Friday, July 03, 2015

If We Win Nothing, We Still Win

What is progress? Is progress when we get to speak freely about the abysmal quality of state tests? If so, we haven't precisely made any. Apparently, teachers are now free to discuss the contents of tests after they are made public. The problem, of course, is that pretty much everyone is free to discuss pretty much anything that is public. So what have we gained?
“We’ve loosened the gag but not untied it completely,” said Karen E. Magee, president of the New York State United Teachers union. “But it is certainly progress.”
All due respect, I have no idea why. Ms. Magee, like many union leaders, sees something positive here. It's actually ridiculous to call this progress.

Another test-security rule that Ms. Phillips and others have complained about is one that says teachers who proctor the exams cannot read them. That rule remains in place.
You're not even allowed to read the exams. So if some hapless kid has a question, you say, "Sorry, kid, but state law prohibits me from looking at your paper." How idiotic is that?

I wonder whether it's part of Magee's job description to keep that sunny outlook and find good in everything. Our local union President, Michael Mulgrew, does much the same. In fact, an email I received from Magee seems very much to echo his talking points.

Months of tireless activism by NYSUT's mobilized leaders and members, in unity with parents and our coalition partners, convinced the Legislature this week to reject a toxic, test-and-punish agenda and begin to turn the tide on over-testing!

We beat back the education tax credit that would have been a giveaway to rich supporters of private schools, stopped the push to make the tax cap permanent, and made progress on testing and transparency. This good news underscores the momentum our solidarity continues to build in advancing NYSUT's agenda -- positioning us well for the challenges that remain.

But I'm not feeling the joy. Not only have we made zero progress on the test thing, but also we've gone backward on evaluation. Our strategy to beat that back, if indeed you could call it one, was to ignore the evaluation issue utterly and focus on budget. The tactic, as put forth by UFT President Michael Mulgrew, was to get on Twitter and talk about what #AllKidsNeed, and to #InviteCuomo to our classrooms.

Now there's nothing wrong with that. I participated. (Mulgrew did not.) But the thing that bothers most of the teachers with whom I speak is, in fact, the evaluation system. No one likes it. Everyone is on edge. And while we can focus on what we did not lose, yet, it is not yet time to declare victory and have a party.

We're looking at a new system designed specifically because not enough teachers were being fired under the current one. That is the only reason this system came into being. Mulgrew can point to the matrix and claim tests don't count for 50% of teacher ratings. Maybe they count for 30%. Maybe they count for 49%. Or maybe he's wrong, because there are only two axes, and one of them is testing.

But does that even matter when we're in a system expressly designed to fire more teachers? If this system doesn't fire enough teachers, are we going to get a system that tries to even more teachers? Will that merit a thank you as well?

Mulgrew thanked the Heavy Hearts for voting for this system. If everything we do is wonderful, if we're in the best of all possible worlds, if whatever happens is progress, how do we know when something goes wrong? How do we know when leadership is acting in our interests?

In fact, if we rely on leadership to keep us informed, how do we know anything at all?

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Hypocrisy of Admin Demanding Constant Assessment

There's a new thing in town. Apparently, though test scores are to count up to 50% of your rating, you aren't supposed to use them too much when rating your students. You need to constantly keep your eye on them, and constantly ask them whether they understand or not. You could, for example ask them to raise their right hands if they understand, or their left if they do not. Or you could give them red and green cards. Have them hold up green if they understand, and red if they don't.

This is an odd system, if you ask me. I use the old-fashioned method of constantly asking questions and seeing who can and cannot answer. I am also constantly walking around to see who's on task, who isn't, who's doing it right, and who isn't. But this isn't acceptable anymore, apparently. Rather, I am to rely on the word of a bunch of teenagers for whether or not they understand. Naturally, since this system assumes teenagers to be perfectly secure in themselves at all times, they will never, ever have issues admitting in front of all their peers that they don't understand what's going on.

This is odd, because I learned early on that the question, "Do you understand?" is totally useless. If I depend on kids to tell me whether they understand, I won't find out whether or not they're telling me the truth until I actually give a test and check the results. Because guess what? A lot of people who don't know what's going on simply will not admit it, and that applies to already insecure teenagers as much as anyone. In fact, when is the last time you heard a mea culpa from your principal? When's the last time you got one from your union leader?

I mean, if your supervisor insists you spend class time with kids raising cards, you could always ask them to just raise the green ones to each and every question, and then you will look like a genius. But that's not what's bothering me here. If it is good practice to constantly assess rather than wait until test time, why do we have a system to evaluate professionals that is exactly opposite?

Right now, in NYC, the MOTP portion of your rating is based upon as few as 4 snapshot observations, a single hour of the many you put in throughout the year. Some must be off the cuff, since the system assumes you sit around and read the paper at the desk all year until the supervisor comes in. Then, of course, you give a highly effective textbook lesson, because you can turn on the good stuff whenever you feel like it. I'd argue that, for better or worse, we do all we can all the time, but that's not the point either.

