Monday, September 17, 2018

The Mysterious Case of the Missing District Reps-- UFT Exec Board Sept. 17, 2018

We are late because there was a contract negotiation meeting. Howard Schoor welcomes us at 6:13.

Minutes— approved

Staff director—LeRoy Barr
—-Welcomes us back, thanks negotiating committee. Thanks for good turnout Labor Day Parade. After parade event was successful. CL meeting Thursday 20th. Announcement of vacancies, for EB, today. CL training 10/13-14. Making Strides walk 10/14, Central Park. Next EB Sept. 24. DA 10/17.

Howard Schoor thanks Norm Scott for coming to Labor Day parade. Norm says he came for barbecue.

Jeff Sorkin, Welfare Fund,
on paid parental leave. 776 people have applied as of Friday, 446 approved. Wants to process checks as of Wednesday.

Q—Why weren’t some accepted?
A—not rejected yet. Just waiting on process.

Arthur Goldstein—There was a story in the Post the other day about a failed administrator accused of grade-fixing here. She moved to Baldwin, where she harassed young women about their clothes and posted names and allegations against suspended students, in violation of federal regulations. She was just hired back by the city as an assistant principal.

I’ve seen teachers have a-fib attacks after meeting with supervisors. I saw one teacher have a heart attack outside an administrative office. A friend of mine complained his supervisor promised him a bad rating, and died ten days later.

Sometimes people really want to “get out of the classroom.” One way to do that is to go into supervision. Sometimes people who don’t like classrooms tend not to respect teachers that much. This is a huge issue, and people write me about it all the time.

Perhaps the mayor is okay with hiring failed administrators who change grades, humiliate students, and violate federal regulations that managed to survive Betsy DeVos. Maybe the chancellor’s on board with that too. We should ask them.

Meanwhile, what can we do to cast a spotlight on abusive administrators? How can we make it as inconvenient as possible for them to behave like this? Maybe you'd like to think about this for a while. I don't need an answer right now.

Schoor—We have reached out to schools who came here. Would they speak to reporters? They did not want to. We’re always available, but aggrieved members have to come forward. We met with teachers who went public with a lawsuit but wouldn’t take other actions. We are always available and looking for best way forward.

Jonathan Halabi—How many discontinuances over summer? Which schools have highest turnover rates?

—Mike Sill not here. Will get info.

KJ Ahluwalia—Summers are getting warmer. Kids were fainting while taking Regents exams in summer school. What are we doing? We hear excuses.

Schoor—President will speak to that.

President’s Report—Mike Mulgrew
—Hot schools—don’t think they’ll be done by 2020. We have to incentivize. Principal and custodian always have AC. SCA has process where they can move electrical jobs up earlier. We need to turn up pressure on them.

Negotiating committee proceeding. Proud of work done over summer.

Not sure number of agency fee payers, from 2000 down to around 400. Next challenge is process for new members, who are no longer members until we speak with them. We did new member engagement over summer. We had names and phone numbers. By first week we signed 2500 of 4000 members. Will probably be another 900 new teachers in next few weeks.

Chancellor having bus issues. Some change in DOE central. Trying to inform them job is to help school system, not just grant employment.

Two UFT officers are retiring. Stayed through Janus. Thanks for the guidance, courage, and diligence—Carmen Alvarez and Mel Aaronson going to work with retiree chapter. We will need names of people who wish to run by Monday.

Alvarez—loves union, thanks for opportunity to support members and young people they serve. UFT allowed me to make a difference. Believes new contract will be game changer. Opportunity for you to create magic in schools. Thanks us.

—Thanks us.

—Knows officers for a long time. Thanks Mel and Carmen for years of service. We know a lot about the school system, we will have continuity and institutional memory they don’t at DOE.

Reports from Districts

Karen Alford—Labor Day Parade—first time we did BBQ. Great attendance. Was great to have members socializing, was great to see all those connections, people having such a good time. Nice contrast to Janus. Good to start on a high note.

D. Brown—June 24th, pride march, over 300 members, Thanks LeRoy Barr and others.

Pat Crispino—20 year old student passed away in school. Thanks those who stayed at school to help members. Mark Divet was teacher of class where it happened. Tried to revive student but could not. Mom was very thankful to those who tried to save him. Schools are family and community. Will be GoFundMe page for family.

Michael Friedman—Lost a member, Maria Romano, payroll secretary who was very helpful. Worked through cancer, came in daily until she couldn’t, passed on June 16th. Moment of silence.

Retiree chapter news—forming new section in Mid-Hudson. Has 1000 members in area. Recruiting in NJ, PA, and FL.

Shelvy Abrams—organized para chapter in 68. Needs support in 50th year as member of UFT. Reach out to paras that we are reaching a milestone. Proud to organize and represent 29,000 members.

Schoor—We ran against DC37 for bargaining rights, and won.

Serbia Silva—Annual welcome back to district, over 50 reps. Chancellor came, students played amazing song and chancellor sang with them. CLs wore Labor Day Parade shirts. Chancellor thanked union, was great event. Thanks UFT.

