Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Group Work, and the Surprising Story of an Assistant Principal Who Supports a Teacher

Charlotte Danielson loves her some group work, and pays a whole lot of attention to how students are grouped. You can't just group kids. You need reasons for doing it, and you gosh darn better get those kids together for a good reason. I'm a simple guy, and I can't help but notice my classes are dominated by Chinese speakers. What I generally try to do is find enough people who don't speak Chinese to place at least one in every group, and then hope that there might be some motivation for them to speak English. Sometimes I can't even do that.

Of course there are other ways to group. I recall a group I was in back when I was picking up my Master's degree. We had a course in testing, and we were a group of four. There were three women and me. One woman designed the test, I wrote the report, and another typed it up on her Commodore 64 computer. I had never seen a word processor before and I was amazed she could type and edit. I had to have one of those things, and it wasn't too long before I got one.

Our fourth member? She did nothing. The group consensus was that was what she did best. And it worked out pretty well for us, as we all got As. Of course in our classes it isn't so easy. If some kid is sitting around doing nothing, it's entirely possible some high-minded supervisor could blame the teacher. You didn't motivate that kid. Your lesson wasn't stimulating enough. Your DO NOW didn't make the kids jump and down enough, and that's why the kid isn't participating. Who knows?

But I spoke to a supervisor the other day who had a different idea. A teacher had complained about a number of group members who didn't participate, and this supervisor had a solution---place them all in the same group. The teacher followed this advice, and it didn't sit well with the kids in the group. They knew they would either have to do something or fail. This was not good, since several of them were not all that keen on that whole attendance thing.

Mondays, for example, are hell to come in.  How can you do that after a whole weekend of relaxing? It's a shock to the system. Tuesdays are almost the same thing, especially if you hadn't come in on Monday. Wednesday is Hump Day! Thursday is almost Friday. And Friday, well, that's almost the weekend, and who the hell wants to sit in some boring classroom where you can't even check your phone on Friday?

Now not all kids cut every day. Let's say you're one of the ones who didn't, and you just hope to not do any work in your class. Let's further imagine that you were unceremoniously tossed into the group of lazy folk. Where does that leave him when the cutters, you know, notice it's one of those off days?

Well, in this case, it landed him in the office of the assistant principal, where he lamented loudly that his partner didn't bring the display board. The display board! How can anyone possibly give a presentation without it?

The assistant principal told him that was no problem. Show me the work you did, and I will assess that only.

And José was supposed to bring a report! He didn't bring it!

Show me the work you did, and I will assess that only.

And also, we had a poster! Kenya was supposed to bring a poster, and she didn't even show up!

Show me the work you did, and I will assess that only.

Well, I don't know. I helped, you know. We talked about a lot of stuff...

Show me the work you did, and I will assess that only. If you haven't got any work, I can't give you credit. I will have to give you a zero for the project.

But there was no work. Will the student get away with doing nothing in the next class? Maybe, but not in this one, and not with this teacher.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Where Do We Go From Here?

I had an amazing adventure yesterday at the NYC Women's March with my brother ESL teacher/ UFT chapter leader Patrick James Walsh. We met early on, and wandered over to where we thought UFT would be. Usually UFT gives a t-shirt or something so that we can be seen and identified as a group, but for the first time in my memory that didn't happen. I certainly hope that wasn't part of the "Let's Not Name Trump" campaign. It's foolhardy for us to stand around and pretend, say, that it's Pence making decisions so we can just drop Trump's name from everything and that no one, therefore, will suspect we oppose him. Do we oppose him? Judging by leadership, who knows?

Patrick and I got stuck in a crowd and it got pretty scary pretty quickly. Forty-five minutes after the march was supposed to begin we were crammed in like sardines with no movement in sight. This looked to be potentially dangerous. Eventually, this being a women's march after all, we followed some brave women and spent maybe twenty minutes extricating ourselves from the crowd. We attributed these issues to bad planning, but in retrospect it's more likely because turnout was so massive. Even as we were no longer part of the directed march, the march was everywhere, on every street and avenue. Neither of us had ever seen anything like it in our lives.

Whatever else may have happened. I'm 100% sure Saturday was not a good day for the incredibly thin-skinned Donald J. Trump. Millions of people all over the world marched, and none were doing so to thank him for grabbing pussies, for offering to deport Muslims, for adopting anti-Semitic
slogans, or even for the ever-popular vilification of teachers and public schools. Upping his meds might be in order though I've seen little evidence he takes them  as needed, or even at all.

I am in awe of the volume and power of people who came out to send a message to this tyrant in training, and my sincere hope is that it continues both in volume and frequency. Nonetheless, while we have the quantity, we're going to have to make sure our message keeps up with quality. It's not entirely the fault of Donald Trump that he managed to take the White House. There are, of course, the swing state voters. And there's Putin and his wacky antics. There's that guy Comey, who saw fit to publicly bandy about unsubstantiated allegations during a Presidential campaign. There's Hillary herself and her decision to use that server, whatever that may or may not imply.

