Thursday, December 31, 2009

Miss Eyre's New Year's Resolutions

I must be crazy, but I guess I'm making my New Year's resolutions (for teaching) public. Some people would like to believe that once we teachers earn tenure, we're convinced that we are all God's gift to the children of this world and we can read the paper and text message between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. for the next twenty-seven years while waiting to collect our fat pensions and retire to Florida courtesy of our nasty ol' union. (Not that I am at at all bitter about some comments that were made about my last post at Joanne Jacobs. Pas du tout.) But anyway, no, I'm planning to make some changes for my entry in 2010--some of which will take effect now, some of which will have to wait for the new school year to start. Here are the big ones:

1.) More positive parent contact. I know, I know--it takes a lot of time to reach out to parents just when you have to. But I'm going to make it my business to provide more positive updates about my struggling students. I'm going to pinpoint students who have been the subject of negative parent contact so far this year and pay extra attention to the good things they do, so that the next time their parents hear from me, it will be to report improvement, or at least renewed effort.

2.) More individual time with students. I did a little reading over the break of some PD materials (yeah, I know, I'm a nerd), mostly on lesson planning, to see how to structure my lessons to maximize one-on-one time. I have no idea if it will work, but I do want to try it. If it doesn't, well, I'll try again in September, when starting from square one might work better for me and the kids.

3.) At least two field trips. My field trip planning fell regrettably to the wayside in the autumn. Fortunately one site has me penciled in and another shouldn't be too hard to get to, so I should be able to get that taken care of fairly quickly. I used to dread field trips, but I like them now, and my darlings are clamoring for one. And I trust them to behave themselves, so there's no reason not to go.

So what are your New Year's resolutions? I bet it's adding that unlimited texting package to your mobile plan.

Happy New Year!

Miss Eyre

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What Every Kid Needs

We're in Canada because in December you just can't get enough snow. My teenage daughter and her cousin are glued to an Xbox 360, playing some of the most deplorable games I've ever seen. My three-year-old nephew watches, fascinated by some of the most inappropriate viewing matter for a kid his age I've ever seen. It's not my house, and apparently that's the way things are done here. I object and he gets moved for five minutes, and when I leave he'll get all he wants, so why bother?

Yesterday, they were finally playing a game that looked like something the little kid could watch. They were in snowmobiles, steering their way down a mountain or something. Finally, I thought, they're playing a game that's a game. But then they pulled out pistols and began trying to kill each other again.

My daughter now wants an Xbox 360. I only hope she's prepared to sit while she waits. I'm not all that enthusiastic about these games where everyone runs around killing everyone else. On the other hand, when I was a teenager, I'd probably have liked it just as much as they did. Who needs Space Invaders when you can have military-grade weapons and shoot at what appears to be real people? And in the privacy of your own home without paying a quarter.

Kids today have everything, and it frightens me to imagine what they're going to have tomorrow.

Save Jamaica High School

January 7, 2010, Jamaica High School - 6 PM - Sharp!!
Calling all Alumni and friends of Jamaica High School!

Join the Hundreds of others there showing the passion ---this has just begun. - Save Jamaica High School - Calling all Jamaica High School alumni! Calling all those tired of the politicians lying to us and making horrible decisions!

Council member Leroy Comrie told us to e-mail every day Joel Klein, and Mike Bloomberg at and say that the people will not let them close Jamaica High School. That they cannot justify this action.

The funding for Jamaica HS went to other schools. Keeping the school open didn’t mesh with the plans to revitalize Jamaica and its shopping district…. so this grand and one time glorious institution will be shuttered forever and this was decided a long time ago.

Help keep JHS alive and return it to the crowning jewel it once was. Help ensure that the funds are spent here instead of closing it down and opening up 2 other smaller schools. JHS will not accept 9th graders in 2010 and those who are there will still graduate….but, with what funding? What skills will they graduate with? What attention will these students receive? It is apparent that not only to these decision-makers not care about these students but they have deceived us by planning this move a long time ago and keeping silent about it.

The building is land marked. If the bulldozers come to take it down, I would not be alone in lying in front of the machines daring them to move.

Check out the Save Jamaica High School on facebook and see the momentum.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Jeff Bezos On Why Merit Pay Won't Work (Sort Of)

While I'm on break, I'm trying to do some reading for pleasure, including some reading of actual books. That's something I find hard to do while school is in, much as I love to read. I have a Kindle, Amazon's e-reader, and I might read one or two new books on it. I'm still getting used to it, but I like playing with it as much as I like reading things on it.

I was reading this article from that includes a fairly lengthy interview with Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon. Much of the interview focuses on the Kindle itself, but Bezos also talks about Amazon's general business strategy. When asked how Amazon managed to have a successful year despite the poor economy, he responds:

It is the basics. It is focusing on selection, low prices, and reliable, convenient, fast delivery. It's the cumulative effect of having this approach for 14 years. I always tell people, if we have a good quarter it's because of the work we did three, four, and five years ago. It's not because we did a good job this quarter.

As you can imagine, this immediately spoke to me as a teacher--not only because we're trying to help students see the long-term effects and value of diligence, attention, and sustained achievement, but also because our success with our students is always cumulative. Pissed Off Teacher can't teach calculus to students who haven't mastered basic algebra; NYC Educator can't teach newcomers to the United States how to speak English unless they can already communicate in some language. And when my students showed great improvement on the state ELA exam last year, I knew most of the credit had to go to their elementary and earlier middle school teachers. How could I have taught advanced essay writing skills to students who couldn't read or write a simple sentence?

This is why merit pay, as most "reformers" imagine it, won't work. I would not feel comfortable accepting money that had only partially to do with any work I might have done, even if it was very good and helpful work. That work would not have been possible without people who were just as dedicated coming before me. Just as Bezos said, I don't fool myself that the good work my students do is all because of the awe-inspiring time (ha ha!) they spend in my classroom. When we start to think that way, we buy into the idea of teacher-as-hero (or, perhaps more accurately, teacher-as-martyr) who can make his or her students do anything. Rather, we are one piece of the puzzle--an important piece for sure, and the only piece we ourselves can control--but only one piece.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Children First

Mayor Bloomberg cares deeply about children with special needs. That's why he lets them go home early, rather than provide them with a full day of education. The mayor doesn't believe in mollycoddling children with a duty-free lunch, like those nasty teachers get because of that awful contract, so he provides them with instruction during lunch.