District 20, welcoming new members. Had meet and greet. Had over 50 people, newest hires. Had pension people, certification, and will do maternity and parental leave workshops.

Legislative Report—Paul Egan—Giants and Jets lost, Eagles at top of division. Chelsea 5 and 0.

Elections last week. Tish James won, will likely win election. IDC got annihilated. We didn’t endorse any by Marisol A., who was good on Janus. Robert Jackson has always been friend of union and he will win. Changes nothing unless GOP loses control. Simka Felder will likely win. We may overturn Marty Golden. Will be our main focus. Only other is Andrew Lanza, and he will likely win. We will ask Brooklyn to help us get vote out. There are enough UFT members to win all these races if we get out to vote, but we don’t. Primary turned out only 25%. If we get good turnout, we will win. Let’s make it happen.

Retirees don’t have to be union members or COPE contributors, but retirees will have contributed over 1 million this year. If they can do that, we can get another million.

Schoor—Marty Golden voted to do away with layoff clause, and we assembled 400 people in front of his office. Says he’s a charter school guy.

Jonathan Halabi I have a question as to process. This summer the HS representatives urged that NYSUT endorse the challengers to the IDC in the NY State Senate. We know that the UFT does not make statewide endorsements, but makes suggestions in Albany. So we asked to speak to the UFT RECOMMENDATIONS, and since we did not get a response until the Friday before the conference, we asked to at least know what the UFT recommendations would be – but the response was: “the starting point for the races you mention is open, meaning the discussion will not start with the incumbent but will result in a neutral start to the conversation.”

And then I heard from Albany, and I could have been misinformed, but this is what I heard: that the UFTers in Albany worked lock-step to block an endorsement of Alessandra Biaggi. Who, by the way, I saw plenty of UFTers working for, and, who also by the way, won, and we are now thankfully free of Jeff Klein.

But my question is not to argue who was right and who was wrong. I want to ask about process. The UFT makes recommendations to NYSUT, and at least sometimes those recommendations carry the day. Shouldn’t these recommendations be subject to membership, DA, or Exec Board approval?

Schoor—We don’t carry the day. We have about one third of NYSUT. Locals and area also discuss every single candidate. We make a recommendation that goes to NYSUT board that makes final recommendation.

Paul Egan—84 Board of Directors and we have about 20. These are state ones. Congressional go through AFT and NEA. We’ve interviewed all candidates. Starts at borough level. If people want to be part of process they can contact PAC.

It isn’t always black and white. We have to be careful as to what other things are in play. Politics is not simply one thing. If Klein got in and we were with Biaggi all things he was good with us on could blow up. Statewide feeling that we were going to not endorse IDC. Some people have great relationships with local senators. We have many others in NYC we can go to. Everyone in state has a vote. Not just us.

Schoor—NYSUT endorsed no GOP senators, and only one in IDC.

Egan—She had hopped back and forth but was lead sponsor in helping us with Janus.

Schoor—Special order of business—

Vanessa Preston—Selection process on selection of UFT District Reps—urges flexibility that DRs may be interviewed or appointed from out of district if they’ve been CLs, DRs, on Exec Board, or UFT officers.

In response to requests from CLs. Would allow committee to consider CLs from other districts. Not enough qualified candidates have stepped up over last few years.

Marie Callo—Supports. What better way to have more choice? Says CLs have requested this.

?—Also in support because we didn’t have a lot of qualified candidates. We need more people to step up. Committee can hear them out.

Jonathan HalabiI rise in opposition to this resolution. 
District Reps should be responsible to the Chapter Leaders they serve. In the past Chapter Leaders elected their District Reps – now that’s real accountability. 
Not only does this resolution not restore this basic piece of control to the chapter leaders – it allows DRs from outside the district, it allows a retiree to become DR.

DRs should be accountable to all the CLs in their district, not just those on the committee. That’s fundamental, you should be accountable to those you serve. 

If we wanted to increase the pool, why require chapter leaders to come from the school they serve? If we wanted to increase the pool, why require executive board members to come from the UFT?

Motion passes.

We are adjourned.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Bad Leaders and What We Should Fear

I get a lot of complaints from all over. Sometimes I forward them to people I think can help. Sometimes these people get help. Other times, they ask me not to tell anyone. It's hard to help someone when they don't want anyone but me to know their issue. If it were in my building, maybe I could do something. Maybe not.

A lot of chapter leaders will tell you this is the number one issue--"I have this problem. It's the worst problem on earth. But I don't want to file a grievance. And when YOU complain about it, make sure MY name doesn't come up." Sometimes I can pull that off. Sometimes I can't. It depends a lot on the situation.

I once had a discussion with such a member. I can't file a grievance, he said. I asked him why he thought, then, that I could. Why is it I can do this but you can't? Because you're you, he told me. I can't argue with that. I'm me. I'm not sure, though, how that makes me special or unique. I'm not sure what any administrator could have done to that teacher that couldn't be done to me.

I know several teachers from several schools that complain endlessly to me about the awful things their principals do. I don't doubt what they say at all. Their principals are vindictive. They go after anyone who contradicts them. They impose things that violate the contract.

