Sunday, February 28, 2010

You Know You're Getting Old...

...when your daughter has her friend over the house.  You walk downstairs and they're sitting next to one another on the sofa.  Your daughter has a laptop, her friend has an Ipod touch, and they're texting one another.

So you look at the friend.  You say, "I can't believe you left your house, walked all the way over here, came inside, sat down, and then started doing something you could've done in your own house."

"But I can see her," she protests.

"How can you see her?" you ask.  "You're busy looking at that Ipod."

The two girls look at you as if you've just fallen from the sky, look at each other, laugh, and then get back to texting.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Joel and Eva

If you read the emails between Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and charter bigshot Eva Moskowitz, and I highly recommend you do, you get a vivid portrait of the moral bankruptcy that pervades Tweed.  Apparently, all the stereotypical nonsense about neighborhood schools you hear from every charter troll on the internet comes right from the top.

Juan Gonzalez of the Daily News broke the story, and highlights a telling exchange. From Moskowitz:

"Really could use your intervention," she wrote. "We need to quickly and decisively distinguish the good guys from bad. And yes take away resources from institutions that are harming children and give to those who are truly putting children first."

Those of us who work at neighborhood schools are "harming children."  Yup, we get up every morning and think about how to destroy the lives of the kids we're paid to teach.  How can I make sure this kid doesn't learn fractions?  Actually, Eva and Joel are very hopeful that no one understands fractions, as they spend a good part of their energy plotting how to take pieces of neighborhood schools.  Klein's indifference to the neighborhood schools he supposedly runs is palpable.

So while you teach in trailers, bathrooms, half-rooms, hallways, lunchrooms, and auditoriums, you need not ask what the Chancellor is doing about it.  You and your students mean nothing whatsoever to him.  He's content to let the walls crumble around you because his energy is spent making sure the likes of Eva Moskowitz get more money and more space.  Screw the 98% of kids in public schools.  Once they're a relic of the distant past, friends of Mike and Joel can really watch the money roll in.

In fact, when Moskowitz demands space, Joel Klein's ready and willing to close public schools just so she can have it.  Considering the blatant corruption and utter disregard for public education flaunted by Chancellor Joel Klein, it's no surprise that Mayor Bloomberg insisted on an utter dictatorship over the schools.    When Moskowitz wants space, they label public schools irredeemable and set them to close.  When the DoE ends up giving those same schools As on progress reports, they expose themselves as the hypocritical mendacious demagogues we've always known them to be.

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein are thoroughly amoral, working to line the pockets and promote the agendas of their equally unscrupulous pals.  They both belong in prison for crimes against the children it's their job to represent.

Friday, February 26, 2010

New York City Schools Are CLOSED!

Update:  Since this post went up at 5:19 AM, Mayor Bloomberg has CHANGED HIS MIND!!  That in itself is a veritable miracle.

Channel 2 made the announcement at 5:30.  It's kind of hard to believe that Mayor Bloomberg, who can circumvent the time and space continuum and predict the weather simply by virtue of having all that money, could ever be wrong.  I'm reminded of the song from "Fiddler on the Roof" in which Tevye the Milkman muses, "When you're rich, they think you really know..."

Of course, Mayor Bloomberg didn't know. On the contrary, the mayor once again waited until after people had woken up and were getting ready to leave before making his decision.  That's real leadership!

When I woke up at 5 AM, the commentators on Channel 2 were saying otherwise.

The host on Channel 2, a little after five o' clock, said schools being open was "hard to believe," and it was "really difficult walking around and getting around."  The weather guy said, "I'm floored the schools are open today."  He added, "this gets to be a safety issue, too."  and "You gotta add an hour to two hours to your day for extra commute time, so...I don't know...I'm just here...I'm just the messenger."

However, the two SUVs that come to Mayor Bloomberg's house to take him to the subway stop he favors (so that the punters will think he uses public transport, and not SUVs) appeared able to make it to his home.  Your street may not be have been plowed, but the mayor didn't see your street when he looked out the window of his Manhattan townhouse, so why should that matter? 

