Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Call of the Blog

 I didn't write anything yesterday, and I feel as though I've violated some sacred oath. But this blog has been my constant companion for over fifteen years, and I can feel it calling me.

It called me in 2005, after years of watching teachers and our union vilified for the crime of serving New York City's 1.1 million students. It called me to stand up and tell people that the stories trashing us in the tabloids and yes, even the sacred cow/ NY Times were nonsense.

I'd just begun a marginal bond with UFT, being published in NYC Teacher a few times, when I saw the 2005 Contract and was absolutely horrified. It looked like a serious degradation of working conditions, especially egregious under virtual education dictator Michael Bloomberg. I was livid and spent hours on the now dead UFT blog Edwize arguing the lack of merit I saw there. This placed me out of NYC Teacher and failed to earn me Christmas gifts from UFT leadership. Surely some are still angry at me for that, but what can you do?

Three years or so into this blog, I ran for and won the job of chapter leader of Francis Lewis High School. It's one of the two most demanding jobs I've held in my life (the other, of course, being teaching). It's really rewarding to actually help people, and I've developed a pretty thorough network of support for those I represent. I have people contacting me from elsewhere as well, and I'm frequently able to hook them up with those who can help. In fact, I'm pretty sure I worked at this job from March right until now, with little in the way of breaks, but I'm good with that. 

I also spent over ten years involved, at various levels, with opposition caucuses. I never aspired to run for UFT President, though. I'm practical. That was a losing proposition. While I have respect for people who did that, I wasn't running around campaigning for a job I was sure to lose. I did run a few times for HS Executive Board. I thought we had a chance of winning. In fact, the second time I tried it, MORE entered into an alliance with New Action, and we actually won. 

Of course, that was before The Great Purge of 2018, when all alliances were burned, when all my friends were kicked out, ostensibly over using bad language or some other such nonsense, but really because a few jackasses needed to establish control. They then ran again, and got their asses kicked fairly well as some of my friends and I ran with Unity, I was pretty surprised they even asked us.

Because some in MORE are involved in some particular sort of socialism or other, and because we aren't, they wrote some ridiculous email labeling us as "right-wingers" and boasting of getting rid of us. Because I'm not a particularly fanatical ideologue subscribing to whatever philosophy they espouse, and I'm not really interested in pretending to, I wasn't going to ask forgiveness, or get in line, or whatever the hell it was they were demanding. Full disclosure--there are a few people in MORE I really like. There are a few others who I really do not.

MORE has a pretty good thing going right now with demands for closing the schools. That's a message that resonates on social media. I can see the attractiveness of that message. Of course MORE was supportive of the potential strike as well, which demanded no such thing. And of course it's still led by the same intolerant jackasses who ejected my friends. Short-term, their message looks good, but long-term, they are not leaders.

Leaders have to tolerate various points of view and bring people together. That's far from an easy task. For example, a good portion of our union are Trump voters. I've heard guesses of 20-30%. While I'm by no means sure of the percentage, you can't just call them right wingers and toss them out of the union. And that's a far cry from calling people who are by no means right wingers and tossing them out of caucuses. I'd argue that Unity is more tolerant of diverse points of view than MORE. I'd also argue that, for all the fervor MORE places in remote learning, that's not the agenda of those who lead the caucus.

Now you don't have to agree with me. That's fine. No one's perfect. But someone is going to improve the United Federation of Teachers. I'd like to be part of that change. Wherever I go, and whoever I follow, it's this blog that's led me there. I'm grateful for all the places it's taken me. 

I have to reflect on everything, simply because the blog forces me to. You can't write about anything you haven't thought about. Here's what I think now--I think a large group of our members pay attention to neither MORE, Unity, nor UFT at all. I think that's a problem for us. I think they have no idea what union even is, and that this is a defect we all need to work to correct. After we get through this crisis, that needs to be a priority.

If you're even reading this, I'm probably not talking about you. There might be a silent majority, or there might not, but being silent ought not to preclude being informed. After the current apocalypse, none of us from any or no faction or caucus can afford to ignore that.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Yet Another Life-Altering Email from the Chancellor

 

Dear Colleagues, 


Seven months after your endless caterwauling forced us to close our school buildings, this morning we began welcoming our  3-K, Pre-K, and District 75 students back for in-person learning. I’ll be sitting here in my office making phone calls, ordering take out, and watching YouTube videos. I have people to do work for me. It’s the best!


Today’s beginning of the reopening process marks a the third time we’ve tried this, which has been a huge disaster not only for the public perceptions of Blaz and me, but also for the more than 400,000 families who look to our schools to anchor their children’s lives. If they don’t get sick, die, or transmit the virus to their families, and manage to survive, I keep clinging to the hope that all of this stuff we pull off at the very last minute—will make our children’s lives better. 


It is also a moment to congratulate all of you noisy bastards for publicizing every damn mistake Blaz and I have throughout this entire ordeal. Maybe that’s why we drove you to the verge of striking, and condemned you to the utter terror you’d feel returning, particularly considering the loss of nearly 80 of our colleagues.  From our luxurious, well-ventilated Tweed offices with multiple air conditioners and purifiers, things look pretty good for us, so we still can’t be bothered with your petty concerns.


Yet through all of our indifference, your restraint is remarkable: no one has thus far bombed our offices or, to the best of my knowledge, burned us in effigy; even as we’ve still failed to hook up more than 300,000 students with devices and Internet connections; and while we pulled off successful creation of Regional Enrichment Centers for children of front-line workers; we’ve wasted thousands of hours of work and neglected countless details to enable New York City schools to safely reopen starting today, as opposed to a month ago. Hey, I did nothing from March until August and I still have my job. How many of you can pull that off?   


Without question, many big challenges remain, and we have no plans whatsoever but to twiddle our thumbs and hope some of you stop calling 311,. But you and your frigging colleagues do not only that, but also call journalists to compel us to deal with the safety of everyone in our buildings, which are still dilapidated and crumbling due to decades of neglect. Hey, we didn’t start it, man, we just continued the proud position.


