Monday, August 31, 2009
In my case, it's watching my daughter, and seeing her as my parents saw me. For example, she recently acquired this t-shirt that looks as if someone vomited all over it in technicolor. I suppose years ago tie-dye was popular, but this design takes the color thing to a new level. On Saturday she dragged me into a store called Ecko in a Pennsylvania outlet mall and got me to buy her another hundred bucks worth of this style.
We almost purchased these clothes from Edwin, a guy who wore his polo-style Ecko shirt with the collar pulled up, but only in the back. He had a NY Yankees cap, several sizes too small, dangling sideways off his head, filled either with air or a large tumor. He wore two earrings on each ear and a huge faux-gold watch. When we were next, he closed his register to talk to his co-worker about whatever they did last night. I was in a mood to walk, but my daughter prevailed upon me to wait a little more for his relatively drab-looking colleague.
Last week we visited her cousins in Canada. The three of them sat on two beds, my daughter with a laptop and the two cousins each with an Ipod touch. They sat in the same room, within visual range and earshot, texting one another. I asked why they couldn't just talk. They looked at me like I was crazy and described how much cooler this was.
A while later, when they sat in another room talking to one another, I asked why they weren't texting instead.
"That's so two hours ago," replied my nephew.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
That's who NYC principals are hiring, according to the NY Times. The imperial principal, enabled by the disastrous 05 contract, doesn't need any stinking veteran teachers, and would rather leave positions vacant. They can, apparently, do cute things like hire newbies as day-to-day subs and give them programs anyway.
This has a twofold benefit--the newbies are pretty much under the principal's thumb with no options whatsoever, and the city doesn't have to bother with fripperies like health coverage. Under the weather? Drop dead for all they care.
It's "Children First" in NYC, and that's precisely the sort of job this administration wants our children to be competing for.
The real benefit, of course, is PR. Every ineffective fix to the ATR mess gives the chancellor another opportunity to say, "You see? These people are no good. That's why no one is hiring them." As Chaz pointed out the other day, the chancellor has always wanted to simply get rid of these veteran teachers.
Things are tough for working people nowadays, and Mayor-for-Life Bloomberg, despite his pretty words about jobs, is determined to make them even worse. It brings new relevance to the Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times."
Friday, August 28, 2009
It's pretty simple, actually. We live in a big country where almost everyone speaks English. Why the hell should we bother to learn some other language? Well, about 20% of us speak Spanish, so that's pretty practical if you're so inclined. I learned it in spite of, rather than because of, my high school training. When I became an ESL teacher I decided it behooved me to do what my kids were doing, and I spent a few summers studying in Mexico.
But we're not really terrible language learners--we're neither better or worse than anyone else. If we were born in Switzerland, we'd be multilingual without even thinking about it. When I was in Switzerland, I busted my butt trying to learn German. I don't really understand people who go to other countries and don't bother trying to learn the language.
Yesterday, I met a young woman here in Ontario who told me she had a problem. She can't learn English, she told me in Spanish. She's been studying for a year and a half but can't understand anything. She did not take it well when I told her it was her fault, that she clearly wasn't trying at all, and that she was not going to make any further progress unless she stopped waiting for the language to fall from the sky and hit her on the head.
I mean, there she was, with me, a native English speaker, and she chose to use this opportunity to ask me, in Spanish, why she didn't know English. I guess it made sense to her, though it really made no sense at all. If you speak only one language, the ability to speak another seems almost magical, and unattainable.
But it isn't. It's like playing the violin. You have to be willing to make awful screeching sounds, to make mistakes, to make an utter fool of yourself before you make anything resembling music. For adults, it's tough. We're self-conscious and our brains are fossilized. Maybe we need to bang ourselves on the head until they loosen up.
But you can do it. She can do it. Here's the secret--you have to force yourself to get out there and do it. Then you have to do it again and again. If you're an adult, alas, practice may not make perfect.
But it will get you a lot closer than standing around and hoping for the best.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
by special guest blogger North Brooklyn
The New Yorker leads the charge this school year with the essay; The Rubber Room, the battle over New York City’s worst teachers. A typically long piece [I swear The New Yorker still pays its writers by the word], I would suggest everyone in the system read it; but since most of us are in the process of organizing, planning, and setting up our classrooms I’ve decided to do all of you a solid and publish this summary:
All NYC teachers are bad people. Some of them get caught being bad people. The poopy old UFT insists on due process. The taxpayer loses because the poopy old UFT insists on due process. The DOE is the avenging angel [the only government agency on the planet who really cares-a change from the usual line from The New Yorker which usually claims that all government agencies/individuals are bad-except for Obama]. O.K., maybe, sometimes, the DOE is just trying to get a teacher to quit. [The New Yorker being balanced].
It’s the NY Post dressed up in liberalese.
The Rubber Room is a horrible place for a human being. The NYCDOE holds all the cards and the NYCDOE legal department has no intention of putting them down on the table; until they are forced to by the UFT and the case goes to arbitration.
If the NYCDOE wants to empty out the Rubber Rooms, save the long-suffering taxpayer from the waste of millions of dollars a year and-hey here’s a thought--divert the money to providing smaller class size--they can.
