Thursday, August 16, 2018

30-Year Teachers and Old Dogs

I've been in several situations very recently in which people have said, right in front of my face, that 30-year teachers are resistant to change. It's the same thing as saying old dogs can't learn new tricks, I guess. Nonetheless, dogs aren't quite as sensitive to stereotypes as, say, I am. You might argue that's just one more thing to love about dogs.

I don't actually teach my dog tricks. I have taught him, mostly, to sit, to go down, and to come. I'm reinforcing those commands on a daily basis, mostly using treats, and he follows them enthusiastically. I teach him those commands because they could easily save his life one day. Otherwise I probably wouldn't fret over them too much. 

I am the best teacher I have ever been, for better or worse. Every day that passes I learn something. Every time I see a situation I've seen before I respond faster and smarter. The year before last I worked with a teacher who could be thirty years my junior. You wouldn't expect this, but I handled everything tech-related in the classroom. I also wrote a whole lot of stories and vignettes to motivate lessons we gave, almost daily. I have this terrible writing habit. I can't stop. I figure it must be reflective of an equally terrible thinking habit, or where would I find the words?

I've been a UFT chapter leader for nine years now. I can hardly believe it. I can tell you for sure that if you're looking to just sit down and take a nap while you wait to drift out into the bay or whatever, you ought not to take a position representing 300 people. My job is insane and I'm absolutely fine with it. My only real regret is I didn't realize how much I'd thrive on an impossible job earlier. On the other hand, you could argue being a New York City teacher is an impossible job and I'd be hard pressed to disagree.

How do you deal with an impossible job? Some people have trouble. There are those who move to "get out of the classroom." They find other jobs, mostly in administration. To my mind, this is the single most prevalent cause of those Boy Wonder supervisors who don't know their ass from their elbow but are nonetheless fully empowered to tell you how badly you suck, and how you don't meet the high standard they themselves changed jobs to avoid facing.

I can't tell you how many times 30-year-old teachers have approached me and told me how lucky I was. I can retire if I want to. What they wouldn't give to be able to do that. I feel really bad when I hear that. I think, oh my gosh, you have to do this for another 30 years and you want to leave now. That's nothing short of tragic. You'd rather be as old as me than come to work? You'd give up a few decades of life to be able to spend more time watching Judge Judy? Hardly seems worth it. Maybe you're thinking about exotic vacations. Who knows? Will you spend every moment watching Judge Judy wishing you were in a Caribbean resort sitting on a beach with a piña-colada? Will you sit on that beach wishing you were on a better one?

Meanwhile I can't retire. I am just right in this thing and I don't want to stop. I see things I haven't seen before. I do things I haven't done before. I bring ELLs to Broadway every year. I figure out ways to reach kids I suspect no teacher has reached before. I work with smart people every day, and I meet others on this page and all over the place. Not only that, but I work with UFT in various capacities. I notice things I've never noticed before. I have ideas I've never had before.

The very first day I taught was at Lehman High School in the Bronx. This was in October 1984. I had no idea what I was doing. In fact, on my ninth day I was written up by someone who told me I had no idea what I was doing. I was good with that, though, because I'd told her that my first day.

Another thing that happened on my first day was that I went into the lunchroom. Several older teachers pulled me over and told me I was making a big mistake. They said I should move out to teach in Long Island. It was better there. Do it before it's too late, they said. Otherwise, I suppose, I ran the risk of ending up like them. On the other hand, I still didn't know what I was doing. Why would I presume to move someplace else when I didn't know what I was doing where I was?

More importantly, those people were kind of bitter and cynical. I decided right then and there that, as a teacher, I was never going to be like that. Almost 34 years later, I'm not.In fact, if I'd ended up like that, it wouldn't be because I had 30 years. I doubt those cynical teachers became that way simply because they worked 30 years. What I suspect is these are the same people who, after five, ten, or fifteen years, envied those old enough to retire.

It's really not about age. It's about attitude. Give old dogs a break. For all you know, they could teach the puppies a thing or two.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Kavanaugh Is Even Worse Than We Thought

Of course any Trump nominee would be terrible. We know that Trump doesn't support working people, hence the Janus decision to try and hobble union. Trump, who knows no moderation, actually tweeted about how terrible it would be for Democrats. He pretends it's about freedom for unionized working people to support anti-union bigots like himself, but can't resist alluding to the truth. Of course, Twitter responded:

Actually I don't know what it would take to bring down this guy. He just called a woman of color a dog. He can talk about grabbing women by the pussy, get three million fewer votes than his opponent, and become President. Meanwhile we're faced with Kavanaugh, and the NY Times today pointed out that he doesn't believe in separation of church and state.