And it really shouldn't make any difference at all that the PTA President has never actually seen this alleged instruction taking place. It's a well-established fact that parents should not actually be involved with education. After all, Mayor Bloomberg says so, and that ought to be good enough for anyone. Mayoral control means mayoral control, and that means the mayor can say and do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, as much as he wants, no matter what. If he wants to sit in some big old chair and eat Oreos all day, well, that's what the State legislature says he should do.

Mayor Bloomberg generously bused these kids to another school where they waited 30 minutes for another bus. This taught the kids to wait, which is an important skill for people who can't pull a hundred million bucks out of their pockets to buy elections. Does anyone credit the city for having the foresight to teach kids this useful knowledge? Of course not. Life is simply not fair when you're the richest person in New York City.

However, despite the fact that the mayor is absolutely right, and patently incapable of making a mistake, some of these kids will actually begin being dismissed at the proper time. This should show all those uppity New Yorkers that the mayor, even though he is never wrong, is willing to make changes even though there is no reason whatsoever to do so.

In these United States, that's the kind of leadership a hundred million dollars buys.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Thoughts of the Great Masters...

...are available for your perusal at I Thought a Think.

Friday, December 25, 2009

File Letter Regarding Yesterday's Project

forwarded by North Brooklyn

Memo to the file

to: NYC Educator

from: J.Klein
chief education boo-bah of America

Dear Mr. Educator:

It has come to my attention that you supervised the building of a snowman on 12/22/09. I applaud your innovative approach to education. However, after careful consideration of all aspects of your educational vision it is the decision of this office that next year you will receive 40% less snow to complete your educational goal.

The funding source for the coal and carrots will be withdrawn due to budgetary restrictions beyond the control of this office. Please advise your snowman builder, Miss Erye, that because she makes above $38,000 a year [not including benefits and pension] she will be excessed. The position will be closed for SY 2010-2011.

Have a nice vacation.


Joel Klein, Chancellor and chief education boo-bah of America

c. Arne Duncan chief boo-bah of the educational planet and best bud of the Chosen One.

c. Bill Gates, man behind the curtain

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Happy Holidays

On behalf of Miss Eyre and myself, and all the elves and gnomes who labor to select the fonts and type sizes that go into these posts, I want to wish all our readers a great holiday. I hope all the teachers reading this have a restful and well-deserved week off. Lord knows you need it (the tabloids certainly don't know).

Stay warm, stay happy, and stay home. To the left is a snowman that Miss Eyre built yesterday, with the help of my indispensable supervisory skills. When she asked me to come over and help, I pointed out that this was a yes/ no question, that it was unacceptably basic, and that it did not elicit sufficient reflection. I gave her a copy of Bloom's Taxonomy, but rather than a simple thank you, she threw a snowball at me.

To show my support, I went back inside and turned up the heat. Then I screamed from a window how I didn't like the size, how I wanted more groupwork, that the aim wasn't written in the snow in the form of a question, how she spent too long directly forming the snowman, not enough time letting it discover its own path, and failed to summarize or assign a reinforcing homework task when the snowman finally went up. It was enormously helpful, though for some reason she kept glaring at me with something not remotely approaching gratitude.

Go figure. In any case, I pretended to listen carefully while she explained why she did what she did, and nodded my head at what seemed to be strategic moments. Actually I was completely focused on the sandwich I was planning to eat for lunch. Mustard or mayo, I kept asking myself. Some days, you just don't know which way to go. When she finally finished talking, I wrote the whole thing up and put the entire critique in her file. In any case, now that the thing's done, I'm very proud of it, and can't wait to share my accomplishments with everyone. In fact, it came out so well I fully expect to get merit pay.

Whatever you do, don't get in your car and drive to Canada. That's nuts, especially in this weather!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Size Isn't Everything

by special guest blogger La Quijota

When I think of the small schools movement in New York, I'm reminded of the story The Emperor's New Clothes. There are many sacrifices being made in order to have a small school. Unfortunately it seems as if teachers and students are the ones that are suffering. The union is handling the issues of ageism and retaliation that have become more rampant in smaller schools, so I will focus on what happens to a student in a small school.

If you are a student in a small school in NYC, a school that hires its own teachers and therefore can only provide the courses those teachers are qualified to teach, you are trapped. You are trapped because you must take your courses with the teacher that teaches that level and you have no choice, personality conflict or not. You are trapped into the foreign language that school offers. You are trapped into the arts IF ANY that school can offer. You are trapped in terms of the electives the school can offer if any. If you are highly intelligent you are trapped with the middle and low levels and will not be offered AP courses unless the school has a teacher qualified to teach them and enough students to enroll. As the school is likely to want to look good, students who would never pass the AP test are accepted into the class in order for it to have the requisite number of students. This means the teacher will still end up scaffolding down what ought to be a rigorous test.

Much is said about not knowing the other members of the staff, the schools being too big, and violence etc. I ask all to think carefully. Metal detectors have not been removed. Students are still being searched and yes there are still fights. However if you can cover up fights, not report fights, not suspend kids for offenses and play other games you can fudge your statistics. Its actually much simpler. In a school building with six mini schools inside of it, dividing the 12 monthly fights among them and then reporting the stats via the school name versus the campus name , add the stat fudging and you have an apparent reduction in violence. Recently, in my school, students from a mini school on the 3rd floor came to our 4th and 5th floors to invade and did this 3 days in a row. These three days of what can only be described as riots were brushed under the rug and reported as unrelated incidents that occurred pre-Halloween. There's the magic of semantics.