But the most important part of this last election, for me at least, was none of the above. The most important factor was our decision to run an underwhelming and uninspiring candidate, one whose
primary message was More of the Same. More of the same mediocre policy that ignored the needs of the American people. More of the "best we could do" nonsense that leaves millions of Americans without health care. More of the "Oh well," philosophy of shrugging your shoulders when Americans can't make a living or send their kids to college.

Even now, the same people who called me crazy for supporting Bernie Sanders muster the audacity to lecture me about 1972. How long will those folks heed the lesson of 1972 without learning the lesson to 2016--that the same warmed-over nonsense no longer flies in this country? While Hillary Clinton is not as flawed as Donald Trump, she was simply no prize. Americans don't want someone to be President simply because she doesn't foam at the mouth when she speaks. We want a leader who will help us leave a
better country for our children. We want someone bold and inspiring. A lot of American's mistook Donald Trump for that person, and a lot of Americans will soon suffer from buyer's remorse if they haven't begun already.

Our own United Federation of Teachers is a microcosm of America. Our leadership still fumbles around, terrified they'll offend people by the mention of the Trump name. This, even as millions of American's rose up against him. They had no message for this march, nothing to distinguish us. When we, the teachers, stand up and demand improvements they tell us we improved things five decades ago and that ought to be good enough for anyone. They give us messages so mixed that we have no idea what they stand for, what they stood for, or what they plan for the future. They criticize top-down thinking and demand transparency from others, but operate in complete secrecy and share little or nothing. They know better than us, and it's our job to sit down, shut up, and follow.

And in that, they embody the very worst qualities of both Clinton and Trump. We need to do better all around, for both our union and our country.

Friday, January 20, 2017

DA Takeaway January 2017

This month's DA was notable for several reasons. One is the positive campaign Mulgrew intends to run. It's a great idea, but I'm skeptical because it's only words. I regularly approach the Executive Board with the argument that it is us who represent New York City's children, and it is us who should stand for them. They roll their eyes. Last month they rejected a class size resolution that certainly had input from public school parents. They did this on the basis of our having sacrificed to place class sizes in the contract.

That's an absurd assertion, since it happened 50 years ago, and we still haven't shut the holes in it, which are so large you can drive a Mac truck through them. Maybe we'll get that the "plans of action" cannot be used indefinitely, and maybe the new negotiation process will help a little, but the ultimate decision is with the arbitrators. For my money, they don't give a crap about the real issues of class size and until they do, there's no evidence UFT does either.

As to the DA itself, it was remarkable that James Eterno could be treated with such contempt by leadership. James stood and asked that we work toward a minimum of two rather than four observations, and also mentioned that many state locals work under that understanding. He cited discontent among rank and file with the number, and my experience suggests that he's dead on. He also cited the fact that his wife Camille is currently being railroaded over at Humanities and the Arts Magnet High School. He concluded by asking that the person who speak against his suggestion be someone who is actually rated by the system.

UFT Secretary Howard Schoor got up and angrily told James he doesn't get to pick who speaks against his motion. Schoor, who is not rated by Danielson, who has never been rated by Danielson, and who will almost certainly never be rated by Danielson then proceeded to signal the Unity Loyalty Oath Signers that they were to vote this proposal down. Of course he couldn't just do that; he had to also give an argument.

Here's the argument--There are fewer people rated ineffective now than were rated unsatisfactory under the previous system. Here's what's wrong with that argument. For one thing, it treats those rated developing as though they were rated satisfactory. As someone who's spent a lot of time meeting with, representing, and counseling people rated developing, I can say with 100% certainty that's not how they feel. Sure they don't face the consequences of an ineffective, but that's cold comfort for them.

Another problem with that argument is, as always, leadership conveniently forgets that two ineffectives means the burden of proof is on the teacher at 3020a. That's a hell of a mountain to climb, and no one had to do it before the advent of this system. But the very worst problem with Schoor's argument is this--No matter how few people are rated ineffective, there is no argument whatsoever you can possibly make that will make a single one of them feel better. I do not tell people who are rated ineffective, "Well, it happened to far fewer people so you might as well feel good about it." That would be, and is, idiotic. Remember that Schoor made this statement directly to James, whose wife, again, is currently facing these ratings and being raked over the coals by Danielson.

But the overarching problem with the argument is that making it at all underlines just how out of touch leadership is with membership. It's amazing that people who are not even touched by Danielson can muster the audacity to lecture those of us who are. And this imperious and preposterous attitude bodes ill for the next coming of Friedrichs.

And despite all this, that was not the most striking thing I heard at the DA. The most amazing thing I heard was the statement by Michael Mulgrew that UFT asked for two observations. This shocked me for several reasons. One is that I've been to chapter leader training and the Executive Board, and I've heard about the new system from the best experts the UFT had to offer. The argument I heard, not once but several times, was that more observations give teachers a better chance of doing well. I also heard that CSA, the principals' union, wanted fewer observations.

Now if UFT had asked for two and was rebuffed in negotiations by the DOE, why the hell didn't they just say so? And why on earth would anyone give James Eterno a nasty answer to a very real problem when they could've just said, "You know, we wanted that too, but we couldn't get the DOE to agree to it." If that's the truth, it's a hell of a better argument than any I heard, and I've heard the arguments on at least three occasions, including the DA.