The UFT legal department is ready.
The accused is ready.
The NYCDOE legal department is not ready.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Well, this is going to be the last post in my "What No One Will Tell You..." series. Now, fret not--I'll be continuing to guestblog here, which is either cause for celebration or angry e-mails to NYC Educator about how appalling his taste in guestbloggers is. But, frankly, I'm out of ideas and just about out of summer vacation, so this is going to wrap up this particular group of posts.
My last post in this series will deal with caring for yourself and keeping an occasional smile on your face and spring in your step. Yes, it happens. I was not at at all good at caring for myself in my first year and not appreciably better in my second, and I think it's very important for you new teachers to NOT let the job become your life. It is a very consuming and intense job, but it should NOT be your life. Repeat it with me one more time: TEACHING IS NOT YOUR LIFE. Those KIPP people who expect you to answer your cell phone at ten o'clock at night to read the instructions for the homework out loud again? That's why I don't work for them. I'm being brutally honest here. I love my students and I love my job, but I don't love any job that much, and at the end of the day, they're my students, not my children.
Here's a few tips on keeping your life separate from your job.
First, the best advice I ever got on how to structure my day was from a teacher I met at a PD last year. She told me to come to school by 7:00 a.m., leave school at 5:00 p.m., and leave anything unfinished for the next day. This is excellent advice. Three hours, used well, plus the prep/professional periods, should give you enough time, even as a newbie, to keep your head above water on paperwork and planning. I put this plan into action last year and I LOVED coming home and forgetting about work for the night. It isn't quite 100% foolproof because of parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings and basketball games and whatever, but you can make it work, more or less. I'm not a great fan of taking work home and I avoid it strenuously.
Second, don't just have a nebulously defined hobby--make a commitment to doing something fun and 100% non-work-related. I found that signing up for exercise classes 5 or 10 at a time, and paying for them as such, made me show up to them once or twice a week. If you don't make a serious commitment (if you're anything like me), you'll let it fall by the wayside. Do pottery, yoga, ice hockey, surfing, whatever--just make it something you purely enjoy, and preferably something you can do with friends or family.
Speaking of friends and family, you must continue to nurture your relationships outside of work. I've extolled the value of work friends, I know, but it's so, so, important to not neglect your non-teacher friends and your family. They will probably understand that the first year of teaching is intense and demanding and what have you, but you need to have people from outside that rarefied school environment to remind you of who you were before you took this crazy job, to remind you that you have been successful in relationships before, to just be a decent human being.
Try to save up some money and take a nice trip during the winter break. I have made it a habit of getting out of town every February since I joined up with the NYCDOE and I find the dull, gray, short month to be an excellent time to get the hell out of Dodge. Yeah, I know, you're a newbie, you're broke. Maybe your family will give you some dough towards a trip as a Christmas/Hanukkah/Nativity of the Flying Spaghetti Monster present? You're a smart kid, you know all about Orbitz and Travelocity and Kayak. You can find something cheap. Treat yourself. You deserve it.
Finally, for God's sake, unless you're eating out of a dumpster, take the summer off.
Maybe someday I'll finish that teacher evaluation idea of mine over at my own blog, or maybe I'll just move it over here, or maybe you want me to start writing about how to set up your own espresso bar in your classroom. (Believe me, I've considered it.) But seriously, y'all are going to be hearing more from me, from the looks of things, so you may as well take a few brief moments of pleasure in ordering me around in the comments. Suggestions will be carefully considered.
And thanks for reading this summer, by the way. I'm glad that my posts started conversations and that the intrepid commenters here added on to my points in constructive and helpful ways for the newbies out there. I hope some actual newbies have read this series.
Now, get thee to Staples/the beach/the Hamptons/back to bed/wherever else you plan on spending your last few days of summer!
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
NY 1 reports that city SAT scores in math and reading have taken a dip. City officials were quick to explain that when scores go down, it means nothing whatsoever, except perhaps that those lazy shiftless teachers are spending even more time with their feet up on a desk doing nothing.
When scores go up, however, all credit is due to our Dear Leader, the Honorable Mayor-for-Life Michael Bloomberg, glory be to his name. In fact, AP scores went up, a further indication that Mayor-for-Life Bloomberg is doing a fantastic job!
So don't forget, folks, to get out there and vote for Mayor Bloomberg, who trashed the term limits you voted on (twice) just to give you this opportunity!
Remember, when things go wrong, it's not his fault! When they improve, it means the mayor is indispensable! That's what we call "accountability" here in fun city.
Thanks to Adam!
I've been out of town the last few days. I'm afraid I haven't had a lot of time to keep up. So imagine my surprise to read that former part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten was touring St. Louis with Arne Duncan.
Will it be a vaudeville routine?
Arne: Who's an ATR?
Randi: No, Who's suspended without pay for 90 days based on unsubstantiated allegations.
Arne: I don't know.
Randi: Oh. I Don't Know's been denied tenure for failing to raise test scores above 100%.
Then, of course, Arne would feign anguish, but smile and bow at the inevitable applause as the routine ends. Really, you've gotta wonder what the hell Duncan and Weingarten are trying to achieve, and who's persuading whom of what.