Because of your incessant nagging, millions of Personal Protective Equipment items have been distributed to our schools. Extraordinary efforts have been taken to assure safe levels of ventilation in the classrooms that are reopening. Many sticks and toilet paper was sacrificed in this process. Your frigging union has forced us to do testing, which will continue throughout the school year, perhaps at the expense of gala luncheons. We have developed clear protocols for social distancing, face covering, handwashing, and staying home when we experience illness. And while those protocols are stolen from a million others who thought of them before we did, I myself wear a Hazmat suit and go through several spray detectors before a specially sanitized robot dresses me in Brooks Brothers, Florsheims, and $200 ties. I sit there for several hours. Afterward, I pass through the machines, get back in my jeans and t-shirt, and  go out with my guitar and sing El Rey on the street for tips. Beats working. 


As we look forward to the return of our elementary school students next Tuesday, September 29, and middle- and high-school students next Thursday, October 1, the sense of excitement and butterflies we have every opening day is no doubt amped up this year. But If you can get your hands on the right drugs, that won’t bother you at all. Works for me, anyway.


In unity,
Richard

Monday, September 21, 2020

UFT Executive Board September 21, 2020--Mary Vaccaro Becomes UFT Education VP--First Day Back for Young Students

 

Roll call 5:50

Minutes--approved

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Thanks us for voting. Says there is a vacancy in Educational Vice President. Taking nominations tonight. 

Karen Alford--nominates Mary Vaccaro.  Mary is an impressive woman, would be phenomenal in this seat. Has taught in many places in many levels, is knowledgeable, has directed curriculum, taken DOE on and made sure teaching and learning was part of negotiation for reopening. Certain this is the right thing to do and she is the person to fill these shoes. Honor and privilege to nominate her.

Barr--Asks for other nominations.. As chair, casts one vote for only nominee.

Marry Vaccaro--Honor to rep UFT as VP of education, thanks Karen. Moving to follow in footsteps of women who've held this position. We want to make sure that DOE has great education policy. Look forward to working with you all.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Moment of silence for Edie Shanker, widow of Al. Passed yesterday. 

Moment of silence for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, someone who constantly strived to make our country a better place. 

National--clear that everything is about the nomination. We believe this nomination will be pushed through. Election clearly most important thing. Senate stimulus package was tuition tax credits for private schools. We know how much is at stake in November and we and our retirees are ready to stand tall.

Our focus has to be getting our schools up and going. Six months and six days since we had in person learning, wants to thank d75 staff, early childhood all teachers who were there today. First time I felt everyone DOE, UFT and CSA were on same page. Really was good day in terms of what we were able to accomplish.

We understand people are anxious and apprehensive. We worry about children being traumatized and adults are too. Thanks teachers and paraprofessionals who welcomed kids today. Remote learning started, chancellor will get out statement saying video and pictures cannot be taken.

Spoke with Google, Zoom and MS about increasing capacity. Worked out well, Thanks teacher center and Evelyn's team for support. We did a lot of good work, and we are starting to move. We will have issues on remote and platforms. Will keep close eye and amplify best practices.

About to finalize MOU with city. Will put existing agreements into one document. When finalized will get out to all. Operational complaints should stop about people teaching live and remote. Chancellor doesn't want classes live streamed, will say so.

We are hiring. Went from firing to hiring. Big change.. Went from 9K layoffs to hiring. In other parts of state teachers are being laid off. We will probably hire MS and HS 6 to 7,000. 2K will be redeployed so probably hiring 5K.

Next Tuesday we need to have same preparedness we had today. Parents apprehensive. Attendance was somewhere around 60%. More parents may opt students out. Believe it will be over 50%. If things go well more may report in.

Looking carefully at infection rate. 

We will meet next Tuesday as Monday is holiday. Concerned in case we can't fill all positions. Principals told first priority teacher in live classroom, second remote, third blended. 

Thanks staff and teachers for opening. D75 went in using shields at all times. We are doing all we possibly can to make sure everyone is safe.

Questions--

How long are elementary children expected to sit? Not long. There is guidance in scheduling. We never discussed children sitting more than a half hour. 

Karen Alford--3K 15-20 minutes up to 30 PreK 20-30 up to 60. Limited screen time for those age groups.

Safety for book sharing--Make sure to wipe everything down.

Custodians are being held accountable for sanitizing. Got overtime and restored funding.

If people get medical accommodations schools must readjust. 

UFT staff accommodations same as for all members. Following same protocols as schools.

Schools with clinics--clinics don't start until 9. They have to be available when students come in.

Congratulates Mary Vaccaro. 6:26


Sunday, September 20, 2020

No Matter How Bad Things Are, De Blasio Makes Them Worse

I've been relatively quiet for the last few days. I'm shocked at the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the predictable machinations of Trump and his morally bankrupt Senate. Trump's now taken stands against science, against actual history, and essentially against humanity.

So it's harder to sit here in my little corner of the universe and focus on things like education, but I'm working tomorrow, even if the system as a whole may not be. You look at de Blasio's plan, shattered and torn, and wonder how things could possible get any worse. 

But Bill de Blasio holds fast to his plan, no matter how ridiculous it is, and now says he's going to hire thousands of teachers to enable it. While we're waiting, the DOE seems to have approved unconscionable class sizes in some schools, in bizarre plans that make the original insane idea look relatively good. I'm really at a loss to explain how anyone thinks this is a good idea.

De Blasio's plan has been around for a while. Yet it's only now, days before we open schools in one form or another, that we're looking at hiring teachers to enable it. Can we find 4,500 teachers in a week? It's optimistic at best. Meanwhile, just in case a miracle doesn't happen, Carranza announced that no, in fact NYC students will not necessarily be receiving synchronous instruction every day as promised. It makes you wonder why the city embraced this plan in the first place.

