Thursday, June 30, 2016

Is Reading the Magic Bullet?

Well, of course it isn't. There is no magic bullet. But here's a great piece from the New Yorker presenting the idea of reading as therapy, with a particular emphasis on fiction. I'm a great fan of fiction, and if left to my own devices, that's mostly what I will read. Because I love it, I also love to teach it. Now it's not my favorite thing to teach--I love to teach beginners English, and watch them move rapidly through utter confusion toward muddling through toward mastery, but it's my second favorite thing.

Some of my most gratifying moments were when students came to me and said, "Thank you for forcing me to read that book. I never thought I could read a book in English." And I am relentless in browbeating kids to do that work. Of course I'm not always successful. I really believe reading is a solitary pursuit, and while I will try to motivate kids by reading paragraphs here and there, I make them do the bulk of it outside the classroom, and do that so we can discuss it in class.

There are some books I won't teach. I'm a great fan of Steinbeck, but I won't teach Of Mice and Men, because I don't want to be the person who introduces my newcomers to racial epithets. Maybe that's lazy thinking on my part, and maybe I could make kids understand them better, but I want my classroom to be a place where those things simply do not exist. I don't want anyone to remember my class as the place they learned that stuff.

I think the way to trick kids into loving reading is to carefully select stories to which they can relate, stories that mirror or expand on their own experiences. As such, I'm very fond of The Joy Luck Club. This is a book full of brilliant interwoven stories of people overcoming the situations into which their thrust and making something of their lives. A great extra, for me, is that it's all about several generations of Chinese women. And although neither I nor a whole lot of my students are either Chinese or women, these are stories that everyone can relate to.

Of course my students are all newcomers, which is kind of a hook for this selection, but they're also facing all sorts of personal difficulties. I think just being a teenager is an almost insurmountable problem in itself. Add to that being in a new and strange country with limited use of the dominant language, and things become challenging indeed.  But people rise up from the most awful situations, and a book like this, I hope, gives my teenagers the notion that they too can overcome their troubles, no matter how awful they may appear right now.

This approach is in stark contrast with that of Common Core, that no one gives a crap what you think or feel. Jesus, who even wants to live in David Coleman's world, where no one gives a crap what you think or feel? While I will grant that I honestly don't give a crap what David Coleman thinks or feels, that sentiment does not extend to my students.  I want them to feel cared for in my class, and I want them to know that I care what they think. That's why I'm always asking them what they think and fairly thrilled when they tell me. I spend a great deal of time trying to open up kids who've been told to sit down and shut up all their lives.

The Common Core approach of answering tedious questions about a text out of context actively discourages love of reading, and is precisely the wrong approach, counter to everything we know about how kids learn. There is certainly a time and place for plodding through tedious text, but that's not how we start our kids. And those best equipped to deal with tedious text are people who love to read.

I gotta admit, I read a lot in college, and there were things I just did not love. Moby Dick, classic though it may be, wasn't my favorite. I had the misfortune of reading Beowulf for not one course, but rather two. By the second course I had learned not to tell the truth when the instructor asked us to write our impressions of this classic work. In my job I'm constantly perusing the Contract and looking through regulations to determine just what is and is not kosher, and I sometimes have to counter the preposterous interpretations of the folks the DOE "legal," whatever that is. I'm fortunate in that a whole lot of folks at UFT have already interpreted the bejeezus out of these things, and that they are always right while "legal" is always wrong. Honestly, I think they just make stuff up and hope for the best.

I developed a love of reading early on. I still remember the first book I read, and being amazed that I'd cracked the code. I moved from there to comic books, and from there to the paperbacks my mom had lying all over the house, and from there to whatever grabbed my attention. Once I found an author I liked I sought out everything that writer produced.

I was lucky because reading, in the high school I attended, entailed mostly reading books aloud. You read page one, the girl behind you reads page two, I read page three, and so on. It's a great gig for an English teacher who doesn't actually want to do anything, and even better for a lazy student like me, who only had to pay attention when the person in front of me was reading. The only books I was asked to read in high school independently were The Incredible Journey, about a dog and a cat running around doing something or other, and The Good Earth, which everyone in my social studies class found fascinating. None of us could get over the notion of arranged marriage, though we were perhaps only one generation away from it.