The final and most disgusting of all of the problems with small schools is the very idea that these schools should have themes at all. This means one school has a monopoly on law classes, or on art classes, or everwhat. So called international schools end up having large immigrant populations, often mostly Latinos, leaving the other schools in the building with mostly African-American students, creating defacto segregation. Something is very very twisted when it's obvious to all that one school is a "Latino" school and another is a "Black" school, fights occur between them for three days, and nothing is done about it.

Education at the secondary level is meant to prepare students for the rigors of University. It is supposed to give students an opportunity to discover what their interests are. Departments are supposed to unite teachers who teach the same subject areas. Now teachers are isolated and sometimes alone or one of a few teachers in a "department" for which no one is in charge.The small school has created what was once termed an industrial factory model into a sweatshop. It=s the same thing--maybe worse.

The word differentiation is tossed about as if that can ever make the difference between the literate and the illiterate student. The small school movement goes away from giving students a free and appropriate education. It leads to schools trying to fit their students into the box they have created. If a student arrives from another country as a SIFE student or special needs student, with only a 5th grade education and illiterate in Spanish as well as English, the big school model had enough teachers to have Wilson Classes and other low level literacy classes. The big school model had departments and specialists. The small school model with its lack of support staff, can take counseling time away from the counselor who may also be programming. With a small faculty the illiterate student is grouped with age mates and never gets the attention and specific educational efforts needed to get him/her on track. Such a student, effectively, is denied an education.

The schizophrenia of the small schools movement is that in the very same building where in generations past you could take any courses you needed to, the student in the international school can't take business and law classes in the business school or art classes in the art school as that would be returning to the "old way". However, they have learned in some of these big campus schools that gym cant work that way and forced all gym teachers to teach all students from all schools. They still haven't figured out lunch, feeding students as early as 10:30 in the morning and as late as 2 pm. Prom and student activities are a mess as all schools attend and crown multiple kings and queens. Graduation is also impacted as some schools must plan something for 55 students or less.

Cooperation is still happening between schools as large things such as laminators cant be purchased on every budget, and public spaces like auditoriums must be shared. What no one is talking about is how there have been lab rooms destroyed, chorus and music rooms destroyed and other specialty rooms destroyed while trying to divide up a school building equally. The fact is not all schools get access to all rooms. Walls are painted different colors, kids pick up quickly on the us versus them mentality, and no amount of intramural sports will fix it.

Perhaps I have the Cassandra complex, but I fear that we will be talking about how high school curricula have been destroyed by small schools.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Counting the Seconds

Last year I didn't feel like I really needed a break until fairly close to the end of the year. Oh, I never turned a break down, mind you, but I never felt desperate for a break. I enjoyed them but I was just as happy to go back work as I was to get away from it, perverse though that may sound.

This year is different. I don't know why, exactly, but I need this break I'll be enjoying in less than 48 hours. I don't know if it's the added pressure of all the tweaks from the administration at the Morton School--it must be. That and a couple of prickly parents, I suppose. Well, now that I think about it, this is my first year with the new social studies core curriculum, too. Okay, and a new system for reading assessment. So maybe a few things have changed.

Still, how much should that stuff matter? I suppose I need to resign myself to the fact that these things will change from year to year. It just makes me wonder how I'm going to get used to it when I start to teach a new grade or maybe even go to a new school, just learning everything all over again. I know some people reading this have moved schools, grades, and subjects multiple times, but I'm still not convinced that I'm especially good at the ones I already teach.

Well, one thing is for sure: I need to catch my breath, big-time, and I'm sure you all do too. NYC Educator was nice enough to grant me a day off, so I won't be posting here this Thursday, but I'll be back over the break. I'm wishing those of you who celebrate Christmas a very merry one, and those of you who don't a pleasant vacation.

And until Wednesday, this is Miss Eyre, counting the seconds.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Building on Success

Mayor-for-life Bloomberg is so happy with the grading system in schools he's decided to apply it to restaurants as well. After all, one baseless and inaccurate system is never enough. Perhaps we'll find out whether the Fettuccine Alfredo made adequate yearly progress or remained where it was last year. Is 55% a passing grade for a meatball this year, or does it need to hit 65 right away?

And what about foreign food? Will your arroz con pollo get a pass this year, or will they demand it learn English immediately? Can it compete with chicken and rice? Only the mayor knows for sure. One great thing about this system is they made up the grades before actually enacting it.

The city says if it gave grades now, about 30 percent would qualify for an "A," 40 percent would get a "B" and 26 percent would get a "C."

So we don't have to bother with high-stakes tests. It's so much more efficient to assign grades now and do the tests later.
The old slap a label on each stair, dump the papers, and give them whatever grade they fall on. I've never actually tried that, but this administration has just the personnel to get it done.

And since they actually do it with schools, why not restaurants? The only question is who's next. You can rule out hedge fund managers and sports stadium owners, but that doesn't narrow it down a whole lot.

Thanks to A.S.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Observations

Have you noticed since the '05 contract all major snowstorms fall on the weekend???? I had no idea that Randi and Klein included witchcraft into the contract.


Check out the graph on the left, reflecting the varying wholesomeness of Disney, freshly stolen from Miss Cellania. I knew there was something suspicious about that Hannah Montana. Note to NY teachers--study it carefully in case it appears on the January English Regents exam.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No Comment

Actually, that should read, "No comments." My commenting provider, Haloscan, is no more. I've had problems with its replacement and have reverted back to Blogger comments. Unfortunately, that's resulted in the loss of several years worth of recorded comments. I apologize if some of them were yours.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vice President Klein Closes New Jersey

This morning, there was yet another toxic waste cloud emanating from Linden, New Jersey. Vice President Joel Klein declared that he’d had enough and announced plans to phase out the entire state. Jersey residents pointed to many areas that were improving, but the Vice President called Jersey an eyesore and an abomination, declaring that it needed to be closed once and for all. Bruce Springsteen wrote a protest song, but President Michael Bloomberg once again pointed out Springsteen was a parent and therefore ineligible to have any input whatsoever in matters of state.