There are remedies for at least some of these things. Blatant violations in observations result in APPR complaints. You need to make them within five days of knowledge. Here's a list of things that have been successful. There have been successful APPR complaints in my building. Sometimes supervisors will think twice before doing things twice if they don't work once.

If principals won't honor the contract, you can file grievances. Grievances are a huge pain in the ass, because the process seems to go on forever. The first place they go is the principal, who likely as not made the violation personally. Some principals will read the contract, understand it, and honor it. Some will reject everything out of hand, and go right to step two. Others will call the clown car that is Bloomberg's DOE legal department. I recently met someone who used to work for that department. This person told me few if any of the lawyers there have even read the contract.

Legal tells principals they can do anything they like. Then you go to step two, where the DOE hacks reject absolutely everything no matter what. I've listened to some of them who knew the principal was wrong, but ruled with the principal anyway. That's their job, evidently, and after they do it these things are literally rubber stamped with the chancellor's name. I understand member frustration at this, particularly because last year I went to maybe ten step two hearings.

The next step is arbitration, and this year I'll go to ten or more arbitration hearings. Of course if contractual violations mount up the way they did last year, that will also be another ten step two hearings. That's not to mention the class size hearings I go to twice a year. I'm up for whatever. Not everyone is.

People sometimes tell me their chapter leaders say, "I can't take sides." That's absurd. I always take sides. I side with the member, and I side with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If your chapter leader doesn't take sides, you need a new chapter leader. You could say, though, that it's risky to be chapter leader with a vindictive principal. It certainly is. But someone needs to step up.

Here's the thing--if you say it's too dangerous to be chapter leader, if you say it's too dangerous to file a grievance, if you say it's too dangerous to enforce the contract, you are right. You have given up and there is no contract. The contract exists only as far as it can be enforced. If you don't enforce it, for whatever reason, it's meaningless.

The first semester I taught I had four preps. I had no idea that was a violation. My UFT chapter leader approached me in the bathroom. " wanna join the union?" Why not, I thought, and filled out the card. One day my AP asked me if I wanted to teach ESL. "What's ESL?" I asked. The next day I had five preps, and one was ESL.

We all need help. We all need people to look after us. Sometimes, though, we need to get up on our hind legs and speak. The more of us who do it, the better. The principal can go after me if I stand up, that's true. It's true for you too. If all of us stand up, it'll likely take a lot of the principal's time to go after everyone.

You can also come to Executive Board and be heard. Sometimes that helps. Sometimes it doesn't. You don't really have guarantees of what will happen. You can blame me for that if you like. You can blame Mulgrew if you like. I always try to help. I do not always win.

Here's one thing I can guarantee, though. If you have an abusive principal who routinely violates the contract, and you do nothing about it, tomorrow you will have that very same abusive principal. And the days, weeks, months and years after that, you'll have the same. In fact, things can get worse. Why shouldn't an abusive principal be emboldened after seeing no one will stand against her?

Sometimes people wait until they're painted into a corner to act. This is what's happening in several red states where the teachers have risen up. I don't think it's a good idea to wait until we're backed into a corner with nowhere else to go. But, as a colleague told me, I'm me. Not everyone is.

It's my job to be me, so I do it. It's your job to be you, and it might be your job to organize your colleagues to help fight that terrible principal. Alternatively, you could wait for someone else to do it. If that's your choice, I have to advise you to sit while you wait. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen next year, or it could never happen.

The only person you can really control is yourself.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Another Day, Another Scandal-Plagued Principal in Fun City

One of the great things about being a principal is that no matter what you do, NYC wants you. You read about these principals who do awful things, harass staff, and nothing happens to them until the city's on the hook for almost a million bucks in payoffs. Can you imagine what Campbell Brown, or whoever the reformies are using this week, would be ranting about if this were a teacher?

Nonetheless, principals can do pretty much whatever. Evidently, the only consequence is being sent to twiddle your thumbs over at Tweed. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Of course, not every principal is reassigned. I regularly hear tales of abuse, incompetence, cruelty and various mixtures up to all of the above.

The former principal of Automotive High School did not fare so well at that particular gig. Evidently, she had failing Regents scores changed to passing. She drove teachers from their jobs, and most didn't return anyway when they did the big rehiring thing they do in those "renewal" schools. It's funny how the city will determine a school is failing, blame the teachers, and let the principal stay on. Maybe they figure principals have nothing to do with progress or lack thereof. Maybe they don't want to pay them to shuffle papers in Tweed. Or maybe they have rabbis who look after them and make sure nothing bad happens.

This particular principal moved on to greener pastures. She scored a gig in Baldwin, Long Island, making 169K a year. While there, she zeroed in on crucial issues, like girls wearing short skirts or visible bra straps. She contended such clothing was "distracting to male staff members." I'm reminded of those religious guys who won't sit next to women on planes because it's evidently too much for them to restrain their animal urges.