But not every kid grows up in a house full of books, and for those who don't, teachers are the best bet to pick up the slack. It's tragic that Common Core gives kids precisely the opposite of what they need, and will likely lead them to despise reading rather than simply be indifferent to it. Reading is power, and without it, our kids will be swept under those who possess it. Our system is designed to create and maintain drones rather than thinkers.

We can surely do better. We're kind of pinned under the yoke of ridiculous, arbitrary measures of "college readiness," and we begin to measure such things at absurdly young ages. I don't think Hillary Clinton knows that, or much of anything of what is good education for our kids (as opposed to her own, who attended an elite private school that used none of this nonsense) and sadly, I don't think Bernie Sanders does either.

But as long as we do, it's our job to get the word out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Boy Wonder Does an Observation

Man, I hate this guy. He is always complaining to Chapter Leader about my mandatory voluntary meetings. He thinks just because they're voluntary he doesn't have to go. Doesn't he even know what voluntary mandatory is all about? The bastard. And then Chapter Leader runs to the principal saying I've raised the bar on lowering the bar. What the hell does that even mean?

I'm walking around sticking my face in every notebook. Casting a critical eye and looking for the grit and rigor. These lazy kids. Where is the grit?

You know what I could go for? One of those chicken fried steak thingies. Only place I know I can get it is maybe 45 minutes away. And a 22 ounce draft in a frosty mug. Will anyone notice if I'm out of the building for like three hours? Man I really want that chicken fried steak. With that white gravy. Maybe with mashed potatoes. I think they have a $9.99 special if I get there before 6. Maybe I'll just eat and go home. Who's gonna know?

One kid not writing anything. Two. Three. Four kids in room not writing anything. Therefore no one is participating. Ineffective. Let me write that in my low inference notes on this swine. And as I walk around, sticking my face into every kids paper and every kid's face, I can see they are afraid of something. Probably the teacher. Ineffective. Low inference notes on that son of a bitch reflecting that.

Man this room is really well done. Beautiful. Look at all that art around. Student work everywhere. Very colorful. Someone really cares about this room but it can't be the teacher because there are no rubrics. Ineffective.

Let me check if he has a lesson plan, that son of a bitch, let me check all the papers on the desk, move them around, shuffle through everything, make a big show to let everyone know who's in charge. (Me.) Look at that. What a mess this desk is now. How can anyone find anything? Well, I'm the boss so I don't have to clean it up.

"Where's your lesson plan?"

"It's on the computer."

Cheeky bastard. An answer for everything. Man, the arrogance. I wanted that copy right now. Can I confiscate his laptop? After all, I'm the boss. It's my right. Would that principal back me up? Or would he be, oh, it's his property, and stuff. I tell you, we have to nip this stuff in the bud. Nip, nip, nip. In the bud! You mollycoddle these damn teachers and they're all, the contract says this, and the contract says that. Well screw the contract. I'm the boss and I can do any damn thing I want.

Look at these kids. They're all frozen, in fear or something. None of them are answering questions, let alone volunteering. They act like some alien from outer space has walked in here and they're all too shocked to speak. Ineffective. This bastard teacher, in my low inference opinion, is a total piece of crap and needs to be fired. Another year and I can make it so. Man, I can't wait for that next Star Trek movie. I wonder if I could get tickets online in one of those places where you reserve the seats. You can't begin that stuff too early. Let me write that in my low inference notes.

What is up with those UFT validators and they keep saying the teachers who I say suck actually don't suck?  Shouldn't the fact that I think they suck be good enough for anyone? After all, I've been to supervisor school and Danielson training. I've learned how to look at these reprehensible morons in a totally objective fashion. Have these teachers done that?

I mean, Jesus, I taught for two whole years before I moved out, and I'm ready to move up and out of this craphole first chance I get. Man, this teacher doesn't look happy. He's all nervous and stuff. What the hell is wrong with this jerkwad? Ineffective.

Look at that piece of garbage on the floor. I ask a kid to pick it up and he refuses. Man, what an uncooperative class. And when I ask the kids to pass the can around so everyone can pick up garbage they refuse again. Clearly this teacher has not trained these children properly. Ineffective. 

