Saturday, October 31, 2009

Charters Lag Behind Public Schools--Mayor Mike Demands More Charters

Mayor-for-life Michael Bloomberg sees privatization as the key to all our woes. After all, look how well it works in the health insurance field. Look what it's done for our national economy. It's kind of like watching the national GOP. In boom times, they say, we need to cut taxes for the wealthy. When times get tough, we need to cut taxes for the wealthy. When we're at war, we need to cut taxes for the wealthy.

So when Mayor-for-life Mike sees troubled public schools, he says we need more charters. When he sees good or improving public schools, he says we need more charters. When he sees inferior charters, he says we need more charters. You can't help but admire the man's consistency.

And Mayor Mike is putting your money where his mouth is, creating tens of thousands more charter seats in his never-ending administration. Your kids in public schools without seats can squeeze in and stand. They may as well get used to it, since their futures entail no unions, fewer benefits, longer hours, and being fired at will by the likes of Eva Moskowitz.

He's now spent more on his campaign than any other American has spent on a political campaign, and you must admit, the man's buying his way in fair and square. Every time the truth gets too loud, Mayor-for-life Bloomberg runs a commercial that's even louder, and everything is beautiful again.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Taking a Stand

There's always drama in the air when you're hanging around with a few dozen teenagers.  In my beginning ESL class I have a young man with a fairly wicked sense of humor, but alas, insufficient vocabulary to express it.  The class is in a semicircle.  I like it that way, but I didn't move the seats out of rows until I was confident I knew everyone's name.

One young woman keeps moving her chair back to the front of the room, where it was before I rearranged everything.  She likes it there.  And the boy who's always smiling keeps following her.  I can't say as I blame him.  But he's got a tendency to speak to her in their native language, strictly verboten in my class, and when I catch him I exile him back to his regular seat.

"But she sit over there," he protests.

I decide to pull out an old chestnut.  "Well, if she jumps off the Empire State Building, are you going to jump off too?"

"Yes," he says, nodding his head without hesitation.  "I jump."

Then he wanders back to his seat, but doesn't sit.  He stands, looking out the trailer window.

"Are you waiting for your girlfriend to walk by?"  I ask him.

"No," he says.  "I looking for new one."

And he stands there looking out the window.  Being the nasty teacher I am, I call on him to answer questions.

He gets each one right, and I let him keep standing there.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Our Apologies, Sadako

Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes is the touching, sad, beautiful story of a young Japanese girl who was dying of leukemia caused by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. She begins making paper cranes to pass her time in the hospital and hopes to make 1000, but she is only able to complete six hundred or so. Her classmates from school take over and finish the 1000, and the cranes are buried with her. The crane is a symbol of peace and healing not only in Japanese culture, but this simple and lovely image has spread to our own. If you go to St. Paul's Chapel in the Financial District, for example, you will see long chains of paper cranes sent there by Japanese schoolchildren for the rescue workers in the days after 9/11. People leave paper cranes in the Hiroshima Peace Park to this day to express hope for a world without nuclear weapons.

The book about Sadako is a popular one in elementary schools, not only for its historic value, but also to help children cope with the death of friends and classmates. Many children are familiar with it. My own students certainly are. I have a copy of it in my classroom library, as do most teachers in my school.

I mentioned that we'd be launching a new unit dealing with memoir writing soon. One of my students asked, "Oh, are we going to read about Sadako and the thousand paper planes?"

Perhaps, in her version of the book, Sadako was the class clown?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Sorry, I couldn't resist. Tomorrow schools are serving Rachel Ray's chicken taco recipe, which has to beat the hell out of those hockey-puck burgers and plastic pizza we usually see. I'm going to give it a try. I always wondered what the stuff on Food Network tasted like, and I'm hoping it's not all appearances.

Feel free to come back here tomorrow and report your experiences, fellow intrepid taco-eaters.

Another True Story from the Darkest DoE

Ms. Warthergle was very religious. She did not, of course, like Mexicans. They were always going on about the Blessed Virgin, and that just wasn't the way she approached religion. But as an assistant principal, she always kept an eye on her teachers.

Ms. Mudd was having a bad year. She'd been sick various times. This caused her to be absent, once for weeks at a time. The worst thing, though, was that her one-year-old granddaughter had just died. Ms. Mudd had come to work, but was not quite herself today.

Naturally, Ms Warthergle was moved by her plight. As a religious person, there was only one thing she could do. She prayed. She exhorted Ms. Mudd to pray with her. Ms. Mudd was unwilling at first, but eventually relented. After a few minutes of praying, she actually felt better. Ms. Warthergle was delighted to have demonstrated the power of prayer. Ms. Mudd felt less terrible than she'd been feeling. It was a grand success.