The point is, particularly if you're struggling, particularly if you need help, it's the supervisor's job to provide assistance. If you are not getting a decent rating, it's unconscionable if the supervisor only walked in four times and told you you sucked. It's particularly unconscionable if said supervisor is one who subscribes to the perpetual assessment theory and imposes it on his underlings. Leaders practice what they preach.

I'd argue that formative observations, those that don't count, are a waste of time if a teacher is doing well. In fact, for a teacher doing well, the required four observations are probably a whole lot more than enough. But if the supervisor, the one who fervently believes in formative assessment, can't be bothered to practice it for those he's charged with assessing, he's a hypocrite of the first order, and ought to find a job more suited to his particular talents.

I'm thinking the line at Wendy's, but I'm open to suggestions.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

UFT Presidential Race Heats Up

In our continuing coverage of the UFT Presidential campaign, NYC Educator is pleased to keep you apprised of all the important candidates. In alphabetical order:

Emmie--Emmie's campaign is managed by MORE member Lauren Cohen. As you can see, she is already wearing a MORE button. Emmie presumes herself to be the nominee, and organized a play date, attended by most candidates, in which she proposed a unified slate. However, after extensive questioning, both Julio and Peppi left believing that Emmi would only participate in a slate in which she were the presidential candidate. Neither Julio nor Peppi, in the end, committed to endorsing Emmie. However, all parties deemed her the best dressed of all the candidates.

If elected, Emmie promises to end the scourge of water fountains that are too high for the vertically challenged to drink from, and promises to lobby for water bowls at regular intervals in school buildings.

Julio--Julio is an independent, and refuses to align himself with any one caucus at this time.  Julio attended the doggie play date organized by Emmie, but declined to endorse her, claiming her presentation was unpersuasive. While admiring her outfit, Julio felt it was inappropriate for campaign season. Julio prefers a more sporty and natural look, and feels wearing a heavy shirt will get in the way of his job performance. Julio says this is particularly true in the summer, when it's hot, and says it would be extremely "rough" to meet all the job requirements if he were dressed like Emmie.

Julio carries the much-coveted NYC Educator endorsement. Both Emmie and Peppi object to this, claiming the endorsement was issued before they were fully vetted. Peppi was particularly upset, accusing Julio of undue influence, and even residing at the blogger's home. Peppi characterized this as not only prejudicial, but also extremely "rough." While Emmie withheld comment on this accusation, Julio implied Peppi was getting personal and said there was no need for bringing the campaign into the gutter. Julio is the youngest of the candidates and suggests his youth will enable him to have the vision the union needs to move forward. Julio's ticket is filling out quickly, and he has endorsed Bernice and Penny Lane as secretary and treasurer.

Michael Mulgrew--Mulgrew is the incumbent UFT President, endorsed by both Unity and New Action. Mulgrew is the only one of the candidates who did not attend the play date, but in fairness, Emmie admits failing to notify him, having dispensed invites at the doggie park.

NYC Educator reached out to Mulgrew, but Mulgrew did not answer the email. Thus, Mulgrew's position on inter-species elections remains murky. Mulgrew is a member of the Unity Caucus, and it has characterized its opponents as "Chicken little." Both Emmie and Julio took offense at that characterization, insisting neither was chicken. They also felt this characterization was an attack on their diminutive stature, and Emmie cited the Mark Twain quote, "It's not the dog in the fight, it's the fight in the dog." Peppi refused to comment on Mulgrew, vowing not to make the campaign personal. Peppi pointed out the importance of always keeping an open mouth, and noted that Mulgrew was the only candidate, other than himself, to have one.

Peppi--Peppi is also running as an independent, but it's clear his campaign manager, Mike Schirtzer, is affiliated with MORE. Peppi insists he will not be influenced by his manager's affiliation, but we at NYC Educator question his independence.

Peppi attended the doggie play date but has not, to date, agreed to endorse Emmie. He says he is the best candidate for UFT President because not only does he keep his ears open, but he keeps his mouth open as well.

Peppi portrays himself as the social justice candidate. He believes, particularly given the way people vote for the likes of Scott Walker and Andrew Cuomo, that elections should be open to all species. He also believes that there should be a minimum canine age of 2 years, and therefore considers Julio to be unqualified for the position of UFT President. Julio characterized this accusation as excessively "rough."

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Julio 2016

A lot of people are expressing doubt about the upcoming UFT election. Should I vote for Mulgrew? Should I vote for MORE? They haven't even proposed a candidate, and who can sit around waiting for something like that?

 It's always tough to make important decisions like those. That's why it's so important for us to have another alternative, someone who isn't sociopathic or megalomaniacal, somene who isn't making backdoor deals, someone who not only won't punch your face out for opposing Common Core, but also someone who wouldn't remotely consider opposing Opt-out.

I can further assure you that Julio wouldn't even think of signing a loyalty oath, and would never endorse or sign a substandard contract. Julio won't say one thing and do another, and he'll always support his friends. He isn't secretly angling for some union job, or hoping to become supervisor.