Man, what an awful atmosphere in that classroom.  And that idiot told me it was his best class.  But every time I walk into any classroom it's like this. You know I never see a good atmosphere when I walk in a classroom. What could be making the kids act so uptight?

Gotta be these lowlife teachers, of course. Ineffective.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

A Message from Governor Andy on Why You Have to Register Your Certification

Hi, it's me, your old pal Andy Cuomo. I just want you to know that a lot of you may think I hate teachers, but that's not the case. In fact, my mother was a teacher. So that should be proof enough. But no, all you Gloomy Guses are all, "Well, why did you have to judge us by test scores?" and "Why did you say your own system was baloney and then up the test scores?"

Well, I hear you, and I hear all those folks who opted their kids out of the tests. It made me look so bad that I agreed not to count Common Core tests in math and English from grades 3-8. Now a lot of you are saying that implies those of you with other Common Core tests can go screw yourselves and let me say, right at the outset, that I am a great believer in individual freedom. So of course you can go screw yourselves! That's your right and I shall defend your rights to the bitter end.

But a lot of you are complaining about why you have to register with the state. Now that's an important consideration, and I want to be absolutely up front with my response. Now Sandra and I don't get a whole lot of time off, but after eating one of her delicious Kwanzaa cakes, there's nothing we like better than watching a little television in our house. In fact, we've got a whole TV room there that we built, and those county home inspectors will get in to see it over my dead body. No way are we gonna pay taxes on that! But I digress.

One of our favorite shows is The Walking Dead. I don't know if you watch it, but it's pretty terrifying. I mean, all the good people are united against those brain-eating zombies. My gosh, they are just awful. They just run around killing everyone and eating brains. As you surely know, I am the student lobbyist, and I just cannot allow zombies to victimize school children. I have observed the zombies very carefully, and we think having teachers register online is the best precaution. I mean, how many zombies are gonna register? So most registered teachers will not be zombies. And should they become zombies over the next five years, once their registration dates come up, they will not register. Or at least they probably won't. You can never be too sure with zombies. But we're gonna try to fix that.

In fact, while we've neglected this question up to now, preferring to focus on whether those who register are facing disciplinary or criminal charges, our next revision will ask people, under penalty of perjury, "Are you a brain-eating zombie?" Now there was a lot of debate at the most recent gala luncheon where it came up. Will zombies tell the truth? Honestly, I can't guarantee you they will. But nonetheless, if they lie they will be up on perjury charges. One thing Andrew Cuomo will not tolerate is some lying zombie. 

You see, this proves I love public schools, because charter school teachers don't need certification and therefore will not have this protection. Of course, if individual charter schools decide to pass anti-zombie rules they're free to do that. In fact, when Eva Moskowitz calls me today I'm gonna make a very strong suggestion that she carefully screen all new teaching candidates, and that she not hire zombies unless there's really no one else they can get. But Eva is a great gal, and if anyone can handle zombie teachers she can, so hey, if she's good with it I'm good with it.

Now sure, a lot of my critics are on my ass because we haven't really fired the volume of unionized teachers we'd been aiming for. But we're working on it. And please, just because I want to fire a lot of teachers doesn't mean that I don't like teachers. I'm just trying to economize, and that's why I'm only targeting those who are unionized. And if there are any zombie advocates out there, let me say that while it's true I'm preventing zombies from working in public schools, there may still be golden opportunities in charters.

After all, who the hell else really wants to teach in places like those?

Monday, June 27, 2016

God or Alcohol?

I was talking to some teachers the other day, and like many of us, they are freaked out of their minds. They say they got into this job because they'd expected a modicum of security, and they're just not feeling it these days. Everywhere you have to dodge falling pianos, and anyone who gets crushed by one is deemed ineffective. (In fairness, it's tough to be an effective teacher after a grand piano has fallen on  your head.)

But I digress. We started talking about the end-term party. I used to go every year, feeling some sort of sacred obligation as chapter leader. But, truth be told, I'm not a huge fan of blaring disco music, and I wasn't fond of being with a bunch of people I really couldn't talk to. I used to go there for a while and quietly slip out when I thought no one was looking. The next day, people would ask, "Hey, did you slip out of that party when you thought no one was looking?" My ninja moves are not as slick as I'd hoped.