Perhaps short skirts are distracting. On the other hand, this year I'm sitting in half a classroom, and that's even more distracting. I'd be perfectly happy to have every one of my female students wear short skirts if I could get a real classroom. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but it would be a lot easier for me to ignore their clothing than the fact that I can't give a test without having everyone and anyone cheat as much as they want. I have other colleagues working in trailers with no AC. I'll bet you they'd be OK with girls dressing how they wish if they could have it. In fact, you could argue that the students wearing the scantiest clothing are the brightest, given those conditions.

This principal also saw fit to name suspended students, along with their alleged infractions, in a newsletter she sent out. I find that remarkable. Full disclosure--I am not the most diplomatic person around. Nonetheless, I've been writing this blog since 2005 and the most I've ever revealed the names of my students, good, bad or indifferent, has been never. I'd argue that's common sense, and that even if it's the least common of all the senses, you have to follow it. In case that's not enough, it's also in violation of federal regulations.

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, strictly prohibits the disclosure of student records, including disciplinary decisions, except to those directly involved with the student’s education, said Joel Reidenberg, director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University.

So what do you do with a principal like that? If you're Mayor Bill de Blasio, or Chancellor Richard Carranza, or whichever of their operatives makes such decisions, you hire her back, but this time as an assistant principal. I don't actually know who made this decision. I can tell you with 100% certainty that neither of the principals I've worked with as chapter leader would have hired a person with a record like this.

The only bright spot here is that she makes less money than teachers at the top of the salary scale. I'm gonna go ahead and say that will be cold comfort to the poor souls who will have to work for her. Maybe she'll be on her best behavior, but who even wants to find out what that's like?

I'm sure if I did half of what this principal did I'd be sitting at a 3020a hearing, wondering whether or not I'd have a job next month.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Geniuses in Albany 1--ELLs 0

Yesterday I was sitting in an office trying to catch up. I was doing pretty well for a while. In fact, I planned to go ahead and expand my planning a few days into the future. Then a guidance counselor walked in with a young newcomer. She was looking for a translator since the newcomer could not hold a conversation in English.

We learned that this young woman had aced the test designed to measure her English. No ESL classes for her. The fact that she could not hold a conversation in English was neither here nor there. Go to that English class with a bunch of American-born native English speakers and do whatever they're doing. After all, speaking is not that important. We only do it maybe 20 or 30 times more frequently than we write. In the hallowed halls where the geniuses from Albany work they do much more writing. After all, it takes a lot to sit on your ass all day shooting memos to your subordinates.

My AP was not around. I had no idea where she was. I decided to take her to the principal. I wanted him to see the sort of kid Albany thought needed no help with English. Unfortunately his door was closed and he was doing Important Principal Stuff. You can never talk with principals when they're doing that, of course, so I turned elsewhere. Then I remembered the Top Secret place where I find my AP when she doesn't wish to be found. It's good to be the chapter leader. You learn everyone's deep dark secrets.

Once again I dragged the kid and her guidance counselor up the stairs. I have to give the counselor credit for allowing me to drag her all over the building. Not everyone is as patient as she is. I know I'm not. But she also knew there was something seriously wrong with this placement, and wanted to fix it. I was dispatched to find the girl's composition.

We looked at it, and evidently it used advanced constructions. I did not much like it myself, but what do I know? If the geniuses in Albany say writing one semi-coherent paragraph means you no longer need help with a language you've been trying to master for only a week, that should be good enough for anyone. "Where are we gonna place her?" asked my boss. She rattled off a bunch of course codes. I had no idea what they meant.

"I'll take her," I said.

So today, this newcomer will be in my advanced class. One of the questions I asked her, through a translator, was whether she had ever read a book in English. The answer was no. This further confounded me. How the hell can the geniuses from Albany think someone who's never read a book in English would feel at home in a high school English class?

We will remedy that in my class. While I was interrupted, I was warming up to write a lesson on chapter one of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, a beautiful book about a young woman coming into herself in Botswana. The thing I really love about this book is that it conveys a lot of complex ideas in relatively simple language. I think this young woman may hate me for a while, like all the students in that class, but will end up very proud she was able to get through an entire novel in English. At least I hope so.

I asked her why she didn't like her English class.

"Accountable talk," she said. "What is accountable talk?"

I'm not really sure. I see signs up saying, "I agree/ disagree with this because..." and other conversation prompts. Evidently it has something to do with giving reasons for things you say. I'm not at all sure that's trending in the United States these days, what with President Trump saying any goshdarn thing that comes into his brain, whether it makes sense or not.

"Don't worry," I told her. "In my class, we will never talk about accountable talk."

I figure if I need to know why a student says something, I can just ask. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

When Will We Have a President Who Doesn't Hate Us?

It's kind of remarkable, in this day and age, to read that we're actually spending less to support those of our students most in need. NYC alone is receiving 140 million less. How on earth do your rationalize that? I guess you could say that throwing money at schools is a mistake. Better to throw it at wars, I suppose, or on bombs. Those bombs don't grow on trees.

In 2006, when the decline began, GW Bush was President. GW was a terrible education president, president over a whole lot of nonsense based on test scores. The factor of poverty was ignored, because after all, Bill Gates decided to ignore it, and he has all that money. Instead, we allowed Gates to throw a little of his money into seed projects, and then a whole lot of communities, including NYC, were left to throw a ton of good money after bad. You know, we had all those school closings and the small schools that later closed themselves.