Then, Ms. Warthergle handed Ms. Mudd her U rating for the year. Prayer was one thing, but dilly-dallying was quite another.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Playing Favorites

Serena is just about everything you could want in a student: she's bright, hardworking, pleasant, respectful, helpful. She comes from a wonderful family that supports her in every way. Most importantly, she's not one to complain gratuitously. So when she told me recently that she had a problem, I was inclined to take her seriously.

Serena explained to me that one of the other teachers at my school is exhibiting favoritism. She didn't say who it was and I didn't ask; we just had a chat about how we could address this. I suggested that the teacher might be paying more attention to a single student because the student is struggling and needs more help or attention right now, or that the teacher simply doesn't realize that he or she is doing it and may not have any particular feeling one way or the other. As is always the case if kids come to me about another teacher, I don't ever speculate negatively on the other teacher's motives, speech, or actions, and encourage the kid to address it directly with that teacher. Most of the people I work with are pretty reasonable and helpful, and if a kid brings up something one-on-one in a respectful way, they'll listen.

After a little brainstorming on this, Serena seemed to feel better and changed the subject. But the chat gave me something to think (and blog) about. I tend to think about some students more than others, for a variety of reasons. I worry about the kids who struggle; I thank the Lord or whoever for the ones who make me laugh and help me out; I stress about the kids who are defiant and lazy and uncooperative. There are certainly those kids who tend to fade into the background, and I've been trying to make a more conscious effort to pay particular attention to those kids this year. You know the ones: Neither especially sweet nor overtly disrespectful, not especially high-achieving but more or less competent. I've made a mental list of a half-dozen or so of these kids and checked their grades more often than others and made overtures towards conferencing with them more often, thinking about book recommendations for them, etc. Those kids get lost and I don't want them to feel lost.

And it's hard not to have favorites. The few kids I've blogged about here do tend to have special places in my heart for various reasons, and there are kids I taught several years ago that I still miss and think of often. I think that's just human nature. The key, I think, for us is to not play favorites, to consciously work against exhibiting or acting on those biases.

That brings me back to Serena's concern. It's possible that it's nothing, that it's a coincidence, or that the teacher has good reason to pay extra attention to this child. I don't know. But it's a good "check yourself" nonetheless--for me, for all of you, and maybe even for that individual teacher.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Each, Every and All

One of my pet trends is making a comeback in my building, at least according to one administrator I've spoken with. That, of course, is the favored method of addressing the kids. Apparently, if teenagers aren't listening to you, it's because you, the teacher, failed to use the proper language.

If you paleolithic pedagogues would just discard that archaic and useless "ladies and gentlemen," and begin addressing them as "each, every, and all," your young charges will immediately cease misbehaving. Also, they will do their homework religiously, stop texting during the "Do Now," and get perfect scores on standardized tests.

So first thing when you get into work today, get with the program.

"I want each of you to stop throwing chairs out the window."

"I want every one of you to stop throwing chairs out the window."

"I want all of you to stop throwing chairs out the window."

This should solve the problem immediately. Is your administration on your back for not getting high enough scores on a standardized test? Are you blaming it on things like poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution, or the kid being at Rikers? How is that going to earn merit pay for your principal? How is that going to improve the statistics of Mayor-for-life Bloomberg?

"I want each of you to pass this test."

"I want every one of you to pass this test."

"I want all of you to pass this test."

For goodness sake, get started immediately. And if the administration gives you a hard time, doling out meaningless instructions that add nothing but clutter, don't hesitate to address the issue.

"I want each of you to stop giving me a hard time and let me do my job."

"I want every one of you to stop giving me a hard time and let me do my job."

"I want all of you to stop giving me a hard time and let me do my job."

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Duncan Shoots a Brick

by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

So Arne Duncan, whose qualifications to be Secretary of Education include a brief stint as "CEO" of the public schools in Chicago, President Obama's pick-up basketball pal, and part-time tutor at his mommy's after-school program, is now going after the ed programs at the colleges and universities. He is insisting that they be part of the same test mania and junk data pipeline that the public schools are being forced to swallow. In the perverse cause-and-effect logic of corporate education deform, the teacher training programs are to be held responsible for the "outcomes" of their graduates, just as public school teachers are held responsible for the "outcomes" of students whose infinite needs are largely ignored by the politicians and corporate overseers who dominate our looted, outsourced society. Exactly how many degrees of separation are we talking about here? No matter, it's the teacher's fault.

He was also there to plug the special program Teacher's College has opportunistically set up to train teachers at publicly-funded private school chains such as KIPP and Green Dot, which are being pushed as the replacement for traditional neighborhood public schools.