Over his decades-long legal career, Judge Kavanaugh has argued in favor of breaking down barriers between church and state. He has filed friend-of-the-court briefs in support of school prayer and the right of religious groups to gain access to public school facilities. He was part of the legal team that represented former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida in 2000 when he defended a school voucher program that was later ruled unconstitutional.

Jeb Bush is perhaps the reformiest of reformies. When his programs crash and burn, it doesn't bother him. He just goes on and pushes for things that are reformier still. Now one of his reformies could sit on SCOTUS for decades and give money to religious schools. It's funny, in Trump's United States, that members who benefit from union need not pay for our work, but all of us may have to support organized religions no matter how we feel about therm.

I don't want my students to pray in school. I want them to study. Ideally, I'd like to see them politically awakened, organizing and protesting against the government that fails to serve them. Unlike Eva Moskowitz, though, I don't see it as my job to make them do that. Given the despicable nature of those running our government, I'd hope they do it on their own.

The Koch Brothers are fighting for this guy so as to have their values enshrined into national law. Folks like the Koch Brothers know they are in the minority, so they struggle to buy their way into power. With legislation like Citizens United, giving corporations undue influence and minimizing the voice of We, the People, they're becoming quite successful.

Kavanaugh, like several of the other bought-and-paid-for justices, was not chosen by the people, not even indirectly. The majority voted against both Trump and GW, and our courts are hijacked by judges we don't want. Most of Kavanaugh's records are unavailable.  GOP is pushing for a September hearing, which could have him seated before we even discover even worse things.

Don't forget to vote in November. After we impeach Trump, maybe we can impeach the crooked judges the Koch Brothers bought. I'm hoping Democrats with a pulse do everything possible to head this one off.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Specialized Schools and the Big Test

Everyone's talking about the SHSAT, the test that gets you into Stuyvesant, Bronx Science and the other specialized high schools. Or not. Evidently there is an ethnic mix in those schools that does not remotely represent our city's population. The underrepresented want in. Those in want to stay. Everyone wants a place. The article seems to suggest that students targeted for these schools will do well whether or not they get in.

Clearly any solution will make some people unhappy, and I'm not gonna sit here and claim to have a better idea than either side. Nonetheless, my viewpoints are created from where I am, and for over 25 years that's been Francis Lewis High School, the largest school in Queens and the most overcrowded in New York City.

There are reasons why we're so overcrowded. Reason number one is we're perceived as desirable. Students do relatively well in our school, and the metrics and stats that regularly get press coverage seems to bear that out. I'd attribute this to the fact that the ESL teachers are incredibly smart and good-looking, but others have their own points of view. For example, we generally have great kids.

Here's the thing, though--there is no cap on enrollment at community schools. If ten thousand freshman move into our neighborhood tomorrow, we'll go from over 200% capacity to over 500% capacity, or whatever. It doesn't matter to the city. Everyone gets in. Do the kids really live in the neighborhood? No one really knows. You can establish residence at your cousin's house, at your friend's house, or wherever. Once you're in, you're in, You can move back to wherever you really live and that's it.

I don't anticipate the city doing anything about that anytime soon. So it's hard for me to muster sympathy for entirely selective schools. In fact, it's hard for me to see what the big deal is about academic achievement when you're entirely selective about who gets in. I'm not familiar with the SHSAT in particular, but I do believe the adage that test scores tend to measure zip codes rather than ability. If I have money to prep my kid for the test and you don't, my kid is likely to do better than yours. Even if the schools offer support, the more money I have, the more support my kids will get.

Teachers have known these things for years. In New York City, Michael Bloomberg's favorite hobby was closing schools that didn't get the test scores he wanted. I'm pretty sure he's managed to close every comprehensive high school in the Bronx. If one or two survived, I'd like to know about it. This was pretty much a game of dominos. One school closed, the replacement students would exclude those with special needs, like ELLs, and they'd be sent to another, whose scores went down and was closed too.