This was so trendy that our new best friend Andrew Cuomo came out demanding the death penalty for schools. This was remarkable in that his father, who from all indications was not insane, was famous for his opposition to the death penalty. (If you're a registered Democrat, you can register your dissatisfaction with our reptile governor by voting for Cynthia Nixon today. First thing, before I go to work, that's what I'm gonna do. NYC Educator further endorses Jumaane Williams and Zephyr Teachout.)

Of course, after GW Bush took up his new career of not being President, Barack Obama came in and continued GW's awful policies. Who can forget his execrable education secretary, Arne Duncan, telling the world that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans? Imagine that. A natural disaster. Almost two thousand dead. Over half the residents of New Orleans left. Unions were broken, public schools were closed, and the entire city was given to privatizers. That was good enough for Arne Duncan.

Now we've got Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. If you can even imagine this, DeVos is less qualified than Duncan. Why? Because Duncan actually held a few jobs before getting this one. DeVos believes in everything Duncan does, plus vouchers. Vouchers have been rejected by voters all over the country. That is why reformies are going with charters. They are, however, just another means to break public schools. That's why Betsy loves them.

In other news, Betsy hates union. She's shocked that she was unable to unilaterally impose a collective bargaining agreement. Of course, as someone who's never held a job before, perhaps she doesn't even know what a union is. After all, she was born rich, married richer, and has never had to bother with working, let alone working people. Who the hell do they think they are saying no to her, after she's bought some of the finest GOP politicians she could pay for?

DeVos is upset because she lost a suit to protect predatory student lenders. In fact, she's so angry, she's ignoring a judge's order to negotiate before making agreements, and is doing any goshdarn thing she feels like.  Because hey, what's the point of being rich if you can't do any goshdarn thing you feel like? She's unilaterally telling working people they can no longer telecommute. Hey, if Betsy DeVos has to show up to the office every now and again, you lowlifes who do this for salary rather than power can show up every last goshdarn minute.

And doing union business when you're actually at the workplace? Forget it. Let's make that as inconvenient as possible. DeVos would just as soon see us making minimum wage with no benefits whatsoever. Duncan was no better. He did more to actively break union than Betsy ever did. Now Arne's all over Twitter expressing outrage about Trump and the NRA. Just because he may have crawled out of someone else's pocket doesn't make him any less of a crook.

We are in crisis. We need to elect people who will help us. Cuomo wants to help us this week, but that's only because he's running against Donald Trump rather than his actual opponents. If corporate Democrats take over, expect him to become his lovable old self and trash us as an education monopoly.

It's very hard for me to understand how working people can vote for people, Democrat or Republican, who doesn't support them. I guess the easy thing would be to blame the teachers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How Do We Recruit Teachers of Color?

That's the question posed in this NY Times piece. There is a whole lot about how students respond better when their teachers look like them. Where are all those teachers of color, and why are so many teachers women? It won't do for me to just go to work tomorrow and ask my colleagues why they're women. Doubtless it has something to do with biology.

Actually teaching is traditionally a profession dominated by women, as is nursing. There really are not a whole lot of professions like that. There's no really easy way to say this, but we live in a sexist society, have done for years, and with Donald Trump President, I don't see that changing any time soon. There's a reason why our pay lags behind other professions, and there's a reason why a whole lot of states can't be bothered to pay us.

I used to go to MORE meetings, usually with a bunch of white people, and someone would get up and ask why there aren't any teachers of color. I don't know what to say to that. My work entails representing working teachers, not recruiting new ones. I'm not going door to door and asking people why they don't go into teaching. I hear quite a bit from teachers who say they don't want their children to go into it and be observed by Boy Wonder until they are sick to their stomachs. I understand that. I can imagine some arbitrator at Gold Street sentencing a teacher to Death by Danielson.

Honestly, who needs that? Who needs to be vilified in the press on a daily basis? Who needs to hear that the job we do is terrible, that we're failing the students, and that the only solution is to leave our public schools in the hands of white billionaires like Betsy DeVos, Bill Gates, and the Walton family, none of whom would send their kids to public schools on a bet? I have an idea. Maybe we should put the school systems in the hands of people of color, you know, people whose kids attend our schools. Or maybe we should make the gazillionaires, if they care so much, send their kids to public schools.

The Times does place this little tidbit way at the end of the article:

More qualified people would stay in the profession if the jobs had better pay, benefits and support. Nonwhite teachers in schools with poor resources are at particular risk of burning out.

Like most of the piece,  this seems to apply to everyone, not just people of color. I question why white teachers with poor resources would be inclined to hang around. I can tell you plenty do not. I fail to see why only teachers of color want better pay, benefits and support. I want better pay, benefits and support, and I'd very much like to meet the person who doesn't.