So what's the truth? Is Mulgrew telling it? And if so, why don't all of them tell it? Why haven't they told us before? Have they been lying to us to make us think that they controlled negotiations better than they did? If so, doesn't that suggest that's what they do as a matter of course?

With leadership like that, is it any wonder we're facing DeVos, ready to dismantle public education but ever vigilant about protecting us from grizzly bears? It's amazing that we had to listen to Mulgrew talk so much about transparency, and that leadership nonetheless sits up there on that 14th floor posturing as though they're on Mount Olympus, talking down to all us non-deities below.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

UFT Delegate Assembly--You Get FOUR Observations, Not Two, and No You CAN'T Hear That From Anyone Who Actually Gets Observed

President’s Report:

Michael Mulgrew
—holds moment of silence for first year teacher in horrible traffic accident.

National—speaks of attack campaign. Doesn’t know what to say about hearing. Asks if we brought guns to ward off grizzlies. DeVos doesn’t know much, particularly on special ed, but supports guns in schools. Says we must have fun with it or it’s depressing like Cathie Black with fangs and more money.

Normally would report on state budget process, but must focus on DC. Said we would support people for both DC and NY marches. Buses to DC are full. Still don’t know where they can drop people off, believe it’s being done on purpose. Want more people at march than inauguration. Over 1,000 people with UFT on Saturday. Rally point 47 between 2 and 3. Will rally and march to Trump Tower.

State—Said our strategy is build defense around our state and attack what happens in DC. In Albany I met with leaders to talk about possibilities for DC. Said we have research on Michigan and Indiana, bad situation, open market, no accountability, transparency, or regulations. Cannot close schools because they aren’t educating, only if they don’t make money. That is basis for state policy. Destroyed public school system except for special ed. Children are dollar amounts, special ed. students cost too much for voucher schools.

Albany looking at business as usual, but we went back. We reached out to state of Michigan. We brought their people to Albany. Quite a few volunteered. We chose policy person and parent leader. We basically had a breakfast conversation with legislature. They told people that they first thought choice was a good idea. Four or five years later they realized it was market choice, not parent choice. Political money killed any chances of relief, schools are now among worst in country, privatizers got them all. Once they lost 15% in public school was tipping point and they started to fail. Cyber schools opened up and things got even worse.

These are not conspiracy theories. Charters are just a tool to do what they want to do, to make education an open for-profit marketplace with no accountability. Person who pushed Michigan agenda will probably be next Secretary of Education. DeVos focused on making money, not educating kids. We will push transparency in Albany to keep them in line.

Michigan rep said they didn’t know that what they were pushing wasn’t actually public education. NY must protect against such activity.

Hearing last night—texts and emails all day about grizzly bears. Says technically one could come after a school. We will get cartoons about this. Last night we launched Thunderclap 1600 members and we need more. Reached many more. Tweeting during hearing was impressive.

Pundits say she didn’t do well because staff didn’t prepare her, and unions made Democrats ask tough questions. This is work AFT has been doing for last month. Didn’t know it would be so easy. Didn’t think she wouldn’t know difference between growth and proficiency. Will probably just label it fake news, which they say about everything.

We have to make a positive campaign, and it can’t just be NYC. We need to get people to stand up and fight, not just hope nothing bad happens. Stand up for your school. We have to push this.

State budget—will be details we don’t like. Starting base for education not to bad, but not where we want it. Governor will be tested, as he’s being our friend right now. We will ask him to protect it. Glad he’s keeping millionaire’s tax. We pushed for that. We must support that. Are other revenue ideas. We need to see proposals from governor and legislature. Senate will have a lot of charter stuff. Eva had rally today. Heavy duty production. Will want space money and rent because she’s broke.

Education—idea is to push through and make moratorium permanent. Right now they won’t focus, much infighting on governmental affairs. Lobby Day March 14th.

Since last DA, new evaluation system. Heard it was end of world, but said it was alright. Amy Arundell and Jackie Bennet trained 800 CLs. How do you like matrix now? You love it. We didn’t get away with anything, but advocated for fair system. Student learning measures not nailed down, moving toward them that aren’t test based so we build in safety nets. People need to feel someone’s watching them. We don’t want change that will screw us or our kids. We need to know which changes make sense and which don’t.

How did principals react? Bad day, just say matrix. My kids learn, you lose.

There are not more observations. If you’re HE or E you have more choices for less. Intervisitation not observation. Will it be bad word later? We’ll see. To learn, better other people come in.

Danielson equal to 4 letter word. Charlotte didn’t intend it this way. But we have to own this. Ask principal to work out intervisitation policy. No paperwork. We have 100 schools with resolved paperwork issues. You have to file.

Chalkbeat wants to know if Renewal program is failure. Lots of people want to focus on failure. Why do some work and some don’t? We need a plan, everyone to understand it, we need to collaborate and move forward. Schools were losing 25% students, 60% staff, but other Renewal schools where people want to get in. Principal autonomy should be gone. We need teacher autonomy. We need to design and implement our lessons, but admin has right to say we want things differently.

We need DOE to overlook admin when kids and staff leave. We don’t need this with DC environment. Paperwork committee directed principal to do something, and DOE won’t make her do it. We are in arbitration. Principals work for DOE.