I don't believe students in Queens are smarter than students in the Bronx. I don't believe I'm a better teacher than teachers in the Bronx. I believe the only reason I'm not an ATR is because I was lucky enough to transfer out of John Adams before it became an issue. I also think the big test to gain admission into the specialized schools works in favor of those who can prep for it. Does the test really predict how well students will do? Does it exclude only those who would not do well? Probably not, on both counts.

There must be a fair solution. Mine is to open up the specialized schools to both those who do well on the test and those who don't. That's what we do at our school, and it's worked for us. If it doesn't work at Brooklyn Tech, well, what can I tell you? It's not my fault if they can't handle their building at over 200% capacity. If we can, everyone can.

On the other hand, if you really want to talk about equity, create spaces everywhere in the city for children who need them. I don't see why students who pass some test merit better treatment than mine. If the students in specialized high schools are that good, it won't matter if they study in trailers that freeze in the winter and boil in the summer. They can study in airless closets converted into classrooms. It won't matter if their rooms are next to custodial workrooms that leak gas and diesel fumes. It won't make any difference if their gym classes are held outside because there's no space inside. If they have to eat lunch at nine in the morning and stay until five it's no big deal.

You can talk about equity until you're blue in the face and someone will always be disappointed. I'm tired of being disappointed for every one of the 4,600 kids who attend our school. If the city can place well over double capacity there, let them do it in every specialized school too. If students and faculty in those schools don't like it, well, I can't blame them. I don't like it either.

Test or no test, every kid in New York City deserves a reasonable place to study and learn.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Unions and Luncheonettes

I took this photo in Parksville, NY yesterday. We got off the highway to get gas and I was really struck by it. When I was a kid, there was a luncheonette on every corner. We called them candy stores. I bought many, many comic books from places like this one.

Now you rarely see them anymore. There was one I used to visit regularly, but now it's a bagel store. They've gone out of fashion, evidently. In Parksville, it looks like no one wanted to take it over.

The bar across the street is doing great. Alcohol never goes out of style. Some things do. Some of my teacher friends ask me, "This was OK twenty years ago. Why can't we do it now?" I haven't always got a good answer for that. Some things change. I was pretty happy being stuck in the trailer when they were screaming at everyone to use PowerPoint. I didn't have to do it because they never gave me any tech to work with. Now I get placed in a regular classroom and I've moved beyond PowerPoint to Keynote. I don't know how I ever worked without it.

Some changes, of course, are not for the better. You always hope to see things like nazis and that klan in the rear-view mirror. Now they go out and march, and they are protested. The frigging President of the United States says there are good people on both sides. For my money, bigots are not good people. They can become good people, but why should they when  the President says they're just fine the way they are?

Then we come to one of my favorite topics, which is union, which is us. Are we luncheonettes, or alcohol? Or are we something altogether different? The struggle of working people to make a living is not going anywhere soon. The fact that many of us manage to do so is not accidental. As much as people like me complain about the UFT leadership, we're doing a whole lot better than many of our brothers and sisters in red states. It's vital that we keep that advantage.

How do we do that? We do it by keeping up. We do it by growing. We do it by thinking out of the luncheonette. We can't just be the same old thing we have been. Otherwise, we'll look like that building. Unless you actually dress like that building, you don't want to look like it.

The possibility of becoming more activist is one we should embrace, from lowly teachers like me right up to the leaders sitting at 52 Broadway. If your chapter leader sucks, it's on you to replace him. You can recall the chapter leader who won't speak against the principal and run yourself. If everyone lives in fear, it's on you to organize.

We sink or swim together. If you're mad at Mulgrew, tell him. If you're mad at us, tell us. We're at Executive Board twice a month. If you wish, you can sign up to speak. Emily James spoke and now we have parental leave. CPE 1 and Townsend Harris spoke and got rid of their principals. I spoke and got an annex for my sorely overcrowded school. I will admit that not everyone got the help they wanted. Nonetheless, doing nothing guarantees no one gets what they want.

Once that happens, we'll look like that photo. And we simply cannot allow that to happen. We need renewal, both inside and out. And the time is now.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

UFT Trial Balloons and Reformies on Curriculum

When UFT leadership wants ideas out, they have Peter Goodman. Goodman is not precisely my favorite, and it pains me to link to him. I wrote a review of Diane Ravitch's book in what is now Chalkbeat, and he wrote me some warning in the comments about how I had to be careful. Perish forbid I express opinions in public. What an awful thing for a teacher to do. Better, evidently, to live in fear, tremble quietly, sit down, and shut the hell up. Ravitch commented in my defense, and Chalkbeat deleted the exchange.