What sort of discussions do you suppose they're having?
Monday, August 24, 2009
You know, a lot of people come up to me on the street and say, "Hey, NYC Educator, what's it like to be a real man?" I tell them it's hard work. For example, fter a long day of being a real man, I'm really tired.
Sometimes people ask me how they can show others what real men they are. I tell them the most important thing is to impress women. For example, before going out on a date with a woman, you might try driving into a brick wall a hundred miles an hour, then brushing yourself off and getting out of the car as though nothing happened. She won't soon forget a guy like you. Alternatively, why not take her to a nice restaurant, pour lighter fluid in your lap, and set yourself on fire? Then continue chatting nonchalantly, as though nothing of consequence is occurring. This will be a date to remember.
The GOP wants us all to be real men. That's why they keep blocking every piece of health care legislation that comes down the pike. Better tens of thousands should have no insurance, and join all the real men. Because real men don't care about stuff like that. They just jump into any situation head first, and if they fall on a block of cement, so be it.
And make no mistake, Republicans opposed Medicare using the same idiotic "socialism" attacks they're using to maintain the status quo today. A few years ago they wanted to privatize socail security, which in hindsight would've been an unmitigated disaster. Now they want to apply the privatization magic to schools. GW sponsored a windfall for corporations, for banks, for pointless wars, but we can't involve government in health care. First, we can't afford it. Second, government can't do anything right (which is why no one our age knows how to read and write). On the other hand, they now say private companies could not compete with a public option.
So--maybe deep inside those real Republican men beat hearts of chickens. I hope they have insurance. I've seen people die for lack of it, and I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
Takeru and Sonya give us a preview of what teaching will look like when the three wise men of the "reform" movement, Duncan, Sharpton and Gingrich, paint the country to a color they really like.
Friday, August 21, 2009
Thus spake NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, in response to a young Teaching Fellow facing a hiring freeze. That came as news to me. Wasn't mayoral control just passed again? Isn't the PEP still a toothless organization, with the majority of members rubber stamps for Mayor Mike? Can't he fire them for the offense of disagreeing with him? Hasn't he already done so?
Nonetheless, this is an odd statement coming from a man whose mantra is "accountability." I mean, there he is, with no checks or balances, saying, "Not my fault, pal." That's hardly what I want to hear from my kid's teacher, let alone principal or Supreme Ruler.
In fact, Joel Klein has a 50% share in negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers. Not only that, but it was he who unilaterally established the hiring freeze the young teacher was complaining about--making him 100% responsible for that (Math enthusiasts please note the inclusion of statistics I did not make up on the spot).
Chancellor Joel Klein, while he may be taking marching orders from Mayor Mike, is a far cry from Harry Truman, who declared, "The buck stops here." And Truman, unlike Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg, had the Congress and the Supreme Court always getting in his way with those troublesome checks and balances we all remember from civics class.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
Over at South Bronx School there's been a series of pieces featuring what a cursory Google search would indicate to be a diploma mill doctor with some exalted title or other in the DoE. This person, apparently, not only observes teachers in NYC, but helps rate them unsatisfactory. Were I holding a dubious degree like that, I'd probably sing their praises, wear a floppy hat and dark glasses, and hope for the best.
Things that seem too good to be true usually are, and it's tough to imagine being taken in by an outfit offering a bogus degree. How often do you get spammed by diploma mills? I've seen things in my inbox for years offering me degrees by mail. I've yet to respond, having already frittered away thousands of dollars and countless hours on a master's. Who knows? Perhaps I could've gotten an equally practical diploma simply by opening the right box of Captain Crunch.
The other problem, for me at least, is I've never had much ambition to get that PhD or whatever. NYC doesn't pay teachers for doctoral degrees, and prestigious though they are, it hardly seems worth chasing the title unless you want to become superintendent or a college professor. I'd just as soon work for a living.
It gives you pause, though--if the need for advanced degrees leads to this sort of thing, what sorts of fresh corruption would merit pay bring?
I'll never forget walking in on a former supervisor and seeing her erasing and correcting a stack of standardized tests. After all, how else could she show what a great job she was doing? As Arne Duncan, Al Sharpton, and Newt Gingrich traipse around the country demanding higher test scores, you have to wonder just what new and innovative shortcuts people will devise to achieve them.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 8: Making Nice with the Administration
Another Wednesday, another guestblog of questionable taste, accuracy, and helpfulness! I don't know why I didn't start with this one and end with the one about coupons and dollar stores and Staples rewards, but there you go. Rather than devise some How to Make Friends and Influence People-type of master plan, I thought that today I might simply tell you a few things that any new teacher should avoid if he or she has any hope of getting along with his or her boss.
This, as you can imagine, is a controversial subject. Any teacher worth his or her salt is a professional--yes, even the newbies--and as people who tend to be, as a group, just a tiny bit opinionated, we don't cotton to being micromanaged. And, these days, many administrators are indeed micromanagers, and the UFT doesn't tend to do much for nontenured teachers. Yeah, it's a recipe for disaster.