I came to teaching late, after knocking around the world of work and performing a wide variety of jobs. I also read and studied eclectically. I feel that all of these factors have made me a better teacher. It also meant that I had a fairly wide range of life experience and content knowledge before I went to get my certification. I always saw the certification classes as little more than a means to the end of working in the classroom.

Education programs are mostly bad, and for many reasons. There's the old saw about TC and Columbia, and how "120th Street is the widest street in the world." When I went to grad school in TESOL at NYU, it was appalling, but not for the reasons given by most ed deformers. It was awful largely because, of the twelve classes I took, all but two were taught by part-time TAs who ranged from OK to dreadful. And this was grad school! God only knows what it's like for the undergrads. It was a clear indication of the university's disrespect for teaching, and it was obvious that the ed school was little more than a profit center for them.

Why was this? Sorry, ed deformers, you can't blame this one on the union. The program was academically impoverished, despite its exorbitant cost, because of the revenue-intensifying labor relations policies of the university, which valued the hiring of cheap part-timers instead of full-time tenured faculty. It's also testimony to the fact that, as I've written elsewhere, NYU is a real estate holding and development company with a higher ed subsidiary.

So, yes, education programs are pretty bad. But that's not what Duncan's offensive against them is about. No, this is about the fact that the college education programs, despite their many shortcomings, are still holdouts, where the values of teaching humanistically and teaching the whole child still control some physical and ideological space. The ed schools have not yet joined the New World Order in education, have not fully gotten with the program or embraced the market, and must be brought on line and on message. Money aside, this is also a reason why senior teachers are targeted, since they are less likely to be entranced by the Magic of the Marketplace in education.

Sure, corporate education deform is about current and future profits/ compensation, but its also about control and the social engineering that education inevitably involves. The schools are there to replicate the kind of society the overclass wants, one filled with alienation, tedium, stress, insecurity, overwork, and under perpetual monitoring and surveillance by its managers. This is also the society where they reap most of the benefits. The kids are being socialized and prepped to endure the same conditions their parents face, if they're lucky enough to have a job, and the schools and teachers are on a forced march to take them there.

By the way, Arne, while we're busy blaming schools and teachers for the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization, where's the outrage at the MBA programs, which have trained the looters and sociopaths who have cannibalized the US economy and brought it to its knees? But then again, as I look offstage while you do your cheap soft shoe routine, I see many of the same people suiting up in the wings to cannibalize the public schools.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Between a Bloomberg and a Thompson

Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson just publicly announced that teachers shouldn't get the pattern raise other unions got. Why the hell shouldn't he say that? After all, the UFT, in its convoluted dance with Bloomberg, has declined to endorse our buddy Bill. Thompson had been supportive of UFT goals, and UFT's leadership left him swinging in the wind.

DC37 endorsed Thompson, and Mayor-for-life Bloomberg retaliated by firing 500 DC37 members. The UFT says if it were to endorse Thompson, contract talks would cease.

It's remarkable that our union leaders can speak openly of such blatant corruption and not call it for what it is. Who is this man, who will not even negotiate with teachers if they dare to support his opponent? Who is this man, who rattles on about jobs and endeavors to leave 500 low-paid working people jobless in the worst economic downturn in my living memory?

The UFT took zeroes during the dot-com boom, based on a fraudulent election that sent DC37's leaders to the hoosegow. Personally, I don't care who's mayor come contract time. For 25 years, I've watched the city impose the pattern on us, and in 2005, it got away with murder, extracting a mountain of givebacks for a compensation increase that didn't even meet cost of living.

The city can't find the money?

Let them sell Manhattan Island.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Love Is in the Lunchtime Air, Part II

It was a crazy day for Miss Eyre, and she just couldn't have lunch with the kiddies. There was too much going on, and she needed some peace and quiet and time to grade a handful of papers. But, as it happened, she also needed to swipe some milk from the cafeteria, so she popped in and saw the kiddies.

Clustered around one of the tables were a few girls, doodling and reading. One of the girls in the circle was Caroline. And next to her was sweet Jack.

She watched the group out of the corner of her eye as she squeezed into the lunch line to grab her milk. Jack was making puppy-dog eyes at Caroline, who was pretending not to notice. But he was in the circle, the only boy there.

Miss Eyre wanted badly to give him a wink or a thumbs-up, but didn't want to embarrass him, so she only took her milk and made a hasty exit. She wondered if Caroline could challenge Jack to do better in school. She wondered if they were talking about their love of Linkin Park.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Price of Justice

The cop was talking to the supervisor about school security when he mentioned an important issue in the pizzeria.

