Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Danielson Guide to a Highly Effective Thanksgiving

Full disclosure--found on the internet, unattributed. 

Ineffective: You don't know how to cook a turkey. You serve a chicken instead. Half your family doesn't show because they are unmotivated by your invitation, which was issued at the last minute via facebook. The other half turn on the football game and fall asleep. Your aunt tells your uncle where to stick the drumstick and a brawl erupts. Food is served on paper plates in front of the TV. You watch the game, and root for the Redskins.

Developing: You set the alarm, but don't get up and the turkey is undercooked. 3 children are laughing while you say grace. 4 of your nephews refuse to watch the game with the rest of the family because you have failed to offer differentiated game choices. Conversation during dinner is marked by family members mumbling under their breath at your Aunt Rose, who confuses the Mayflower with the Titanic after her third Martini. Only the drunk guests thank you on the way out. Your team loses the game.

Effective: The turkey is heated to the right temperature. All the guests, whom you have invited by formal written correspondence, arrive on time with their assigned dish to pass. Your nephew sneaks near the desert dish, but quickly walks away when you mention that it is being saved until after dinner. You share a meal in which all family members speak respectfully in turn as they share their thoughts on the meaning of Thanksgiving. All foods served at the table can be traced historically to the time of the Pilgrims. You watch the game as a family, cheer in unison for your team. They win.

Highly Effective
: The turkey, which has been growing free range in your back yard, comes in your house and jumps in the oven. The guests, who wrote to ask you please be invited to your house, show early with foods to fit all dietary and cultural needs. You watch the game on tape, but only as an video prompt for your family discussion of man's inhumanity to man. Your family plays six degrees of Sir Francis Bacon and is thus able to resolve, once and for all, the issue of whether Oswald acted alone.

Originally posted November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

I want to wish all the readers of this little blog a joyous and peaceful holiday, free of the stench of reforminess and Charlotte Danielson. I'm sure you have much to be thankful for in your private lives, and of course you know that better than I ever will.

Consider, despite the nonsense swirling around us, stirred by the likes of Shakespeare's witches, they still only have that one eye between all three of them and cannot see what we do. They cannot see the faces of the children looking up at us each and every day. They have no idea what these children need, nor how to give it to them. They look at them and see thousands of dollars in each and every child, and can think only of how to get that money to people like themselves, who need it least.

We stand up for the children, and object when they are subject to endless testing so the reformies can gather baseless data to defame us. We cry out when they are herded into classrooms like sardines, and object when the likes of Eva Moskowitz subjects them to tortures that would rightfully land us on the unemployment line. We object when the governor and the Regents spout nonsense and push spineless legislators into passing it for no good reason.

And when our own union leadership gets down and supports junk science evaluation, mayoral control, Common Core, school closings, charter schools and other things that hurt parents, children and working teachers, we stand up to them too. Maybe we are naive and just not smart enough to understand why we should support things that hurt us and our children.

But most importantly, we're in classrooms helping children each and every day. People who make many times our salaries to oppose or mislead us will never understand or appreciate why that's important. They will never understand what it is to have the appreciation of a kid we've helped with something important to the kid. They will never understand why this is the best job in the world, and no it isn't because of July and/ or August.

But we know. We know when kids lack a stable role model that we are the second best thing they can have. We know that our jobs are important, maybe second only to doctors in importance. We know our value, and it's not because we read it on some rubric-based evaluation telling us whether we're 1, 2, 3 or 4.

So enjoy your time off, enjoy your homes and families, and know that there are many of us, and many public school children, and a whole lot of their parents too, who understand and appreciate what it is we do every day of our working lives. Be thankful for whatever you're thankful for, as will I, and be thankful for them, too. I'm thankful for my readers and I wish every one of you a great year, despite all odds!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Simplicity Itself

I was at a DA meeting when Punchy Mike Mulgrew said something like if you aren't fighting with your principal, you aren't doing your job. Punchy Mike immediately followed up by boasting about his cozy relationship with Chancellor Carmen FariƱa. One might infer that he was not precisely practicing what he preached. After all, this is the same Punchy Mike who urged us all to join Twitter but couldn't be bothered doing so himself.

Of course there are times when you have to be adversarial. A young teacher once told me she had an issue with a principal, and her chapter leader told her, "I can't take sides." That's absurd. It's the job of the chapter leader to advocate for members. You take the side of the member, no matter what. You don't necessarily have to agree with the member, but you do the best you can regardless. And of course, principals make mistakes. You have to call them on the mistakes. If you aren't willing to stand up for what's right, you ought to find a job more suited to your particular talents.