So what can you do to maintain your sanity, make your administrator happy, and keep a sense of independence in your classroom? The first thing I would suggest is to talk to your colleagues. (See how important it is to be on good terms with your co-workers?) They can tell you what your particular principal and AP really care about, and what you can safely
ignore deprioritize. Some admins are obsessed with bulletin boards, some with portfolios, some with TANs, some with libraries, whatever. Find out whatever your admin's particular obsession may be and make it your business to master it. This is not the time to question whether or not it really matters that every single bulletin board has its own task card (although that is a fine question to ask!). Just do it. Like books being in baskets (can you tell this is a pet peeve of mine?), sometimes it's better to not ask. And speaking of pet peeves, casually survey your colleagues and see if you can figure out whatever your boss's is, no matter how silly it may seem. And then avoid it.
Volunteer for something. Not everything, not every time. But most principals do appreciate and remember it. Good ones will write a nice note for your file, too, when you go above and beyond, and that will look good if you ever want to transfer. It helps out your colleagues, too, because everything you don't do is something that someone else will probably have to do, so share the burden and teach that PTA workshop/afterschool club/sports team from time to time. It also sends a good message to the parents if they see you outside of the regular school day.
Never ever appear unprepared. Always have a lesson plan, even if it's just a quick outline, and your plan book filled in. It doesn't so much matter if your class goes a little off track, as long as you can show that you have a plan. Most administrators understand tangents and teachable moments, and don't be afraid of those things--just have a plan and do your best to stick to it every day. Also, for us youngsters of the digital age especially, be respectful of the fact that your admin is likely of a different generation and they may not understand or care about the website or database where all your lesson plans are. Unless you've been specifically told that electronic lesson plans and plan books are okay, have hard copies available. Most admins like to be able to come into your classroom, glance at your desk, and see your book and lesson plan without any guesswork. Yes, this does happen, that they will come in uninvited and make themselves comfortable, and no, there is nothing you can do about it. Be prepared.
Speaking of invitations, invite your admins to anything special that's going on in your classroom. I invited my admins to all of my "publishing parties" last year after a colleague said my celebration idea sounded great and was worth sharing. I was petrified at first, but I got used to it, and now I look forward to showing off my and my students' hard work. Don't worry too much about the kiddies, either--most kids will also welcome the chance to show off and be on their best behavior.
Take advantage of your right to pre- and post-observation conferences. Formal observations are serious business--they go in writing and into your permanent file. If your admin doesn't offer pre- and post-observation conferences, ask for them, in writing. Most admins will offer them. My old AP was a real machine: you got a memo a week before the pre-ob conference, have the pre-ob, have the ob, and the same day you got a memo with the date of the post-ob. No fuss, no muss. Not all admins are that organized, though, so know your rights and exercise them.
Finally, just as with your colleagues, show your appreciation. Hopefully your admin is a veteran teacher and they will offer you some positive and/or constructive feedback. Use it and express your appreciation when it works. Remember them at the holidays. They have a job I'd never in a million years want, and as much they might be breathing down your neck, try to remember that they have people breathing down theirs, too.
Most admins are good people trying to do a very hard job. They might seem scary, and they do have a lot of power over you in your first three years, but you can have a good relationship with them and learn from them.
I'm almost out of ideas for this series, so if you have any, leave 'em in the comments, along with your compliments, incensed outrage, half-baked ramblings, etc.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
About ten years ago, I spent almost a month in El Pinal, Venezuela. My wife and I were involved in a wild goose chase initiated by her idiot nephew, a lawyer who didn't know the law. When we got back, his mother told us we owed him thousands of dollars. My wife told her we'd pay "when the frog has hair." It sounds better in Spanish.
There isn't a whole lot to do in El Pinal. They eat a lot of arepas, with different color sauces, but after a few weeks, they lose their charm (I lost ten pounds). I went looking for a t-shirt, with something interesting in Spanish, but most of what I saw were Hard Rock Cafe, I Heart New York, and variations on themes I could have found in a Jackson Heights variety store for 99 cents or thereabouts.
There's a popular hairdresser near our home who speaks only Spanish. When he got himself organized enough to open his own shop, he called it, "The Last Style," instead of "The Latest Style." That doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but in Spanish it's "el ultimo estilo," and he made the mistake of procuring a literal translation, either from a dictionary or from someone who didn't know any better. Still, he tried, and only English was cool enough to use for such an important venture. In a way, we native English speakers should be flattered by things like this.
I was horrified, however, by a product my wife purchased called "Now Your Stylin." Now I could understand dropping the "g," as a lot of people speak that way. However, using "your" in place of "you're" is unforgivable, and should earn the perpetrator a stiff prison sentence. This is particularly true if the criminal was born and raised in the good ol' USA.
You can only lower standards so much, and then no more. More importantly, how long can we maintain our cool reputation once people find out we don't actually know the language?
Monday, August 17, 2009
I read with interest the first union-wide communique from newly-selected UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Here's a statement I liked:
Our students shouldn't pay the price with larger class sizes, overcrowded schools, outdated textbooks and fewer after-school and enrichment programs.
That's a worthy goal. But it's also worth mentioning that the UFT declared victory on the class size issue over a year ago. Moreover, it's done nothing whatsoever to alter the class size regulations of the UFT contract--the only instrument that has effectively capped class size since well before I began teaching in 1984.