It's hard for me to express how stupid it is to offer such advice on a public forum. It's hard because it's so blatantly obvious it doesn't even merit explanation. Anyway, Goodman has this blog in which he seems to float trial balloons for leadership ideas. Last week it was a hope the contract would be completed by September. This week it's a lament that Carranza partners with people he knows rather than UFT leadership. That's not what's disturbing, though.

What's disturbing is that Goodman is citing reformy Robert Pondiscio to push for curriculum. In fact, he quotes him:

The idea advanced here—that content-rich, standards-aligned, and high-quality curricula may be the last, best, and truest arrow left in education reform’s quiver
* Use incentives, not mandates, to maintain local autonomy,
 * leverage teacher expertise and teacher leaders in the work, and,
 * use the procurement process to expand use of the highest-quality curriculum,

If you take that at face value, it sounds pretty good. If you think about it, which Goodman evidently does not, it's problematic. Why on earth are we concerned with arrows "left in education reform's quiver?" Every working teacher in New York City feels those arrows (and slings) each and every day. One well-used arrow is the evaluation system. Another is Common Core. Another is every single school closing we've experienced. Another is the ATR. Another is our inability to grieve letters in file. And who can forget the arrow that places the burden of proof on working teachers at 3020a?

Maybe you think it's sheer coincidence that the reformy Fordham Institute is also pushing curriculum. A commenter on Twitter had an apt response:

It's time for us to start learning from experience. We've tried working with the reformies. Remember when Randi Weingarten went to a baseball game with Bloomberg? Try not to vomit, but remember Klein kissing her? Remember when we partnered with Bill Gates to do the MET study? Remember when we invited Gates to the AFT Convention, and he thanked us by going out the next week and attacking teacher pensions? Remember when we let Reformy John King be the independent arbiter to determine what our evaluation program would look like?

Reformies are always all about empowering teachers. Every stupid incomprehensible idea that comes down the pike is about giving you options. You have the option to do whatever the hell they tell you to. Thank you very much. You have the option of teaching exactly this way, each and every day, or getting a crap observation. You have the option of some delusional Boy Wonder supervisor placing letters in your file for things that did not actually happen.

I see the value of curriculum. I see the value of trying to "leverage teacher experience." But I also remember hearing many such promises that evolved into realities that were quite different,. I remember years of debate over Common Core. One of the big lies from reformies was that it was teacher designed. Mostly, it wasn't. Another was that is wasn't curriculum, when actually it was intended to drive curriculum. Having failed in that, they're now pushing for something more direct.

Goodman's role may well be to put out test balloons for leadership. Mine then, is to point out what is stupid and counter-productive, and wherever possible, to speak out against it before it becomes official policy. If Carranza wants to partner with us, I'm all for it. Let's be careful though, that we aren't partnering with every reformy in town when we do it.

Friday, August 10, 2018

NYSUT Endorses, Having Learned Nothing from Trump or Janus

NYSUT drew a line in the sand that any Senator who failed to endorse the bill de-linking testing and evaluation would be opposed. I supported that bill, but it did not go nearly far enough to alleviate the suffering and nonsense NYC teachers experience daily. It's disingenuous for Pallotta to act as though he fought evaluation in general. Though he happily threw Dick Iannuzzi under the bus for it, he didn't raise a peep when it started. Mulgrew supported it, and that was good enough for Andy Pallotta.

This brings us to the endorsements. UFT is the big dog in NYSUT, and I don't believe NYSUT does anything of significance without our approval. That said, I'm struck senseless by our opposition to education hero Robert Jackson. Jackson stood with us through CFE. CFE was a lawsuit under which we won lower class sizes. It's never been enforced, even though the city came up with a plan to do so that was approved by the state.