"I got the chicken parm slice. I always get the chicken parm slice. And the guy charged me three bucks!"

I was just walking by. "Three bucks doesn't sound too bad for a chicken parm slice," I said.

"Yeah, but he usually charges me a dollar for it," said the cop.

"What did you do?" asked the supervisor.

"I rousted the place," the cop said. "I chased every damn kid out of that pizzeria and back to school."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Love Is in the Lunchtime Air

It was another fun-filled lunchtime in Miss Eyre's classroom. There were more helpers and hangers-on than usual, because it was damp and chilly outside and no one wanted to go out and play handball or shoot hoops.

Drew and Jack were there, as well as Caroline and a few of the other usual lunchtime suspects. Miss Eyre, as usual, was playing some tunes and her helpers and hangers-on were very interested on what her musical taste might say about her. Drew complimented her taste in hip-hop and began rapping along with a song.

Caroline commented, "I don't like rap."

"What do you like?" Miss Eyre asked her.

"I like Paramore and Evanescence and Linkin Park," she said with a toss of her long dark hair.

Jack, the Linkin Park fan, perked up. Jack is a cutie-pie boy, with big dark brown eyes and a thatch of unruly dark brown hair and the sweetest, dimpliest smile. Caroline is a pretty girl and as good of a student as Jack is a not-so-good one. "You like Linkin Park?" Jack asked excitedly.

"Yeah," Caroline said, eyeing him warily.

"Hey, now you two have something to talk about the next time you have lunch together," Miss Eyre suggested, flashing Jack an encouraging smile. He blushed.

"Um, no, not really," Caroline retorted, spinning around to pack up her bookbag.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Mr. Bloomberg Demonstrates His Economic Expertise

Mayor-for-life Bloomberg has economic knowledge that we lowly plebians lack. That's why he overturned term limits so he could continue his reign. When money is scarce, it's important to get your financial house in order, and who knows better how to do that than the richest man in New York City?

So naturally, the mayor-for-life needs to find ways to save. One way is by firing a bunch of school aides. As Mayor-for-life Bloomberg loves to point out in his multi-million dollar ad campaigns, it's all about jobs. That's why he's eliminating so many of them for working people in the midst of the worst economic downturn in most of our living memories. By putting hundreds of New Yorkers out of work with no health benefits, the mayor can save about 13 million bucks.

What will he do with that money? Well, the New York Post reports he will be paying custodians 50,000 bucks each to lock and unlock playgrounds. That exceeds the $20,000 salaries of DoE aides by a considerable sum. In fact, the total expenditure for all this locking and unlocking will be 14 million, one million more than the salaries of the school aides. In Mayor Bloomberg's New York, it's all about jobs, and keeping them out of the hands of those who most need them.

I'd suggest the city hire the aides back and get them to lock and unlock the gates, but I'm not an indispensable expert like the mayor. I'm sure his system is much better planned, and there are many tangible benefits of having hundreds of low-paid working people out of work. Doubtless, it makes a lot of sense to pay 50,000 bucks to make custodians lock and unlock doors, rather than give jobs to hundreds of people. I'm simply not sophisticated enough to figure out why.

Perhaps we'll see this explained in the next campaign commercial.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nuclear Waste? Night of the Living Dead?

Don't let those zombies get you down. Get one of these 275-meal emergency kits from Costco and board up those windows.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mr. Bloomberg Rebuffs Uppity Parents

Mayor-for-life Bloomberg has declared issues like overcrowding off-limits to parents. These issues take years to resolve, and he ought to know--he's spent years without resolving them. And in November, he may get four more years to not resolve them.

Mayor Mike then corrects our crude preconceptions about the English language by pointing out that people who complain about overcrowding, actually, are not parents. They're "community activists." Wait until our kids find out we aren't parents. There'll be orphans lined up from here to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Mayor Bloomberg points out the problems with referendums. How can you get anything done if those nasty people out there get to vote on it? How would you get another Yankee Stadium built with all those "community activists" complaining that those short people, the ones who aren't their children, don't have room in their schools?

And Mayor-for-life Bloomberg is a guy willing to put his considerable money where his equally considerable mouth is. That's why he personally arranged to overturn the term limits referendum that city voters had twice affirmed. That's why he can openly tell parents who want better conditions for their children that they aren't parents.

Why any parent or child would want to vote for a guy like that is simply beyond my meager comprehension. It just goes to show ya--watching too much TV is bad for you, especially when the richest man in New York City is buying all the air time.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"She Doesn't Like Anything"

Lena is a very quiet girl. And when I say quiet, I mean too quiet. Like something isn't right.