Non-teachers think this job is a walk in the park, you just get up in front of the class, make the kids do some homework and take tests, and go home.  Here's a fact the Times writer may not know--New York City has the highest class sizes in the state. The more kids you face, the less time you have to address their issues. If you can't or don't address their issues, your chances of being a successful teacher plummet. There are few things more soul-crushing than losing control of a class. I'd argue that would be awful for just about anyone.

Here's another thing the Times may not know. We have a society that provides crap jobs and little opportunity for a lot of our people. This places families in crisis. If you need money, you can't always put work off four years so you can go to college. In fact, you often can't handle the tuition, despite Andrew Cuomo's brilliant plan to cover 3.5% of those who attend state or city colleges., Maybe if we created more real opportunities, as opposed to talking points for our relentlessly ambitious governor, more people of color would take advantage. In fact, maybe if our governor funded our schools to the tune of the C4E law, there could be better pay, benefits and support for teachers.

Maybe that would do it. I haven't got a magic bullet, but I respectfully suggest that people who want a better or more diverse teaching force might refrain from treating us like crap. Let me further suggest that this begin at the Times Editorial Board, most of whom wouldn't know a good teacher if one were beating them over the head. In many respects, I couldn't blame that teacher at all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Corporal Punisment in Georgia--I Wouldn't Treat My Dog Like This

Of course I love my dog, so I don't hit him, ever. If he doesn't come when I ask him, he won't get a treat. He's very fond of treats. I may say, "No," and ignore him for a while. He doesn't like that very much. While I work at training him, he's not a machine with an on/ off switch and he doesn't always listen to me.

For example, when I ordered him to come yesterday, he knew it meant another trip out in the rain with the red raincoat he abhors. He sat like a statue. I picked him up, put the raincoat on him, and dragged him out. I didn't hit him. Even if I'd wanted to hit him, I had to respect his position. Outside, it was just as terrible as he imagined it would be.

In Georgia, though, The Georgia School of Innovation and the Classics has decided to reinstate paddling, which I understand is legal in 20 states. I'm kind of surprised it's legal anywhere, but a country that has made Donald Trump president is constantly full of surprises. (Of course it's a charter school, but I can't be sure whether they consider beating children to be "innovation" or "classic.")

I always think any teacher that hit my kid would be one dead teacher. I would likely not go out and kill the person, but I would use every legal measure at my disposal to make that teacher regret doing that. As far as I know paddling is illegal in NY State, and I'd have no reservations about seeing teacher who hit children fired.

I always think teaching is about somehow persuading kids that we have something to offer that they can actually use. It's pretty clear to me that English, which I teach, is useful to everyone in the United States each and every day. I think I have things easy in that regard. I can honestly say I use everything I teach virtually all the time. It's tougher to sell kids on other things.

For example, I have an advanced class right now. I expect to have them read a few novels, and I expect some percentage of them never to have done so. I'm gonna have to come up with a better rationale than, "If you don't read this book, I will hit you." I'm gonna have to find ways that the books I choose relate to their lives. I'm therefore going to have to choose books carefully. I'm sure teachers of other disciplines have their own ways.

Hitting kids, though, means you've run out of ideas. It's just the last thing you can possibly do. If that's the only trick you have left, I'd suggest you have few tricks indeed. To their marginal credit, the school is offering parents opt-out letters. You can have your kid suspended for five days rather than brutalized by the lunatics who run the school.

Given that choice, I'd rather have my kid suspended. Of course, a better choice would be to remove lunatics from running schools. That's a widespread issue that fails to merit sufficient attention anywhere, Every New York City teacher I know can attest to seeing lunatics in charge of departments, if not entire schools. Thus, you get ideas like these.

We are teachers. It is our job to very quickly assess situations and very quickly seek solutions. Thankfully, they don't always have to work. But we always have to try, The thing about hitting kids is it's just like hitting dogs. It makes them fearful and angry and it spills out some other way. You teach a kid (or a dog) violence and you beget violence elsewhere.

I wouldn't hit my kid, so I wouldn't hit yours either. I would quit rather than hit a kid. When I get very angry at students, I don't scream or yell or hit. I become very quiet and think of the best thing I can do to make this behavior highly inconvenient. Sometimes that's a tough job, because students can be very smart. You have to think very carefully when dealing with students who are very smart. You have to think things through further than they do. It's not easy.

When you hit kids, you've run out of ideas. You've given up on reason. And if you've given up on reason, why on earth would you want to be a teacher? Do you want to foster cynicism and violence? If that's your goal, there are probably better jobs. I'm thinking reality TV, but I'm sure you can come up with something.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Quest to Become an Administrator

One morning I walked into a department office and found three teachers. One was at a computer. Another was at a desk, eating a sandwich. A third was standing on a table. I found that a little odd. The person on the table, though, was not particularly happy. This was evident. I asked what the problem was.

"There's a MOUSE in the corner there. This office is INFESTED."

That didn't sound good at all. I said there was a custodial form that was available in the office downstairs. Fill it out, make a copy, and if nothing happened I'd bring it up in committee with the principal.

"I can't do that," the teacher said. Evidently, this teacher was in this committee, that committee, and some other committee as well. I didn't really understand why that was relevant. I mean, I'm on more committees than that person is, and I complain all the time.