Jackson is running against Marisol Alcantara, who caucused with IDC. IDC is a group of Senators, elected as Democrats, who caucused with Republicans. Why, exactly, do we need that in NY?  IDC has been responsible for blocking a whole lot of progressive bills that passed the Assembly. One of them would have provided universal health care for New Yorkers. A lot of us were disappointed by the sharp spike in co-pays in the last contract. (In yet another concession, new city workers will need to enroll in HIP before getting a choice of plans. How exactly that will inspire them to join rather than shirk union post-Janus is a mystery to me.)

In any case, universal health care in NY would've brought down costs for everyone. How we support people who block that is a mystery to me. What's no mystery, unfortuantely, is reformy support for IDC members. Alcanatara, for example, lists an Eva Moskowitz PAC as one of her top donors. Another is NYSUT Vote-Cope. Why the hell are we giving a dime to someone who supports a great enemy of New York City's schoolchildren, parents and teachers? How on eath can we turn against Robert Jackson for someone like that?

NYSUT made a great point of saying they opposed Senators who supported charter expansion. How does support from Moskowitz not translate into supporting charter expansion? Eva Moskowitz eats charter expansion for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and we're supporting someone who takes her money. It's not a coincidence, NYSUT endorsers, that Alcantara called for a lifting of the charter cap. It's outrageous that we're putting resources behind someone like that. How do you think that will go over at the next COPE drive?

I like Tish James a lot, but I love Zephyr Teachout. She's fearless and stood up for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez well before it became fashionable. Whatever NYSUT says, I'll certainly be voting for Teachout in the primary. Teachout doesn't take PAC or corporate money, a good quality in an attorney general. I don't believe that's true of any of her opponents. New York will be a better place with Teachout in a powerful place.

I'd like our union to look ahead, but I'm not altogether sure we're doing that. I read about Julia Salazar supporting the American wave of teacher strikes, and I think we'd be well-represented by someone who believed in us. She supports reasonable class sizes, free tuition in CUNY and SUNY, and the universal health care we so need. Were a state as large as New York to enable this, we'd pressure the rest of the country to follow in our footsteps.

Something happened when Alexandria Ocasio Cortez unseated an established machine Democrat. There was a light in the darkness. It was just a little ray of light, but it shone on all the mistakes Democrats had made, particularly the ones that allowed Donald Trump to become President of the United States.

Donald Trump is President of the United States only because Hillary Clinton failed to get people to the polls. Hillary Clinton failed to support universal health care. She said it would never, ever happen. Hillary opposed free college, saying Trump's kids would take advantage. She flip-flopped all over the place on $15 an hour minimum wage. That's not to mention all the baggage she was carrying around from day one. The fact is, a lot of people who got off their butts to vote for Obama didn't do the same for Hillary.

We, UFT, NYSUT, and AFT, saw her as a sure bet. We got on her bandwagon very early, asking absolutely nothing in return. This was an egregious error, as we all now know. Not only was Hillary wrong on all the aforementioned issues, but she was also looking very much like someone who'd follow Obama's calamitous and short-sighted education policies. Did working teachers really need more junk science evaluation and test-till-you-drop programs? Judging from our endorsements both then and now, you'd think yes.

On several IDC Senators, NYSUT sits on the fence. Better than endorsing, but still not good enough. UFT High School Executive Board opposes them all, but has no vote or voice in NYSUT. Our requests, clearly, were ignored.

Janus has changed everything. I see that very clearly, and I've changed as a result. I think a little differently, I work a little differently, and I behave a little differently. It's not exactly a sea change for me, because as a chapter leader, I'm acutely aware my job is representing the interests of my members. There are things I'd like to do that I don't do, because I understand members would not support those things.

I see a need for leadership to be more responsive in that way. I am absolutely cognizant of how important union is, and how much we need it. I see this despite years of having criticized leadership decisions. What I really wonder, though, is what it will take for leadership to understand that the game has now changed, and that losing is not an option. These endorsements suggest, to me at least, that same old urge to be "reasonable" and not ask too much.

There are some things that are not too much to ask, and that leadership must move on.

1. Public education is who we are and what we do. We need to support it unequivocally. This has several implications. Public schools are controlled by the public, not by Eva Moskowitz and her hedge fund BFFs. Charter schools are not public schools and do not merit our support.

2. Class size matters, not only to me, not only to the children we serve, not only to all working teachers, but also to parents. This is reflected in city surveys time and again. Every teacher knows that the smaller the class size is, the more attention they can devote to students in need. If that's not enough, there is rigorous research to support the benefits of reasonable class sizes.