Sometimes things are easy. Yesterday someone double-booked the principal's office. An AP booked it for a lunch meeting with some bigshot from the DOE. I booked it for my consultation committee. Now the AP booked it directly with the principal, but I booked it with his secretary. Therefore, my request was valid while the AP's simply was not. I mean, there are plenty of principals who fancy themselves as school leaders, but anyone who actually works in a school and pays attention knows that it's actually the secretary who runs things. When the principal's off at some meeting or other, everything moves along well, but when the secretary is absent, the whole building falls instantly into chaos.

When the AP learned of this egregious error, it was instantly apparent who had the right to the office. We all know where the real levers of power are. The AP hemmed and hawed, contemplating a meeting in the far less grand department office, but I said, "Let me see what I can work out."

I opened negotiations with the principal's secretary, and we were able to move the consultation meeting to Wednesday. Sure, things were tense as we pored over the schedule and tried to find a good time, but we were determined to find a win-win, and that's what we did.

When you do things like that, you hope that when you need something, admin will reciprocate. Unless you're Andrew Cuomo, there's not a whole lot of upside when you insist on being an asshole all the time. The less you do it, the less you expect other people to do it. Sadly not all administrators know that, and it works both ways.

Of course I'm not President of the United Federation of Teachers, so what do I know?

Monday, November 23, 2015

Off With Her Rubric!

When you teach English language learners, particularly when they're rank beginners, you can never be sure how much of what you say the students understand. A typical coping technique when learning a new language is nodding your head and pretending to understand, whether or not you actually do. Different people will do that to different extents, while others will make their best guesses about what you've said and move on the assumption they're correct. Sometimes they are, but not all the time.

So there's a lot of mystery and misunderstanding in my job. One thing I make it a point to do when I teach is to refrain from showing anger when I'm actually angry. That's just not productive. But I'll frequently feign anger and/ or frustration to get attention, and I'll argue with kids who like to argue for pretty much any reason (or even no reason). If they're using English when they do it, it's a pretty good exercise.

A few days ago, a long-lost student returned. She'd been absent for maybe a month, and though I'd had people who spoke her language call her house multiple times I couldn't get a real answer as to where she was. But she had the misfortune to see me in an office that day, and pretty much had no excuse not to show. It was too bad, because she'd have likely done well, you know, had she been here.

At some point, some kid started laughing. I don't remember why. I said, "Listen, this is English class and there will be no enjoyment. Anyone else who has a good time is going to get a zero." This is something I've said before, and most of the kids are used to it. But the student who'd been absent for a long time had not, and she said, exactly, "Oh, you so bad teacher."

Now I didn't know whether she was serious or playing, but it struck me as very funny either way, and I could not stop laughing. This is usually a bad thing, as once you, the teacher, lose your composure, everyone else tends to follow suit. And thus, that day, things fell apart for a few minutes.

As of now, I'm leaning toward believing the girl was making a joke. For one thing, if you were seriously upset with a teacher, would you shout out how bad the teacher was? (Actually, there's probably a large number of teenagers who might do just that, but I don't personally believe this one was among them.)

So here's the question--were they engaged?  What would've happened if a supervisor walked in? A teacher told me the only good way for this story to end would be for a supervisor to walk in just as this was happening. And what does being engaged mean (if you haven't got imminent wedding plans)? What if I distributed 17 decks of cards and told them all to play gin rummy? Wouldn't they be engaged?

I guess it wouldn't earn me Danielson points. But for me, and for all the students who were in that room, I think we were happy to be there at that moment.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Revive NYSUT, Facing Friedrichs, Attacks Working Teacher

We pay a lot of money to NYSUT. It's a great honor, particularly for those of us who have just about no representation whatsoever. As readers of this blog well know, every single UFT representative in NYSUT is bound by loyalty oath to vote any damn way they are told, rank and file be damned.

NYSUT is worried about this blog post. Evidently, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta is all bent out of shape over it. My source reports he got up at a NYSUT board of directors meeting and said he asked the attorney general to file a discrimination complaint about the blogger. My source says Pallotta felt the blog post characterized him as a mobster, or goodfella, or something. Of course the actual blog doesn't even mention Pallotta, but that's not the point. Evidently these bloggers are taking this whole First Amendment thing way too far.

But here's the thing. Whatever Pallotta says, the whole, "Screw you pay me," thing is accurate. It's particularly accurate for members of UFT, its largest contingent, almost a third of total membership. Because of UFT's winner-take-all at large voting system, designed and approved by the Unity monopoly, our money pays the folks at NYSUT to do things like fail to support Zephyr Teachout, not once, but twice. I've heard NYSUT staffers were sent to work for Bill de Blasio's primary opponent, what's his name, the one who said we couldn't afford to give UFT teachers the raise other city workers got, in the Democratic NYC primary. Clearly UFT leadership pushes buttons at NYSUT.