But my friends were more excited about it than I was. They were gonna dance. I don't always feel like dancing, although maybe after a few drinks I could be persuaded. The thing is, I have to drive home from this place, and I won't have more than one drink if I'm driving. I spent my wayward youth playing music at bars, and I'm the only musician I know who hasn't been arrested for DUI. I'm trying to keep my record intact and, you know, not get killed or kill anyone while driving home.

But my friends had a plan. They had a designated driver. So it was OK. Then they talked about bringing a flask. I said there was an open bar, so why bother? They countered it was only beer and wine. One of them, evidently, had some sort of liquor that was almost pure alcohol, and no matter how much you drank you could not get a hangover. I was pretty impressed, but not overly tempted. I still would have to drive home, and I still would have to listen to disco music.

But I had to ask--why did they need to drink such intense stuff? Well, you know, the stress of the job. I asked if everyone in their department was an avid drinker. They said no, but that some had found religion. They lived it, breathed it, talked about it all the time. There was no getting away from it. There were two ways to deal with this job, and I needed to choose one right away.

Then we started talking about children. "For God's sake, you're not gonna let your kid be a teacher, are you?" The only reason they hadn't quit yet was because their AP wasn't crazy, but that could change at any minute, and then they'd be at the mercy of Charlotte Danielson and the deranged mind of some random administrator. It was too gruesome to even contemplate.

I'm always sad when people talk about this job as something our children should avoid. I'm very proud when my students tell me they want to do my job. One of my former beginning ESL students is a math teacher at my school, and I smile every time I see her. I'd hate to think we'd left her in a worse position than I was when we began. That's kind of on us, isn't it?

Anyway, according to my colleagues, there were only two ways to deal. You either embraced religion and trusted in divine providence, or embraced alcohol as a way to place it our of your mind. I'm gonna make it my mission in life to try to forge an alternate path.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Impress Your Friends with Pretentious Language!

Actually there are a whole lot of people who fit the description of ultracrepidarian. What DOE reps don't love explaining things they don't understand? In education, they flourish. It's almost a requirement for reformies, who traffic in untested, unproven, misleading, or utterly discredited ideas. As an added benefit, it has the rings of something ready to fall apart at any moment from either physical or moral decay, like Andrew Cuomo.

As my Facebook friend Christina Cortes pointed out, this is a perfect description of Bill Gates. Bill's latest adventure entailed telling underdeveloped countries to raise chickens. Evidently Bill thought they'd never heard of chickens until he informed them of their existence. Next he'll be regaling them with tales of how well they can eat if only they'll vacation at all-inclusive resorts.

Of course if you want to see ultracrepidarianism at work up close, all you need to do is check your rating form. It's a checklist, and when you get it you have to ask yourself this--does it reflect your teaching style or your supervisor's observation style? Is it based on classroom performance or the personal prejudices of your 28-year-old supervisor, his two years of non-Danielson teaching experience, and his mother's important DOE gig?

That, of course, may not be the case. While I'm really outraged by incompetent supervisors, I do know a whole lot of reasonable and thoughtful ones too. So let's say you have one and the first 60% was fine. You looked at the checkboxes and they said you Don't Suck. However, that's not the end of your rating. You have to wait until September, when the junk science portion kicks in. That, of course, is pretty much anybody's guess. Maybe you'll get lucky, and move from Doesn't Suck to Really Doesn't Suck, and thus be observed next year only three times instead of four. That's pretty life-changing, isn't it?

Mulgrew proudly told the DA that most ratings were brought up by the use of junk science. That's good, I suppose, unless you happen to be among those who were not. What if, for example, your MOSL score dragged you from Doesn't Suck all the way down to Really Sucks? Well, that would really suck. You might get visits next year from the UFT Rat Squad, and if they don't like what you see you may have to prove at 3020a that you Don't Suck.  If you can't, you could find yourself working around the block at Arby's, selling curly fries to your former students. I happen to know a very smart and capable young teacher whose rating went down to Really Sucks because she happened to be working at a school with low test scores. She did better this year, but that doesn't make up for the abuses of the idiotic system under which we work.