I've been suspecting for a couple of weeks that Lena is too quiet. I taught her sister a couple of years ago, and her sister is very quiet. And fragile. I got the counseling team involved with Lena's sister, and I'm pretty close to putting them on Lena's case too. I've seen Lena come to school more than once in clothes that aren't clean and don't fit, and she sometimes seems like she hasn't washed in a while. She's pleasant enough if you talk to her, or if you smile at her, she'll smile back. But other than that, her affect is flat. She does her work but avoids writing anything personal, and says maybe five words a day.

Today my students were supposed to interview each other for a writing piece they're working on. As you can imagine, most thirteen-year-olds love this assignment. The only thing they love more than talking is talking about themselves. They wrote their questions and immediately commenced their Barbara Walters acts. I'd asked the students to focus their questions on a single topic, an activity or sport or subject that their partner enjoyed. The students began to interrogate each other about basketball, karate, video games, salsa dance, whatever. All of them except Lena, that is.

Caroline, the girl I'd asked to be Lena's partner, raised her hand shortly after the interviews started. "Miss Eyre," she said, "Lena doesn't like anything."

"What do you mean?" I asked Lena.

"She doesn't like anything," Caroline repeated.

"I was asking Lena," I said, looking at Lena and giving her an encouraging smile. "Lena, what do you mean, you don't like anything?"

She shrugged and said nothing.

I looked at Caroline. "Did you ask her?"

"Yeah," Caroline said. "She doesn't play any sports. She doesn't have any hobbies. She doesn't like school."

"Lena, you're a very good student," I said. "What's your best subject?"

"Math," she whispered.

"Why don't you ask her about math?" I said.

Caroline shrugged. "You want me to ask you about math?" she said to Lena.

Lena shrugged.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Abandon Enter, All Ye Who Hope Here

On Tuesdays and Fridays I pick up my daughter at school, take her to the diner, and then it's karate class, where she gets in touch with her inner dangerous woman. At the diner, I usually help her with her homework.

In my sordid past, before I discovered the wonders of ESL, I was an English teacher. I like English. I like reading, and I can't stop myself from writing. Still, some cruel English teacher gave my poor little girl The Most Tedious Assignment of All Time. My daughter didn't seem to mind. She's a math person anyway, so perhaps she expects English to be tedious.

She had an essay, and her assignment was basically to interpret and rewrite every single solitary sentence of it into four boxes, each representing a paragraph. The topic was light pollution ("LP" to my texting-frenzied child). Apparently there is too much light. The solution is to use less of it. Turn off your lights when you aren't using them. This concept was explained in five or six hundred words, and I got to examine each and every one.

If you want kids to hate reading, you can't do much better than this. I remember years of sitting through insipid English classes where my hippie teachers played Neil Young songs (you have to respect a man with a voice like that who makes a living singing) and asked us about the symbolism of the Little Cowgirl in the Sand. I was reading real books at the time, a lot of them, and would have loved to discuss literature.

Still, we never did anything quite as tedious as that exercise my little girl did in the diner. For her, everything is copasetic as long as she's eating chicken noodle soup. But I kind of dread going to open school and meeting the teacher who made her do that.

Maybe I'll wear dark glasses.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Out to Lunch

Jack is quickly establishing himself in my heart as one of my favorite students this year. I know we're not supposed to play favorites, and I also know we're kidding ourselves if we don't admit that there are some students we just like better than others. Jack is one of those this year. He's adorable--a word I don't often apply to thirteen-year-old boys, but he is--kind, funny, and helpful. But he's also struggling with school quite a bit. He's perhaps not a great student. The other day, I got a hint of why he might not be doing well in his other classes (not that he's rocking the world in mine, but he's passing, at least).

I was reminding the class about a homework assignment I'd assigned a few days previous. It's due tomorrow (I'm writing this on Monday afternoon). The assignment involves revising a series of short writing pieces they've already done and producing a final product.

Jack raised his hand. "What writing pieces, Miss Eyre?"

"These," I said, indicating the chart on which each assignment for each writing piece had been posted over the past three or four weeks. "You've been doing these in class for the past few weeks."

"When?" he asked.

Jack has an odd sense of humor, as you've seen here before, and I seriously thought he was having a little fun with me. "When we have reading time," I say. "I've asked you to answer these questions and write about them. You remember, right? Look through the chart. You should be able to find them in your notebook."

Jack flipped through the chart, then flipped through the notebook. "I don't have them," he said. "When did you assign them?"

