Ed Tan teaches high school math at the Renaissance Charter School, a K-12 school in Jackson Heights, Queens. He is also the UFT chapter leader.
Q: Why did you decide to become a charter school teacher?
A: I didn’t. I started as a paraprofessional in another school in Manhattan and then I became a teacher in the Renaissance School and they converted into a charter school. It is more flexible now; we can do more stuff. We can pace our curriculum the way we want; we can make decisions for our own department’s matters. There are a lot of opportunities for us to get involved in sports and other after-school activities. For instance, I was the high school teaching and learning coordinator; I coached the girls’ basketball and boys’ soccer teams; I also taught Chinese Mandarin after school; and I am currently the UFT chapter leader in my school.
I became a para and then a teacher to help students, young people. The UFT encourages paras to become teachers. I took the Career Ladder program to become a teacher.
I have been working in the field for 20 years: six years as a para and 14 years as a high school math teacher.
Q: How has the union made a difference for your school?
A: The union creates a balance. Like in society, we need checks and balances. The union balances the management team. Its presence is very important. Teachers and staff do not have to worry that the principal or the management team will get absolute power. We have a contract that the principal or the management team has to follow whether they like it or not.
I’m against the impending budget cuts for district schools and the funding freeze for charter schools as laid out by the governor recently, and I appreciate the union’s advocacy on both of these issues. The UFT has always been on the side of the children of New York City in all public schools, district and charter. That, I can respect.
Q: What would you say to your colleagues in non-union charter schools about the union?
A: Again, it is checks and balances. I would tell them that the union will help them to have job security, and also about the Welfare Fund and other benefits. And that it will protect them from being abused by the management team.