3. Health care needs to be universal. It's so fundamental that anything we can do in the classroom pales in relevance. Most Americans support universal health care and we need to support it too.

4. Americans deserve a living, not a miserable struggle to string together minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. We need a living wage for all working Americans. We are not teaching children to be Walmart associates, no matter how much money the Walmart family tosses around.

5. College needs to be affordable. We can't place our faith in preposterous tropes suggesting we're gonna meet Ivanka in English 101 at Queensborough Community College.

No politician who takes money to oppose any of that merits our support.

I think it was Jack Nicholson who said, "If you aren't learning, you're dead." This goes double for teachers, and it's high time for UFT and NYSUT leadership to get on board.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Class Size and the ATR

In New York City, if the last numbers I heard are accurate, we have 800 unassigned teachers. Now those numbers are from last year. They don't include teachers newly unassigned, and they don't include teachers who were temporarily assigned for last year only. The number could be far different in September. Just for the sake of argument, though, let's call it 800.

One single teacher can teach up to 170 students under our current contract. That's too many already, but in a whole lot of schools teachers are teaching even more than that. That's because, under our contract, when there are oversized classes they don't always have to be resolved. There could be a "plan of action" on the part of the city, and if some arbitrator likes it, well, that's the plan.

Here's the thing, though--the only "plan of action" that solves the problem is bringing the class size down. And once we do that, we still have the highest class sizes in the state. We should be focusing on bringing current class sizes down, something we haven't bothered with in over half a century. I'm forever amused by UFT leaders saying we sacrificed money to win class size limits, because if they were even born, they were in diapers when that happened.

Let's get back to here and now. Let's give our 800 ATR members a small break, and say they only have 150 students each. 800 times 150 is 120,000. If ever class in NYC is oversized by two, and we give them to ATR members, we could fix sixty thousand oversized classes. Personally, I doubt we have that many, but if anyone knows better, feel free to correct me.

Now it isn't altogether that simple, of course. ATR teachers are all over five boroughs, and it's highly unlikely that whatever they teach is exactly what students in oversized classes need. Not only that, but if you're an ATR in Queens, the city can't simply send you to Staten Island. We have agreements, and not even Donald Trump can have Whatever He Wants, Whenever He Wants.

So if I'm a Queens ATR, you can't send me to Staten Island. You could, however, ask me if I want to go to Staten Island. The worst I could do is say no. I work in a generally desirable school. Sure, we may get a Boy Wonder supervisor now and then. We might even get a Girl Wonder. But I once watched a principal tell a young teacher to be careful, because there were a hundred people who wanted his job. I'm sure the principal was right. So maybe someone would travel to come to us. I know a lot of people who do, and I'm one of them.

Let's say that doesn't work. Just because I like my school, you don't have to. Maybe my school sucks and I'm delusional. Who knows, really? Wherever you are, kids need you. It's beyond ridiculous that the city won't put you to work because some principal might get his feelings hurt. If you're a Queens teacher, you should go to a Queens school. If that means an actual reduction in class sizes, well, so be it. Why is there a single oversized class when we have an Absent Teacher Reserve? Why are there classes of 34 and 50, the highest in the state, when there is an Absent Teacher Reserve?

Let's put the ATR to work tomorrow, and stop worrying about the scare stories from Families for Excellent Schools, or their well-reported rallies of nine people. Let's give jobs to our teachers, and teachers to our students. This is what you call a win-win. If I'm an ATR and I suck as badly as stories in the tabloids suggest, let some principal slide off his imperial keester and prove it.

Otherwise, let's make sure there are enough classes for teachers to teach and students to attend.

Am I naive? Are there further complications I haven't anticipated? If that's the case, it's on DOE and UFT to sit down and figure out solutions. These are two huge problems that can be used against one another to cancel each other out. If it's not a total solution, it has to be at least a partial one.

If it isn't, I'd like to know why.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Screw Children First, Always, or I Wouldn't Treat My Dog How NYC Treats Kids

In a system that claims to care about schoolchildren, it's unconscionable that special needs classes are sitting around in a scorching heat wave with no air-conditioning. I'm lucky to work in a school where that doesn't happen quite as frequently as it does elsewhere, but good intentions are no substitute for modern electric wiring. I've therefore found myself in sweltering miserable classrooms as recently as last year.