We need someone tough to run our union. I've spent a lot of time with Julio, and I assure you he doesn't think twice about barking at dogs ten times his size. And you better believe he won't back down from a dirtbag like Cuomo. If Cuomo approached me the way he approaches most teachers, Julio would bite his ankle for sure.

Furthermore, Julio won't be chasing after some seat at the table. He couldn't care less about a seat at the table. You see that piece of rawhide he has? I bought that at Petco, and it's the best thing he's ever seen in his life. He wouldn't trade it for any seat at any table. And I assure you he won't be going around throwing all sorts of cash around on expense accounts either. 

One of the most important elements in a leader is trust. I trust Julio absolutely, and he trusts me too. I know he won't be writing nasty stuff about me when I turn my back. He's not spending all his time online reading scurrilous rumors on blogs, let alone spreading them. He won't betray your confidences or turn on you.

I wasn't going to make an endorsement so early, but I know the field, and I think it's time we broaden it. We need a leader who won't sell us out for political expedience. We need a leader who we can count on and trust. We need a leader who won't take any crap from the likes of Cuomo, Flanagan, or whatever tinhorn politician comes down the pike.

That's why NYC Educator endorses Julio for UFT President in 2016. Haven't consulted yet with Arwen, but hoping she comes on board. I can assure her Julio comes with none of the baggage associated with already declared candidates.

Are you with me?

Related: EdNotes takes offense, declares Julio's nomination undemocratic, and throws his cats' bowls into the ring.

Update: Julio apologizes for his haste, endorses both Bernice and Penny Lane, and adds them to his ticket. Julio claims to now be the only candidate who does not discriminate based on species.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Living the Life of Riley: The Myth that Teachers Have It Easty

There has been a myth circulating, probably as old as time itself, that teachers have it easy.  It is given credence by the fact teachers have their summers off and still get paid...

Yet, if teachers truly had it easy, people would flock to the profession in droves.  The doors are not barred.  I don't see that happening anytime soon.  Teachers, although they do not typically work summers, receive an annual salary that fails to attract the great many.

These days, given the current climate of ed. "reform," teachers cannot leave through the exits fast enough.  Witness the unexpected spike in City retirements last June given the promise of upfront retro.   Witness the teacher attrition rate in the last ten years.  Witness the loss of experienced teachers in the profession.  Witness the decline in popularity of teacher-ed. programs across the country.  I'm sure you know people who have left.  I bet you know even more who wonder what to tell their children about this noble profession.  Their brother are doctors.  Their sisters are lawyers.  Their Aunt is a businesswoman.  Does teaching "pay" anymore?  

In the past, some people who either could not hack it in the classroom or wanted higher pay and more respect might have chosen to become administrators.  Today, that option seems far from golden.  Who wants to spend time running around checking off boxes of Danielson while the world falls into ruins around them?  Today, there is a new class of teachers who leave to become ed. "reformers."  They have taught for two or three years and they think they know it all.  They know they won't last in the profession, so they run for a more cushy job.  They love telling you what the hell is wrong with you.

Others may try to leave the profession by moving up the UFT-career ladder.  Maybe if you can write some ill-reasoned piece of propaganda crap, you can be catapulted out of the classroom into a nice office job. This is business unionism at its best.  To hell with the smaller NY locals with leaders who actually teach and teachers who actually vote their conscience.   Vote with the Unity 800 in a system far from democratic by any standards, and know that none of the decisions will impact you in the least!  You've got your double pension to make you cozy!  Unlike so many teaching colleagues, you'll make it to retirement.  You'll get all your eyeglasses and pills and vote with retirees who constitute 52% of all UFT voters.  Find some comfort in knowing your former colleagues now have $125 in Teachers' Choice.  Don't worry that many of them would Choose to leave the profession if they could.  Now that you're not busy teaching, you've got time to brush up on some Orwell.  

Teaching is a wonderful profession, but not because it is easy.  Where student needs are the highest, the job is the hardest.  Class size combined with lack of funding for high-needs students is a sure-fire formula for teacher burnout.  Add to it the weight of being a scapegoat.  As stresses mount, many quit.  Why wait to leave the profession when the profession may leave you.  Job security is at an all-time low.

There is no way that this is an easy job.  Yet, it is one of the most rewarding and important, if not the most.  We will all be dead some day, but we leave our children behind us.  We want them to be ready for the world.  We want posterity to find new possibilities for peace, cooperation and prolonging the life of our planet.  With the world in figurative flames around us, who the hell cares how posterity handles standardized tests?  Good teachers are priceless, no matter what their students' test scores try to say about them!  Without good teachers, we are all goners!  If only teaching were easier...

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Victory, NYSUT and UFT Style

One of the great things about being a teacher union leader is you always win. You win when there are 22 components in Danielson and you fight back Bloomberg's call for only seven. You win again when there are 22 and you negotiate it down to 8 (almost exactly what Bloomberg wanted).

You win when there's a transfer plan that allows teachers to go where they wish. You also win when you give up that plan and teachers can go nowhere without the OK of a principal. You not only win when you get a junk science evaluation system, but you also get to dump the sitting President of NYSUT because he helped you win that.