Therefore, Mayor Bloomberg figured SUVs could also make it to the homes of 1.1 million schoolchildren and 80,000 teachers.  That's how things work in Mayor Bloomberg's New York.

Would your chauffeurs have be able to pick you up on time today?  Were they just bellyaching about being caught in the snow, or being in crashes and being unable to move?  Boy, it's hard to get good help nowadays.

My plan was to dig out the car and go in very slowly, until commenter Dugong gave me the word (Thank you!).  But the richest man in New York City changed his mind.  The Channel 2 weather guy said, "He didn't have a choice."

What are you going to do today?  Were you already preparing to leave when you heard this, like I was?

Thursday, February 25, 2010


As my fellow ELA teachers surely know, nonfiction passages on state exams and test-prep materials can be...well, perhaps "random" is the right word. In a test-prep book I use from time to time, I've seen passages on (just to name a few things) the Freedom of Information Act, Grace Kelly, giant redwood trees, fire drills, and the Underground Railroad. What do these things have to do with each other? Well, you tell me.

Anyway, I was working with my student Jack--dear, sweet, distractible Jack--today with one of these books, and he was reading a passage that discussed (really) different breeds of cats. One breed of cat is, apparently, called the Munchkin.

"Miss Eyre," Jack said to me, doubtfully, "is this--a kind of kittycat?" Then, perhaps realizing that he'd said "kittycat" out loud, modified it to "cat."

I looked over the passage. "I guess it is," I said. "I learned something new today. I never knew that there was a breed of cat called the Munchkin."

"Yeah," he agreed. "I always thought it was, you know, just the little donut."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Old Fashioned Way

How do charters get those great scores Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein are always jumping up and down about?  Well, they cheat.

I mean, it isn't enough to merely have 100% kids of proactive parents.  Sure, that's an edge, as everyone who doesn't give a golly goshdarn winds up at your friendly neighborhood public school (if your neighborhood is backward enough to still have one).

After all, when you live and die by scores, you'd better make sure you have good ones:

Three former employees of the Albany Preparatory Charter School claimed an administrator at the school was trying to improve the school's scores on state standardized tests by denying admission or wait-listing learning-disabled students, an investigation has found. Some parents of students who did not perform well on a reading test were counseled that the school was "not a good fit" or would have their applications denied, according to a scathing new report by the State University of New York's Charter Schools Institute.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

They Don't Really Do Nothing

This thread over at Core Knowledge turned into a more abstract philosophical debate on building an intrinsic appreciation of education in one's students. I'm glad I read all the way through the comments, because I needed it after the conversation I had with some of my kiddies today.

A few kids were complaining about teachers issuing empty threats. Now, as a longtime NYC Educator groupie, I know that issuing empty threats is one of the surest ways to corrode any possible authority you might have in your classroom, so it's something I strenuously avoid. I issued them some blanket immunity, so to speak, and asked them if they'd be willing to discuss the matter of motivation to behave well and work hard further with me. They agreed.

One thing I learned, from my student Sha Sha the averagest girl in the world, is that calling home makes no difference to her. She said this with a very simple honesty. If a teacher calls home, she said, her parents might mention it to her. But that's all. "They don't really do nothing," she explained helpfully.

"Or," chimed in Jackie, "you beat them home and erase the teacher's message." (This is why I tend to try work and cell numbers first.)

"I'm STILL trying to figure out my mom's voicemail password," said Nikki, as if she were offended that her mom hadn't just told her the PIN straight up.

Later, while talking with a colleague, we were despairing about the dramatic fall-off in motivation we had begun to notice in the past week or two that is reaching its nadir now. The Morton School has sent home two report cards and identified Promotion-in-Doubts. So our kiddies (because they're anything but dumb) have already figured out that if they've managed at least 2s on the predictive assessments and passed the first 2 marking periods, they're pretty much home free. They are starting to check out.