I'm in Ontario now, and I wouldn't subject my dog to what the system puts these kids through. You can see him in the picture at a fruit stand, saying I'm not gonna eat any of this stuff and asking why I brought him here.

Granted, I love my dog, so I'm off on a quest to find him Freshpet dog food here in Ontario. But jeez, don't we love our children? Shouldn't they be treated with the same consideration I give my dog?

There are certain fundamentals in education. One is, that in a miserably hot classroom, it is incredibly hard to concentrate. I'd like to just blame kids for that, but the fact is it's as hard for me as it is them. How do you focus on some story about other people when all you can think about is how soon can I get out of here? If it's hard for us, it's harder for kids. I'm not an expert on special-needs kids but it's not a big stretch to say it's at least as hard for them. Maybe the city feels that special needs somehow preclude basic human needs. Hard to say, since I work every day instead of sitting around Tweed somewhere.

I didn't speak at my very first Executive Board meeting. I wanted to bring up air conditioning in schools. I can't remember why my colleagues talked me out of it. I do recall, though, a few months later, the city saying it would place AC in all classrooms at some point in the future. I have news for the DOE--the future is now, and you're leaving children behind.

My daughter went to some summer program in a nearby elementary schools when she was very young. On extremely hot days, we'd get a call. Don't bother coming in. We're not making kids sit in miserable hot classrooms on days like this. That makes sense to me. Of course, NYC would never do such a thing, even though it wouldn't hurt anyone, even though keeping the kids in classrooms is likely as not making them hate school.

Did you know that New York City has a protocol for a delayed opening? I remember hearing about it when it started. It was utilized exactly once, when there was a transit strike. All those years, when you drove to work with cars crashing to your left and right, when Carmen Fariña discussed how beautiful the day was with her chauffeur, the city could have eased things not only for you, but also for 1.1 million schoolchildren. They didn't, of course, because if Carmen's chauffeur could come in, why couldn't the kids? They could easily have booked limos just like Carmen did. Teachers? Them too.

Granted, Bill de Blasio seems to have learned from Carmen's amazing lack of perception for the obvious. He now closes schools when there are raging blizzards. He doesn't even wait until 5 AM like Klein used to do, because he seems not to be a small-minded, nitpicking, self-serving automaton concerned solely with his own advancement. That's a step forward.

Nonetheless, we can do better. Years ago, I installed central AC in my home. I see how my dog reacts when it's above 90 outside, so don't turn off the AC when the dog is home alone.  Now I work every day, so I have no idea what the thinking is at Tweed, if indeed there is any. This notwithstanding, the AC at Tweed should be turned off every single day until every city kid is learning in a comfortable environment. If we wanted to torture children, we could just dump them into Moskowitz Academies.

But we don't want to do that, do we? And if that's the case, New York City's children deserve at least the same consideration we dog lovers provide our canine companions.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

UFT Contract--What's Worth Paying For?

I'm going to speak strictly for myself here. There are a lot of things we've called "givebacks." These usually entail giving up rights or privileges for money. Leadership will sometimes say things are better this way, but I'm not generally in agreement. It's never popular to accept less money, but there are some things I think would be worth it.

Number one on my list is class size. I realize this has played part in no giveback. But jeez, it's been 50 years with no change whatsoever. Not only that, but the exceptions are so broad you could drive a fleet of Mac trucks through them, side by side, and still have room for Trump's military parade. It's common sense that the fewer students you have, the more time you can spend helping each and every one. If that's not enough, there is rigorous research that will tell you (duh) that reasonable class sizes help students to learn.

Let's also note that we have the highest class sizes in the state. How do DOE hacks claim to put "children first, always," and stand by that? In some cases, our class sizes are 60% higher than those of other districts. Parents consistently tell the DOE that class sizes are their number one priority. The DOE ignores this and places its collective head in the sand.

We, UFT,  really ought not to be paying for this. As a result of the C4E lawsuit, the city submitted a plan in 2007 to reduce class sizes across the board. It was approved by the state, but the city just ignored it. It's kind of amazing they come to us with Danielson, sit around and tell us just how much we suck, but won't bother spending a dime to make things better. I would forgo part of a raise to push class sizes back.

If the DOE cares about children, it must then care about class sizes. If it doesn't, it's on us to work something out, or beat them into submission. I don't care which. 