And as if that's not enough there are tons of little locals who pay NYSUT but can't vote. Not everyone has the finances of UFT. NY State is as large as England and there are a whole lot of little locals who just can't finance a weekend at the NY Hilton. But for them it's still, "Screw you, pay me."

Here we are facing Friedrichs, the biggest threat to unionism in my living memory, and our leadership, the same leadership that broke several of the big promises on which it ran, is out trying to stifle free speech among union members.  Maybe I'd better stop saying Pallotta's Revive slate broke its promise to oppose Cuomo. After all, it failed to oppose him in two primaries and one general election. Maybe I'd better stop saying Pallotta's Revive slate failed to oppose Common Core. After all, Karen Magee pretty much said it was Common Core or anarchy. And Mike Mulgrew, their staunchest supporter, says he'll punch your face and push it in the dirt if you lay a paw on his Common Core.

Anyway, if  it's open season, and union leadership wants to go after bloggers, here I am. Give me your worst, fellas. I'm here every day.

Lewis Black on Teachers

Black is not so kind to guidance counselors, based only on his own. I disagree with stereotypes of all kinds, and that certainly qualifies. But listen to what he says about teachers.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A Short Story

Last night I met two Chinese-speaking parents of a shy but happy girl. I told them, after all these weeks, that I've started to see their daughter smile much more frequently. I told them, as I often tell parents, that if their daughter would speak a little more I'd give her a higher grade. They were happy to hear it, but they said their daughter was very shy, even in Chinese.

I was very impressed with Dad, who insisted on speaking English with me, and declined my offers of a translator. I kept telling them about how their daughter seemed to be coming out of her shyness, little by little, and how much her smile meant to me.

The father said something like, "She likes you very much. I will tell her you like her very much too."

There was something great about this. Moments like these make me happy to have this job.

All the reformies in the world can't see or change the real rewards of this job. They place us into ridiculous teams to solve problems we don't have. They make us pore over data to try to improve test scores. But we're not about test scores. We're about children.

For this we are vilified and scorned. For this they attack our tenure and want us at-will employees. For this they attack our unions and try to make them utterly impotent. For this we are judged by nonsense and subject to dismissal for no reason.

There's something horribly wrong with this country. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015


I have to say this is, and has always been, a high-pressure profession. I don't know how anyone manages to stand in front of 34 teenagers without noticing it. Don't mistake that for a complaint, because it's not. There's really just about nothing I'd rather do, but I've been doing this for a while so it's easier for me.

Some of my younger colleagues are not so sanguine. I regularly hear them being jealous, jealous of me because I've put in more years and can retire. They, of course, ignore the fact that they're maybe thirty years younger than I am because that's not precisely what's bothering them now. What's bothering them now is this--on top of all the pressure already inherent in this gig, there are these do or die Danielson directives. At any moment, someone can walk in, say you suck, and if they say it enough, you're busy pursuing your private interests, e.g. looking for food and shelter.

There aren't really a whole lot of needs more basic than those, and having them hanging over your head is not precisely inspirational. Mulgrew can go on about how there were "only" 700  double ineffectives, but if you're one of them that's little consolation. And even if you aren't one of them, there are a few issues with that line of thought. One is that everyone, and I mean everyone, spends an inordinate amount of time and energy fretting over this. The other, of course, is that this "low" number and others like it are precisely what inspired Andrew Cuomo to sell his even worse evaluation bill to the Heavy Hearts Assembly.

It must be great to get up in front of hundreds of cheering loyalty-oath signers and declare how wonderful everything is. Unfortunately, when you have people crying to you that they only have a few years in and are hoping to make it to twenty so they can get the hell out, it's tough to get up and sing a happy song. Me, I have no words. You can't make someone feel better when they're looking you in the eye and declaring, "Only 137 more days to go."

Sadly, that will only get them through this year, and there are ten or fifteen more to go. I know there are plenty of Americans out there who will say, "Yeah, my job sucks, and my life sucks, so what the hell do I care if your life sucks too?" That's a popular attitude, and simultaneously one of the worst attitudes of which I can even conceive. Now here's the thing. It's one thing to be miserable. That's really your problem. It's quite another to endorse the notion that role models for your children should be miserable. It's kind of a chain reaction.