Naturally the measure will have to clear Congress. However, since President Bloomberg reorganized Congress during his third term, it has never voted against any of his proposals. Vice President Klein’s new streamlined 8-page Constitution specifically allows the President to select a two-thirds majority of representatives, and to fire any appointed member of Congress who votes against any of his proposals, even before the vote takes place. New York Senator Patrick J. Sullivan spoke up against the measure, giving reasoned arguments that were roundly ignored by all.

“If Sullivan had a clear vision for the future of our country,” mused President Bloomberg, “why would he need to wear glasses?”

New Jersey’s Governor Spitzer, a former New York resident, did not take the news well. Spitzer maintained there wasn’t enough time to improve and that ever since Pennsylvania had closed, many residents no one wanted had come over the border. Some of them, the Governor pointed out, were banjo players. Many upstanding Jersey residents had fled to New York in horror, paying the bridge tolls without protest. “It’s expensive to leave New Jersey,” observed one motorist, “but it’s worth it.”

Many residents speculate the influx of banjo players contributed heavily to the “D” grade assigned by the Vice President, but grading policies do not take into account the number of banjo players in any given state. Many Jersey residents griped that things had been going downhill since Pennsylvania was phased out.

Eva Moskowitz, leader of the Scranton Success State (formerly Pennsylvania), admitted it was true her state had fewer banjo players than before the reorganization, but maintained she’d have happily admitted them if they’d won the lottery. “If only they’d repeal the cap on charter states, we wouldn’t have this problem,” added Moskowitz. Governor Spitzer contended banjo players were patently incapable of reading the lottery forms, and that they’d never have applied for residence even if they knew how. “It isn’t their fault they play banjos. Some people are just like that,” maintained Spitzer.

In the worst economic downturn since Barack Obama’s presidency, Bloomberg and Klein have created the Absent Citizen Reserve, based on the Absent Teacher Reserve they created in New York City. Over half of the displaced have now joined its ranks, along with anyone who’s laid off for any reason. Critics have questioned the wisdom of compelling any unemployed person to do any job that happens to be open, regardless of qualifications, but Secretary of Labor Chris Cerf stated, “The only variable is the employee,” and has received the full backing of President Bloomberg.

NYC Schools Chancellor Ariel Sacks wrote a blistering article in the Daily News about the ineptitude of a laid-off drawbridge oiler who was assigned to work as an AP calculus teacher in the school she once taught in. “He didn’t control the class well, and frankly failed to show adequate mastery of the topic. In fact, 60 ACRs my former principal interviewed were all terrible,” said Ms. Sacks, adding, “The ones he didn’t interview are all just as bad.”

The recent story about ACR Howard Greenblatz, a recently laid-off busboy at the 2nd Avenue Deli who was assigned to work as a cardiologist at Mercy Hospital, has stirred up opposition to the ACR program. Greenblatz, after botching several heart surgeries, claimed he had no idea how to actually perform surgery of any kind. President Bloomberg said ACRs needed to be more resourceful and stated unequivocally that they would be held accountable in his administration.

A recent editorial in the Times suggested it was time to phase out the ACRs. Vice President Klein has repeatedly asserted that if they couldn’t find a state to accept them, it was time to strip them of citizenship once and for all. Several sources suggested they be sent to Gitmo, but it remains too full of geriatric terrorism suspects to accommodate the anticipated influx.

“They’re a drain on our limited resources,” said the Vice President. “Why should they be entitled to indefinitely enjoy the benefits of citizenship when it’s been conclusively demonstrated that no state wants them? We ought to give them a year to find a state that will take them, and if they don’t, they should be banished, maybe to Mexico or Canada, or some uncharted desert isle.”

American Federation of Teachers President Norm Scott was unavailable for comment, convalescing due to the surprisingly violent wheelchair collision of last week with his predecessor, Randi Weingarten. Each accuses the other of deliberately instigating the incident, and dual lawsuits are pending. Nonetheless, Scott has repeatedly pointed out that Vice President Klein agreed to the ACR clause in the Constitution. Scott has been a frequent critic of the Vice-President’s policies, alluding to Klein’s failure as NYC Chancellor to control the overcrowding. As recently as last month, Scott said, “Look at Francis Lewis High School. Klein had promised to place a cap at 8,762 and now it’s triple that.”

Klein fumbled with his hearing aid, saying, “I’ve never heard a single kid ask for a transfer from Francis Lewis.” He then pointed out that Guinness Book of World Records had singled out Francis Lewis High School as the world’s most overcrowded building. “None of my predecessors were able to achieve such a thing,” claimed the Vice President.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

You Want It WHEN?!

Recently I found a memo in my mailbox asking me and my grade partners to do some data analysis and pass it along to our coach and our principal. Without getting into the specifics, this was data analysis for which neither Acuity or ARIS would be any help and would probably take the better part of a week--if I did no other grading, lesson planning, or data analysis for that week. I was about to take a deep sigh, gird my loins, and get ready to dig into the data when I saw the deadline on the memo.

It was the same day.


Surely someone had made a mistake. Yes. I would go to my coach and get this straightened out...

Or not.

No, my coach said, the deadline was correct. So could we get that now?

I tried to explain, nicely, on behalf of my colleagues, that to complete this data analysis would require us working with 100+ writing samples and that it was not the kind of thing where we could just copy data we already had. I think my coach on some level understood this. She pledged to get back to us.

But still. Does no one think things like this all the way through? Is there no sense, on the part of the administration, of how long things like this take? Does anyone understand that, if you are asking teachers to put something like this that is not going to directly, immediately benefit the children on the front burner, you are in effect asking us to back-burner that which will?

I don't know. You tell me. But leave a message. Apparently I'll be doing data analysis until Christmas.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

I became aware of the MTA's brilliant plan to eradicate poverty yesterday morning via the NYC Parents Blog. At the time, I found it shocking, and once I turned on the TV, I couldn't help but notice it was all over the airwaves. But after I thought about the plan, I realized what they were up to.

You see, next year, the MTA wants to stop letting schoolkids ride trains and buses for free. After all, the state and city always need money, because you never know when we're going to need another sports stadium. But then I got to the real crux of the matter--it's a phased in plan. During the first year, kids will pay 50% of the cost you and I would pay. So if you think about it, right now they can't afford to pay anything, but next year they'll be able to afford 50%. Do you see the beauty of that? The MTA, through sheer willpower, will have made these kids 50% less poor.

But it doesn't stop there, folks. The following year, the MTA will make them pay full fare, 100% of what we working folk pay. Therefore, they will be 100% better off. They will not be poor anymore. Now if only we could stop mollycoddling them with those free lunches, perhaps we could make them rich.

It just takes a little imagination to solve the big problems of the day. Perhaps I've missed my calling and should be working for Tweed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How Long Does It Take to Make 100 Copies?, Part 2

Well, the tired old copier at the Morton School recently died. I guess I wasn't totally surprised. What did surprise me, although it shouldn't have, was how long it took to get a replacement.

How long did it take?

Those of you who have the distinct pleasure of working for NYCDOE are placing your bets now, I know. "A week!" "Two weeks!" "Two months!" The sad part is that two months would not be altogether shocking. Probably some of you reading this have no copier access at school at all. One of my teacher friends spent her entire first year going to Staples.

Well, it was nearly three weeks before we had a replacement copier that was fully functional. And I'm not complaining, necessarily, although I am. I've learned this year to do a lot of things without a copier, and while it might be an inconvenience to the children, there's not much I can do, save signing my paychecks over to Staples, which I'd rather not do.

No, it just makes me laugh, in a depressed way, when I think about my old job. I used to work in corporate America, and while the company for which I worked was hardly Goldman Sachs, still we consistently had basic supplies. When our copier broke, we had a replacement the next day. When I had repetitive motion injuries and reported this to my boss, he had wrist supports ordered for me that arrived the same week, on the company's dime. And never once did I bring in my own soap from home. These kinds of things shouldn't be a big deal, but now they sound miraculous. No, these days, I was supposed to fall all over myself with gratitude because the DOE bought me one bottle of hand sanitizer when kids tend to go through a family-sized bottle in about a month.

So for those of you out there who want to make the teacher-doctor comparison, imagine requiring doctors to bring their own Band-aids and aspirin to work, which they would have to buy retail on their own time. That would be the same thing.

Don't forget, friends: we're professionals!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Meet Me at Jamaica

Don't let Klein and Bloomberg knock us down without a fight!

There will be a rally and meeting at Jamaica High School this Wednesday, December 16th. We'll meet in front at 5:30 PM.

Let's show them we are the faces of the UFT, and that we don't want a single teacher placed in the ATR brigade!

In spite of horrible mismanagement and willful neglect by the Department of Education, Jamaica High School is not a failing school!

  • Of 371 students who were slated for graduation in 2009, 256 graduated.
  • The real graduation rate for our seniors would be 69%, not the 46% number that DOE numbers show.
  • New York State did not count 20 of our graduates when calculating our graduation rate which is easily over 50%, using any standard, and not under 50% for years as the DOE claims.
  • Many of our students are Special Education [170] or English Language Learners [259], or Students with Interrupted Formal Education [71], or other non traditional pupils who require more than four years to graduate. If a student is still in attendance at Jamaica or in another accredited program, why should we be held accountable as if they failed? They didn’t fall short. Some only need to pass a Regents exam to graduate. The NYS Regents are moving to a five year graduation rate standard. Could you complete a diploma on time in Italy if you moved there with no prior knowledge of Italian?
  • Jamaica has close to a 100% graduation rate in both the Gateway and Finance Academy programs.
  • 142 of Jamaica’s 2009 graduates received the prestigious Regents Diploma.
  • 35 students graduated with the Advanced Regents Diploma.
  • A number of pupils even graduated with an Advanced Regents Diploma with Honors.
  • The state wrongfully labeled us as a persistently dangerous school in 2007 because we had a zero tolerance discipline policy and we honestly reported even the most minor infractions.
  • The DOE sent a letter to all of our parents telling them we were dangerous and asking them if they want to transfer. When hundreds left, the DOE slashed our budget so we lost virtually all of our young staff and then six months later DOE cut our budget again forcing further staff reductions.
  • DOE never sent a letter to parents telling them that we are no longer a persistently dangerous school yet enrollments are starting to rise again.

Closing Jamaica is the wrong idea!

  • It will worsen overcrowding in already packed neighboring schools who cannot afford to take any more students while four new schools in the Jamaica building grow from nothing. Two are even slated to have grade 6 students in the building giving less opportunity for high school students to use this building. DOE’s impact statement concedes that existing schools will be needed in part to replace the students who would have gone to Jamaica.
  • Portland, Oregon recently abandoned the idea of small high schools. Why does NYC want to keep experimenting with our kids? Even Bill Gates is having reservations about small schools. Comprehensive schools offer a wide ranging experience for students. Kids can easily find their niche.
  • It will cost the Department of Education massive amounts of money for start-up costs and to hire four principals instead of having just one in the building.
  • Jamaica High School has traditionally served a diverse student population. New small high schools are often exclusive, not inclusive. The impact statement says one new school will only accept males.
  • While small schools have their place, new small schools generally do not have room for self contained (most restrictive environment) special education students or English Language Learners or Students with Interrupted Formal Education. Hundreds of students who would have gone to Jamaica would have to go to other schools that do not have the facilities or adequate supports to educate these pupils.
  • A better investment would be to use the start-up money and give it to Jamaica High School so we can provide our students with lower class sizes, reduced guidance caseloads and proper support staff to run a comprehensive high school program correctly.

Make your Voice Heard on December 16 at 5:30 p.m. outside & at 6:00 p.m. inside the Jamaica HS Auditorium.

Email us at or go to savejamaicahighschool on facebook.

A Waist is a Terrible Thing to Mind

Last week, blogs of all stripes bemoaned the recent announcement that meat unsuitable for McDonald's has been making its way into school lunches. That's old news, really. The book Fast Food Nation, which I read several years ago, stated that when McDonald's demanded higher quality beef, the drek it had previously served was moved straight to school lunch programs. This should give you some small idea of the regard government really has for public school children.

Of course, it's not only kids who eat this stuff. In New York City, teachers pay 3 or 4 times the price the kids do to eat the same crap the kids eat. Plates of pasta with sides of french fries and rice. If that doesn't make you fat, I don't think anything will. But you just taught three classes, you have two hundred papers to correct, and you're hungry. Who has time to leave the building and buy real food?

In my school, we're being threatened with the closure of cafeteria service for teachers. Apparently too few people in our school buy lunch, and if Mayor Bloomberg didn't have to keep our teacher cafe open, he could build more seats at sports stadiums and make more profit for his billionaire buddies. I have mixed feelings about this.

On the one hand, we'd be better off not eating that crap. I always gain weight if I eat school lunch on any regular basis. Now, I bring a wrap or sandwich from home and buy coffee in the cafeteria. The lunch lady sometimes chides me for not supporting the cause, and gives me a hard time about refills. Actually, I could buy coffee in an office for a third of the price, so I feel like I'm doing her a favor.

On the other hand, we really need a place where we can get food and drink. After all, food is an important component of a balanced diet. So what is a semi-health-conscious teacher to do?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Public Service Announcement

Reality-based Educator is up and blogging at Perdido Street School.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Call Early and Often

I was a little perturbed by a well-meaning post at Education on the Plate. Here's a teacher who seems afraid to call homes when kids misbehave. The kids have all sorts of reasons why:

“I get yelled at.”

“I get slapped and yelled at.”

“My mom spanks me with a belt.”

“I get beat and locked in my room.”

“I get grounded for a month… and I get hit a lot.”

I don't buy it. If I got a call, there would be consequences for my kid too. I don't hit my kid, but she would live to rue the day she got that call. My classes function well because problems in my classes follow the kids home. Of course they don't like it. They aren't supposed to. But the alternative is utter chaos in my classroom. I'm too old for that. I used to be too young for that, and it's unacceptable under any circumstances.

The idea of home contact is to keep undesirable behavior from being repeated, and also to give the kid a shot at improving. You are not doing anyone any favors by giving kids breaks. When kids test you, as they do all the time, you need to let them know that nonsense is simply unacceptable.

If you aren't comfortable calling, here are a few tips. Be brave, be fearless, be active, and call, call, call.

And lest you think I'm a grinch, I called a father yesterday to tell him his daughter was doing consistently excellent work, that she participated on a regular basis, and that she'd be receiving a grade of 95 on her next report card.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Four Out of Ten

[Image courtesy the always brilliant Toothpaste for Dinner.]

NY1 is my default background noise at home, and this evening I happened to catch UFT President Mike Mulgrew on their "Road to City Hall" program. In the midst of a discussion of tenure, the anchorwoman asked Mulgrew how many teachers get tenure.

I know how many, off the top of my head--97%. But Mulgrew pointed something out that never crossed my mind. He pointed out that 37% of teachers never make it to the end of their third year to be evaluated for tenure. 37% of teachers who start in the system quit, are "counseled out," or are rated unsatisfactory and dismissed (as they certainly can be in their first three years). By that measure, that would tell us that only about 60% of teachers who start in the system earn tenure, which sounds about right to me.

A lot of people can't or don't want to make it in this line of work. But it is not easy. Tenure is not and shouldn't be a rubber-stamp process. It should be rigorous and challenging and important so that earning it is a moment in life of which one can and should be very proud. Much like graduations are called commencements--that is, "beginnings"--tenure should be viewed less as an end and more as a beginning, a beginning of one's real life as a professional educator, an invitation to become a leader and an expert. And if a longer probationary period is what we need to accomplish something like that, so be it.

But, by the same token, I don't know that we should pride ourselves on running working environments that destroy four out of ten new teachers within three years. Certainly the vast majority of new teachers come in with plenty of enthusiasm, energy, and willingness to learn. What happens in those three years? Sure, many of those people are going to discover that this isn't right for them for a perfectly valid reason, and moving on will be the right thing. But I'm worried about those people who might have been wonderful teachers, who leave because of lack of support or the crushing burden of work or the miserable situations most new teachers get stuck in. What about those people? Is it good that they wash out of a system in which they will never be able to survive? Or should we be asking ourselves why we've created a system in which people have to "survive"?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Jose Vilson writes about perception of language in "My Spanish is better than yours." There are widespread beliefs that some people speak better than others. Do people from England speak English better than we do? After all, they started long before us. On the other hand, if their English is so much better, why are there so many variations? Why don't the Beatles speak like the Queen? Is she more classy than they are? And if she is, why is her voice so screechy and annoying?

The absolute fact of the matter is variation is nothing more than what the word implies. Any suggestion that one variant is "better" than another stems from sheer ignorance. There's a tendency to refer to variation as "dialect," but that's a pejorative term that has no logical basis. People speak their own languages perfectly. Whatever you hear, you speak.

Now it may be wise to alter your language to suit the world in which you work. We all adopt jargon to one extent or another (though I've met a few Leadership Academy grads who take it well beyond the pale). Also, thinking people adjust their language to suit various audiences. It would be unwise to address young children, for example, in exactly the same way you address adults.

I understand there used to be speaking tests for teachers. That's idiotic. Traditionally, the form of speaking favored by those with money is considered to be the preferred mode of speech. I suppose, given the choice, I'd rather have money than not have money. But having money simply indicates a person is richer than me. It doesn't mean that person speaks better than me.

Most importantly, of course, it doesn't make that person better-looking than I am.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Set up to Fail

This past weekend, I was called "earnest" by Robert Pondiscio at the Core Knowledge blog, an adjective that rather delights me. I had no idea I might still qualify as earnest. Unfortunately, I'm not feeling very earnest today, due to recent events at my school about which I will not go into detail, and as you can possibly tell from this blog's title and accompanying image, I'm thinking about failure today.

This chain of thought was initiated by the announcement of the impending closure of Jamaica High School. Opponents of the closure believe that, in some ways, they were set up to fail by the DOE: the declaration of Jamaica as "persistently dangerous," the out-crowding of Jamaica and its students by a small school, lack of support from the DOE or recognition for any of Jamaica's positive achievements. If this is the case (and it may well be), it makes me wonder how much teachers, in general, can be set up to fail.

As I attempt to hang on to some of my earnestness, I'll admit that maybe this isn't on purpose. Maybe it's just a lack of time, a lack of money, a lack of understanding--one of my personal mantras is, "Never attribute to conspiracy what can be explained by incompetence." But I look at my day today, and other things happening at my school, and I wonder. I really do.

There is no organized effort to help teachers to succeed. Oh, there's professional development and workshops and computer systems and data analysis. All of this is supposed to make us better teachers, and maybe it will, but there's no actual way to help us succeed. Follow me here. There are only so many hours in a day and so many days in a week and so many weeks and months in a school year. And everything that happens in a school that is supposed to help us succeed usually ends up creating more work, rather than less--and not necessarily improving learning for our students, either. And if we as teachers point that out, we are accused of not really wanting to help our students succeed.

But no one is helping us succeed. Our classrooms, our school days, our evenings, our weekends are packed to the brim. Any opportunity any of us might have to breathe during the day is sniffed out and taken for meetings or coverages. Brand new teachers almost always get the toughest, most challenging classes. Today I realized that I got to work in the dark, left work in the dark, and spent all of 20 minutes in between not working. Yes, I worked through lunch. And I know what my detractors will say here--"So do lawyers and doctors and investment bankers." Yeah, well, they get paid to put up with that. We don't.

And principals or elected officials or "reformers" come into schools and, with no regard for what's already working, will come in and make things over in their own image, not realizing that ripping everything apart and starting over again will itself take even more work--work that may not even be necessary. But remake it they will, not realizing that asking teachers and students to learn something new from scratch means that no one is going to be successful right away--if they don't also feel resentful and confused on top of unsuccessful. This is what I mean by "set up to fail": not merely overworked, but overscheduled, overmanaged, overhassled.

I don't know how to make this work sometimes, and when I'm short or not as available as I should be with my students, I want to forgive myself and say it's natural when I'm so stressed out. But I can't, quite that easily. It's not okay. Overall I should be fair, calm, pleasant, reasonable with these kids, no matter what, and I'm not always. And I wish that someone would stop all this nonsense about "adults' needs" and "children's needs" and realize that they're the same damn thing when it comes to making sure the adults aren't being driven absolutely crazy and, therefore, have some shreds of patience and empathy left for the children.

Monday, December 07, 2009


After 116 years, Joel Klein and Michael Bloomberg are closing Jamaica High School. It's not their fault because nothing is their fault. What was once rated the best secondary school in the country has failed under their "leadership," but that's not a factor because they are "reformers."

It's a dangerous place, "persistently dangerous" according to them, so it was necessary to tell every family in the school they had the right to attend another. That emptied out the place fairly quickly. What did Tweed do to help the place? Absolutely nothing whatsoever.

They did, however, open up a smaller school sponsored by the College Board. That school is called Queens Collegiate. As usual with a private/public partnership in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, it displaced kids and teachers in the public school, and got all the technology and conditions that are denied to the public school.

Any time they wished, Bloomberg and Klein could have offered technology and reasonable class sizes to Jamaica kids. They could have offered whatever Queens Collegiate had to everyone in the building. But they deliberately chose not to. And if Jamaica is so scary and dangerous, why on earth would parents opt to send kids to Queens Collegiate, located in the same scary, dangerous building?

In a few years, the "small schools" in Jamaica will have fewer special ed. and ESL kids and better test scores. The special ed. and ESL kids will be dispersed to already overcrowded neighboring schools so they can get lower test scores and be closed just like Jamaica. And Mayor-for-life Bloomberg can rename schools forever and take no responsibility whatsoever for the ones that fail, even if he was the one who started them.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

We Need More than Words

by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

So, Michael Mulgrew finally found the time to respond to Mayor Bloomberg’s - and, given Arne Duncan’s smiling presence on stage, President Obama’s – declaration of war before Thanksgiving. Bloomberg presented the full menu of the privateers who are busy cannibalizing the public schools: merit pay, high stakes tests as a weapon, attacks on tenure, seniority, ATRs, accelerated public school closings and charter school colonization. Mulgrew’s response sounded good: the language was strong, direct and missing the saccharine tone of Randi Weingarten’s old missives to the membership.

Nonetheless, I’d recommend that everyone watch what Mr. Mulgrew does, rather than what he says.

The Unity Caucus leadership is adept at producing sound bites, letters and committee reports for the diversion and pacification of the membership. What they’re not so good at is protecting it from attack. Everything that is happening now, locally and nationally, was predictable. Dissident voices within and outside the unions have been warning for years that it was coming, yet the cravenness and short-term opportunism of the UFT leadership has helped bring us to the edge of this precipice.

More than any individual, it is Randi Weingarten who enabled Bloomberg to grab a third term. As the New York Times reported after the election,” …Bloomberg aides said they relentlessly promoted the mayor as invulnerable in the race when they knew differently… Said one top Bloomberg advisor… ‘If a poll had come out showing that the race was within five points, Barack Obama would have swung into town, the UFT would break for Thompson and Mike Bloomberg would not be mayor today.’” Obama, who according to news reports was warned to stay out the mayoral race by Bloomberg ally and patronage recipient Geoffrey Canada, also deserves opprobrium for his questionable-at-best passivity.

Yet we are somehow to believe that the same leadership that helped create this disaster is now going to stand up to Bloomberg’s attacks. What concrete actions on their part could possibly lead us to think so?