So why are people on all these committees? Is it because they love the school and want to pitch in? I mean, that's what Danielson would say. It's not enough that you go to the meetings you're required to be at. You should go to some other meeting, or PD, or something. That would be viable evidence of your enthusiasm. It would not, of course, suggest that you only did it because you were trying to up your rating, and I must be deeply cynical to even imagine such a thing. No, being there is absolute proof you love being there.

On the other hand, you might argue that a concern for health and sanitary conditions shows you care as well. I could argue that dragging UFT in every year to inspect the trailers, so that the inevitable mold can be remediated, ought to get me Danielson points. I might argue that grieving the conditions in a room full of diesel fumes from the custodial workshop next door ought to get me Danielson points. I might argue that grieving the windowless rooms until some sort of adequate ventilation system was established should earn points as well.

Yet none of the above gets me credit. If I want credit I have to sit through some PD about why kids shouldn't be late to class. After all, how will I ever learn that kids shouldn't be late to class unless I sit through a PD about it? And how will I learn how to stop kids from being late unless I sit through a PD and have someone tell me about it? There is absolutely zero possibility I will work out that, or any other issue, in my feeble mind and come up with a solution.

And yet this other teacher, despite being on all those committees, could not write a report about a mouse in the office. A few months later, we were given a directive by the principal to document every instance of classroom participation. This was the result of some memo written by some random genius at Tweed saying we had to use a rubric or something, and that our memory of what happened in class was insufficient to document participation.

"How can I do that?" the teacher asked. "There is no way I can do that and also teach."

That, in fact, was my thought exactly. I told the teacher not to worry, and that I was doing something about it. What I did was file a paperwork complaint. We argued, basically, that this was extra paperwork we were never before required to do. This was ironic, because at the moment I was experimenting with a program called classroom dojo or something. I was, in fact, recording participation in real time. However, I was only able to do that because I had a co-teacher. When I was leading the class I'd hand over my laptop to the co-teacher and she'd record.

We won that paperwork complaint. The Tweed genius was overruled by someone above his pay grade, and teachers were allowed to record participation via memory. It's kind of remarkable how little some Tweedies know about what goes on in actual classrooms. If I don't know who participates, and who doesn't, it probably means I haven't been attending my own class. Or maybe I was asleep and not paying attention. Despite what I read in the local papers, I don't know a whole lot of teachers who sleep in their own classes.

Anyway, the teacher who would not report the mouse has moved on and is now an assistant principal. A cynic might question why this teacher was on all those committees, or why this person wouldn't report the mice that were clearly very usetting. So here's the question--was this teacher on all these committees to acquire the professional enrichment deemed so important by Charlotte Danielson? Or was this teacher, in fact, only doing this as a stepping stone to become an administrator?

Also, as an administrator, will this person report future mice in the new office? Or will this person ignore them? I can only suppose it will depend on whether reporting the mice or not will help this person to become principal. Do you want this person to become your principal?

Or is this person your principal already?

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Nope. They Begin With Great Teachers.

This is the CSA float from the Labor Day Parade. Here's a fact--the Labor Day Parade began with UFT. There is no doubt in my mind that we have more to do with great schools than administrators.

Don't get me wrong--there are great administrators. There are administrators for whom I have nothing but respect. This notwithstanding, I've seen quite a few who are cruel, who are small-minded, and who are extraordinarily vindictive. Sometimes their schools and departments are saved by teachers, parents, or students. Sometimes not.

Being an administrative leader is a huge job, and it's a job I would not want. Some administrators are good at some things, but not others. An administrator for whom I had great respect selected some of the best administrators I've ever seen. Alas, he also selected some of the worst. It's like there's no rhyme or reason. At least one of the terrible administrators he selected was reputed to be a good teacher. It's hard for me to imagine this person being a good teacher. To me, a good teacher has a quick mind, or is thoughtful, and this person most certainly was neither. I have students who'd think circles around this guy. (I love these students, but they are a lot of work.)

Teachers are busy around the clock. When I come in ridiculously early each morning, there are dozens of colleagues who've come in even more ridiculously early. I see social studies teachers huddled in a bookroom working on computers. All day long they're in that closet, prepping their classes. I don't think I spend as much time as they do, but I'm there early in the hopes I can get my work done before anyone finds me. I always find some way to finish, even if I can't explain just how.

And just for the record, we are brothers and sisters, we are union, and we also support one another. I get texts and emails all day long about more things than I can tell you. The first two days were real scorchers. The trailers were diabolical. I kept telling people to call the office and move the kids to the auditorium. No, I don't care if you're covering binomials. I don't even know what binomials are and it hasn't fundamentally affected my lifestyle.

Last week I helped a teacher in the trailer not only get a functional lock on the outside door, but also get a lock on the bathroom door so her students would no longer get locked inside. I helped five teachers file grievances. I helped a pregnant colleague get her entire program on one floor. I signed up every agency fee payer and every new teacher for our union.