In our zeal to emphasize test scores, to rate teachers by junk science, to open charters and close public schools, we've neglected to examine the relative happiness or lack thereof in our children.  Maybe I'm not as sophisticated as those who preach rigor and grit, but that's kind of important to me. I don't want my classroom to be a source of rigor. I want it to be a source of joy. If I can find joy in myself and share it with the children while teaching English they will learn more than just English. They will learn to love English. Maybe they will even learn to love life. Who knows?

Now I haven't got a rubric or formula to precisely express that, but having seen many rubrics and silver bullets over the year, I've got little faith in them.  I've got a lot of faith in happy children. I don't think it would be all that terrible if we tried to create happy teachers to inspire them, even if they miss a close reading here or there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Specter of Friedrichs Haunts Mike Mulgrew

Michael Mulgrew sent us an email the other day, telling us we needed to inform our members of the seriousness of Friedrichs. This was not really news to me, and I've been trying to do that for some time now. Of course I follow the news and I don't take this threat lightly. Those of us who are passionate about education and unionism have understood this from the beginning. We've  known we're under frontal assault and didn't need to wait for Mulgrew to tell us.

Of course, when you get an email from Mulgrew, whose caucus has held pretty much absolute control over the union since its inception, you have to question things. Here's the statement I had to question:

Unity among UFT members is essential in the face of this threat.

There's that odd choice of words. Why did he have to use the name of his caucus in that statement? Is it coincidence?

And then there's his odd niceness campaign at the DA, largely consisting of Mulgrew telling us how nice he is. He fails to personally insult people from the podium. He says something nice about Mindy Rosier. Then he briefly lapses back into character and suggests Jonathan Halabi is an anarchist for wanting to support ATRs.

Sadly, we've heard this song before, ad nauseum. Mulgrew constantly reminds us of how bad Bloomberg was. And I can't help but recall several Unity oath-signers coming around here telling me how I needed to stop criticizing leadership and face the common enemy, Mike Bloomberg. It's the same thing now with Friedrichs. Now, we are instructed not to dissent because of Friedrichs. There is never a good time to disagree with the all-knowing Unity Caucus, and if they had enough patronage to spread around they'd probably try to get all of us to sign the loyalty oath.

But even as Mulgrew speaks of togetherness, his hand-picked pawns at NYSUT spew vitriol over heroic independent-minded unionist Beth Dimino. They can't buy her (and they've certainly tried), so they attack her. They've attacked me too. Someone needs to tell Michael Mulgrew and BFFs that this is a two-way street. It's not enough for Mulgrew to stand in front of us and proclaim how nice he thinks he is. We have not drunk the Kool-Aid and we are not fools.

Mulgrew's niceness campaign opened up right on the heels of his throwing those who distribute policical union literature outside the building. Like Norm Scott frequently advises, we watch what they do, not what they say. The problem with those at the head of the Unity machine is they're accustomed to selling things to people who are already bought and paid for. They have no idea what argument is and they have no idea what persuasion entails. On multiple occasions, dim bulbs from Unity have tried to bully me into submission. You must do this and you must agree with that.

They have no response when I ask what they're gonna do if I don't do this or that. Are they gonna expel me from the Unity Caucus? Take me off the patronage mill? Do your worst, fellas.

You don't buy people off, demand blind loyalty no matter what, and end up with the best people. That's a good part of why we've bought into a culture of appeasement, and a good reason why our enemies are so emboldened. It's why fewer than 20% of working teachers think voting in union elections is worth their time, why rank and file is so poorly mobilized, why we've moved so far backward, and why we face moving further still in that direction.

We've seen this coming. We've watched every step of the way, with every concession Mike Mulgrew and his Unity army gave away. We oppose Friedrichs as much as anyone, perhaps more. But Mulgrew and company have ignored us every step of the way. It's pretty cheeky for them to now demand we forget what brought us here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

DA Takeaway November 2015

The most striking thing about this month's DA, in retrospect, is the absolute nonsense voiced by UFT President Michael Mulgrew at its opening. I had no idea why Mulgrew was talking about whether or not people could leaflet inside or out of UFT offices. But he went into detail about how outer borough offices occupied rented space, and the Manhattan building was owned by the union. Given that, he said, it was understandable that indoor leafleting was permitted only at 52 Broadway.

Yet here is a video taken by Norm Scott showing people actively blocking him from leafleting. Norm repeatedly asks who sent these people, and they repeatedly evade answering him. Norm points out that the union owns the building and that he's paid dues for 45 years. So why have people been sent to throw him out of the building that we own? And who the hell sent those people, if not Michael Mulgrew? If he is not in control of his own people, who is?

