It seems amazing that amidst all the clamor (and rightfully raised clamor it is) about the unprofessional treatment and disrespect that the Klein Department of Education has shown to many of its employees that one item in this contract some members have chosen to attack is the lead teacher proposal.

This was our idea–we first proposed it in a September 1999 UFT task force report, Assuring Teacher Quality, and this position, along with a more detailed career continuum for all teachers, has been included in our negotiating demands since then.

The UFT has been using collective bargaining for more than 20 years to push real reforms that improve teaching and learning and truly enhance the professional lives of members. The lead teacher position does just this. It is a particularly notable accomplishment in this round and round and round of negotiations when educators have been conspicuously absent from the other side of the bargaining table and when those present, due to their lawyerly, supervisory or budgetary backgrounds could at first only look at the proposal in terms of management prerogatives and control rather than (gasp!) education. It expands a highly praised, by both teachers and principals, pilot project in District 9 in the Bronx to the whole city, and it’s nice to know that something successful has come out of the Bronx this fall.

The union has designed this position so that it recognizes teachers for their professional knowledge, skills and leadership qualities on a consistent basis. Teachers who have objectively demonstrated these qualities to both regional and school-based committees will form a pool of eligible applicants. They will continue to teach and will also provide professional support to teachers. It’s open to any qualified applicants. And it expands opportunities for teachers to become instructional leaders without having to become administrators and supervisors or leave the profession in disgust and disappointment. Teachers will work with peers instead of in isolation; teachers will work collaboratively instead of suffering under the judgmental, factory workshop model regime so favored by the Klein DOE; teachers, will move the instructional agenda, not policy wonks and corporate types.

This is not merit pay as it’s used by Klein, his mouthpiece the New York Post,(don’t miss today’s headline story about the priest who made a Manhattan socialite gay!) or the right-wing stink tanks that twist and turn words like merit, reform, accountability, choice and equity in a way that would make Orwell proud, in an Orwellian sense, of course. No, this position is, I believe, the first step in a professional career path, just as doctors and lawyers now have, for teachers.