Turning Point: My Almost Job With The UFT

Let's start the week off with a little bit of personal history that might be of interest (or not):

Fourteen years ago, I was a legislative aide in the US Senate.

Though it had sounded exciting and fun, working on education in the

Senate turned out to be boring, superficial work most of the time. My boss, Dianne

Feinstein, had just won election for a six-year term, but wasn't going to serve on the education committee anytime soon. President Clinton

had just suffered a major defeat at the hands of Newt Gingrich. The ESEA

had just been reauthorized (Improving America's Schools Act!).

I wanted to stay in education, but

perhaps move someplace like New York City where there was more action.

(I wasn't ready to be back in Chicago just yet.) There were just two NYC jobs worth wanting there, I thought. One was

working for Ramon Cortines, then head of the city’s massive public

school system. The other was working for Sandy Feldman, then head of

the city’s powerful teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers.

Click below for what happened next, plus a goofy picture of me from around that time (ie, much younger).

Let's start the week off with a little bit of personal history:

Fourteen years ago, I was a bored legislative aide in the US Senate.

Though it had sounded exciting and fun, working on education in the

Senate turned out to be boring, superficial work most of the time. My

boss, Dianne

Feinstein, had just won election for a six-year term, but wasn't going

to serve on the education committee anytime soon. President Clinton

had just suffered a major defeat at the hands of Newt Gingrich. The

ESEA

had just been reauthorized (Improving America's Schools Act!).

I

wanted to stay in education, but

perhaps move someplace like New York City where there was more action.

(I wasn't ready to be back in Chicago just yet.)

There were just two NYC jobs worth wanting there, I

thought. One was

working for Ramon Cortines, then head of the city’s massive public

school system. The other was working for Sandy Feldman, then head of

the city’s powerful teachers union, the United Federation of Teachers.

I had met both of them through my work for Feinstein. Both had

an opening for a special assistant, which generally meant analyzing policies, accompanying them to events and making

sure their instructions were implemented by career folks. Far as I was concerned, the

two jobs were similar, and the two organizations were roughly parallel.

We’re all Democrats. Education is education.

Right. Only at the last

minute, during second round of interviews, did I fully realize that these

two outfits weren’t allies with occasional differences between them. They were competitors, if not enemies, most of the time. These were not equivalent jobs, at least in terms of organizational focus.

Nearly oblivious -- I guess I was desperate to leave DC -- my intervews had stumbled me on one of the most

nasty and protracted conflicts within the Democratic party: the battle

between center-leaning reformers who want to make big changes to the

education system (Cortines isn't even all that centrist) and union leaders who want to make sure that, in the

process, teachers are treated fairly.

There was something that

made me uncomfortable about working for the union -- it didn't seem very Shanker-like to me -- so I took the job

with the district. But things didn't go much better there. I worked in the soul-sucking BOE headquarters, 110 Livingston Street. Not much was getting done. Six months later, Cortines resigned. I went back

to Washington, wondering whether I’d made the right decision.

Looking back, I'm amazed at my obliviousness, and also a little bit sad that I didn't do the union thing. Not because it would have lasted longer, but because it would have helped my understanding. There are just a few folks I know -- Matt Gandel at Achieve, and John Gyurko at the UFT, who have worked both sides of the union-management fence. I can't help but think it would have helped to see both sides of things.

Anyway, now you know. Anyone else out there ever come close to working for "the other side," or encountered similar experiences? I guess moving from classroom teacher to AP might be a little like that, or from a school to the central office. Bigger still would be a CTU to CPS move, or CPS to CTU. I wonder if that's ever happened.

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