There are a few more disturbing lines:
While you deserve all the credit for the steady improvements in student achievement in recent years, I know that the school system's relentless focus on standardized schooling has taken a toll.
The "steady improvements" Mr. Mulgrew cites are entirely those of test scores, the same "improvements" that Arne Duncan talks about when he's shilling for Rupert Murdoch's ultra-right wing New York Post. Anyone following the work of Diane Ravitch over the past few years, or reading the New York Times, might question just how valid these statistics are.
It is sorely disappointing to find our union president taking them at face value.
Mr. Mulgrew manages to get in a few snide remarks about those who question the value of potty patrol, 90-day unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated charges, thousands of teachers stuck as ATRs, and failure to oppose the mayoral control that's instilled fear and loathing the likes of which I haven't seen in 25 years:
That commitment, dedication and pragmatism are what define us and set us apart from those who prefer rhetoric to results and "just say no" to progress.
That's an interesting snipe from someone who seems to, like Arne Duncan, take Mayor Bloomberg's word for what progress is. Then there's this:
...when we stand and work together, listen and act intelligently, and resist pettiness and partisanship, we accomplish great things.
I'm afraid the "great things" we've achieved have largely eluded me. I'm glad to get rid of the August punishment days Mr. Mulgrew's caucus brought us, but I question whether eating our young made it worth it, particularly after all the sanctimonious nonsense I read from Unity Caucus members about how we chose not to do so on the 05 contract, in which we gave away the sun, the moon and the stars.
And sadly, by "pettiness and partisanship," it appears Mr. Mulgrew is suggesting no dissent whatsoever from a myopic leadership that just partnered with a charter chain that publicly rejects both tenure and seniority rights Does Mr. Mulgrew find preserving those rights tantamount to saying "no to progress?" Tough to say. Membership in his elite Unity Caucus entails an oath not to publicly contradict Unity Caucus positions. Does Mr. Mulgrew feel that prohibition should apply to all working teachers?
That would be an ironic request to make of those of us whose job entails promoting and inspiring critical thought in young people.
Thanks to David Bellel, photoshop guy extraordinaire!
Sunday, August 16, 2009
The New York Post says the city has allocated 8% in raises for teachers over the next two years. Their fair and balanced headline states, "Spoiling 'em Rotten."
DC37 has established a pattern of 8% over two years, and we've historically followed the pattern. In fact, the arbitration board, foolishly recruited by the UFT in in 05, suggested it was necessary to follow the pattern. This info, inexplicably, did not make it into the Post article.
Were former part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten's columns supporting mayoral control a quid pro quo? A lot of people I've spoken with think so. One question--if the reward is the pattern we were gonna get anyway, why did we need to put up the quid? Shouldn't our quid be worth something extra?
Thanks to 12 More Years
Saturday, August 15, 2009
During this era, the era of mayoral control 2.0, one of the reforms that will change life the way we know it is the addition of parents to the Panel for Educational Policy. This, presumably, is intended to give another perspective to those on the panel.
Mayor Bloomberg believes in diversity. That's why, when he selected these parents, he selected one with millions of dollars in city contracts, and another with a contract worth a mere $255,000 dollars a year (if you don't count contributions from Bloomberg via the Carnegie Corporation).
Mayor Bloomberg has a history of valuing the opinions of those with whom he has contracts. That's why the city placed such reliance on The New Teacher Project to issue objective reports. Doubtless the millions they receive in contracts with the city did not shade their opinion a bit. They were just hoping for the best when they urged the city to fire current teachers, and the fact that their company was in the business of training new teachers did not influence their conclusion one way or the other.
In any case, you'll be relieved to know that in the highly unlikely event these parents were to vote against Mayor Mike, they could be fired instantly and replaced with other parents holding city contracts. That's what we call "accountability."
Friday, August 14, 2009
Kids these days are getting away with murder. They go to school instead of doing odd jobs for coal miners, and rarely utter, "Yes sir, no sir, please let me go sir," as they properly should. They seem to think the world owes them a living, and very few of them opt to go to KIPP 200 hours a week and prepare for the life of servitude they so richly owe us.
However, New York City has come to the rescue. First they closed scores of schools, broadening the horizons of these mollycoddled children by making them travel all over the city on a daily basis. But that wasn't enough to harden them to the realities of this miserable trail of tears, so the MTA has decided to chip in by denying them half-fare on some of their express buses.
Predictably, those affected whined about it:
The student fare will rise to $5.50 per trip from $2.50.
"To me it's going be a really big inconvenience."...
"It's going to be hard on my family affording full fare," Levine said.
Suck it up, kids. This is likely a pilot program. If tough NYC will just shut the heck up, as it's done through most of Mayor Bloomberg's tenure, this program could grow to affect all their buses, teaching working people everywhere a valuable lesson. There are still stadiums to be built, there are still tax breaks to be given to developers, and it's about time you started paying your fair share.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
In a revelation, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn realized that if only they had more money for school lunches, they could offer kids whole grain rolls instead of Doritos. Also, we can offer them grilled chicken breast instead of chicken nuggets. Finally, instead of giving them canned peas to leave untouched on their styrofoam trays, we can give them steamed broccoli.