Positive campaign—#PublicSchoolProud 2017. Thanks team for work it’s done. Celebrating neighborhood schools. Honoring educators, students and parents. Want campaign transferable. Says people will express freedoms and creativity. We can get buttons, bumper stickers. People love neighborhood schools. That’s what public wants, except millionaires.

We want strong neighborhood schools, accessible to all. Illustrate joys of teaching and learning.

Bumper sticker—show your love for public schools. That is our vision. Asks us to talk about classrooms and kids. Talk about projects, how students inspire you, why teaching is important, and how you make a difference. Talk about our students, why they love their schools, how they’ve surmounted challenges. Says hands around schools photo gallery was thousands.

Says nothing is written in stone, these ideas can change, we hope you will change them. Wants hearts to show why kids love school, school spirit rallies, videos. Get school community involved. Sign up for campaign on UFT website, discuss within school, share stories with UFT.

Want to make this model for AFT, build grassroots groundswell up, get people off of floors where they are worrying about what will happen to them.

Shows video—Attack on Devos, never spent time in classroom or taught, billionaire, not ed. experience or school admin, kids never went to public schools. Applause—video made by CL.

People in Michigan said don’t let what happened her happen in NY. They influenced with simple messages, then used might and money and it was too late. Says UFT goes all out in this campaign and shares across country to win this war. Calls for resolution. Moves to suspend rules. Passes.

Motion—Mulgrew says his report has motivated it. I have not even seen motion. Being passed out, Resolution to support UFT Public School Proud Campaign. UFT refuses to give in to privatization, for-profit charters, and vouchers. Quotes Diane Ravitch. Unopposed. End of Report. 5: 18

LeRoy Barr—Women’s March—buses full, waiting list. Emails on DC and NY tonight.

UFT Black History Month, next month, three films. Chisolm, 13th, Rising from the Rails. Discussions to follow. Open to non-UFT.

National school counseling week, February, Guidance counselors conference, High school awards, next DA February 8th.

Mulgrew—Paras aren’t supposed to do lunchroom duty. Principal’s weekly says unless it’s on IEP that child needs para, lunchroom duty is off for paras, who get duty-free lunch.


Retired teacher—HS often not neighborhood schools. need other phrase.

Mulgrew—Most people believe HS neighborhood schools, will take under consideration.

CL—I took teachers to PROSE seminar—PROSE doesn’t mean contract changes, but school is collaborative. If school has great idea DOE will let you try it. Why can’t everyone be collaborative? My principal is recovering dictator, now doesn’t send memo unless I’ve seen it. How do we get to point where we can talk that way about all principals? I’d leave if I worked in some schools.

—political implications, more schools with improper leadership, no coffee cutter model. Good principals believe in respect. When that’s not case, principal shouldn’t be in position. We complain about how teachers are trained, but isolation is not cooperation, and doesn’t make good principal. We know difference between friction and bad management. As long as we need lawyers, system not being run properly. We should have good teachers rise through ranks.

CL—What was your feeling in bipartisan reaction to Michigan people in Albany?

—Was bipartisan audience. We asked folks from very small regions of state. They heard it because both parties always talk about public schools. Charters came from Democratic party. We realized there were bad players and educated folks. Bloomberg made people angry. Charter industry full of privateers. Dumped money into state races. Hope something good comes.

Delegate—Evaluation system—best I’ve seen in 20 years was s and u, why can’t we go back.

Mulgrew—principal had total control. Who wants to go back? I don’t believe in unfettered control based one whether principal likes you or not. People who had problems don’t like it. Since we started using new system fewer teachers rated badly. We can push back on morons who talk about testing. We are point A to point B, and now looking at growth.

CL—Principal on record at safety meeting we don’t need SAVE room. NYS says all schools need them.

Mulgrew—We will have people at your school. Principal doesn’t get to reject regulation. Must be plans around SAVE rooms. Implemented properly makes sure classroom process not impeded.


Mike SchirtzerMORE—For next month’s agenda—Resolution in support of immigrant New Yorkers. Body approved immigration liaison, for those of us with undocumented students, they will have rough day Friday, will get worse. These are our kids. You’ve seen students and family members at a loss, so this is personal. We want like Portland and SF, to lobby chancellor to do programs and discussions. Even radio uses term illegal immigrant, no such thing as illegal human being. Want to protect students and want DOE to protect student data. Want DOE campuses to be safe zones. We want to do all we can to protect students.

LeRoy Barr
—Rises to speak against. Over months have had conversations and voted to support our fight for immigrant students. Have already discussed immigrant liaisons in every school. Want to know what type of info we will give. Have done some of this. We have to be careful about words like every. Have implications. We will work with whoever brought this forward to find things we can agree upon but please vote down.

Resolution does not pass.

James EternoMORE—Asks because state law mandates two observations, asks UFT demand 2 observations for most teachers. Teacher observation process broken beyond repair, used as scare tactic. People petrified of drive by observations with cookie cutter rubrics used to bludgeon teachers. Vast majority of us learn nothing from them and they are waste of time. Most NY teacher unions settled on 2 observation minimums. This year we went with four, Next year we should go with two, which will make teachers and sane admin happy. Argument is more makes them do their job, but reality is they get better at it. My wife has been under relentless attack but they learn and do better. Why give them that. We could just put in clause that 2 is minimum and more for teachers with particular needs. This would make them do it right. Also Friedrichs 2 is coming. Union dues won’t be mandatory. We can show our members we’re looking for what they want. Asks speaker against be someone who is evaluated under Danielson.