At this point, I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. "Jack," I said, as nicely and patiently as possible, "once a week for the past three or four weeks, we've done one of these pieces. I'll stop your reading and I'll say, 'Okay, finish up your reading and answer this question in your notebook. Take ten minutes to think and write as much as you can.' You seriously don't remember this at all?"

His face fell. I worried for a moment that he might cry. "No," he said, quite gravely.

I sighed. "All right, Jack," I said. "Here, sit with Minnie. She has a good notebook. You can copy them from her."

He duly scooted next to Minnie and started copying the questions. I walked away to work with some other students, but I had to wonder about Jack. How do you miss the same assignment not once, not twice, not three times, but four times? How do you not wonder about a chart on which things are posted that you have no recollection or record of? I really don't know, but this incident told me I better check in with Jack more often. He might be sweet, but he's at least a little bit out to lunch.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ms. Weingarten Clarifies Her Position

Former part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten has taken yet another bold stand. After having opposed the use of test scores to determine tenure, after having supported legislation that prohibited doing so, Ms. Weingarten has clarified her position. Apparently the use of test scores to determine tenure is not a bad thing after all.

Never mind that standardized tests are only given at certain levels in certain disciplines. That doesn't matter. If kids who don't speak English can't pass the English Regents, it's clearly the fault of the teacher. Why the hell can't that lazy-ass teacher make sure they know the language flawlessly and write perfect essays? After all, he's had five months with that kid, and Chinese is fundamentally no different from English anyway.

The problem, it appears, is not the idea of using "value-added" measures to determine tenure (and never mind that a few short months ago Ms. Weingarten opposed the process). The problem, of course, is that we cannot use such a program under the current mayor. Doubtless the next mayor will be better. Doubtless the next mayor will offer us a fabulous contract. Let's take a look at history.

When I began, we worked under Mayor Koch. He was terrible for teachers, of course. He was followed by Mayor Dinkins, whom we supported wholeheartedly. Except Mayor Dinkins did not turn out to be good for teachers, so we declined to support him for re-election. Mayor Giuliani defeated him by a small margin. Everyone knows Mayor Giuliani was no good for teachers. He was followed by Mayor-for-life Bloomberg, who is no good for teachers.

So, in 25 years, we haven't had a mayor who's good for teachers. The UFT has thus far declined to endorse Bill Thompson, who's been supportive of the UFT. Therefore, despite over a quarter-century of history suggesting otherwise, and despite the reluctance of the union to support a decent candidate, Ms. Weingarten thinks this plan will work under some yet-to-be-determined mayor in the distant future, perhaps after Mayor-for-life Bloomberg anoints a successor.

There must be something special in that DC air Ms. Weingarten is breathing nowadays. This morning I wish I had a little of whatever it is, just to help get through the day.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A More Democratic UFT

We've got a new president, and who knows what's possible? Still, UFT chapter leader John Elfrank-Dana is not optimistic.

Friday, October 09, 2009

People Cease to Amaze Me

It's two weeks since I identified and reported a kid who somehow missed school for five years. Yesterday I followed up with the guidance counselor, who informed me that Dad, the same Dad who allowed his kid to miss five years of school, has failed to come and meet with him. You can imagine how shocked I must have been.

The counselor kind of threw his hands up. I told him we can't do that. The father belongs in jail, and in New York State, parents who don't show up for meetings at school are guilty of educational neglect. This is a little tidbit I've had on the tip of my tongue for years, and I've never had opportunity to roll it out. But this, this is the time.

For this dad, I'd be happy to turn him in, or press charges, or whatever it entails. In his son's class, I have one girl who sneaks up to the blackboard and draws odd pictures. My lost student has taken to copying these picures into his notebook. His primary classroom activity is copying things from the board, and this is a clear indication of just how much reflection he devotes to this process.

He painstakingly writes a heading on each and every paper he begins. It looks really good, even though he writes words like "name" in his own language. He's a nice kid, but I have the feeling I'm not going to get him where he needs to be anytime soon. Whatever he needs, it's probably beyond my meager abilities.

I'm going to start following up daily with the counselor. I'm fairly certain he'll get things moving quickly. For one thing, he's got 8,000 other problems to worry about, as "Children First" entails placing impossible caseloads on each and every counselor. If he wants to make a dent in those 8,000 problems, he'll first have to get rid of me.

I'm pretty sure I can give him ample motivation to do so.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Tales of the Copy Machine

So the copier over at the Morton School has been having some..."issues." Some of these issues are fictional while others are true. Teachers have been getting copies made any way they can, and, when that's not possible, kids are doing an awful lot of copying. One teacher I'll call Mr. Mel has gone so far as to tell the kids that he won't give them a test until the copier is fixed. I'm not sure what Mr. Mel is trying to accomplish by sending that message, but it certainly has had the effect of making all the students intrigued about the photocopying process. They like that it seems like a deep, dark secret.