Perhaps you're asking yourself this--is Mulgrew, who loves this system more than sliced bread, an ultracrepidarian? As far as junk science, I'm gonna have to say no. To his credit, Mulgrew openly admits that he doesn't understand the junk science. He says he has people who do, but no matter what they're telling him, I doubt it. Diane Ravitch says she doesn't understand it. My principal is kind of a data guy--he explains it better than anyone I know, and deals with it pretty well. Despite that, I'm not persuaded anyone on God's green earth actually understands it. I'm not sure it's even meant to be understood.

But Bill Gates acts like he understands it. So does Andy Cuomo and the New York Post. They love them some value-added ratings. We live in a country where Donald Trump is a serious candidate for President and we rate our teachers via a methodology that has no more credibility than voodoo.

I'm not gonna pretend to understand that.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Where Are We Without Union?

Yesterday commenter Bronx ATR remarked on the weak UFT presence in some schools. The letter at left is a pretty good example of what happens when union isn't around. In this case, the administration demands that teachers work after school, on Saturdays, on breaks, and pretty much whenever the hell they are told.

I love the sentence beginning, "I will follow the contractual agreement between the NYC DOE and UFT but..."

I'm reminded of a Shakespeare teacher I had in college. To be honest, I can't remember anything he had to say about Shakespeare but one thing he said, a thing I share with my students, is once anyone says but, you may forget everything that preceded it. I tell my students when your girlfriend says she really loves you's time to look for a new girlfriend.

We will follow the contract but...means we will not follow the contract.  There is no me in team and there is no but in contract. If you wish to alter the contract, there is always the option of an SBO. Until then, there's Article 20, matters not covered, to wit, the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution, specifically prohibiting involuntary servitude.

My UFT source tells me the District Rep. was able to dispense with this non-contractual letter fairly easily. I'd still worry, though, that letter or no letter, the administrators who run this place will bully their teachers all over the place. I've gotta seriously doubt there's much of a UFT presence in this school, or this letter would likely not exist. Just because the folks who wrote it agree they won't hold people to it doesn't mean the lowly teachers in their school aren't off on that weekend getaway to the Catskills to do test prep on an outdoor blackboard at the campsite, rain or shine. It doesn't mean they're gonna wake up tomorrow and say, "Hey, you know what? I can have a life!"

Someone has to stand up, ideally everyone. We are role models, and we aren't teaching children how to be chattel. If kids haven't got suitable role models at home, we're the next best thing they have. How do we model character if we're afraid to show it? If we're miserable, how do we model joy? If we hate our jobs, how do we get children to love their lives?

These are not questions that cross the minds of people who write letters like the one above. You may recognize one of the names of the noble, selfless, altruistic and dedicated administrators named in the letter from this piece. Hmmm. If that's true, he has spare time to pursue his interests.

Why shouldn't the teachers who work for him?

I hope the UFT District Rep. read these folks the riot act, and I hope there will be follow up. After all you know what they say. An unprincipled self-serving administrator doesn't change its stripes. OK, they don't say that. But I'm saying it now.

Do you think things will change much at this school? What do you think it will take for small schools to develop union presence? If Fariña merges schools will that help? And how many administrators are simply doing this stuff without writing about it?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Comment from Facebook: No mitigating circumstances. Goodness. That covers everything from accidents with a chainsaw to tornadoes, alien invasions and leprosy. Not to mention every day things like, "My water just broke," "My father died," and "I'm waiting for the firefighter with the jaws of life."~Michael Lambert

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Yes, Virginia, APs Can Face Consequences

A big frustration of being chapter leader is to see callous and cruel people working as administrative leaders. Often they get away with murder. I can't say literally, because I haven't got sufficient knowledge to affirm that, but it wouldn't surprise me. Sometimes, though, principals say they've had enough and seem to do things about it.

Early on I worked with an AP who had an odd management style. He would call me into his office and show me people's files. He would tell me they did this, that, and the other thing and try to elicit my sympathy. It was pretty odd, because my job was representing these people, I knew it, and I wasn't going to stop doing it just because of something I saw in a file.

I would get called into his office, he would close the door, and we would get into these circular discussions. He had a very hard time dealing with my repeated failures to accept his point of view. He would refer to me as administration, which was bizarre. I can only suppose by doing that he thought I'd be flattered and go along with whatever nonsense he saw fit to enact. Our meetings would often end with him screaming about something or other. I would excuse myself and walk away.