Mulgrew is clearly trying to overcome his image as autocratic, sarcastic, and disrespectful of any opinions failing to mirror his own. In fact, he himself kept remarking on how nice he is. He once again joked about how he restrained himself from using bad language, a joke he evidently finds so hilarious it bears repeating on a monthly basis. He made a point of commenting on how Mindy Rosier was a great presence in social media, which of course she is. Yet that only underlines the hypocrisy of the man who urges UFT members to get on Twitter but won't do so himself.

Bogeyman Michael Bloomberg, who we failed to oppose in two elections, is brought up. Aren't we better off without him? Well of course we are, but if we hadn't caved to him on mayoral control, on the ATR, and on the entire grab bag of goodies we granted him in 2005, we'd be better off yet. It's time to face up to our current enemies--Andrew Cuomo, who we also failed to oppose on multiple occasions, and MaryEllen Elia, who enabled the union-bsuting being imposed on our brothers and sisters in Buffalo. It's time for Mulgrew to explain why the hell he thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly for approving the law that made this happen.

Self-proclaimed nice Mulgrew again ridiculed his opponents, saying last year everyone was "jumping up and down." In retrospect, there was a lot to jump about. Look at Buffalo teachers facing receivership. Look at them facing the abrogation of collective bargaining agreements. Look at them facing more work for less pay and even potential dismissal. Mulgrew spoke of how bogeyman Bloomberg wanted to fire ATRs and render us at-will employees. Yet he thanked the Heavy Hearts for passing a bill that does exactly the same thing.

It was clear to his MORE/ NA opponent, Jia Lee, months ago that MaryEllen Elia was not our friend. That's why she brought a resolution urging we express our disapproval. But UFT Unity, ever seeking a seat at the table where we are the dinner, shot it down.

Most of the resolutions were pretty much Mom and Apple Pie, and few stood against them. But on the 5 train back, James Eterno mentioned he was concerned about any bill that says all kids will be literate by second grade. Of course no one opposes literacy. But the 100% figure is problematic, and we seem to have learned nothing from the failed NCLB. Kids have all sorts of differences, including learning disabilities and interrupted formal education, and given that, 100% is not a reasonable goal.

And while Jonathan Halabi himself has commented about it on this blog, I have to say I was a little shocked to see Mulgrew rule him out of order for speaking up for ATR teachers. Mulgrew took it a step further, likening Jonathan's proposal to anarchy. Personally, I'm not an anarchist, but I am and have been troubled by the top-down nature of UFT leadership. I always found it amazing they could muster the audacity to criticize bogeyman Bloomberg for being exactly the same as they are. That, of course, is not to even mention the fact that every single one of our so-called delegates in NYSUT and AFT has signed a loyalty oath to represent leadership rather than membership.

Ruling out free thought has brought us precisely to this crossroad. 

Monday, November 16, 2015

My "Real Discussion" on Test-Based Teacher Evaluations

At the November Delegate meeting, President Mulgrew noted that there needs to be a "real discussion" on teacher evaluations.  He asked if teachers really want to return to evaluations based solely upon the observation of principals.  Under the new system, fewer teachers receive the near equivalent of the old U, an ineffective rating.

The President noted that no standardized test should be used solely to evaluate teachers.  The tests must have validity in informing instruction and aiding individual students.  He also noted that student learning is not just a test.

There are some positives.  Tests no longer seem to be touted as the key to civil rights equality for minorities.  That is a blessing.  If my bottom line was data, I might say the new system, with fewer failing teachers, is an improvement.  If I had a supervisor with a personal vendetta against me, I would probably wish 100% of my evaluations were based upon standardized assessments.

Having neither, I can safely say I abhor test-based evaluations of teachers.  I do not wish to teach to standardized tests.  For part of my career, these tests have watered down the curriculum.  The higher the stakes of these tests, the more teachers are forced to spend good class time in nearly meaningless prep.  In the case of the Common Core, the tests target a generation of other people's children for failure.  I would not wish to teach to these tests either.

Standardized tests have nothing to do with my reasons for entering the profession of teaching.  They have nothing to do with making learning interesting to students.  They kill creativity.  They push current issues aside.  They rank people according to questions that will, ultimately, have little relevance for the real world.

If teaching remains focused on testing, teachers are nothing more than at-will employees of Stanley Kaplan.  All that's needed to fire more teachers are harder, trickier or less valid tests.  There is no objectivity in testing, only a false veneer.  Testing could turn teaching into a profession one hardly recognizes anymore.  How many intelligent and independently-minded individuals will want to teach to someone else's idea of a perfect test?

This is my "real discussion."  You are free to agree or disagree.  There's no one answer, as on a standardized test; but, remember, there's a lot riding on the answer.  We are redefining a profession.  We are creating a new breed of teacher.

And, unfortunately, we may be fostering far fewer creative children.