This year Governor Cuomo, whose popularity is at an all-time low, pushed through a revision of the APPR, expressly designed because too few teachers were getting low ratings. UFT President Michael Mulgrew sent an email thanking the Assembly for that. Why? Because, of course, it was a victory. Everything is a victory. We always win. Those who criticize junk science, like me, like Carol Burris and a large percentage of NY principals, like Diane Ravitch, are cranks, Chicken Little, shouting the sky is falling. Why?

Because this year fewer people were rated poorly than under the old system. Of course, under the old system, you were not necessarily bound for 3020a after two years of crap ratings. Furthermore, under the old system, it was on the DOE to prove you were unfit. Under the new system, if a member of the UFT rat squad says so, the burden of proof is on you, the teacher.

Now that UFT has dumped the former President of NYSUT, the new one has adopted the UFT good news policy. Here's an excerpt from a Karen Magee email:

We beat back the education tax credit that would have been a giveaway to rich supporters of private schools, stopped the push to make the tax cap permanent, and made progress on testing and transparency.

Now this isn't the first time we "beat back" the tax credit. It likely will not be the last time it rears its ugly head, and it's far from time to rest on our laurels. And Ms. Magee omits the fact that we're sending private schools 250 million bucks. And while the tax cap isn't permanent, it isn't gone either.

Note that this is not about what we achieved. It's about what we didn't lose yet. It's like when your friend tells you about all the things he's done for you. Remember when you were walking down the stairs and I didn't push you? Remember when we went out for coffee and I didn't put poison in your latte? Remember when we were walking by that semi-frozen lake and I didn't toss you in?

Just forget about all the broken promises in the leaflet above. So what if they utterly failed to oppose Cuomo when he was actually running for election? Who cares if Karen Magee and her Unity BFFs have not only failed to oppose Common Core, but spoken forcefully for it at AFT?  What does it matter if they not only failed to do anything against APPR, but also labeled its new steroid-laced draconian iteration a legislative victory? They still haven't joined that Fort Orange Club. Maybe next week they won't join it again

It will be another grand victory.

Related: A local union leader stands up to the nonsense. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Last Day

That's all there is and there ain't no more. I know it will be tough. How can you relax without the Sword of Danielson perpetually balanced over your head? How will you be at peace with yourself without knowing the 30-year-old Boy Wonder might pop in with his iPad and let you know all the many ways you've gone astray and exactly why you're such a worthless mass of protoplasm? It will be tough, what with a seat at the beach, a coconut filled with a piƱacolada in one hand, and a Common Core-prohibited piece of fiction in the other.

But, of course, you will have to manage. As will I, and as will we all. It will be tough not getting up at 5 AM to run like hell and get dressed to drive away in the dark. It will be a struggle not to plot and scheme about how to win the never-ending battle with the smart girl with the fast mouth in the third row. And what about all the meetings you won't be attending? 80 minutes on Monday and 70 on Tuesday. 40 minutes each and every day in some multi-session schools. That will be tough to break away from.

But we all have to make sacrifices. We'll have to go out to lunch, go on trips, and travel. We'll have to read things other than textbooks. We'll have to see people we never get to see and do things we never get to do.

I've been teaching over thirty years now, and despite all the awful nonsense that swirls around us I've never appreciated my job more than I do now. I love the kids I serve, and I appreciate the opportunity to know them and help them. Maybe one of the reasons the reformies attack us so viciously is that they know how good this job is and how bad they'd be at it. Probably not, because they're only in it for the money.

But no matter how much I like my actual job, I can't say I mind the time off either.

I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous summer. I hope you get to spend time with family and friends. I hope you get to pursue all the interests you've been postponing due to the need to, you know, work.

Lord knows you deserve it. And if you want to hear about all the depressing and unconscionable things the reformies are doing while you're off, I'm here just about every day.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Why Aren't People Standing for UFT Delegate?

I recently received an email from a UFT employee chiding certain schools for not appointing delegates to the UFT Delegate Assembly. It complained about those who asked why UFT didn't support Zephyr Teachout and suggested it was their own fault for not getting involved. Well, I'm pretty involved and frankly, the Delegate Assembly is just about the last place I'd expect to have my voice heard.

Whenever someone in leadership stands up against opt-out, for a substandard contract, most of the DA votes with them, predictably  and on cue. When James Eterno spoke against the contract Mulgrew turned off his mike. When Eterno said we'd established the worst pattern ever for our brother and sister employees Mulgrew denied it, but offered no evidence otherwise. I've yet to see any, and I can't recall anything quite as bad as 10% over 7 years.

A young delegate from our school watched Eterno get shut down and said, “An elementary student could see how unfair this is.” She's very helpful in our school and she will come to the DA if I ask her. Still, I won’t ask her to come just to pass the time. Most members of the DA have taken an oath to vote with leadership and risk not only convention trips, but often UFT gigs if they vote the wrong way. In fact, the person who sent me that email would be out of a job if he stepped out of line. This would not be so bad if stepping out of line didn't entail opposing Common Core, mayoral control, bad contracts, and a host of other things that hurt not only us, but also the children we serve.