This is significant because, while the broccoli will still get tossed away portion by portion, lunch ladies will be able to bring home entire trays full of grilled chicken breast, thus ensuring higher quality meals for their dogs. Our kids will still be eating the same crap they eat now, but the important thing is they'll be doing so by choice.
Thus does America solve yet another thorny issue.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 7: Practical Tips on Stocking Your Classroom
I was kidding last week when I said that I was contemplating a post on how to spend your $150 windfall from the DOE, but then I thought, "Why not?" New teachers face a LOT of start-up costs in getting their classroom setup, and, just like almost everything else in this series, no one told me how to defray the costs. It's possible, with a little imagination and free time, to get a great deal of stuff for your classroom for free or very little money. FREE? Did I say FREE? Yes. Keep reading.
First, MAKE A LIST of what you will need. You should have a sense of what you will need from my very first post about setting up your classroom. Try to make this list after you talk to your new colleagues and assess what your school will give you in way of start-up materials. Some schools will give you things like bulletin board paper, a stapler, chalk, etc. Well, all schools are supposed to. Which is not to say that they all do. Check with your colleagues and figure out what you will be expected to bring yourself. Also casually inquire as to what they may be throwing away. It's worth a shot.
Start by cleaning out your apartment/house and/or the apartment or house of any friend or relative who will let you. I have younger siblings who still live at home and I have no compunctions about swiping their unwanted books or unused school supplies for my own use. Particularly if you're teaching ELA, you can never have enough books for your classroom. Be aware that there is a relatively good chance that if you donate your own books to your classroom library, you might never see them again, so bear that in mind before you put it out on the shelf. Used magazines are fantastic not only for kids to read, but to cut up for collages and projects. One of my generous relatives passes on all of his issues of Sporting News and Sports Illustrated, which, as you can imagine, are great gifts for boys with short attention spans during independent reading time. One of my colleagues has made a summer tradition of raiding her mother-in-law's attic for decorating supplies. Most of your friends and family members probably have some stuff they'd love to have removed from their homes.
Next, try Freecycle. If you don't know what Freecycle is, it's a beautifully simple little Internet system: People post things they don't want, and you volunteer to take them! Wahoo! You can also post stuff you want in hopes that someone who is cleaning out their basement will find that very stuff. Depending on where you live, there are geographically specific Freecycle groups everywhere, including New York City Freecycle (which covers all five boroughs, so I hope you have a car or are open to long subway trips), Brooklyn Freecycle, Queens Freecycle, Nassau County Freecycle, etc. You can generally belong to more than one group and travel wherever you are willing to travel, but each group tends to have its own rules, so play nicely. I've been extremely lucky on Freecycle this past summer and have gotten tons of new and barely-used books, art and office supplies, even some spiffy new wardrobe items through it. You can Google or head to http://www.freecycle.org/ to find your group. Craigslist also has a FREE section you can skim if you have the patience, which I don't, but good luck.
Next, find a good 99-cent or dollar store. Don't get all snobby about them on me, either. I'm not going to spend money on brand-name stuff for kids to destroy or at least entirely use up fairly quickly. I get book baskets, hand sanitizer, silly little prizes, and much more at my favorite dollar stores. If you buy nothing else at your dollar store, buy your book baskets there, ELA teachers, because they're usually $2 or $2.50 each at Staples or a teacher supply store. And, like I told you earlier this summer, don't ask why your books have to be in baskets. I still don't know.
A quick word about teacher stores: DO NOT go into one for the first time on the expectation that you will buy lots of stuff. Yes, they will have many colorful, beautiful, fun-looking items, but they are generally NOT cheap. Bring a list, browse the first time, comparison shop (more on this in a second), ask colleagues, and ascertain how badly you need that cute pocket chart before you drop $35 on it. I would offer much the same advice about Staples, because I LOVE Staples. Take it from someone who has been sucked in by the sweet, darling teacher store more than once...
So if you haven't filled all your needs, wants, and desires yet, I advise you to comparison shop, particularly online. Websites like Classroom Direct may have better deals on nice teacher toys and classroom supplies than your local teacher store. But make sure you factor in shipping costs to make sure you're getting the best deal. Amazon generally has the best prices on new books, but always check eBay to see if you can get a nice used copy for cheap. Google Shopping (Froogle) can be helpful if the item you want is likely to be on sale in a few different places.
It may be cost-effective for you to join a wholesale club like BJ's or Costco. If you're new to NYC and you're shocked that we have them here, yes, we do. It's cost-effective for me because I also buy lots of nonperishable food and pet supplies there, but research your own family's budget. And comparison shop even with a membership there, because sometimes office supplies are cheaper elsewhere if, for example, Staples is having one of its fire sales that it has around this time of year.
For large-scale spending, look into DonorsChoose. You may be familiar with DonorsChoose through Stephen Colbert's show, as he has encouraged his viewers several times to donate to it. It's a website where if you have a big-ticket item or items that you want to implement a certain project or achieve a specific goal in your classroom, you write a proposal and post it on the website, and donors choose (that's how it works!) the projects they like to fund through donations large and small. One of my colleagues got a DonorsChoose grant last year and she was delighted.
