, both externally and in our own ranks. For those external foes who never reconciled themselves to the idea of democratic teacher voice in American education, a professional teacher unionism simply extends the organized power of teachers into educational matters where they do not belong: our job, they insist, is to teach what we are told to teach. [And in 10 minute workshop lesson segments, at that.] One of the real achievements in this contract agreement is the language which specifically prohibits lesson micro-management, and thus defends the professional autonomy of teachers. In a strange way, the critics within our own ranks who want no part of a professional teacher unionism – including the opponents of this contract agreement – have a similar view of the world to those external foes. They believe that union solidarity somehow depends upon a homogenized labor force, in which all workers are the same as all other workers, and they oppose any differentiation among teachers based on accomplishment and teaching excellence. Our unity, they insist, depends upon rejecting the notion that we are professionals with a responsibility for our educational labor and knowledge, and instead embracing the notion that we are indistinguishable, de-skilled workers engaged in a common fight with management. They could not have a more impoverished vision of who we are and what we are capable of as teachers. Understanding that both the Chancellor and the opponents of this contract share an opposition to professional teacher unionism espoused makes more comprehensible their common arrival at the same incredible misreading of the ‘lead teacher’ program as “merit pay” last week. In the tradition of Sandy Feldman, we have a different vision of ourselves as teacher unionists. On matters educational, you will hear from us. And we will continue to promote quality public education and teaching excellence. Our students deserve no less.