So now, city students will go to physical school buildings a day or two each week. If they're extraordinarily lucky, they may go three days. They will sit masked and socially distanced, unable to substantially interact with one another. Teachers will have to enforce these unnatural conditions. If students don't run screaming in horror from this bad science fiction scenario, they'll do something or other in class. If all the stars are in alignment, they'll learn something aside from the terrifying conditions under which education takes place in 2020.

What about the three or four days when they aren't there? I'm really not clear on that. I suppose they could receive asynchronous instruction. That might be assignments. It might be reading the material the teacher covered in class. It could be something of value, I suppose. But it certainly won't be the same thing as actually being in class with a live teacher. There's no substitute for that. 

Suburban schools have a somewhat better idea. Since they aren't obscenely overcrowded, they're able to come in every other day. On off days, students can watch the classes remotely. I wouldn't call that ideal. Day one, you come in under these bizarre restricted conditions. Day two you're home and you have no possibility whatsoever of human interaction. Still, at least it's something.

In New York City, our plans are to do everything and nothing. We're still reaching to do de Blasio's plan, but we all know it won't work even if he hires all the teachers he's talking about. Meanwhile, if we don't look under enough rocks to find the teachers we need, too bad for you, NYC students. The only bright spot in all this is the fact that he's now looking to hire rather than fire thousands of teachers. 

The fact is, though, that dragging thousands of people into a desperate, chaotic situation may not be the best way to initiate new teachers. Actually I started that way, kind of dragged in out of nowhere, and it took me a few years to find my footing. A whole lot of people brought in under such circumstances gave up, and went looking for saner pastures. I thrive in an impossible job, but not everyone does. I certainly can't blame people who crave order and sense. I want it too, but I play the cards I'm dealt.

There are better ways to go. Bill de Blasio, always late for everything, lacks the organization and focus to lead in a crisis. The chancellor has proven himself good only for nodding approval to whatever de Blasio happens to be blabbering about. We're sorely in need of leadership that can provide New Yorkers with something other than disappointment and nonsense.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

UFT Executive Board September 17, 2020--We Will Keep Kids Safe and Take Care of One Another


 5:50 roll call

Minutes--approved

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--We were prepared for different tactics, but we knew we could not open Monday. We weren't ready. It wasn't safe. We need better quality for safety. This is due to advocacy of members in all boroughs. That's what union does. 

DOE didn't understand, but we were out on the sidewalk because things were wrong. Principals could say everything was fine, but it wasn't. We met this afternoon with DOE. We said enough is enough. You serve the schools, they don't serve you. 

We now have to make them fulfill the plan. Not there yet, but we've made major steps toward getting schools what they need. We were in chaos, with thousands of operational issues. Much of this is tied to economic recession. Budget cuts affect us too, and we were looking at 9000 layoffs.

Today we're in a place where the mayor has said we will find money to open school system safely. Now we've gone from firing teachers to hiring teachers. Right off the bat we will get 4500 for preK to 8. No agreement yet for middle and high schools, but we will have that next week.

Yesterday we were looking at chaos on Monday, layoffs. Now we are looking at phased in opening, and more teachers. Meeting daily with mayor about schools. In contact with person in charge of Covid testing and tracing. We have a situation room, and we are getting results faster. We will be getting tracing reports about schools. 

Last Monday we were talking about ventilation, and ten school buildings were closed. We made city hire independent ventilation company to inspect every school. Once again, the section of our school system that is forgotten, D75, sites all over the city didn't get what was promised. This is an important story. About a site where children go every day, not cleaned since August, with not one piece of PPE. 

Chapter leader took all his teachers out on the sidewalk Tuesday. On Wednesday the press heard their story. This framed everything for the rest of the week. Teachers were in chairs on sidewalk saying we're not ready. Parents were enraged at being forgotten yet again. They'd had enough and didn't want regression. Life skills abilities couldn't regress. They said they loved their teachers and paras, and their kids had to go to school. D75 jobs are tough but rewarding. 

We are opening our school system again. Low positivity rate allows us to. People want to abuse, attack and get rid of public education. We will show them how to get a school system open and safe. We wouldn't be here if it weren't for all the advocacy for our schools. Right now all of DOE is on the phone talking to us and everyone, getting D75 everything they need. They've hired 60 new special ed. teachers and need more. 

Our preK sites are getting a lot of attention, but it shouldn't be anyone getting better attention. We should all get the attention. PreK and D75 opening Monday. If you don't have an accommodation you are reporting to your worksite. That is how we keep them in check.

Number one building is signage. In buildings everywhere we have it. We need it in schools. We are getting standalone ventilation machines for elementary schools. 

Temperature testing--Some people are doing health screenings on their phones. Everyone should be doing one. If it goes red, you are not to go to the building. We will get a school by school report next week on screenings. This talks about temp, close contact, traveling into some states or out of country. In that is the temperature check. We can also do so in building. We know some thermometers are malfunctioning. 

If someone does not do the health screening done, all you need is the temp check and they will be good. We will contact the parent. Health screening is key piece. If someone has symptoms or develops them, nurse will make determination.

We've come a long way since last Tuesday because of you. Four ways test results come in. First, if individual goes to H and H designated fast track site. If you go there and say you are DOE you will go into a fast track system. We are now getting result in 24 hours. If it doesn't have DOE fast track, it's 48 to 72 hours. 

Private commercial labs are different. If a member goes to one, the turnaround is completely out of city's control. Could be long time. 3-7 days. But individual doesn't have to report. Then it goes to state DOH, then to city DOH, and then they will get in touch. Takes much longer. If someone self reports, DOH has backdoor way around us, and verifies every test, including all self reporting. They are now completely out of the loop. If NYC employees self report, school should know there is a possibility, and there will be a quick investigation. 

Important piece is any NYC employee with medical documentation is automatically a positive test result. Must be for COVID 19 testing, NOT antibodies. People need to understand the difference. Contact tracing now has dedicated group which needs training. We've been digging into this and will stay on it until we get it right. We have a long way to go.