I represent the largest high school in Queens, we have multiple delegates, but making them come would not make a dent in the pre-determined results. When Unity leadership sends the message, everyone knows and acts accordingly. It's infuriating to see the DA represented as a place where decisions are made, as opposed to a place where people are telegraphed how to vote, with virtually no subtlety whatsoever.

I have never been recognized at the DA. I have better luck, and a larger, more diverse audience, in the Daily News. The last time I tried to speak, Mulgrew recognized a Unity Caucus member, three feet to my left, three times as I waved my hand in vain. Unlike most in the body, I was wearing a suit,  but nonetheless invisible to the President. At that time, Joel Klein was trying to charge schools for opening before 8 and closing after four. My overcrowded school actually gave classes hours before 8 and after 4. I thought it was a pretty salient point, but our school of over 4,000 was not on Michael Mulgrew's agenda that day.

Those who complain of the UFT's failure to support brilliant, pro-public education Zephyr Teachout are not Johnies-come-lately, and it's not like they haven't tried to be heard at the DA. In fact there was a resolution at a DA last year to decline support for Cuomo last year and it was shot down.  We followed up by deciding to do nothing in the WFP election, and it appeared unions, including UFT, would have withdrawn support of WFP had they supported Teachout. NYSUT and UFT did nothing in the Democratic primary and Weingarten made calls for Hochul, who thanked her by speaking at Eva’s latest rally. We all did nothing in the general and everyone knows just how well that worked out.

I have tried to get  dissident voices heard by leadership, and the DA is just about the worst forum in which I could do it. When the contract was under discussion, I tried to enable an open forum. I had a journalist interested in moderating it. I was planning to record it and make it available to all, but leadership objected to the journalist moderating, suggesting he might write about it. At that point I knew they would never agree to having this forum recorded and made available to rank and file.

Our delegates actively support union within our school and will come make Hail Mary votes against junk science APPR or bad contracts. I could drag them monthly to hear about what a great job leadership is doing and how anyone who disagrees doesn't believe in democracy.

The fact is, though, that lack of interest in being delegates in some schools is a direct function of the cynicism engendered by a leadership that builds brick walls around people like me and other acolytes of Diane Ravitch.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Where Did the Second Amendment Come From?

In the wake of the insane shooting that took the lives of churchgoers, for the offense of their skin color, a lot of Americans are thinking this--how the hell did that insane racist get his hands on a firearm? How can we keep firearms from lunatics and criminals?

It's very tough to do this in the United States. For one thing, the NRA is very powerful. It does everything it can to hinder any and all restrictions on firearms. And a big talking point is that there are too many, not too few laws. Another, around here, is how tough the laws are in New York and New Jersey. These arguments sound pretty good unless you consider them a little more carefully.

There's a glaring gun show loophole in the United States. I mentioned this on Facebook, and a commenter replied that New York had very tough gun show rules. However, if 33 other states don't, what difference does it make? You can go to some show, buy a gun, and bring it to New York or anywhere else with no issue. What difference does it make how tough the laws are in New York or New Jersey if you can freely go elsewhere and buy anything?

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and no one checks anyone crossing state borders. That's why Bonnie and Clyde were always crossing them. In Iowa, blind people can get gun permits. I'm not sure they can get driver's licenses, so they may have to enlist friends to drive them over state borders, but you get my point. State laws are largely irrelevant, and a poor argument against regulating firearms. While they don't work, it's ridiculous to determine, therefore, that legislation is useless. That implies Americans should shrug our collective shoulders, sigh, and say, "Oh well, I guess we'll have more churches and schools shot up." 

Another objection I hear is that many of the guns in these incidents are unregistered. Considering that anyone can go to any of 33 states and buy a firearm without a background check, that's not surprising. What's surprising is that any thinking person could oppose closing the gun show loophole. Guns don't magically rain from the sky. Gun owners should be responsible for accounting for their guns and immediately reporting their sale, disposal or theft. Guns need to be regulated nationally, not by state.

Some will argue that this violates the 10th Amendment, or that this abridges their rights under the 2nd Amendment. Some will say this violates the sanctity of the Constitution. But the fact is, the Constitution was not given to Moses by God on a mountaintop. Were that the case, there would be no need for amendments. And the amendments are not etched in stone on those tablets either.

It's our job to prevent further atrocities. It's our job to do everything in our power to remove options from lunatics. I don't see how that hinders law-abiding gun owners, but with all due respect, they are not priority number one for me. The presumption that their right to own guns trumps the right of churchgoers and students to worship and study in peace is a poor one.

This country bends over backwards to accommodate the NRA. It also bends over backwards to accommodate Bill Gates. It's time we do what's best for our people, rather than what's best for those who stuff the most cash into the pockets of our politicians.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Eyes in the Back of Your Head

That's what you need to proctor efficiently. For example, every time you write the time on the board, who the hell knows what's going on? Should you write one number at a time and then duck around? Or will that take more time than actually writing them all at once? And what if something else happens? Doesn't something else always happen? Isn't that why you have this job?