Howie SchoorYou don’t get to pick who speaks against it. 2 is not mandate but minimum. We’ve been pretty successful. Before this we had 3% U. Was upheld. We don’t have that anymore because principals have to do some work. Fewer than 1% rated ineffective. We think this model even better because of the matrix. We will see at end of year or two. Urge you to vote no.

—We tried to get two.

Resolution against school vouchers—

passes unanimously

Rich Mantel
—Resolution against DeVos

passes unanimously

Sterling Roberson—Resolution for creation of cafes for UFT members in every school—

Amendment—delegate adult ed.—Let’s also look for one room dedicated to adult ed. classes taught by adult ed. chapter teachers.

Gregg Lundahl—These are two different things..

Mulgrew calls him out of order.

Dave Pecoraro
—not germane, and we need to extend debate. 6:02.

Extends to end of reso.

Mulgrew says he can rule it isn’t germane, and does.

Point of order—Isn’t it true there is already an order from DOE that there is supposed to be a lounge for only teachers, but that cafe aspect is not a law from DOE?

—don’t believe it’s true, will research, but cafe is not.

Resolution passes.

Time for raffle.

Downsides of Democracy

Donald Trump is about to become President of the United States, and that wouldn't be possible in a democracy. First of all, the guy actually lost by almost three million votes. Second, his agenda doesn't fly with most of the American people, including a whole lot who voted for him. And with more people voting for Democrats in the Senate than Republicans, he just wouldn't be able to enact his agenda if some votes weren't worth more than others.

A majority of Americans want health care for all. A majority of Americans want college to be affordable. A majority of Americans want a vibrant middle class and a society in which people who work can actually support themselves. But Donald Trump and the GOP think people should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, whatever the hell bootstraps are, and make do with the millions of dollars they inherit from their Daddies, as Trump did, or with whatever they can steal while in office, and everyone else can go to hell.

In the UFT, the system is similar in that democracy is kind of frowned upon. I sit on the UFT Executive Board, elected by the high school teachers along with six of my colleagues. And yet James Eterno, who the high school teachers selected as Vice President, is sitting home watching his two kids. Now there's nothing wrong with watching kids. In fact I've met his kids and they are lovely. But why isn't James representing us at AdCom, and why isn't anyone representing us ad AdCom?

It's the system, don't you know. Once in the eighties, Mike Shulman of New Action won the election for high school VP, and that was unacceptable. The only thing to do was contest the election and hold it again in order to get the result demanded by leadership. Well, the second time they did it, not only did he win again, but he also won by a higher margin. Therefore they did the only thing they could, which was rig the vote. Once Shulman was gone and they controlled everything once again, they changed the rules so that elementary teachers, retirees and nurses could help select the High School VP. Voila! No more Mike Shulman, and no James Eterno, ever.

So now there's something called Team High School that doesn't have to bother to actually represent the majority of high school teachers. Consult with elected representatives? Nah. Why bother? After all, are they gonna stand up and do whatever is asked of them by leadership? Probably not. For one thing, the UFT high school reps haven't signed loyalty oaths and won't stand for whatever they're told, like mayoral control, charter schools, junk science ratings, and substandard contracts.

Here's what they stand for--When the high school Executive Board reps got in, they pushed for a resolution against abusive administrators. Alas, that was not acceptable to leadership, which likened it to a scatter gun and stated that administrators were represented by union and therefore deserved to be respected. Oddly, when teachers are brought up on false or ridiculous charges, the administrators bringing said charges never seem to say, "Gee, they're represented by union like me. Maybe I shouldn't place letters in their files or try to fire them for no reason."

So we're nicer than they are. And when we try to enforce existing class size regulations on our contract, we're told we've sacrificed pay to get them there. That's an interesting point, given it happened fifty years ago and most of us were in diapers if even alive at that time. More interesting is the fact that the resolution didn't ask for anything more than enforcing the UFT contract and state law.

Then there was a resolution that we look closely at the Netflix documentary 13th and examine the effect that has on Americans of color in the United States. Though most at the Executive Board hadn't even seen the documentary, that was voted down. They weren't even able to honor the modest request of placing an article about it in NY Teacher.

It's important, if you aren't going to do the whole democracy thing, to marginalize people who don't share your agenda. Thus Bernie supporters are wild-eyed lunatics, Hillary supporters can go to hell, and 20,000 high school teachers, more than the entire Philadelphia teacher union, should shut up and sit down.

After all, we're gonna do another round of Union Loud and Proud, which seems to entail placing a logo on UFT email, and that oughta be good enough for anyone.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Part 154 Police Visit Our School

I've written in the past about Part 154, the newly revised regulation that effectively cuts direct English instruction and reduces ESL teachers to support staff for teachers of other subjects. In New York State, learning the English language is subordinate to mastering things on which you can be tested. Therefore, in the same time American-born students are studying Macbeth, ESL teachers are supposed to stand around and make sure students who don't understand English acquire the language via studying a form of it no one uses anymore.