I knew the DOE would do business as usual and just put it all on the schools. All about them talking to each other and directing schools. Story about D75 has changed things. This was tipping point. It is their job to provide PPE, and provide what schools need to be successful. 

I knew Monday that something had to give. Hopefully, with focus, and doing things for d75 that had never been done, hiring, and working out schedules, we will have a shot at having schools ready to go.

Questions.

Principal and two people sent new schedule today, changed schedule, eliminated collaborative half hour to 15 minutes--

A--No way. Our agreement is based on agreed upon schedules. They can't pick and choose which parts of agreement they want to follow. Make sure this goes to superintendent.  

All D79 sites have had ventilation checks. 

Q--If I don't have accommodation but am full remote, why can't I do it at home?

A--If you're full remote I will let you know shortly, but we need you on site now to check that schools are in shape. We hope to clear this up by tomorrow. If you're fully remote you should be working at home. If school has large number of opt-out kids, some may have to teach remotely from building so everyone else can teach from home. Not resolved yet.

From yesterday afternoon, after meeting with DOE and CSA, we came up with agreement of teachers needed. Next we will look at middle and high schools.

Q--We still have no electrostatic cleaner. 

A--Problem with CUNY site. They haven't authorized spraying yet. Not part of CUNY cleaning protocols. Trying to work it out. CUNY got lawyers involved, want documents indemnifying them from any issues. If I have to intervene myself, I will. Why don't you write to chancellor of CUNY for now?

Q--Hearing from members that supervisors are not acknowledging agreement for related service providers saying it came from UFT. Creating confusion.

Mike Sill--I'll take care of it.

Mulgrew-We have to stay vigilant, keep advocacy up, and work out issues because we have to get open. Alaska is offering people money to keep kids at home, offering voucher for private online education. This is what we're seeing in this country, Alaska governor close to De Vos and her investments. These are our schools and our kids. We'll keep them safe and take care of one another.

The Chancellor Writes Again

 Dear Colleagues, 

I hope you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. If so, that has absolutely nothing to do with me. I was perfectly ready to send you all in two weeks ago. After all, that’s no skin off my apple. My office is cleaner than anyplace you work, and even the two schools Blaz and I visited were not fit for me to sit my Brooks Brothers covered ass on. Anyhoo, I am writing to you today with an important update on the start of school. 

For months we have, together, been preparing to reopen our school buildings.  Sure, our plan relied on magical co-teachers that didn’t exist. And sure, those slimy weasels at UFT thought we’d actually hire enough of them to actually do what we promised. You think we’re gonna leave you in a position to reduce the highest class sizes in the state post-apocalypse? Think again.


Our city’s infection rate has positioned us as the only  major  city in the country able to  welcome our children back  to our schools for in-person learning.  Of course we haven’t actually done that yet, and depending upon how much of a major fustercluck the whole thing turns out to be, we may not do it at all. But I digress.


As we  began our preparations, we made a pledge that we would put health and safety first.  And then those bastards in the press kept releasing the numbers of people who’d gotten sick. We, of course, being less than what you’d call competent, made that worse by including people who’d gotten sick in the summer and hadn’t reported to buildings since March. Oopzie.


And we made plans to make rich, high-quality learning experiences available to all students, regardless of where they are learning from. Yeah, that’s the ticket. Then we dumped them all and settled for the crap we have now. Kids come in a day or two, and hope for the best the rest of the week.


That is what we have done – and we  must  continue make new promises with highly lowered expectations as we prepare to open our buildings to students and families. 
 
Toward those ends, we have worked with our labor partners on a  new staggered start for in-person learning at the beginning of  this school year.  Children who are enrolled in fully remote programs will still begin full-day instruction on Monday, September 21. However, children in blended learning will get actual instruction maybe two days a week until we begin yet another senseless plan, the details of which will be incomprehensible as per usual.
 
We know that our schools and families are eager to reconnect in person, one or two days a week, and maybe get some kind of busy work the rest of the time – I know that kind of sucks but I’m completely bereft of ideas. We believe this extra time will help make sure we have viable excuses for the miserable failure this year is shaping up to be.  


I always say that New York City has the best teachers and staff in the world, and nothing will ever change that – no matter how incompetent I am, no matter how aimless the mayor is, you guys will get up and do your jobs even as I sit in my luxurious office and look out the window.   


Thank you for everything you do for the children and families of this city.  If it weren’t for all of you, it’s likely I’d have to go out and do, you know, actual work.

Sincerely,
Richard

Day One

I've spent hours, days, weeks and months dreading September. There were so many issues. As chapter leader, I don't feel like I've had a day off since June. How in the hell were we going to open the schools?

No one really knew. De Blasio's ridiculous plan fell apart, as anyone who gave it a cursory examination could have predicted. I remain amazed that he and Carranza could have stood behind such a senseless plan for a moment, let alone many months.

We have to be really careful selecting the next mayor. Full disclosure--I worked for and contributed to Bill de Blasio. I attended his inauguration. We're gonna need a mayor who will rid Tweed of Bloomberg's ghost. We're gonna need a mayor who will not continue to ignore the miserable state of our school facilities. 

We can't go through this again. Once is more than enough.

Then there's COVID, of course. My school is on the list of the dreaded 55. As far as I, or anyone in my school administration can tell, the only reported COVID case comes from a person who self-reported before the 8th and hasn't been in the building since March. It's entirely believable to me that the DOE could screw up something like that, because incompetence is their middle name. 

Two days ago, I went back to my education tech guru, the guy who showed me how to use both Zoom and Google Classroom on those miserable March days when we came back to be prepped by administrators, none of whom had experience with either platform. I sat in an office and he explained everything in fifteen minutes. At the time, he was a first year teacher. He's now a second year teacher, so he taught me how to use Google forms and docs within Classroom. Maybe I'll try giving quizzes or tests at some point, rather than pure writing assignments. 

