The student news site of Patchogue-Medford High School

The Red & Black

The student news site of Patchogue-Medford High School

The Red & Black

The student news site of Patchogue-Medford High School

The Red & Black

The State of Our Unions

Education Series Part II: How NYSUT is working to encourage future educators
President of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers (PMCT) Kevin Toolan feels that the goal of an educator should be to “set children on a path” and contends, “If you’re looking to inspire children to be good characters, good citizens, this is the profession for you.” Image created by Ceania Gonzales

Unions are often regarded as fundamental aspects of our country’s history. Contemporary workplace commonalities, such as Worker’s Compensation and the outlawing of child labor, were made real by the tireless efforts of the unions of our past. 

Today, some of the largest unions in the United States, as well as New York State, are unions for educators and those in the educational field. 

One such organization of unions is New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), a federation of teaching unions in New York State that has been committed to improving the working conditions of teachers and the quality of the teaching profession since its establishment in March of 1972. 

Comprised of over 700,000 members, the federation’s recent achievements include their “Fund Our Future” campaign, a NYSUT-created push for increased aid for schools provided by New York State.

In 2023, the state passed legislation in line with this campaign’s goals, issuing over $35 billion in aid and allowing students across the state to obtain more of the resources they need to thrive in the classroom.  

However, a recent dilemma for the organization is how it will combat the impending teacher shortage, where a decline in enrollment in NYS Teacher’s Education Programs, compounded with a considerable number of retiring teachers in the coming years, has created an especially high demand for educators. State officials even estimate that districts may need upwards of 180,000 teachers in the next decade. 

The shortage has already begun to take root in the state, as the U.S. Department of Education has designated deficiencies in teaching areas such as Special Education, Bilingual Education, the English Language Arts, Science, and Social Studies. 

In the face of this adversity, NYSUT has shown resilience, acting to generate initiatives to find the educators of the future, such as “Take a Look at Teaching” and its affiliated programs. 

Designed to increase the number of students and career changers entering teaching and improve diversity in educational career paths to amplify teacher recruitment and support aspiring career educators, “Take a Look at Teaching” is a NYSUT-led initiative to build a strong, statewide educator channel in New York. 

As a part of this initiative, NYSUT has engaged in countless endeavors, like launching the “Grow Your Own” educational grant. This grant provides funding for high schoolers to travel to colleges in New York and become familiarized with the techniques of a skilled educator, an experience NYSUT hopes will spark student interests in pursuing careers in education. 

For those looking to bring “Take a Look at Teaching” to their communities who are unsure of where to begin, NYSUT has developed the “Campus Conversation Toolkit,” a comprehensive outline of how conversations on educational advances can be started. 

On Long Island, Kevin Toolan, President of the Patchogue-Medford Congress of Teachers (PMCT), and Philip Barbera, President of the Sachem Central Teachers’ Association (SCTA), have each aimed to echo the efforts of NYSUT and encourage students to choose education as their career. 

“As the PMCT President, I applied for the ‘Take a Look at Teaching’ grant, and we also have a ‘Take a Look at Teaching’ club at Patchogue-Medford High School,” said Toolan. “We also have a CTE (Career Technical Education) course, ‘Teaching as a Profession,’ designed for our high school juniors and seniors to go into the elementary classrooms and work with students to get a hands on feel for what it’s going to look like being a teacher.” 

Toolan also stated, “I’ve even pushed into the classroom to explain the benefits of teaching. I feel like we’re doing a lot to not only to encourage students but to encourage students of color, students with diverse backgrounds, and students from different socio-economic classes to enter teaching because we don’t want people to think that it’s the ‘family profession.’ That’s the mantra that we’re pushing.” 

Similarly, Barbera talked about his work in promoting education as a career path in his district, discussing the SCTA-sponsored “Educators of Tomorrow” scholarship. 

Barbera explained, “We bring ten Sachem seniors who are going to pursue a career in education to a dinner. It’s a special night where they invite three teachers: one from elementary school, one from middle school, and one from high school. The student gets up in front of everybody to talk about why those three people were influential in their choice to make a career move towards education.” 

Continuing, Barbera maintained, “It’s a great night because we get to give them a little financial help and students get to build those relations going forward so that they know they can reach out to us for additional help as they go through their teaching programs.” 

Regarding how his district has contributed to his endeavors in encouraging young educators, Toolan described how Patchogue-Medford has agreed to take over the “Take a Look at Teaching” club. 

“I’ve been financing the club through the grant, but the school district has agreed to take over the cost, which is great,” added Toolan. 

Barbera also spoke of collaboration in his community, as Barbera and another officer of the SCTA sit on his district’s PTA council.  

He declared, “We’re always just trying to build those connections between us and the different groups around our community, so they know what we stand for, and we can help each other out.” 

Legislative and administrative aspects that could be behind the issue of the teacher shortage were also presented by each union president, furthering the conversation of future changes that can be made to generate more teachers in New York State. 

Toolan asserted, “There’s a lot of discussion on the teacher certification process and potential changes to it. People are asking, does the pathway need to be a master’s degree in education? There’s mixed feelings about that.” 

A specific obstacle in attracting new teachers was also mentioned by Barbera, who observed that the “new Tiers of Five and Six are a real, real issue that we’re battling because, how are we going to encourage new young educators when they are so severely impacted?” 

The Tiers Barbera is referring to are Tiers of the Employees’ Retirement System (TRS) in New York State. For those who joined the ERS between January 1st, 2010, and March 31st, 2012, they are classified as Tier Five, and for those who joined the system on April 1st, 2012, and after, they are classified as Tier Six. 

Retirement benefits vary drastically across Tier levels, with Tier Four members being able to retire at age 55 with less than 30 years of credited service, while Tier Five members, excluding certain court officers, can only earn reduced benefits if they retire at age 55, needing to wait until age 62 to retire and obtain full benefits. Tier Six members are also at a disadvantage compared to Tier Four members, as they must retire at 63 to receive full benefits, earning only reduced benefits by retiring at 55 as well. 

Barbera continued, “It’s a battle that our State Union is fighting and all of us are rallying behind because to be a new teacher, especially on Long Island, it’s not advantageous with these new Tiers. It’s harmful financially and will make it very difficult for people to want to get into the field and make this their career path.” 

Specifically for Tier Six, NYSUT has launched the initiative “Fix Tier 6” to oppose the restrictions put on Tier Six members and their retirement benefits, illustrating once more how teachers’ unions in New York State today are fighting to encourage the educators of tomorrow. 

Read the first story in this education series below:

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About the Contributor
Carlo Costigliola, Staff Writer
Class of 2024. Co-Editor. Loves music, science, and pasta. Fears spiders and pineapple on pizza. Pretends Interstellar really happened.

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