I don't have any answers on this, just questions and doubts and anxieties. I'm not sure my relationships with my students this year are as good as they were last year, when the kids stuck with me practically until the last day of school. I don't know if I can count on gentle persuasion and my winning personality to keep them working this year. So I, along with many of you from the looks of things, am on the search for answers.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Children First

There's a big shiny ballpark near where the old Yankee Stadium was.  The new stadium took the place of where South Bronx children used to play.  But it was a fair trade--the kids would get new parks where the old stadium used to be.  The only problem is it never happened.  And three and a half years later, the neighborhood kids are still waiting.  Why, that's more time than it takes Mayor Mike to phase out those kids' schools.

Mayor Mike is passionate about parks.  That's why he went to court and fought for the right of affluent private school children to have public parks in sweetheart deals.  But it's children first with Mayor Mike, so public school kids can count on being screwed quickly and often.  It's no parks for them until he's good and ready.  Let them go play on rooftops and in abandoned buildings.  It will teach them how the world works.

Let's see what gets built first--parks for public school children or the 72 million dollar charter buildings for Mayor Mike's BFFs--even as tens of thousands of public schoolchildren don't have seats.

I don't usually gamble, but I'll take the action on this one if anyone's interested.  Place your bets in the comments section.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Exercise Caution

Now sure, we've all taken our eyes off the road from time to time.  We have to make a call, or text our BFFs, or perhaps eat a sandwich.

But if you're smoking your hookah while driving, there could be serious consequences.  First of all, it could fall and make a mess.  Who wants to be bothered with all that troublesome cleanup?  And who wants all those burn marks on the upholstery? 

And as if that's not enough, if you get arrested you have to contact not only the DoE, but your principal as well.  Do you really want to go through the hassle of explaining to the principal why you needed to do this while driving?

The trouble with us Americans is we're too busy, and we always feel like we have to do a dozen things at a time.  Let's relax a little, and take things one step at a time.

Leave the hookah at home.  Indeed, you may need it--because tomorrow it's back to work.  And no, you may not bring your hookah to the classroom.   That is frowned upon, and if you get caught they won't let you bring it with you to the rubber room either.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

NYSUT Supports Cuomo

It's significant that the state teacher union is supporting Cuomo rather than anti-union slimeball Paterson.  I know nothing of Cuomo's positions on charter schools.  Does he think they should continue pushing into public schools and taking space away from our kids?  Does he approve of them siphoning away kids of proactive parents while failing to take their fair share of high-needs kids?

I've watched Bill Gates speak, and he is amazed that charter schools are able to get good results with good kids.  He's also amazed that at KIPP, the teachers circulate and don't allow kids to fall asleep.  Me, I'm amazed he doesn't know that hundreds of thousands of public school teachers do the same thing every day.  But Barack Obama does whatever Bill says, so the question is this--will Andrew Cuomo do whatever Bill says?

I certainly hope NYSUT knows what it's doing, as I seriously doubt Paterson will survive a primary.

I don't have any position about Cuomo.   Still,  knowing very little about him, I can state with absolute assurance he isn't Paterson.  I only hope he gives us more reason than that to support him.  If he's bought off by the Billionaire Boy's Club, like Paterson and Obama were, it'll be a truly tough choice.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pardon the Interruption

I'm experimenting with a new commenting system. I'm afraid, once again, I appear to have lost all the comments. I will try to correct that, but please bear with me.

Update: I seem to have retrieved recent comments.

Straight Up?

I've got some issues with that concept, as laid out in Rick Hess' new blog. Apparently his pet peeve is when people talk about doing things "for the children." While Hess, in passing, mentions Michelle Rhee, and a Bush flunkie, the bulk of his righteous indignation seems directed at teachers and teacher representatives.

For example, he mentions AFT President Randi Weingarten, and quotes her here:

Asked, "What's the central complaint of the teachers union about charter schools?" Weingarten counters, "Look, the issue becomes: how do you help all kids?" A minute later, she adds, "The issue becomes: how do we help all kids succeed? The issue in terms of the charter schools were, we want to make sure that they're taking the same kinds of kids that all other public schools have."