Today I employed some slightly nefarious means to photocopy some homework questions for my students. As I concluded the lesson near the end of the period and prepared to distribute the homework, Drew exclaimed, "All right! A worksheet!"

"Never in all my career," I responded dryly, "have I ever heard a student so excited about a worksheet."

"Yeah," Drew said, "but this means we don't have to copy a million questions off the board."

I conceded that point and continued to distribute the worksheets.

"So is the copy machine working now?" another student asked.

"Well, um," I said, honestly not sure what the true or the right thing to tell them was, "I'm not sure if it's working right now. Like, right this minute."

"I hope not," said another student. "That means Mr. Mel is finally going to give us that test."

"Well," I said, "it...could happen."

I could end this little story with a rant about how someone working for, oh, I don't know, City Hall or Bloomberg Media would never find themselves in such a situation in which the basic tools of their job were removed for weeks at a time with no guess on when they might be replaced. But I prefer to focus on the funny part, which is that my kids were THRILLED TO DEATH by a worksheet.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

No Defense

What do you do when your supervisor calls you a pain in the ass? Call the union? The police? Perhaps you could start a harassment suit or something.

But if you're me, you can't really argue the point. I'm certainly a pain in the ass. My parents made me aware of it when I was around 3, and people have been telling me the same thing pretty much ever since.

I'm teaching newcomers beginning English now, and I favor a colorful text with humorous, conversation-provoking illustrations and clever, funny conversations. "Why don't you use more technology?" asked my well-meaning supervisor.

"We don't have technology in the trailer," I pointed out. The supervisor lamented the TV and VCR that was left there, alas stolen by some desperate collector of outdated electronic equipment.

"You could always get an overhead projector," the supervisor generously offered.

"I hate pushing things into the trailer," I said. "You have to get people to unlock the door and let you in the building afterward, and you have to go 15 minutes early if you don't want to get stuck in the crowd."

"Maybe we could leave one there."

"Someone would steal it," I answered.

"Maybe not. It's really easy to print transparencies."

"Why do I want to print transparencies when I'm relying on the pictures in this book? I like this book." I proceeded to show why.

"Well, transparencies would be a different way of viewing those pictures."

"Why does it need to be different?"

We went around in circles for a while, accomplishing nothing, until the supervisor deemed me a pain in the ass and tossed me out. That's OK.

I've been thrown out of worse places.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Everything, Everyone, Everywhere Ends

NOTE: The introduction to this post was accidentally chopped off when I initially posted it. The corrected version appears below.

A student of mine I'll call Jack, the Linkin Park fan previously mentioned here, is in my extended day group. I'm a freak among teachers in that I sort of like extended day and I really like the group I have. They're good kids who by some bizarre accident were identified for extra help they actually need, so working with them is personally and professionally satisfying.

Some of the kids in my group all started reading the same book at the same time, and they were working on "deep questioning" the book today. "Deep questioning," for those of you who may not know what I mean, is asking questions about a text that use inference, prediction, wondering, etc.; that is, not questions that can be answered just by rereading the text.

So Jack is in a group with a boy I'll call Danny and two other kids, and Danny had the task of leading the "deep questioning" for his group today. Danny was struggling to come up with a second deep question after a good start (I had encouraged the kids to try to come up with at least three). It's a fairly heavy book inasmuch as several of the main characters die. "So," I said to the group, "remember that 'What if?' is sometimes a good way to start a deep question. For example, 'What if the boy's mother dies?'"

"That's not a 'What if?' question, Miss Eyre," Jack interjected. "Of course she's going to die. Everyone dies."

I was taken aback by Jack's literal interpretation of my question. He was not kidding--he was deadly (ha!) serious. It was one of those supremely uncomfortable moments we sometimes experience as teachers in which we're not sure whether to take it seriously, laugh, cry, whatever.
After what felt like an extremely long pause, I cleared my throat and said, "Well, Jack, of course you're right, but I think what Danny is trying to imagine is, 'What if the mother dies before the end of this story?'"

Poor Danny, also completely caught off guard, nodded meekly.

"Oh, okay," Jack said, rather casually, and went back to writing his own questions.

Still, it's not often I'm reminded of my own mortality mid-extended-day. Faculty conferences are much more likely to make me look forward to my own impending death.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Mr. Bloomberg is Given Marching Orders

Charter school proponents are graciously accepting Mayor Bloomberg's offer of more schools. However, they want more money as well. As public schoolchildren are herded like sheep into ancient crumbling buildings, there needs to be more for the chosen few Mayor-for-life Bloomberg has seen fit to grace with decent conditions.

