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December 17, 2018

Why paid leave for teachers is such a huge victory: An educator who fought for the change hails it

June 21, 2018
Mayor Bill de Blasio, UFT president Michael Mulgrew and city Labor Commissioner Bob Linn announce paid parental leave for teachers at a City Hall press conference on Wednesday. (Jefferson Siegel / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

We stood in the Blue Room in City Hall, sweat dripping down our faces. The cameras lined up along the back wall. A toddler in a fancy blue gown cried for a snack while in her mother’s arms. Her mother smiled, despite the outburst. My youngest daughter whispered a secret in my ear: “I want an apple.” The oldest leaned into my other ear: “That man is tall.”

In front of us was Mayor de Blasio, and teacher’s union boss Michael Mulgrew, and a podium.




“This is an important day,” I whispered back. She didn’t understand, not yet at least. But I know, in time, she will.

Almost 90,000 people signed the petition I created on change.org just over a year ago. The anger and resentment and injustices felt by teachers everywhere carried the load of the work. It took on a life of its own.

Today, we finally did it. We decided to stop ignoring our teaching mothers and fathers. Today, the city and the UFT came to an agreement, signed in ink.

As of September 2018, New York City teachers who become parents will be given six weeks of paid parental leave. This goes for mothers, fathers, adoptive and foster parents. They will not need to use their sick days. If they have no sick days, they will not need to go off of payroll.

Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza (l.) and UFT president Michael Mulgrew (r.) announce paid parental leave at a City Hall press conference on Wednesday.
Department of Education Chancellor Richard Carranza (l.) and UFT president Michael Mulgrew (r.) announce paid parental leave at a City Hall press conference on Wednesday. (Jefferson Siegel / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

Here is what this really means: They can be a teacher, and not go broke, simply for having a child.

Today, I’m so happy for all the mothers and fathers who have chosen to dedicate their lives to other people’s children and won’t have to worry about going under financially when they decide to have their own. Today, I hope teachers feel seen, appreciated. I hope they feel what they are: valued, integral, important.

This is the message to our educators: We value you as the people we entrust with our city’s children each day. We will continue to value you as the mothers to your own.

So much of this achievement is owed to our veteran teachers who have suffered through this lack of policy, and still came back strong. Who have not been defeated — you are heroes for your struggles. You shared your stories and you gave evidence to this cause. We won’t forget you.

I’ve been blown away by Mulgrew and our union for fighting for this human right, for not giving up or compromising, for believing in what we deserve.

I hope the rest of the country is watching. Throughout this process, I’ve been appalled as I learned about the way that public school systems treat their teachers when it comes to parental leave. Boston, Denver, Seattle, all cities who also force teachers to use sick days in order to be paid for time with a newborn.

As a country, we need to make the decision to do what’s right for our educators. They are the roots from which the flowers of our future will grow. Treating them well is treating our children well. There is no excuse not to figure this out.

I hope my own daughters, Natalie and Alessandra — my greatest teachers — will grow up to see this as an example. To see teaching as a valued profession, one that will support them if they choose to become teaching mothers themselves. And to understand that when good people join together to face an injustice, positive change can come. That you are one person, but you are never too small.

James is a high school English teacher in Brooklyn.




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