My last tip is to read a lot--read things like Teachers' Update (yes, that boring-looking e-mail you get from the DOE every week), the union paper, your NEA and AFT magazines and newsletters, FellowBlast (for TFs), and the like. There are almost always opportunities for grants, donations, free stuff, etc. listed in there. If you don't at least skim these things, you could be throwing money away.
So good luck with that $150 windfall. Don't forget to save your receipts, even after that $150 is long gone, because you can write off the rest on your taxes. Ask your accountant for more details because I'm not in the business of giving tax advice and then being sued because it's wrong.
Next week, I suppose I'll have to try to write about how to get along with your boss--i.e. your principal and AP. Or I may just tell you right now that your best bets are smiling and nodding, and bribery.
See you next time!
P.S.--New post on teacher evaluation coming this week at my blog. Go go go.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided to get tough with NYC kids, who've been coddled for too long. From now on, if they don't meet the standards, they won't be promoted. That's it. No excuses. This is cutting edge tough love.
In addition, tests will be revised so that no one can possibly fail, since failing tests has been proven to damage self-esteem in children. More importantly, failing tests have been proven to upset the statistics Mayor Bloomberg sends to Arne Duncan, the ones that conclusively demonstrate that mayoral control is indispensable and must be replicated nationwide.
So, in retrospect, get tough, no excuses, and everyone passes all tests by 2014 no matter what.
In other news, Mayor Bloomberg says it's hypothetical that the PEP won't pass his get tough stance. The last time two of his appointees opposed him, he fired them before they could vote. Perhaps the mayor wishes to allow one or two of them to oppose him this time. That way, the punters who read the NY Post op-ed can believe he lets them think for themselves. Yet more canny PR from the master.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Jaleel was expelled from Cesar Chavez Public Charter School for, of all things, threatening to kill a teacher. Naturally, all parties involved were horrified. You can't just go around threatening to kill teachers. It could disrupt the instructional process, for one thing. Plus, if you're in a trailer (like I am) you'd have a body lying around for who knows how long, the AC could be on the fritz, and it could provoke all sorts of unanticipated inconveniences.
So what can you do with a kid like that? Call the authorities? Have him hauled away in handcuffs? Get a restraining order, at least? No. If you're a "public charter school," you just dump him into a real public school, and the problem is solved. After all, you don't have to deal with it anymore, and you can get back to the business of educating the kids who don't bother you too much.
After all, why bother with kids like Jaleel? They take up your valuable time, can negatively affect your statistics, and don't appreciate the value of private citizens soaking up public money. Better to dump him into a real public school and have it vilified for doing a terrible job with the kids it cannot pick and choose.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
I'm in London, Ontario visiting family. Yesterday, my two-year-old nephew had an ear infection. I had to take him and his mom for help. In this terrible Canadian medical system, his doctor is closed on Saturday, so we tried to take him to a clinic located in a nearby drugstore. It being five o'clock, the clinic had closed, so we had to take him to an emergency room at the nearest hospital.
The scary Canadian receptionist sent us immediately to triage, where a nurse took his temperature. She told the boy she was checking to see if there were any monkeys in his ear. Can you imagine frightening a young boy like that? After this ordeal, we sat down for a full five minutes before being called into the pediatric examination area.
After that, we had to wait forty minutes before a medical student gave the kid an examination. The examination took another 15 minutes or so, and then he had to get an OK from a doctor, who showed up 15 minutes later. Not only that, but we had to wait another few minutes before we got the prescription, bringing our wait time in the ER to almost 90 minutes.
Now compare that to the American hospital where I took my mom a few weeks ago. We got in, signed up, and within 3 hours made it to triage. Let me state unequivocally that no one suggested she had monkeys in her ear. After they sent us our for another four hours in the waiting area, I recognized her doctor, who used to be my doctor too (When he became a "boutique" doctor and started charging 1500 bucks a year, I found another doctor, but my mom stayed on).
I told the doctor how long we'd been waiting, he gave some choice words to someone, and within one hour, we got in. Within another hour she saw a doctor. So while my nephew had to wait a full 90 minutes, my mom saw a doctor within a mere 9 hours. The second number, if I'm not mistaken, is a 90% reduction over the first.
More importantly, my mom was in the hospital for a week, but under our American system, she's fine now. My nephew though, under the socialist system, still has that ear infection.
Friday, August 07, 2009
US Education Secretary Arne Duncan loves mayoral control, and thinks it needs to be replicated elsewhere. Duncan got involved in NY state politics before to make sure that PEP appointees would not have fixed terms. This is very important, because if they were to have them, Mayor Bloomberg would be unable to fire them for the egregious offense of exercising their free will.
He also said this was good for children. After all, children grow up, and if they get mixed up with this free will thing, they might vote the wrong way. With enough dictatorship-based policies, perhaps votes will be irrelevant anyway. After all, Mayor Bloomberg managed to subvert the term-limits referendum that voters twice affirmed, and if Duncan could only do whatever he wanted whenever he felt like it, his job would be a lot less stressful.