Last year, the state was rather benign about enforcement. This was a good thing, because it was a huge stinking mess. Small schools with one ESL teacher would expect said teacher to be everywhere, teaching everything. As you can imagine, that's not a task that can be easily accomplished. What actually happened was that these teachers ran around like headless chickens accomplishing little or nothing. That's too bad because on this astral plane, it's actually kind of important to learn the prevalent language of the country in which you reside.

I know of other small schools in which the ESL teacher is treated as an annoyance. There's the social studies teacher, teaching about the Spanish American War, and that pesky ESL teacher is always interrupting, handing the ELLs vocabulary sheets and stuff. How are they supposed to pay attention to the lesson? How are they supposed to grasp what the social studies teacher is offering when the other teacher is continually interrupting? And how are they supposed to teach not only the subject, but also the language, when newcomers have the same 40 minutes as American-born kids to learn in?

On the other hand, I work in a large school. Aside from the issue of concurrently teaching the subject and basic English, the demands of Part 154 are equally impossible there as in any setting. There are a whole lot of things that just don't make any sense. For example, students are not allowed to be more than one grade apart, so it's virtually impossible to make up classes based on language level rather than grade level. You can, of course, run one section of 4 students and another of 44 students. While that might not make sense to any teacher or administrator who hasn't eaten LSD for breakfast, rules are rules.

The geniuses at Tweed, of course, have the answer. What you do, you see, is you hang up bulletin boards with student work. Also, you make sure a rubric is attached. You see how that fixes everything? Also, you make sure there is a library in the back of the classroom. You also make sure that every ESL teacher does all this stuff, because of course they have nothing else to do. This helps everything. Those are just a few things I noticed in 23 pages of rubrics and demands the DOE helpfully sent us last week.

To further help us, they're gonna visit us six times this year and rate us on said rubrics. That's great. Because just last week, a whole lot of UFT members were approaching me and saying, "Hey, you know what? I don't feel enough pressure on myself as a teacher. I'm just not being micromanaged enough." So naturally, we're all glad the New York City Department of Education, which knows absolutely everything, is coming around with a ponderous and detailed document that no one has ever seen before and demanding we do absolutely everything on it. Because a day without rubrics is like a day without sunshine.

I guess if I were an effective teacher I'd make up 23 pages of rubrics for my students and demand they tow the line. Instead, I've been limiting my focus every day trying to make them learn English so they can, you know, communicate, have lives, and maybe be happy. The truth is I have never seen any of those goals on any rubric detailing college and career readiness, so they must be frivolous and unnecessary. Only the NYC Department of Education, which actually has a PowerPoint somewhere that says acquisition of English is strictly for the purpose of excelling in academic subjects, has the answers. Otherwise, why would they be in those air-conditioned offices in Tweed while we just hang around having big fun in classrooms?

Me, I'm just glad they're coming. I know my colleagues are delighted. Like all teachers, we haven't got enough pressure on us. Being visited and judged six times by people wielding an incomprehensible rubric designed by a bunch of bureaucrats with no idea what we actually do, or how impossible it is to meet their regulations, is just what we need to keep us on our toes. And naturally, as our jobs are so breezy and easy, we have plenty of time to sit around and incorporate their demands into what we do each and every day. Evidently, the DOE thinks we sit around each day and wait for them to tell us what to do, so they are performing a great service by swooping down like the Spanish Inquisition.

The Sword of Damocles that is the APPR system isn't enough. The huge exodus of new teachers isn't enough either. So lets focus on one single department and support them six full days. Let's amp up the observations and judge the teachers on not one, but rather two distinct rubrics. Because Danielson, while it's on par with the Ten Commandments and never to be questioned, cannot truly assess quality even though it assesses quality perfectly.

Oversized classes? Not our problem. Kids never been to school in their first language? Too bad for you. School at 214% capacity? Deal with it. We're from the Department of Education and we're here to help.

Monday, January 16, 2017

MLK Was a Strong Proponent of Union--Let's Honor His Memory

AFL-CIO has an entire section devoted to Martin Luther King Jr. and his ties to organized labor. Make no mistake, he would be horrified by what's going on in the United States today. While King is largely remembered for his battle for civil rights, it's less widely known that said battle included raising all boats via a unionized work force.

I have a lot of disagreements with union leadership about how the UFT is run, but one thing I hope I have in common is a strong and unyielding belief that we are stronger when we stand together. I look at our enemies, people like Michael Bloomberg and Donald Trump, people who'd have us fend for ourselves against huge corporations, and I know our best bet is to stand strong.

Trump knows it too, which is why he believes in the misleadingly named Right to Work nonsense. He knows human nature often suggests the path of least resistance, which is keeping your union dues in your pocket and letting someone else do the work. In fact, that's a huge part of our own union's issue. Even as we all pay into union, we are plagued by the twin menaces fear and apathy. I understand fear. After all, I've been watching Andrew Cuomo bloviate for years about how awful we are and how he couldn't wait to fire us. I've seen him refer to his own programs as "baloney" because not enough teachers were on the unemployment line. I don't trust anything he's had his paws on, including the state APPR system.

Apathy is something else. We are quite guilty of it, and though though UFT voting has risen to 24 from 17%, we're still nothing less than a disgrace. MLK believed in people taking a stand and so do I. As long as we're hiding in the bushes our voices will not be heard. MLK's fight was not for any one group, but rather for all of us. When some of us are oppressed, all of us are oppressed.

It's pretty sad that we're facing a President, a Senate, a Congress, and soon a Supreme Court that hasn't got our interests at heart. But MLK didn't give up against overwhelming odds and that's why we remember him. We can't allow Trump and his flunkies to move us back without a fight.

Let's honor MLK's memory. Let's not watch the grass grow under our feet. Let's stop being afraid of anything but our own apathy. MLK would want us to stand against the execrable Donald Trump and his band of thugs. Let's do so. Let's honor his memory not only today, but also next Saturday. Find your warmest winter coat and meet me, meet MORE, and meet the UFT at 10:30 AM at 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on 47th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenue.

In fact, King was in Memphis to address and stand up for the Sanitation Workers when he was assassinated. Let's go to Manhattan, take our own stand, and follow in MLK's footsteps. Let's stop Donald Trump and the morally bankrupt GOP from moving us backward.

Will I see you there?

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my piece on class sizes and what UFT and DOE do about them in today's Daily News.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A Breakthrough for ATRs?

It's kind of remarkable to read a piece like this that may perhaps give hope to members trapped in the purgatory we call the Absent Teacher Reserve. Randy Asher, principal of Brooklyn Tech actually has a job trying to shrink the Absent Teacher Reserve. What really caught my eye was this:

“Teachers are the heart and the soul of the program,” said Asher, 44, who’s assuming the newly created position of senior adviser for talent management. “They’re on the front lines and they’re with students every day. This is about making the right matches and finding the right people for schools.”

That's not your typical teachers suck and must be fired comment. While only time will tell, it sounds like this principal is looking to actually, you know, put teachers to work. That's always been the best way to resolve this issue. It also seems that Asher has actually hired people from the ATR. While that in itself doesn't guarantee results, it appears he doesn't suffer from the anti-ATR prejudice I often see in the papers.

Obviously, the very best solution to the problem of the ATR is to simply get everyone teaching again. That's not possible since the 2005 contract jettisoned placement based on seniority and made principals lords of all they surveyed. Nonetheless, with someone in charge who may really wish to put ATR teachers in classrooms again, we could see better results.

There is already an incentive for schools to hire ATR teachers, but it clearly must not have worked well enough. I also question the number of 981 ATR teachers since it doesn't include teachers who are provisionally placed. When you consider the fact that any school with provisionally placed teachers turned down the chance to have the city pay100% of their salaries this year, it's likely close to all of them will end up in the ATR at year's end. So 981 isn't an accurate representation at all.

I work in a school that hires ATR teachers. There are at least three former ATR teachers, permanently assigned, in my department alone. But I'm sure there are a lot of places where they don't stand a chance. I read and hear stories about biased administrators who won't give them a chance on a regular basis. And it's not just administrators. I hear about teachers, even chapter leaders, failing to give a fair shake to ATR teachers.

I worked at John Adams High School for about seven years. It's clear to me that, if I hadn't transferred out via an old UFT seniority plan, I'd probably be an ATR myself. It's important to note that this was totally a matter of chance. It's kind of like the whole nonsense about "failing schools." The only thing they have in common is high percentages of poverty, learning disabilities and ELLS. You may as well call schools failing and make teachers ATRs based on their zip codes.

Maybe I'm crazy to harbor any optimism whatsoever about Asher. Just because his words sound reasonable doesn't mean he is. I'm sure you don't have to be a genius to guide Brooklyn Tech into success, what with 100% of its students being selected based on a placement test. But I very much like that he credits us for what we actually do. I'd have expected someone in his position to be talking about firing people. He talks about placing people.

Let's hope he walks the walk.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Only Thing Worse than a Two-Party System

A two-party system has been problematic for the United States. We were particularly hurt by it this year, and will feel its effects for at least four years to come. I didn't think there was anyone worse than GW Bush, but American ingenuity is and always has been unlimited, and we've managed to find someone.

It was pretty frustrating to see a brilliant candidate like Bernie Sanders fight a David and Goliath battle against a preordained candidate like Hillary Clinton. A big reason was that we'd become accustomed to Democrats who didn't really stand for working people and gave us valuable lip service instead.

Health care for all? A pipe dream. Unionized labor? Not necessarily bad, but we support non-unionized charters and Barack Obama could never find shoes comfortable enough to take a stand in Wisconsin, let alone anywhere else. A living wage? Maybe we'll compromise and give you a higher non-living wage. College education for all? Maybe Donald Trump will send Ivanka to Queens College, so forget it.

So what do we get? Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. With that menu, I chose Hillary Clinton, though I had very strong reservations about her. I don't regret it because I'm proud to be among the near 3-million votes she got over Big Orange. Trump's pathological lies and execrable bigotry put me off big time. His victory put me off even more.