The thing that surprised me most was the boost I got from seeing kids. I've been in a fairly substantial sulk these past few weeks. You know, online learning sucks, but it's better than nothing. I was very fortunate to be assigned to teach one level up from where I taught last year. As a consequence, I already know half of my students. It was great to see them again. I was really energized and happy.

I also went around and spoke with all the new students. I thanked them for coming. I don't know if I'm crazy, but it was just so cool to see these kids, even online. I think I can help them learn English, even online. It took a lot to get me out of that rut I was wallowing in, but I now feel completely unrutted. 

I hope you all feel the same, to one extent or another. It's a new, strange forbidding world, but we can find joy and fulfillment in it. We just need to look a little harder than usual.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

De Blasio and Carranza Abandon the Hybrid Fantasy

For weeks I've been marveling that the two grown men who ran education in the country's largest school district accepted a plan that relied on teachers who simply do not exist. If you break a class into two to five sections, who teaches the students who aren't in the building on any given day? Yet Chancellor Carranza would get up in front of news cameras and claim everyone would receive synchronous instruction each and every day. 

They explained how the fantasy worked. You and I would teach chemistry. We'd coordinate lessons and each of us would teach 12 kids a day. The other students from our classes, all 44 of them, would be with a hybrid remote teacher, who'd magically recreate our lesson online. Also, there'd be some kind of virtual something specialist who'd write and provide the lessons. The problem, obvious to everyone but de Blasio and Carranza, was that we then needed somewhere between 1.5 and 2 teachers where we used to need only one.

They put forth solutions. Everyone from Tweed with a license would teach. Supervisors would teach. They'd hire thousands of substitutes. Imagine a substitute, hired out of nowhere, with no experience. There's a long and hallowed DOE tradition that the least qualified person gets the most difficult tasks. They can't learn and you can't teach, so we put you together. It's poetry, a thing of beauty.

So who was gonna get those remote classes of 44? Of course it would be the new sub. That's one reason I argued we'd be teaching chemistry. I've got over thirty years experience and I can't teach day one of chemistry. How is a newbie we just dragged off the street gonna do it? How will that guy teach Chinese? In fact, how will a person with no experience teach anything to an obscenely huge class, on a computer, with no training whatsoever?

These were just a few of the issues with which our visionary chancellor had to contend. He was all smiles right up until recently. He had ideas. A Queens high school was told to eliminate all comp time jobs and make every supervisor teach two classes. They were grappling at straws and embracing ridiculous, unworkable solutions. And it just hung there, until days before opening, we learned they'd abandoned it on Twitter, of all places.

 Now I'm not what you'd call an organizational genius by any measure. But I knew the moment I saw this plan that it was unworkable. Even before I heard the details and fancy names for teacher roles I knew there were simply not enough of us to carry it off. In a way, it sounded good. Maybe we'd finally have enough teachers to reduce class sizes. Yet, even with a potential 50-100% increase in the number of teachers, this plan managed to make things even worse. It allowed for classes so huge, so inconsistent, that I wasn't sure the hybrid remote person could even learn student names, let alone substantively help them.

This plan was flawed and doomed from the start. Yet principals all over the city have spent months planning for it, flailing around in desperation to meet requirements that were simply impossible. Imagine if they'd spent that time prepping for a full remote return, and supporting the needs of a remote system instead of running around like headless chickens screaming, "How the hell are we gonna do this?"

Imagine, then, teaching your 12 students each day and being responsible for putting up some sort of asynchronous something or other for the ones who happen to be home that day. Imagine also having to grade whatever it was you slapped on the net each day. How thorough will it be? How thorough can it be?

Now imagine you're a parent, faced with sending your kid in a day or two each week, and hoping for the best on other days. Imagine your neighbor says, "Hey, my kid has full remote, and she's in class with a real teacher every day." It won't be a great challenge for you to determine that the remote program is better than the live program, especially when your kid comes home traumatized from being masked, socially distanced, and unable to socialize with either teachers or peers. An immediate surge in remote learning may be the only good thing that comes from this.

This city has indulged in some of the most irresponsible and idiotic planning I've been witness to in all my decades on earth. It rivals President Trump's national COVID plan, the one that doesn't exist. It's inconceivable to me that someone collected millions for devising this nonsensical plan, but clearly I'm in the wrong business. I have to meet my students in about ten minutes. While I don't regret that, I'm picturing the people who planned this sitting on beaches in Aruba, drinking mimosas and laughing at all of us crawling through the wreckage they've left us.

Alas, I don't drink on school days. But maybe I should. While I wouldn't understand things any better, at least I wouldn't fret over them so much. 

Monday, September 14, 2020

UFT Executive Board September 14, 2020 Goodbye Evelyn de Jesus, Hello Crazed Pandemic


Roll call 5:50

Minutes--approved via email.

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Thanks us for voting on minutes. Speaks of a vacancy on board. We will take nominations at next meeting, and vote at meeting after that.  Educational VP Evelyn de Jesus was elected to serve as AFT VP, and will do that full time. 

Evelyn de Jesus--Bittersweet moment--I will be stepping down at UFT and will be first Latina as EVP at AFT. Started as para, to teacher, to CL, to DR, to borough rep, and now as VP. God sent me a great team, thanks all for their support. We started education dept. and had ELL conferences and will have a UFT university. We were able to negotiate with the Regents, love the team, proud of years at UFT. We defined who we are and how we want to be with curriculum and learning. We work with everyone and have created alliances with communities, especially Latino communities. Glad union has stood for ELLs. I was one, coming from Puerto Rico. Thanks entire board for allowing me to do work in Puerto Rico. Worked at Al Smith housing project--Smith was known as happy warrior, and that's what we should be. Nothing comes without struggle. Please vote, and tell others to vote. Our democracy is at stake. Please continue to be my co-workers, friends, and gracias. I want to bring what I have in my heart to the nation. Thank you for allowing me to serve.  