It's ridiculous we cannot grieve letters to file for being (a.) inaccurate, (b.) stupid, or (c.) all of the above. If the principal accuses you of throwing a cheeseburger at a student, and you did not, in fact, throw said cheeseburger, that is not grounds to have the letter removed. You have to wait until 3020a to contest it. Meanwhile, all you can do is write a response. If the principal doesn't like it, he can put another letter in your file, because why not?

I used to read a book called Go Dog Go to my daughter when she was very young. In it, there is a pair of dogs that keep meeting. One dog repeatedly asks the other, "Do you like my hat?" The other replies, "No, I do not." If you told a dog you did not like her hat, your principal could place a letter in your file. How could you respond? Could you write an impassioned response explaining what you didn't like about the hat? Could you write how stupid you feel the letter is? Guess what? If the principal doesn't like that letter, you could get yet another letter in your file, because why not?

In fact, there are things you can grieve. You can grieve if the occurrence happened over three months ago. You can grieve if the administrator failed to meet with you before issuing the letter. Here's what happens then--the principal calls "legal," and some DOE employee who likely as not has never bothered to read the Contract will say, "Sure you can do that. You're the principal. You can do whatever you want."

You will then go to Step Two, where another DOE employee will say the thing that happened was not, in fact, an occurrence, and therefore it doesn't matter that three months have passed. Or they may say that the thing that happened did not actually become an occurrence until the principal found out about it. Because guess what? They haven't read the contract either so they do Any Damn Thing They Feel Like.

I'd pay to open further grievance for letters in file. I'd pay to stock legal with people who knew ass from elbow, and hearing officers who knew the same. I'd also pay to place each and every ATR. It's a crime we have even one while a single class is oversized. I understand we can't place ATR members just anywhere, but I'd reach out and offer for every opening.

I know, the city has a surplus, and we shouldn't pay for anything. I think some things are worth paying for. Whatever we got for givebacks is blood money and I'd just as soon give it back.

What do you think?

Monday, August 06, 2018

Overlook Our Racism, and We'll Overlook Your Treason and Criminality

That seems to be the deal with Trump supporters. Otherwise, how do you explain photos like this one? They guy on the right, by the way, is wearing an RNC pin on his MAGA hat. So in case you think they're fringe lunatics, think again. They may well be mainstream lunatics in 2018 America.

Trump himself is in rare form, which is to say, exactly the same form as always. He appears to be throwing his son under the bus, while, as usual, denying any culpability on his part.

So politicians routinely get together with foreign powers and try to figure out how to sink their opponents. That's a new one on me. This comes from a guy who stands in front of rallies and demands that voters use photo IDs, despite no evidence of voter fraud. In any case, it's evidently fine that the Russians influence our elections, as long as they do so on Trump's side. And it's looking like there's a market for those shirts, so it's not a big jump to see that diehard Trump supporters don't care about that in the least.

And after a newsroom was shot up, Trump is still trashing the free press. Though he's a chronic and serial liar, his supporters seem good with believing him. After all, making racism great again hasn't been easy to achieve.

As a direct result, Trump's base is energized. We see sentiments like those spouted yesterday in Berkeley:

By 12:30 p.m., several dozen right-wing demonstrators amassed at the marchers’ intended destination, wearing “Make America Great” caps and waving signs with slogans such as “No to Marxism in America” and “Slave labor made America great.

I'm at a loss for words that, in 2018, people muster the audacity to broadcast messages like that. Make no mistake, it's Trump telling these people that's okay. There's a message when he calls Maxine Waters and Don Lemon and Lebron James dumb, and low IQ, and whatever juvenile ramblings happen to cross his feeble mind.

It's embarrassing to have Donald Trump as our ostensible leader. I would not tolerate his behavior or language in my classroom. When I compared his tweets to something you'd hear in a junior high rank out session, a junior high school teacher on Facebook took umbrage, and said his junior high school students are more mature than that. I apologized to him.

There's hope, personified by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Zephyr Teachout, and others who stand for decency and fairness. But it's a long road for us. Millions of Americans are willing to vote against their economic interests, against the future of their children, and against the future of their country simply to have a high-ranking voice of authority tell them their racism and hatred are socially acceptable.

It's on us to change that. Our next chance comes in four short months. Don't forget to vote.