As frustrating as that is, it's just as frustrating facing a union controlled by only UFT Unity. Now it wouldn't be so bad if they were out there fighting for us, but I don't get that feeling at all. We've given in so many times, on so many bad ideas, that I wonder whether leadership knows the difference. It's hard to forget, for example, that the only time I've ever seen Michael Mulgrew fighting mad was when he was defending Common Core and offering to punch all our faces out.  But that's the tip of the iceberg.

The iceberg itself is full of mayoral control, which we endorsed for Mayor Mike both before and after he showed himself as our blood enemy. There are the Green Dot Charters that Randi brought to the Big Apple, partnering UFT with Steve Barr after he snookered LA teachers but good. And who can forget the 2005 contract that not only sent seniority placement the way of the dinosaur, but also gave us the Absent Teacher Reserve, the one with which we're still grappling now.

But they're always right. It doesn't matter what they do. When they win something, it's a victory. When they lose something, it's another victory. When they support Hillary, they tell us how smart they are. In fact, they're still defending that decision, despite the massive and ruinous consequences that will rain upon us in the coming months. They never do anything wrong. They never have and they never will. As long as you're willing to accept that, you can sign an oath and join the team.

Here's the thing, though. The team is losing on a massive scale, The ship is sinking and leadership is still telling us how clever they are. When we ask what on earth we're gonna do about this they tell us there's a new loud and proud campaign--more of the same. It's very hard to tell an entrenched and patronage powered bureaucracy that we need to actually organize in ways that haven't been attempted in decades, ways they've not seen in their professional lives.

But the only thing really worse than a two party system is a one-party system, and as long as the Prime Directive remains perpetuating the system, the smart money is on massive and crushing losses the likes of which we've never known before.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

UFT--No Rank and File Voice in Evaluation System

Like a lot of people reading this, I'm in the classroom every day. I also talk to teachers every day, both online and in person. So far, not one single teacher has expressed happiness about the new evaluation system, not this iteration, not the last one, and not the first one either. In fact, the only place I hear enthusiasm expressed over APPR is at UFT meetings, except for the ones at my school.

Inspiring though it is to hear good things about the evaluation system, I only hear them from people like Michael Mulgrew. Now I'm sure Michael Mulgrew was a teacher at some time, but he's not one now, he hasn't been one for years, and he isn't affected by the evaluation system. I'm not exactly sure where Mulgrew or any of the union's APPR enthusiasts get their information, but I'm certain it isn't from me.

The other day at the Executive Board I asked whether we would be consulted about changes in MOTP, specifically a reduction in the minimum number of observations. Though no one directly addressed that question, I presume the answer to be no. As for consultation in advance of this negotiation, I can attest that I wasn't consulted and neither was anyone else I know.

There's an overarching pattern of leadership doing any damn thing it pleases with utter disregard for rank and file. This is the system we've devised, it's wonderful, so now your job is to love it. Actually the Executive Board is supposed to meet around the Delegate Assembly so as to help it do its work. And AdCom, which is leadership, is supposed to do the same for the Executive Board. In fact, the reverse is true. AdCom makes decisions, UFT Unity in Executive Board does precisely as it's told, and the DA pretty much carries the mandates of AdCom. Rank and file? Meh.

A few years ago, when the first iteration of this APPR came down, there was a vote in the DA scheduled. I dragged my school's three delegates there to vote against it, as my members would've wanted. But Bloomberg decided he didn't need no stinking evaluation system, so there was no vote. Rather than try to negotiate, Michael Mulgrew found the reformiest man in NY State, John King, and had him decide for us. Since then rank and file has had absolutely no voice in evaluation, not even via the DA.

When I suggested we reduce the minimum to two, reserving extra for those who were in need of support, I was told that a higher number of observations was more likely to result in a higher rating. That's an interesting argument, but it doesn't address my suggestion that only teachers receiving unfavorable ratings be observed more. In fact, if people who got good observations were to stop at two, that would mean that others could get even more than four. By the logic that answered my question, this would be a win-win.

So why doesn't anyone take my suggestion? I'd have to say because the issue has been decided by leadership and they don't need any stinking input from me, thank you very much. People on the 14th floor know everything already. That's how they got up to that floor, elevator or no. The 95 rubber stamps in the Executive Board all nod their heads in agreement, because that's exactly what leadership hand-picked them to do. Only the high school reps dissent, and everyone else kind of wishes we would shut up and go away. Before we showed up the food was better, and they were all allowed to sit there, eat more peacefully, and just vote yes to absolutely everything.

My friend Sam Lazarus says there are only two problems with the UFT--the leadership and the membership. He's right of course. Leadership thinks it knows everything and manipulates the system so it can do any damn thing it wants with no checks or balances. Membership is beaten down by crap like the evaluation system and rightly has little expectation of influencing leadership. The overwhelming majority thinks it's a waste of time to vote in union elections, and for the most part it's a self-fulfilling prophesy.

But once membership finds out it can save $1300 a year by not joining the imperious top-down UFT, things will be different. From everything I see and hear, leadership simply cannot adjust its attitude or behavior in any fashion whatsoever. This bodes ill for all of us.

What does it take to wake up a hopelessly entitled machine?