Barr--Known Evelyn 20 years, ed. maven, tough negotiator with everyone. She's a connector, brings people together. She watches over projects like a hawk. To me, she's a friend. There's no one you'd rather be in a battle with. As a young man I was in a lot of them, but she's the hardest dude I know. She brings everyhting to the table to get the absolute best of everyone. You're not going far but you'll still have a home here. At some point we will honor you.

Anne Goldman--Well said. You're a friend and a leader I've grown with. Thanks for making us better unionists. I'm honored to call you a friend and I want you to know I'm proud to have worked with you. Rarely can you say these things. Thank you.

Seung Lee--Evelyn has had a long relationship with our school. We've enjoyed our time together.

Arthur Goldstein—I was just sitting in the back of the room at some meeting, minding my own business. Evelyn de Jesus, who I don’t even know, gets right in my face and said look, if you're worried about your ELLs you need to come with me to NYSABE and meet people who care about them. You need to come to Albany with me to tell the commissioner what's going on. Evelyn is all let’s go here and let’s do this. Let’s go to a teacher protest on Long Island. It’s on your way home.

My favorite UFT event is the Puerto Rican Day parade where Evelyn screams at all of us to make sure we give fans and t-shirts and things only to young children and older adults. Evelyn is a person you meet once and never forget. She is a force of nature and I pity the person who stands in her way. Someone will do her job but she can't be replaced. I think I speak for a whole lot of us when I say I wish her well and I will miss her a lot. We're all trying to forget 2020 but we will never forget you.

Good luck in DC and don’t forget us either. 

Sterling Roberson--Congratulations. Met her years ago, call her the closer. Things we couldn't do she made happen. Her advocacy has helped us, but she's all about the members. Congratulations on what you've been able to do, and the things you've helped with. As a friend and colleague, congratulations and keep it up.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew-- Evelyn and I have been talking about this, but kept putting it off. Didn't want to see her go, but was unfair to have her do both things. With problems all over the country it was clear the day had to come. Very sad. Evelyn is like my big sister. When we met I saw her take her shoe off and threaten to hit someone with her heel. Not me. For what she's done, projects she's taken on, standing up for teacher rights, and her love, to protect all the ELLs. She takes that work with her. She's still part of our union. She's taking her work nationwide. All we have is each other, I love you very much, I want to congratulate and thank you. 

This will be a hell of a week. We opened up last week. We had 15,000 members tested week before. We did big push on PPE. Though we have problems we are working through. We have to stay vigilant. Were problems with location. Some principals wouldn't share on campus. Some wouldn't hand it out. 

D75 sites still missing PPE, but a lot has been rectified. 

Ventilation closed ten buildings, 21 schools. We will have to keep watching it. Ventilation is about exchange of fresh air. Both we and an independent company are following this. We have bathrooms without ventilation. 

Will the city live up to the challenge? Union will have to make decisions this week on what strategy. Number of full remote going up--I think city is suppressing it.

Staffing major issue. No posting for virtual content specialist. This makes it even worse. Over weekend we got 500 operational complaints about staffing problems. DOE is facilitating fights rather than making progress. We will move very rapidly to get these complaints done right away. 

You can't have everyone doing in person and remote. Maybe the last person could get that. 

By Saturday there were 26 positive cases of 15K. That is an extremely low rate. But after they lied to us, and after we know they hid things, it's a problem. We've made a lot of noise about it, posted rates, and now finally the city is doing it. But we still have a lag.

If a member has a positive case, we need documentation. If not, we won't have evidence. We want a doctor's note, a lab test or anything. Now the city will have to recognize it under our agreement. DOH is not part of our agreement because they suppressed positive cases in March. Anything with DOH we want nothing to do with. 

There are over 20 specific sites to fasttrack DOE employees. We get the results from them in agreed upon time. We are now getting them back quickly. City has a situation room. They know we aren't stopping.  There is still something going on and we think they are still using DOH to confirm. This violates our agreement. We will not have them deny lab results again. We don't need same idiots from March.

You have to give permission to be live streamed. Chancellor doesn't like it, but supes telling principals to do it anyway. Just one lens and teachers will walk in an out of frame. We are stopping that when we find it.

We had over 550 responses to safety survey by 4 PM. We may need to meet again this week. I think you all know what that means. If a school feels they have a positive test case, if building isn't disinfected and cleaned, we need to say no, we aren't going in. I don't believe most schools can be cleaned and disinfected on nightly basis. City cutting custodian budget. 

If your school is dangerous, sit out. Let DR know. We will help and make sure school gets support it needs.

Questions

Why weren't members getting PPE first day? No confusion. Not on as needed basis. Contact borough rep. PPE is essential safety equipment.

Protocol for notification if day care in building has case--We will get back to you and take care of it. In this case, DOH may have records. We will check. Should be automatic generated letter to all in building, no names. We are seeing it now.

Is union pushing unlimited sick time? If you are diagnosed with Covid or have to be quarantined, it will not come out of your CAR.

Can principal force teacher without accommodation to do in person and remote--Have to be given either or. Perhaps one person in school will get stuck unless breakage, the last person available has to. Can't be done as matter of course.

Mayor announced 2,000 new staff members, redeployment. Everything is taking forever. 

D75 CLs with multiple sites should get reports shortly. Many were finished today. 

Last week many chapters stood strong, did right thing and were well-covered in press.

Such an ugly time, compounded more by wondering what it would be like if we had partners who worked with us. City Hall didn't start working until August. Made things worse.

There are a lot of challenges right now. National election will let us know if there's light at the end of the tunnel. Statewide impending cuts could be very large. Some districts have already started layoffs. In March and April we knew this was about safety and livelihood. We knew protection of our jobs would be a great concern. We have a great plan, but not a great partner in trying to implement it.

We have to figure out a way to do both safety and livelihood. Layoffs would cause damage on multiple levels.  