For Secretary Duncan, free will is a real bugaboo. If only he could steer those nasty bloggers and reporters away from that nasty free will thing, he could get them to stop telling people what happened when he was in charge of education in Chicago. Perhaps he sees a kindred spirit in Mayor Bloomberg and thinks, "If they believe he did a good job, maybe they'll believe I did a good job too."
The only sure thing is that Duncan has become a cheerleader for the Bloomberg PR machine, not bothering to question it for a minute. He asks fewer questions than the NY Post editorial board, and doesn't want to hear anything about objective, contradictory or reality-based information that might burst his bubble.
Thank you, President Obama. Mayor Bloomberg couldn't be happier if he'd picked Duncan himself. And who's to say he didn't?
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Sarah Wildman did everything right. She went and got health insurance before she got pregnant, as our preposterous system labels pregnancy as a "preexisting condition" and doesn't cover it. But then, after paying all the numerous copays, she found her insurance policy didn't cover labor, delivery or a hospital stay, despite her rider for maternity coverage. How stupid of her to expect maternity coverage to pay for those added extras.
Now you're probably asking yourself, "Why couldn't she just have her baby at work or something?" At a high school I used to work in, a paraprofessional had a baby in the cafeteria one day. Now there was a woman who didn't believe in any of those wasteful frivolities. But actually, as she had government health care, like me, and like prominent public health care foe Rudy Giuliani (who was treated for cancer while he carried GHI), she was whisked to a hospital by ambulance and ended up getting the same care as Ms. Wildman, paying only whatever the GHI deducatable was at that time.
There's a happy ending for Ms. Wildman. When she told her insurance company she was writing an article about them, they suddenly decided to cover 90% of her expenses. But for many Americans, that's not the case. One way private insurance companies make their money is by denying coverage to people who fail to protest. That's just one reason why we should all oppose the privatization, or "for-profit" status of Emblem Health, which administers GHI and HIP, even if its IPO enriches the coffers of our unions.
It's the business of "for-profit" organizations to maximize profits, not to help you. And the results for working Americans are catastrophic:
...a new report from the American Journal of Medicine found that in 2007, 62 percent of declared bankruptcies were by people with staggering medical bills—even though 80 percent of them actually had health insurance.
Every industrialized country in the world but us avoids this one way or another. If President Obama manages to solve this problem, despite his preposterous and unfounded positions on education, it will have been worth voting for him. If not, well, we may as well have left GW to continue flushing our future down the toilet.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Related: EdNotes suggests the NY Times should stop covering education altogether.
Monday, August 03, 2009
The Wall Street Journal is again promoting the myth that teacher unions hinder children. Apparently, the union forced KIPP to pay its teachers 33% more than public school teachers, just because they have a union contract! And KIPP, out of the goodness of its corporate heart, already pays them 18% more! But the Journal forgot to mention that the teachers work 33% more time. Probably an oversight. A clever blogger suggests a solution--have them work a "professional day" like Green Dot NY--then they can work as much as the bosses wish without any compensation at all!
Not only that, but those awful unions are keeping parents from hiring non-unionized paraprofessionals simply because they're getting paid 12 rather than 24 dollars an hour (aside from receiving no benefits and not being fingerprinted for criminal records).
Don't these horrible unions know that it's absolutely necessary to provide jobs with long hours and little compensation? That way we can be sure our children will get jobs like that when they grow up. And what parent doesn't want their kids to work endless hours for little pay and few benefits?
On behalf of kids everywhere, thanks, Wall Street Journal.
Principals are hoping it becomes more exorable (I know, it's not a word, but what can you do?). The problem is that standards have become so low kids pass tests whether or not they actually know anything, and Mayor-for-life Bloomberg will only give them enough funds for the kids who literally fail.
So what do you do? Do you reach into your pocket, the one Mayor Bloomberg just picked to cut your budget, or do you merrily roll along and pretend, as Tweed does, that these kids are really getting an education? It's a tough call for many principals, particularly after having chided teachers to pass absolutely everyone no matter what.
To help principals, and to enable more vital no-bid contracts, Mayor Bloomberg cut 22% from summer school budgets. Keep it going, New York!
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Saturday, August 01, 2009
Joanne Jacobs just posted something about Sim School, and how it's increasing confidence among would-be teachers.
Here's my comment:
I think it would be fun to play with Sim School. But I don’t think any computer program could approximate human behavior, especially human teenage behavior. I’d caution these teachers about feeling confident after having played a game. I’m certain nothing designed for a mass market could include actual behaviors you’d be likely to encounter in a public school.
But I could be wrong, having passed judgment without even looking at the actual game. I'm on vacation, so naturally I have no time to play games. I'm very busy watching Food Party.
But if anyone out there is intrepid enough to actually play the game, please feel free to share your experiences. Should we have saved all that money we wasted on grad school, and just played Sim School instead?
But did Crichton ever examine the real advances of the twentieth century? Likely he just focused on things like computers, or the birth control pill, things we modern folk take for granted. But he never considered things that truly improve the quality of life, things you could buy at Amazon if you were hip enough, things like this one. For a real example of how scientific innovation can change your life, check out this video: