Christine Hernandez is a 10th year teacher at Merrick Academy — Queens Public Charter School. She was one of three charter school leaders across the state who received a special recognition at this year’s NYSUT Representative Assembly.
Q: Why did you decide to become a charter school teacher?
A: I didn’t seek out a job at a charter school per se, but I’ve just always known I wanted to be a teacher; I used to teach my dolls. When I was younger and I was struggling in school, my 4th- grade teacher, Ms. Ford, helped me to believe in myself. She showed me that even though it was a struggle I could do well, and she taught me to really enjoy school. She really inspired me to become a teacher myself so I could give students that sense of pride and excitement about learning.
Q: How has the union made a difference for your school?
A: Being part of a union has given us a voice; we can now speak up for our teachers and students without fear of repercussions. For me, forming a union has been a very personal experience. When we organized the teachers at our school, I had a young child at home and was scared about the unionization effort. Once we went public, I was fired. The UFT and their fantastic lawyers fought for me and helped me get my job back. Going through that experience made me realize how crucial the union is and how important it is for charter school teachers to stand up for their rights. Now we have a contract that gives us “due process,” which means the school (administration) can no longer fire us without cause. This also gives us the power to advocate for what’s best for our school.
Q: What would you say to your colleagues in non-union charter schools?
A:Prior to organizing a union at Merrick we didn’t realize how truly important it is to be union members and we didn’t know the true power of our own voice. When you���re allowed to participate in the discussion, you realize how truly significant it is. You shouldn’t be scared of fighting for your rights—your union will have your back. The louder you raise your voice the more protection you have!
Each charter school is different, but teacher voice is vital at any school. It’s important that teachers take part in the negotiations process because they are in the best position to know what works best for that particular school. I had the opportunity to take part in negotiations, which showed me that it’s vitally important to have teachers at the bargaining table.