Let's say, for instance, you're proctoring in a huge art classroom. It is like an oven. The girl in front of you wipes her brow and looks at you imploringly, her eyes saying, holy crap, can't you do anything about this? You look back at her, wanting to be the Superman she's Waiting For, and ask, "Does the AC work?" The guy next to her says the other teacher says it doesn't, but you, being the big hero, have to check.

So you turn on a switch, hear a sound, but you have to climb up on a table to ascertain whether or not the sound means anything. It does not. You then climb down, and contemplate plan B, allowing air to circulate. You go to the back door, ask the girl blocking it to move up one seat, and then use her former seat to prop open the back door. Then you go to the front, where a trash can has the door open two or three inches and open up that door fully with another student desk. You then note the miracle of air circulating from window, to door, to windows in the hallway, and you think, "This is not so bad. Maybe I can be one of those hero teachers like in the movies and have some insipid movie star pretend to be me."

But just as you're getting set to calculate how much your consultant fee ought to be, disaster strikes. There are posters all over the room, and they are rustling, because whoever put them up only taped them on top, never contemplating that some day there might be air in the room. How can kids concentrate with all that noise? Is there any tape in the teacher desk? You find some Scotch Tape in the second drawer, but darn it, the teacher just used it all and placed it back in there empty. The next one? Nothing. Just some papers from ten years ago that never got handed back. The next one? An antediluvian English textbook. It is not until the very last drawer that you hit the mother lode--a thick roll of masking tape. You tape one, you tape another, but the noisiest, most rustling poster there is way in the back.

It's by the air conditioner, and you have to climb up on the table again to get at it. Naturally the Spanish teacher picks that very moment to come in and do her dictation. She looks at you like you are out of your mind. You look at her and try to convey silently that while you may indeed be out of your mind, it's not for this particular reason. After all, here you are risking your neck so that the children can hear her read about whatever it is she's reading about.

You tape the noisy poster, and does anyone thank you? The girl who was about to collapse of heat stroke before your heroic efforts? The teacher whose voice would not have carried above those rustling papers that sounded like Niagara Falls? Does the mayor come and give you a medal? Does UFT leadership repent, go back to the bargaining table, and try to get the $50,000 NYC owes you before you're in a wheelchair?

Nope. None of these things happen. And if that isn't bad enough, the teacher who's coming to relieve you shows up three minutes late, three minutes in which you could've had a revelation, determined the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything, or perhaps even figured out what it is that is causing that pain in your toe.

But no. That three minutes is lost, you will never get them back and worst of all, no one will know of the heroic obstacles you overcame to ensure none of those kids would disappear into a pile of sweat underneath some gum-encrusted relic the NYC Department of Education interprets as furniture. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

My MOSL and Me: Luck Looms Large Among the Many Factors Out of My Control

Students took the Global History and Geography Regents last week.  In addition to fifty multiple-choice questions and a document-based essay with short-answer scaffolding, students had to write a thematic essay on belief systems.  They had to discuss a central belief of two systems as well as the spread of each system and its effects, once transplanted.

Some teachers were relieved.  They had guessed the question correctly.  They had given a similar question on their final.  They had reviewed the topic a day or two before.

I was a little less lucky.  I reviewed the topic a month and a half earlier...when we were first asked to begin our review.  I had not tested the same topic on the final.  I had not reviewed it again, a day or two before.  Looking on the bright side, if I hadn't reviewed it with them at all, they would have either needed to remember it from two falls back--when they were ninth graders--or from their own self-regulated review.  The latter doesn't happen much these days.

As we all know, it is one day of testing that is supposed to reflect best on our full year of teaching and the totality of knowledge absorbed by our students.  And besides needing to review like crazy to (ironically) try to prove that we are good teachers, we need loads of luck to correctly predict essay topics.

Some of my colleagues pat themselves on the back.  They mentioned this or that which their students can use as outside information for the DBQ.  I know better.  You know something and you mention it, but the test is not measuring the teacher.  The test is measuring the brain of a sometimes distracted teenager.  It was important to you that you mentioned "x," but it went in one ear of your student and out the other.  Your students were dreaming about "y."  It's probably a heck of a lot more interesting!

Despite the optimism of the most optimistic, most student essays will leave something to be desired.  Many kids may be able to explain a number of tenets of each religion, but the thematic question demands a discussion of the spread of the belief systems.  Here, I know students will sadly fall short.

It's not that we failed to teach them.  We merely failed to focus upon what the test makers chose to focus upon this year.  If we focus upon it next year, the test makers will have already moved on to something else.  Will we be able to guess it?

As the forces of "reform" fight to revoke tenure, the challenging nature of future Common-Core aligned exams may soon prove in a single day of testing (just three-hours time) that we are all failures, worthy of being held back or fired.