I hear a lot about how the union sucks. The union makes bad endorsements. True.  The 2005 contract was an irredeemable piece of crap that we still pay for every single day. Also true. Nonetheless, the same union just negotiated six weeks of paid parental leave. Could it have been better? Of course. Is it a great step forward? Absolutely.

There are things we can do to make our union better. I know because I'm doing them. I became chapter leader of my school.  I ran for several union positions, and finally won one. I worked very hard to make that happen, and it was pretty much miraculous. This is what happens when we work together.

There are a lot of things going on in the UFT, all the time. You don't see them every day, but I do. During the Labor Day Parade, while I was marching, I was texting a union leader about an issue a member was having. This leader reached out to that member right at that moment. Here's the thing--we are the UFT. We are as active, or not, as we choose to be.

We need to take care of one another. We aren't going to win every battle. We aren't going to get rid of every crazy supervisor, because believe me, if they managed to find jobs in my school, they are an epidemic. But if we are not afraid, we can fight. If we are not afraid, we can win. We are role models. We owe it to our students to do what's right. We owe it to our students to make our jobs better. We owe it to our students to leave this job one they can aspire to.

Two of my former ELLs are now teachers in my building. I'm very proud of them. It's on us to improve our working conditions, and I'm reminded of this every time I look at these young women. It's on us to stand strong. It's on us to make change and to avoid letting grass grow beneath our feet. It's on us to create a better environment for our students and children. It's on us to make this job better for those who follow us.

I'll say just one more thing--CSA may think they're the leaders, but whither we go, they go too. Maybe more CSA members should support and help us. We will fight the bastards who gave us Janus, and we will win. If we didn't, CSA would most certainly be washed into the ocean right along with us, and when we faced draconian salary cuts and health fees, like they did in who knows how many union-hostile red states, they'd face them right along with us.

We lead. Where we lead to is up to us.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training--Highly Effective, or Just High?

A lot of members in my building were upset by an email saying there was mandatory sexual harassment training. However, it turns out it isn't sexual harassment training at all, but rather sexual harassment prevention training. So if, for example, you don't know anything about sexual harassment, you need not study it beforehand.

Here's what I saw when I tried to connect to it:

I had planned to take the thing and report back. But seeing that message, I decided the hell with it. Who knows what evil lurks in the DOE website? And who wants to find out firsthand? Not me.

This notwithstanding, it's a tough message to understand, and a lot of members asked me about it. I've put out feelers to the UFT about what "mandatory" really means. As far as I can tell, if you don't take the course, you will not receive the certificate that says you took the course. Thus, there will be one more piece of paper you'll never be able to hang on your wall. As far as I can tell, there is no other consequence, but you never know what Tweed will do. They don't think like us, you know.

Some of my colleagues are telling me I got the warning because I don't have a DOE laptop, but I don't know. I was on the DOE wifi when I saw it. I suppose I could wrestle my colleagues over one of the hard-wired computers in the office. Some of them look stronger than me, though. And who knows if they have martial arts training or whatever? In fact I carry this little laptop precisely so I won't need to do that. (I also carry it to utilize tech in my classroom, but none of the tech in my classroom works.  The DOE can't be bothered with that, let alone providing a classroom bigger than a closet.)

Let's forget about all the idiotic obstacles the DOE is throwing in my path for a moment. It doesn't take very much to dissuade me from doing things I don't really want to do. Nonetheless, what if I really needed it? Let's say Harvey Weinstein is my co-teacher. Does anyone really believe that a 45-minute online whatever is gonna turn him around?

The New York City Department of Education does, evidently. If only Harvey had sat for this webinar, or whatever the hell it is, none of this would've happened, or it would at least have come to a dead stop. This is kind of remarkable. People spend years in therapy to deal with their issues, but the DOE can write 45 minutes of something and cure them instantly. They are Highly Effective, simply because they are the sole arbiters of what is and is not Highly Effective.

Next on their list of Activities Designed to Save the World is diversity training. Once that happens, that teacher who stands up in the teacher cafe to sing Deutchland Uber Alles will never do it again. Those people who hate those other people will stop. Who cares if they've been mindless bigots since they were children? Once the DOE gets to show them a PowerPoint, prejudice and racism will be a thing of the past.

Obviously, like sexual harassment, bigotry is an issue. And obviously, we should address it. I'd venture, though, that these are issues that ought to be addressed on a much larger scale. This is particularly important when the President of the United States sees good people "on both sides" when one side is nazis. It's particularly important when our president is a self indulgent juvenile who thinks women are placed on earth for his amusement. It's particularly important when our government is so rampantly xenophobic it separates children from their parents, who are likely as not fleeing for their lives. It's particularly important when racist galoots from coast to coast feel empowered to spout their vitriol everywhere in the name of Making America Great Again.

I may be cynical, but I don't see how spending 45 minutes with the great minds who fight to keep class sizes above contractual limits is going to reverse negative attitudes. I don't hate people for their skin color, sex, nationality, or religion. Ask me what I think, though, when I say, "There are 57 oversized classes at Francis Lewis High School," and the lawyer across the table responds, "There are zero."

Ask me privately, please. For all I know, my students may be reading this blog.