After all, when you have the rich backing you, there's pretty much no limit what you can do. Gates and Broad lay down a little seed money, and leave the punters to support whatever the program is pretty much indefinitely.

Because here's the thing--when you systematically starve public schools of resources, when you crowd them several times beyond capacity, when you deny them technology, space, and even classroom furniture, the Eva Moskowitz redecorating plan starts to look pretty good.

You say to yourself, "Gee, those schools that service 2% of our population really look good." And then you wonder why the hell your kid can't study in a clean, freshly painted classroom. Then you start to think, "Gee, maybe it's a good idea to make teachers work like chattel, give them crappy benefits, and no retirement plan. Let's put more money into painting those rooms."

The only problem is this--your kids are the ones who will grow up into jobs just like the one you created for the Moskowitz teachers. They'll grow up to be chattel too. And if you think the likes of Mayor-for-life Bloomberg is ever going to fix things for the 98% of the kids who don't get those privileged conditions, well, you just don't understand how the mind of a union-buster works.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Teen Entrepreneur in Trouble

If you, like me, are amazed by the armies of teenagers who flock to buy 300 dollar black parkas simply so they can look like everyone else, if you too wonder why they need to wear them during classes no matter how hot it gets, you'll be amused by the parody line of clothing at right.

North Face is not, apparently, and is threatening young Jimmy Winkelmann with a lawsuit. They've yet to follow through, but they'd certainly look ridiculous attacking their target audience.

Winkelmann generously offered to sell his trademark for a million bucks. However, North Face has thus far failed to purchase the good name of South Butt, and he's withdrawn the offer. In a way, I don't blame them--if they'd bought it, who know what winds would've blown from the east and west, or how expensive it would've been to make them stop?

We'll keep you posted on further developments.

Full disclosure: NYC Educator bought two North Face jackets at Macy's last year, on clearance for 99 bucks each. Neither of them was black, and his teenage daughter objected strenuously to no avail.

Just Wondering...

Why is Bloomberg going after Thompson so hard? Conventional wisdom is he’s way ahead, unapproachable, undefeatable. If that’s the case, wouldn’t it make sense to run a happy, positive campaign?

Shouldn’t we be watching him kiss babies and smile?

Is is possible that Mayor Mike is running scared? Does he know something we don’t? Or is he just on the attack for the heck of it?

When does a blatant opportunist do anything whatsoever for the heck of it?

Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Cool Teacher

There's a teacher at my school who is a cool guy. He just is. First of all, he's a guy teacher, and guy teachers of any kind, cool or not, are a rare quantity at my school. And he is, indisputably, a cool teacher. Every girl has a crush on him and every boy wants to be him.

He's a tough act to follow, since most kids tend to have him and then me for the same subject. He has a reputation for being nicer and I have a reputation for being tougher (I love it!), but I think the kids come to appreciate us for different reasons. Also, he is a genuinely nice guy and a good teacher, and we have a friendly rivalry going for the kids' respect, attention, and affection.

I was spending some time with some of my students today at lunch, and some of the kids were reminiscing about lunchtimes spent with Mr. Cool in the past. One boy I'll call Drew was favorably comparing lunchtimes with me to lunchtimes with Mr. Cool. He wanted to know my favorite rapper. Another student asked me if I like Linkin Park. (I tried to express my distaste in a polite manner.) Two students were helping me sort some books and covering their hands in the leftover sticky labels. We were listening to some classic rock on Pandora. (Explain to me how these kids today got into Journey and Aerosmith?)

I love times like these with the kids, in case you can't tell. They become unguarded and casual and sweet, and since I have no particular agenda to impose, we just hang out and chat. Sometimes they do little chores for me if they feel like it, and I give them candy or pencils. (Usually pencils.) I like it, I think, precisely because it's "not my job" to amuse them at lunch. I can turn them away if I want or need to. It's just that I usually don't.

Anyway, back to Mr. Cool. After the eight millionth Mr. Cool story, it was almost the end of the period and I had to send the kids packing. "Hey," I said to them, "I'm really glad you decided to have lunch with me. Really, you can come almost any time. It' with me."

Drew shook his head patiently. "Miss Eyre," he said, "see, that's why Mr. Cool is cool."

"Why?" I asked, confused.

"Because he would never say something like, 'It's cool with me.'"

"But I hear you guys say that all the time," I protested. "Besides, I'm not that old. My friends say that, too."

"Yeah," he says, "but you're a teacher. It's different."

I guess it is. And I guess I'll never be as cool as Mr. Cool. But I do love kids' honesty.