But for now, it's June.  The summer vacation will soon be upon us.  You've done the best YOU can do.  And you've even tried to spread the word about the stupidity of this system.  So, let's live for today...while the Governor and his supporters in Albany try to find new ways to eliminate our tomorrows!  "Sha-la-la-la-la-la, live for today and don't worry 'bout tomorrow..."

Friday, June 19, 2015

What Would Happen if You Gave Tests Like NYSED Does?

I've been reading that the Common Core math tests will be a rousing success, because their passing percentages will be the same as the Regents math tests were. That way, no one will say, "Gee, Common Core is failing everyone, and therefore it sucks." Thus, there will be no torches and pitchforks over at the gubernatorial palace, or wherever  Andrew Cuomo keeps his coffin, or his oversized ego, or whatever it is that motivates him to behave as he does.

On the other hand, imagine if you were to give tests on such a basis. You'd have to say to your students, "I can't tell you now how much each question is worth. I'll have to see how many people get it right or wrong first. What I can tell you is this--70% of you will pass, and 30% will fail." What would your students say to that? And what if your plan, as was John King's, was to pass 30% and fail 70? Would Arne Duncan give you an award and make some idiotic remark about how wrong the soccer moms are? Would he say this proves the kids aren't as smart as the moms think they are?

Because if he didn't, you'd be facing a world of problems, especially if some parent called to complain about your grading policies. I don't know about you, but one of the things my AP looks for on tests is point values for questions. In my school, it's unacceptable to write a test, decide which percentage of kids I want to pass, and then grade accordingly. After all, were I to do that, I wouldn't actually be writing a test. A test is supposed to measure what my students have learned, not memorialize a decision I'd made beforehand.

In fact, if I just want 70% of kids to pass my test, why does it even need to cover the subject I teach? Maybe I won't bother to write an English test. I'll photocopy an old Earth Science Regents exam and make everyone take that. What the difference? 70% of the kids will pass, just like I wanted. Who cares if the overall scores are low? When I give tests like those, I'm not actually measuring anything. I'm just using a useless document as quasi-tangible evidence that my prediction, which will come true regardless, is actually based on something.

Since it doesn't matter what the test covers, and since 70% are going to pass no matter what, why should we even bother with this school stuff at all? Isn't it expensive to send kids to school, even those charter schools I keep reading about? Couldn't we convert all that unprofitable public school real estate into condos for gazillionaires? Since everything is based on tests, and since the tests are basically meaningless, why don't we stop making kids wake up early in the morning and just let them take tests on their home computers? Who cares if they cheat? It doesn't matter because 70% of them are still gonna pass.

That's the NYSED model and Andrew Cuomo wants half of teacher ratings to depend on it. And our union leader thanked the Heavy Hearts in the Assembly for passing it. There's a Chinese saying, "I've eaten more salt than you've eaten rice." It kind of means you have a whole lot more experience than another person. You don't need to have eaten much salt to assess the quality of program Andrew Cuomo and his Heavy Hearts Club envision for our public school students. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Evaluation Blues

Yesterday I spoke with a young teacher who told me this was his worst year ever. I asked him why and he told me it was the evaluation system. He says it has him and everyone on edge. I asked whether he had gotten a negative rating and he said no, he hadn't. He was just feeling a general vibe of uneasiness. He told me our school wasn't what it used to be four years ago.

One of the things I found really shocking was that this is a guy who generally complains about nothing, ever. He has this very positive vibe, and this makes me think he must be a great teacher. I would be very happy to have someone like him looking after my kid. He told me that, though there is a whole lot of focus on test scores, that he doesn't worry about that first and foremost. Who knows where our kids come from? Who knows what they have going on at home? It's our job to show them there's a whole world of possibility out there.

I agree with that. Particularly if home is a place of uncertainty, or worse, there's a need for kids to see adults who are getting by. There's a need for kids to see there is possibility, that there is a way to maneuver through this world while managing to stay happy. That's why it's counter-intuitive, not to mention idiotic, to stress out teachers to the breaking point. If this teacher feels stressed out, then so does every teacher.

It's easy for Michael Mulgrew, who has not taught in years, to stand around and say we have fewer bad ratings this year than in years past, so the system is a victory. I can only suppose it's also easy for Mulgrew to ignore the fact that this is the very thing that motivated Andrew Cuomo and his Heavy Hearts to worsen things for working teachers. For Michael Mulgrew, it really doesn't matter whether that plan causes more teachers to get bad ratings. Because there's always a silver lining. Under my leadership, 95% of UFT teachers didn't get fired this year.

Under UFT Unity leadership, the Teacher Improvement Plans were 8% less degrading and humiliating than last year. Under our leadership, 12% fewer teacher meeting weekly with the supervisors who rated them ineffective have contemplated suicide. Under our leadership, we haven't had a catastrophic natural disaster in over two years.

Unfortunately, when you live in a system where absolutely everything is a victory, no one feels it when things are bad. No one knows when things are bad. Things are not permitted to be bad. And the great thing is most representatives have actually signed an oath to perpetually agree that this is the best of all possible worlds, the best of all possible school systems, and the best of all possible evaluation systems negotiated by the best of all possible union leaderships.