On one day, he decided that teachers in my school ought to start clocking in. I told him that was unacceptable, as I actually recalled when we stopped doing so, and knew that it wasn't simply because every administrator decided to be kind and forgo the whole clock thing. I called my DR, who found me a copy of the regulation, from sometime in the 80s, that declared schools would set a policy to preclude teachers having to clock in. It said that schools would negotiate a policy.

The AP got an idea. He asked me how I knew we didn't already have a check in policy. I told him if we did that he should show it to me. He handed me a copy of some school rule book. I asked him if it was in there and he said those were all the rules. I didn't find anything relevant, and told him it was on him to find the rule if there was one. He told me it was on me to prove there wasn't one. We went on and on.

After a number of these sessions they became boring to me.  I had better uses of my time than arguing about things we would never resolve and started avoiding him. But when I was directly called into his office I went. Once he asked for an expedited posting for something or other. I gave it to a staff member who was a little upset with him, told her to look ever so carefully at the posting, and told her not to bother getting back to me until she was sure it was absolutely perfect. The AP haunted me, coming into my classroom to ask about it. But my agent wasn't finished checking, and you know, you just can't be too careful these days.

He called me in a second time to resolve the issue of teachers checking in, which was very important to him. Why I have no idea. This discussion became pretty lively and ended with him shouting, loudly enough that people could hear him behind the closed door, "I can do anything I want!"

At my request, we met with the principal. The principal informed him that he could not, in fact, do anything he wanted. There was a contract, there were regulations, and there were laws, and we were all bound by them. I was a new chapter leader and was not expecting a whole lot. I was pretty happy the principal acknowledged the obvious.

Eventually this AP was let go. I was amazed. I thought supervisors from hell just stuck around forever. But this one was sent to another school as, oh my gosh, a teacher! Oh, the ignominy. Oh the injustice of it all! To be reduced to such a lowly status, after having had it all, and after having bought all those suits to look important while having it all. (Full disclosure--I wear suits too, and as a result had to listen in great detail while this AP described his suit size and purchasing process.)

Nonetheless, he bounced back at least twice from what I can deduce. I am amazed at the number of administrators who are able to rise via force of naked ambition. Though they may lack leadership, compassion, common sense, and whatever, they simply crawl above enough people and there they are, making an extra 20K a year or whatever it is, and playing God with that Danielson rubric.

There is that C30 thing, where a panel of teachers, parents and students sit and ask tightly regulated questions, but in the end principals do whatever the hell they want. And if they want someone who will just walk over everyone and anyone, then that's who they get.

I actually do know some teachers who used to be APs, but none of them seem crazy to me. It's hard for me to imagine any of them being that unreasonable, and a few have even told me stories that made them (and me) not want to be an AP. In fairness, that's not a tough argument to sell me, because I've never wanted to be AP in the first place.

I guess if the only important thing in your life is rising up and advancing, you do it one way or another. But people who are about that and nothing else make awful leaders, and they are a big problem for those of us who have to deal with them day to day. They're an even bigger problem, long-term, for those of us who actually care about education and working people. And make no mistake, most, if not all of our students are gonna become working people very soon. They've got enough to deal with without warmed-over Dilbert characters as bosses.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Mr. Mulgrew Writes Me a Letter About Certification

Because I'm a very important guy, Michael Mulgrew, UFT president, wrote me a letter. OK, actually he sent me the same email he sent tens of thousands of other UFT members. But that's not the point. What's the point? Well, the point is more what he didn't say than what he did.

When my students show unwillingness to get up and ask questions, or move into groups, I tell them that I'm an old man with one foot in the grave, and if I can do it, they can too. So maybe that explains why I'm in the situation I'm in.

What exactly is that situation?  I hold permanent certification, and in three areas. I used to use only one, but now that Part 154 demands dual-certified teachers, I use two. Anyway, in August I'm gonna be even older than I am now, and that means I'm gonna have to register. After all, how will NY State know that I exist unless I let them know? There are excellent reasons for this. For example, if a piano were to fall on my head this afternoon, they'd need to make sure I didn't come back as a brain-eating zombie and endanger those with whom I teach and work. But do I have to register three times? President Mulgrew didn't tell me, and no matter how important I deem myself, he can't be bothered answering my email.

Now if I were a more recent teacher, I'd also need to register. But those with more recent licenses also have to count PD hours. What we still don't know is what PD hours actually are. I mean, it's great that we can start the count from zero and not worry about the last few years. Nonetheless, we have no idea what will be counted as PD in the future. Will the school PD, the ones so adored by Carmen Fariña, the ones memorialized into the Memorandum of Agreement, count toward the 20 hours? Will some of them? Will newer teachers have to take online courses? Go to approved PDs? Write a paper on the History of Cement? Who knows?

And while we're at it, how the hell are we going to be evaluated next year? Chalkbeat NY reported that we need not even come to an agreement until December 31st. This is really troublesome. For example, who, if anyone, is going to observe classes? Will it be our supervisors? Outside observers? Will Andrew Cuomo observe the classes himself to ensure they aren't "baloney?" What if Preet gets his ducks in a row and puts Governor Andy in a cell with his pals Dean and Shelley? Will they observe us via remote? Who knows?

It's nice that Mr. Mulgrew takes his valuable time and writes us a letter. I know he's got many other important things to do. But the letter answers one question while leaving many unanswered. A defect I see all too often in UFT leadership is a fervent unwillingness to say, "I don't know." But that's actually the best answer you can give when you don't know. A lot of people have issues admitting that. Maybe it's worse with teachers, as we're expected to know everything.

But I get questions about this stuff every day. I do indeed say, "I don't know." It must be a great burden to have to pretend to know everything all the time. I'm really glad not to have that problem.

Actually, I'm a lot more impressed with people who tell me when they don't know something. While Mulgrew has simply avoided the topic, I've been at meetings with UFT employees where they seem to make stuff up. It's very inconvenient. My default mode is to trust people until they give me reason not to. Maybe I'm naive.

But once I get burned by someone, I don't make the same mistake twice. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


How does a teacher get a name like that? It doesn't really make sense on the surface. After all, who wants to have a name that's all caps? And why would anyone want to be confused with what's generally acknowledged to be a fixture at the outlet mall where you buy cotton clothes manufactured in foreign countries?

But we can't always control what people call us, and stranger things have happened. Anyone who's taught in New York City schools can attest to that. 

One day I was sitting in my department office watching a high school student mark papers. This was pretty odd. I mean, I had seen students help teachers do things, but I'd never seen a student actually correcting essays before. So I asked why he was doing that.

"I'm helping Mr. X., he said. "Mr X. gives me a stack of papers once a week and I grade them." I couldn't believe it.

"What are these papers for?" I asked.

"They're from his college class," the kid told me. As it happened, I was teaching college too, graded my own papers, and could barely imagine allowing anyone, high school student or not, to grade my class's papers. I would never, ever let a high school student grade my papers. What would I say if a student asked me about a paper? That I had to consult with my high school student for an answer?

So it was like that--college students were paying to take Mr. X's college class, and Mr. X. was giving their papers to high school students to grade. Clearly Mr. X. had more important things to do with his time. And after all, why would he waste his very valuable time doing stuff when he wasn't being paid? Especially when he had such a large free labor pool?

One of my colleagues found a girl in his class grading a bunch of papers too. He was pretty surprised to find she was doing this for Mr. X. He asked her if she was being paid to do this. She was not. He made her turn the papers over to him.

My colleague went to Mr. X. and read him the riot act. How dare he ask students to grade his papers, and where does he find the audacity to allow them to do it in his class? His class was for studying his subject, not for forcing kids to do his work, and for free no less? Who does he think he is, the GAP, forcing young people to work for little or nothing and taking all the profits for himself?

And thus Mr. X. became known as GAP. This name followed him, though, for only a short time. Within the next year GAP became an assistant principal. I understand the first school in which he worked closed, but guys like GAP always land on their feet.

Today he's walking around with an iPad judging teachers by the Danielson Rubric. And God help the teacher who does what GAP did when he himself was teaching, because that's absolutely unacceptable. GAP has high standards for everyone.

Except himself, of course.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Mayoral Control, but What About Evaluation?

Every year is a carnival. What new and more convoluted ways will the government find to catch us in the act of doing our jobs and fire us? Will it be another rubric for supervisors to follow, or the same one? Will it be the same parts of the rubric? Are we assumed to be so stupid that we believe every supervisor follows the same rubric in the same way?

Are we gonna get surprise visits from people who don't know us, don't know our students, and don't know anything about our schools so as to make things fair, as defined by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo? Will he then look at said program, declare it "baloney," and set about constructing a new one that will fire more teachers? No one really knows.

Because Albany deems Bill de Blasio to be a hippie commie weirdo, perhaps due to his opposition to charter schools, he's only gotten a one-year extension of mayoral control. This places him in the position of having to renegotiate it next year as he runs for re-election. That will be convenient for whichever pawn Eva Moskowitz selects to run against him. After all, if there were a mayor who'd rubber stamp whatever she wanted, like Mike Bloomberg did, Albany would have no issue granting a multi-year extension. (And if he'd pull a million dollars in loose change our of his pocket to keep the Senate's GOP majority, like Bloomberg did, that wouldn't hurt either.)

It looks like there are some goodies in there for those with the corporate driven agenda UFT Unity criticizes MORE for fighting.

The deal also will allow charter schools to more easily switch between authorizers. That could mean the city’s education department, which oversees a number of charter schools but no longer accepts oversight of new schools, could see some of those schools depart for the State University of New York or the state’s education department.

After all, charters need more freedom to do whatever the hell they see fit, and be authorized by whoever the hell they see fit, in case more restrictive authorizers say, hey, you can't do whatever the hell you see fit. Because whatever Eva wants, Eva gets. After all, charters don't need no stinking rules, and the Times offers this:

Charter schools can be authorized by three agencies — the State Education Department, the city’s Education Department and SUNY — but all operate according to the same state law. Although the announcement of the agreement did not offer details, the Senate’s proposal would exempt SUNY schools from the usual state standards and free to set their own rules, two officials with direct knowledge of the negotiations said.
But here's where, as a public school teacher subject to all those rating regulations charters can't be bothered with, I really wonder what the hell is going on here:

Lawmakers also agreed to give districts until the end of the year to negotiate the details of new evaluation systems for teachers and principals. according to Assembly spokesman Michael Whyland. Districts, including New York City, have been facing a Sept. 1 deadline to develop systems that complied with an unpopular 2015 law.

So let's see-- we have until the end of December to negotiate a new evaluation system. Therefore, we could conceivably start with one system in September only to find it completely revamped in January. We could, for example, then train teachers in January to prepare them for what was expected of them in September. That makes sense, doesn't it?

Well, it seems to have passed muster with the Heavy Hearts Assembly that passed the draconian evaluation law demanded by Andrew Cuomo. Of course that law was passed before Tough Andy became the Softer, Gentler Andy, worn down by the opt-out movement so reviled by UFT Unity. This notwithstanding, UFT Unity had no problem taking credit for the superficial changes in tone, and has no problem treating a partial moratorium on Common Core tests and Yet Another Great Victory.

And where does that leave those of us who actually have to go to work every day in New York City's public schools? I'd say pretty much rudderless and confused. After all, UFT Unity is led by Michael Mulgrew, who boasted of helping write the APPR law that brought junk science to teacher ratings. Mulgrew just boasted at the DA that junk science would count even more in our ratings.

Now Mulgrew may say that the junk science ratings help teachers more than they hurt them, and for all I know, he may be right. After all, some people are luckier than others. But I happen to know a very smart teacher who got an ineffective rating solely because of her MOSL scores. I have to think if I know one, there must be many more. But regardless of this, one is too many.

If the judgment of principals and assistant principals is so bad that the quality of their ratings is improved by a virtual coin toss the issue is not how much authority they do or do not have. The issue is not the optimal percentage of junk science we blend in to ameliorate that. The issue is the competence, or lack thereof, of those in positions to supervise us.

Until and unless the United Federation of Teachers faces up to that, there will be no system worth looking at. I've said it before and I'll say it again--the optimal percentage of junk science in a teacher evaluation is zero. If anyone wants to dispute that, I'm all ears.