AP said all teachers working from home were expected to create two google classrooms and contact all parents tomorrow, taking two full loads of different classes. Referred to Mary Jo Ginese and Mike Sill.

Jeff Povalitus--SAVE rooms---can't mix kids from different pods. Will have to think it through.

Mulgrew--Thanks Evelyn for all she's done. Wishes her luck.  UFT will always be your home wherever you go.

Katie K.--Says it's a dark time, but wishes Evelyn well. Honor and joy to try to keep up with you. Love that you lead by example. Glad you will bring advocacy to national level.

Tina Collins--Honor to work with you, but you will be a great asset to national conversation.

Joe C--Worked for three other VPs but you were the best. You will be missed. Wish you all the best.

Shelvy Abrams--Thanks for all the work you've done for paraprofessionals. We will miss you.

Monica P.--Wishes Evelyn all the best.

Janella H--Thrilled you will rep the UFT in work you do across the country. We will see you in the future, happy to see you thrive.

Final roll call--7:03

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Who Makes the Change?

This morning I woke to some comments explaining to me what a terrible person I was, and instructing me precisely which arguments I was prohibited from using in response. I'm not engaging in discussions like that. I'm actively trying to make change in and out of the union. Perhaps there's a better way to do it, and when I find it, I'll use it. The whole self-flagellation thing doesn't work for me, but thanks anyway.

I work with people who support me, people who support those I represent, and I won't come here and throw them under the bus. If you don't like that, I can live with it. If you don't like this blog, read another or start your own. All you have to do is open the blank screen every day and stare at it until the words come out. If you have a more productive way to spend your time, that's fine too.

Perhaps if more of us focused on what we could do, rather than what other people should do, more would get done. Like it or not, I'm already doing what I can do. I'm chapter leader of one of the largest schools in the city, and I haven't kept the job for 12 years by being asleep at the switch. If you want to make a change, run for chapter leader this April. It's a pain in the neck, and frequently all-encompassing, but it's very rewarding. I have no regrets.

I always try to help people who ask, but I don't always succeed. A while back, a member complained to me about something, but didn't want me to share the complaint with anyone. I said, "You can't resolve it if no one knows what it is." The member said absolutely not. I said I would certainly complain, but the member said, "Yes, but you are YOU." I had no comeback for that, except I'd have confronted the issue. I was sure, in fact, the member would face no adverse consequence raising the concern. But I was unable to persuade the member otherwise. Sometimes I'm simply unable to get results.

A week ago, someone wrote me asking about temporary leaves resulting from a federal program. It sounded really interesting. I researched it on the net, and found out what it was. Then I contacted someone I know from UFT. My UFT contact sent me a DOE memo, which I shared with my correspondent. I also shared it with my entire staff and posted it on Facebook, Twitter and this blog. I was pretty surprised to get an angry response from the correspondent suggesting we, the UFT, were keeping this thing a big secret. UFT sucks and is evil. I'm evil. Okay. In fact, the memo was only two days old. Not only had my UFT source shared it with me, but I'd shared it with the questioner immediately. I was pretty surprised the person didn't just say, "Thank you." That's what I would've done. 

Of course the person who wrote me is UFT too. Despite many people writing about UFT in the third person, we're not just Michael Mulgrew. It's me. It's you. And we don't need to all agree on everything. There are a whole lot of us, maybe 100,000 in schools. I don't love our plan to return. Maybe you don't love it either. Is it necessary to go back all remote? That would've been my first choice. Will we be able to teach in person at all under Mayor de Blasio's plan? I'm not at all sure, actually. He's messed up everything at each and every step. The person in charge of it just walked off to work on Maya Wiley's mayoral campaign

Our hybrid model depends on a whole lot of teachers that don't exist. (Hey, it would be great if de Blasio hired another 30,000 teachers, instead of offering to fire 9,000 of us.) I know of one school that's been told by DOE to dump all comp-time jobs, give all teachers five classes, and make all administrators teach two classes. I think all administrators should teach, but other than that, I'm not loving that plan. There still won't be enough teachers to form the impossible hybrid. I'm not persuaded we'll be able to do much more than remote by the 21st.

If I'm wrong, are there risks? Of course there are. Will we come through this unscathed? Probably not. At least 22 members have tested positive before we've even begun. On the bright side, at least we and they now know it. They can seek treatment and make sure not to spread it to others. But be sure to get tested. I had a cough last night, probably because of a ragweed allergy. Still, I canceled a dental appointment this morning, and got tested again. I don't think I have the virus, but I'd rather know before inadvertently sharing it with anyone.

Now I'm not going to tell you that everything is perfect, or that it will be. I woke up one morning thirteen years ago only to have a doctor tell me I had cancer. I didn't expect that at all. Because I'm UFT, I was able to take a medical sabbatical and get paid for six months while undergoing treatment. Now, because we're UFT, we can get accommodations if we want to and qualify. I have one, along with over 100 members from my building. I just got a comment from a NY teacher whose district has something very different.

In my district, no one is allowed to work from home. People with medical accommodations are given things like preferential work locations in district (you get a window!) or extra PPE (n95). 

Not everyone in NYC will seek or get an accommodation,  It appears, thought, as more information comes to the forefront, we will continue to see fewer students opt for face to face learning. About 60% of students in our very large school have opted out, and there are more each day. Meanwhile, we have to check the conditions in the building and make sure they live up to our agreement. Will de Blasio be able to pull that off? Evidence, including Mulgrew's statement last night, suggests otherwise. Can de Blasio effectively monitor 1800 schools? He can't even show up on time for his own press conferences.

This isn't about only you or me. It's about looking at the circumstances and trying to find the best we can possibly do right now. It's about looking at the big picture, and repainting it as best we can. Of course, if you have better ideas, that's great. If you want to lead, you'll have a chance in April. If your chapter leader sucks, if your delegates are asleep, if you don't like the way votes go at the DA, that's fine too. Run and get a position. That's what I did.