I'm not sure what I would say to such people if I had signed the oath. I suppose I could trot out the stat about fewer people getting bad ratings. But I know if the guy I spoke to yesterday is stressed out, so is every working teacher. That's not how you treat role models for children, not if you actually care about those children. 

Extra Credit: Name the bluesman in the photo.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Genius of Merryl Tisch

Thank goodness we have a visionary leader like Merryl Tisch in charge of our Regents. After all, if she weren't highly qualified, why would she have all that money? And then, of course there are her brilliant tactical moves to attack the corruption that pervaded our lowly and unexamined profession.

First, she determined that no teacher was trustworthy enough to grade her precious tests, because God forbid some corrupted pedagogue should change some kid's grade from 64 to 65. It would surely be the end of Western Civilization. After all, those tests are so precisely engineered that there is no room for error.

My kids, of course, shouldn't even be taking a test like the English Regents exam, because, well, they don't actually speak English yet, but why fritter away our time dwelling on technicalities? The point is, the decision has been made, and the tests must go on. As long as I'm grading total strangers in whom I have no interest, everything should be fine.

And what's more, I can get paid for it. I got multiple invites to do so. Every time I deleted one message, another appeared. YOU MUST ANSWER BY THIS DATE OR YOU"RE SCREWED FOR ALL ETERNITY! Wow. That's a little harsh. But then, a reprieve. WE'VE EXTENDED THE DATE, LUCKY YOU! PLEASE PLEASE SIGN UP TO DO THIS THING!!!

I didn't, of course. I have no interest in grading tests of strangers, for love or money. But holy crap, it must cost a lot of money to pay all these teachers to grade these tests. But it's money well-spent. After all, there was that time where they put all the tests on a truck to Connecticut or someplace where they were gonna do this super-duper scanning to make everything fair, but a bunch of tests fell off the truck.

How many dollars are they now spending to get teachers to do what they used to do for free? Who knows? Who cares? The important thing is people like me no longer get to grade their own students. What a disaster that is. Of course I do it every day, all year, but on this particular day the only thing I care about is that they pass, for any reason, no reason, and by any means possible. Because the only way I can validate my worth as a teacher is to make my kids get a good grade on a test that measures nothing whatsoever that I actually teach.

And to prove to Merryl Tisch that my kids can pass a test that measures nothing I teach, I will cheat. I will change grades. I will ignore errors. Hell, I'll sit in the classroom and write 30 papers myself and grade them all. Because that is the sort of corruption that pervades my profession. Not like the upstanding paradigms in Albany, where only two of the three prime powerbrokers have been indicted, to date.

Thank goodness Merryl Tisch has caused NYC to spend tens, hundreds of thousands, who knows how many dollars to pay teachers to do something that used to be part of their jobs. The only thing that will top that is when she shuffles around thousands of administrators to evaluate teachers they neither know nor care about, so as to make sure that home administrators don't give their teachers good ratings.

Maybe, since no one will be around to actually administrate schools, things will run better. Or maybe they can just pay more people to do that stuff. After all, there's nothing more efficient than spending taxpayer money for no good reason. She may not know doodly-squat about public education, but Merryl Tisch is an unparalleled expert in spending our money.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Tripod Survey

In late May, teachers in some schools were asked to distribute Tripod Surveys to one of their classes.  Although the results of the survey will not be used to officially evaluate teachers...yet, administrators and teachers will view the results.

I would guess most teachers saved the survey for the class most likely to yield positive results.  I would have preferred to give it to my ninth graders, but I had three days in which to give the survey and they were busy with presentations.   By the time I gave the survey to my very vocal, but truly likable tenth graders, they informed me they had already completed the survey seven or eight times.

So, what's the nature of the survey?  Students were asked about the behavior and participation of their peers.   Students were asked if lessons were interesting.  Did their teacher seem to care?   Did the teacher explain things well?  Did students learn a lot?  Did the teacher assess student understanding?  Did the teacher have high expectations?  Were lessons student-centered?  Did teachers give feedback and make corrections?

Many of the questions intentionally overlapped with one another.  I would have preferred some different questions, however, like:

What is the size of your class?  Do you think it negatively impacts your teacher's ability to help individual students?  Do you enjoy test prep?  Do  you enjoy taking tests?  Do you think a single, high-stakes test score adequately measures your abilities, as exhibited to your teacher, throughout the year?  Did the curriculum actively promote your awareness of current issues and encourage you to work toward a better future?  And, in all honesty, did you study for more than an hour outside of class each week?

So much for my questions...

As with all data, I am sure the Tripod Survey results must be taken with a few grains of salt.  If student behavior is poor, is it necessarily the fault of the teacher?  If students do poorly on tests, is it necessarily the fault of the teacher?  

And, if the lessons are not interesting, is it ultimately the fault of the teacher or is it the fault of an overemphasis on the importance of standardized testing?