The Unity Caucus has controlled the UFT since its inception fifty years ago. It is a one-party state, the last of the great political machines. In one of those bitter ironies that teacher unionists can amuse themselves with on the unemployment line, Al Shanker, who gained props early in his career by helping eliminate the influence of the old Communist Party-led Teachers Union, ran the union much like the CP, with loyalty oaths and democratic centralism, making it impervious to outside voices. Those traditions continue, with the same likely end result.

As currently led, the UFT cannot be reformed or made into an effective vehicle for defending teachers, and is in the process of bringing its members, the public schools and ultimately itself down in the deluded thought that it can maintain itself by collaborating - their term, not mine – with people who seek to destroy it. Only a revolt by an informed membership, then to ally itself with parents and students to oppose privatization and corporate control, provides any hope of saving public education and teacher unionism in NYC.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Go Queens!

The Daily News headline boasts of a boom in new classrooms, but doesn't give a whole lot of detail as to how big the boom is. I've read estimates that Queens needs 33, 000 seats for high schools alone. The article then tells of a 71 million dollar building that will provide 150 seats. The other buildings are given only dollar values--158 and 23 million--for a total of 181. I'm guessing that's another few hundred seats.

The city is also leasing what appears to be a former Catholic school. I'm going to go ahead and wildly speculate it will provide considerably fewer than the 32,000 some-odd seats the high schools will need.

This, frankly, is irresponsible journalism. While one guy is quoted stating this part of Queens needs a few thousand seats, it behooves the writer to find out how many seats Queens really needs, and tell the readers what this expansion represents. While this omission may please the News editorial staff, it doesn't really give the public the info it needs. With 33,000 seats needed in high schools alone, the city is trotting out a few hundred seats and finding a cheerleader in the local tabloid.

Gratifying though this story may be to those who'd gleefully deny reality, the cosmetic addtion of seats amounts to a drop in the bucket. Fortunately for anyone who's closely followed what the mayor's been doing to public education, a bucket is precisely what's needed.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

This Is Going to Be Fun!!!

Teachers know that doing the same activities, books, lessons, or anything year in and year out is not necessarily a formula for success. Certain things need adjusting for whatever reason--time, your population, increasing or decreasing relevance, whatever. You can't get too married to any one thing. So when I have something that I can use over again in good conscience, I'm pretty excited.

There's a writing activity that I've used for three straight years now that I just love. Without giving too much away, it involves students writing about significant objects while actually doing some manipulation and discussion of the objects. It always makes for a few fun and funny days in my classroom. At least, I think it does.

As my class lined up to come into my room this afternoon, I couldn't contain my enthusiasm. "Hi," I said, my voice chipper. "We're going to do a really awesome writing assignment this afternoon. You're going to love it. It's going to be really fun."

Drew, always ready with a dry quip, said, "Do you mean, like, Miss Eyre fun, or us fun?"

"Well," I admitted, "probably Miss Eyre fun."

"See," he said, with a wise shake of his head, "dodgeball, now, that would be fun."

"Or some Call of Duty," chimed in another student

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Seeking The Holy Grail

Gotham Schools reports on Mayor Bloomberg's continuing quest to make test scores a factor in whether or not teachers are granted tenure. If you read the tabloids, he's riding a white steed into battle, protecting children everywhere. But if you know anything about how untenured teachers are really treated, the entire conflict is nonsense.

When you can be fired for a bad haircut, or even a good one, you don't simply agonize over whether 52 or 53% of your kids passed the latest high-stakes test. And when the NAEP test results come out, don't expect the mayor to commit ritual suicide to set an example.

Instead, he'll blame those lazy, shiftless teachers, the ones who never do any work and take summers off just to sit on their fat asses when they could be working 200 hours a week like the good people at KIPP. Because everything is their fault and nothing is his. And when he closes schools, it wasn't his fault they didn't work. So what if he lavished attention and time on charter schools while neglecting the entire public school system?

It's not his fault those schools failed. And when he opens 5 brand new ones in the same building, if even one of them works it will prove he fixed the entire school. The News and the Post editorial pages will never whisper word one about the four others, or the fact that the kids are completely different.

No, the important thing is to use those test scores. That will change everything. At least until the economy rebounds and no one wants to teach anymore. Then Mayor-for-life Bloomberg will go back to his old policy of hiring absolutely everyone and anyone whether or not they pass basic competency tests.

And, of course, he'll still blame the teachers for every ill that afflicts the system he's patently unable to manage.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Problem with Comparing Teachers and Doctors

I wish I had something new and exciting to blog about today, but with four of the five days since my last blog being taken up by the Thanksgiving break, there's not much new to report. Then again, with news like this, who really needs to hear anything else?

So today I'm just going to share a quotation I found on another blog (I no longer remember which one; I track something like 20 edublogs and regularly read at least half a dozen a day). This quotation is attributed to Donald J. Quinn:

If a doctor, lawyer, or dentist had 40 people in his office at one time, all of whom had different needs, and some of whom didn't want to be there and were causing trouble, and the doctor, lawyer, or dentist, without assistance, had to treat them all with professional excellence for nine months, then he might have some conception of the classroom teacher's job.

"Without assistance" might be my favorite part of that quote. I know I've always longed for a secretary or an assistant, someone who can do some of the administrative work for me and/or be an extra pair of eyes, ears, and hands in the classroom. No one could countenance a surgeon or even a family physician in an office working without nurses, technicians, secretaries. I know I'm never going to get a secretary, but I can still dream, right?

All of the elected officials who claim that we need to be goaded, humiliated, and punished into helping children learn have aides, secretaries, and volunteers. None of them make their own phone calls, answer their own correspondence, type their own reports, at least not as a matter of course. Teachers do not only the heavy lifting of planning, delivering, and coordinating instruction, but every mundane task even tangentially related to our job. There is no one to whom these tasks can be delegated. Teachers are on their own.

This is nothing y'all don't know, of course, but it just serves to remind anyone who isn't a teacher that our jobs are not at all comparable to those of doctors or lawyers or corporate executives. And if you want to treat us like we are, then please bring on the private offices with the leather chairs and secretaries. I'm more than ready.