Maybe I was crazy to do it. Between that job, teaching, the blog, and other things I do, I'm pretty busy. I like helping people though, and I do it whenever I can. It's more gratifying than you might think, in the long run. I recommend it highly.

Friday, September 11, 2020

De Blasio Suggests Our Lives Don't Matter.

In a summer full of spectacular incompetence and total lack of planning, it's harder and harder for things to stand out, but this suggestion  is really rather startling:

Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday that there is no real plan to disclose positive tests because students are not back in school yet.

Wow.  We have 16 positive cases we know of, and there was no plan to let us know about them. It's not important. It's not relevant. Think about that.

In Bill de Blasio's plan, 16 positive cases at square one ought not even to be considered moving forward. I can only suppose the mayor would just as soon have us not know about them. Lack of knowledge is power, perhaps.

I'm always put off by the argument of, "Children first, always," that the DOE used to use as a motto. It always suggested, "We don't give a crap about teachers or working people," to me. That was a flawed motto because the very children we place first would, we very much hoped, grow up to be adults. But de Blasio seems to have taken this statement and added steroids or something.

The fact is we are a substantial sample of the school population, and if the students outnumber us by a factor of about ten to one, you could assume ten times as many cases with students in the buildings. You know, they are human and we are human, even though word may not have reached the mayor. This poses a problem in that humans meeting humans in school buildings did not work well last March. 

How sure is the mayor the virus will spread?

"Of course there will be days where you find a case in a classroom and classroom will have to be shut down, sometimes a school will have to be shut down," he said. "But it’s a temporary reality."

From what I can tell, he's absolutely sure. And he appears to have no problem whatsoever with it. I don't know who's advising the mayor, or whether he listens to his advisors, but I get three messages loud and clear here:

1. It doesn't matter who gets COVID before students are in attendance,

2. No one needs to find out about it, and

3. The mayor is okay with its spread once they arrive.

In the mayor's defense, at least he doesn't bother lying about it. This notwithstanding, it doesn't make him precisely the working class hero he'd like us to think he is. Consider this--if we know of 16 cases, how many do we not know about?  I always wonder about these low percentages. I tested negative for COVID a few weeks ago, but the only reason I got tested was because I had a medical procedure and the doctor made me do it.

How many people are walking around asymptomatic and don't get tested? How many of them are our students? How many people just don't like to see doctors? How many people haven't got medical insurance and have a substantial incentive to avoid them?

The problem with the percentages de Blasio and Cuomo like to trot out is we have no real denominator unless we test everyone. It's good that we're moving in with a plan for aggressive testing, and that's the only reason we know what we know. Had we not pushed the mayor, we wouldn't have even that. De Blasio is all in on opening in ten days, but maybe he should listen to himself and reconsider. 

Also, while I'm not a political advisor or anything, maybe he should think twice before opening his mouth. I'm not at all persuaded he can get away with the sort of crap Donald Trump does.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

A Hybrid that Works

I was speaking with someone from a Long Island district who described to me what they're doing in his town. Things are easier there, evidently, since they're fairly well to do and they haven't overcrowded the schools to some obscene level. I'm pretty familiar with overcrowding. Our school is at 220% capacity, and the most we can have most students report is once a week.

In the Long Island district, students come in every other day. Teachers give lessons and they are broadcast in real time. Half the students are in the classroom and half are home. Only the students in the classroom on any given day are allowed to ask questions or interact with the teacher. Now I'm not about to jump up and down and declare this is a wonderful system. There are clearly flaws.

The only thing I'll say about it is it's actually practical. You can do it. In that respect, it's superior to the models the DOE has designed. In fact, though we're only two weeks away from students coming in, the DOE is still looking for teachers to cover these programs. It's kind of incredible that the DOE would pay some firm millions to come up with a program that required who knows how many new teachers to make it happen. There are 80,000 teachers around. Why don't they ask us before paying all that cash?

As if that's not enough, the fact is the mayor is looking at the possibility of firing 23,000 city employees, including 9,000 teachers. Why would anyone contemplating layoffs go on a hiring spree? And why would that someone, who's known of this possibility for months, accept a program that requires thousands of new teachers? Your guess is as good as mine.

I know someone who was recently excessed. This person tells me that the same school is now looking for new teachers. How do you excess experienced teachers and then go off looking for subs with no experience? Why couldn't you just use the teacher rather than excess her? Not only that, but even if you excess no one, how can school budgets, especially with cuts in the possible future, handle hiring extra people?

Look, I'm not advocating hybrids of any sort. However, if you're going to plan one, why would you plan one with variables well beyond your control? Why would you set it up to rely on people who don't even exist? And why would you pay a company to provide you with such a plan? I'd pay a company to not provide me with such a plan. 

I'm not familiar with the plan in my home district, being largely focused on NYC. But yesterday I was walking my dog and saw some parents at a bus stop. They told me their kids were going in every other day. Probably we're on the same system I described. What are the down sides?

One bad thing is if you're in the homebound group, you have to sit and watch. You can't ask questions. While this beats the Moskowitz Academy plan, which sounds more like prison than school, I wouldn't want to attend a class where I couldn't ask questions. I wouldn't want my kid, or yours, or anyone's in that class either.

The other bad thing is, if you're in the live classroom, you have to sit socially distanced and masked. This sounds awful to me. Kids are very social and we're dumping them into situations where they can't be. It's unnatural. We're also making teachers bad guys by making them enforce distancing and lack of real exchange. This goes against every instinct I have as a teacher.

On the brighter side, the Long Island system actually functions. I'd say the very best option, until we can crawl out of the COVID, is 100% remote instruction, a whole lot looser than the Moskowitz plan. Still, that's far from ideal. 

We're in a situation where there are simply no good choices. We have to sift through and try to find the least bad one. I really hope we get some better choices, and soon. I didn't sign up for this. None of us did.