Regular readers know I'm not Weingarten's biggest fan, but she's absolutely right here. If not only charter schools, but also the small public schools Joel Klein so adores, are the miracle they're made out to be, they need to take precisely the same kids public schools do. In fact, they ought to focus on the most high-needs kids, if their mission is truly anything of value. There should be no pre-admission interviews designed to weed out those who may not boost the stats. There should be no failure to count students who've transferred elsewhere against the alleged success stories, and there ought to be equivalent resources.

But my main objection to Hess' theory is what he failed to include. The two most prominent "reform" programs in the country are, by name, "No Child Left Behind," and "Children First." You'd think he'd notice that, rather than focusing on odd comments here and there. Both these programs imply anyone who'd oppose them are somehow opposed to children--precisely what Hess says he objects to.

So, here's a wild idea. Can't we just presume that everybody cares (or admit that we can't tell the posers from the real deal) and just argue policies and practices instead?

Well, it's hard to presume that everybody cares. I mean, you read that Al Sharpton got $500,000 and suddenly decided educational reform was his number one priority, and you get suspicious. When Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein hold public hearings, ignore every single speaker and reps from four of five boroughs, it's really tough to interpret that as caring. And frankly, sometimes it's very simple to tell the posers from the real deal.

Arguing policies and practices is a good idea. But only on a two way street, Mr. Hess.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Field Trips: Important for Teachers, Too

When we have recesses from school like our present one, I like to send myself on field trips. New York City has field trip destinations like almost no other city in this country and indeed the world, and there's no excuse for not taking a day to see something new and interesting. You can get inspiration for actual field trips with your students, too.

I've had field trips on the brain because I'm taking one with my students pretty soon, and I'm slightly afraid that I'm out of field trip practice. It's been a tough year for field trips at the Morton School--almost every teacher is afraid to take the middle schoolers anywhere because of one hellacious class (not one of mine)--and my kids have developed a severe case of cabin fever. When I announced our impending field trip, which was more than a small hassle to put together, the heartfelt cheering from my kids made it all worth it.

But that's slightly off track. The point is: FIELD TRIPS for YOU. Pick someplace interesting, one of those places you just never get around to seeing. In a city with museums devoted to firefighting, Tibetan art, finance, and even sex (!), you'll find something. Most museums provide cheap entertainment for a few hours, for one thing--many have "suggested donations" (read: you can pay less than the sticker price), educator/grad student discounts, and free or Pay What You Wish days/nights. So don't let finances discourage you! Go off the beaten track and enjoy something.

I've commented, mostly at the Core Knowledge blog but in other places too, about the importance of teachers continuing to cultivate the passions that drew them to teaching and develop new interests in and knowledge about art, culture, literature, history, politics, etc. etc. If we're not culturally literate and engaged, we can't model it for our students. Drag yourself out of bed semi-early for one day that remains of your glorious winter recess, or reserve a day in your spring recess, and send yourself on a field trip. You won't regret it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Make Believe They're Charter Schools

That's what Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz told the crowd assembled outside Brooklyn Tech before the January 26th PEP meeting. And his words were prophetic. Though Mayor Bloomberg's goon squad closed 19 schools, including rapidly improving Jamaica, it's just renewed the charter of Opportunity Charter School.

Opportunity is a special school in that it admits half special education students. That's admirable, as few (more likely none) of its peers fulfill such a mission. In fact, all of its peers ought to, and all of the so-called small schools ought to as well. But under Joel Klein, charters receive preferential treatment, so 19 neighborhood schools go down, and a charter with scores to rival them stays up.

Thus Joel Klein has granted a chance for a charter, but your neighborhood and its schools can go to hell. That's the watchword of the administration that defied the twice-voiced will of the voters to impose term limits. That's the mantra of the mayor that outspent his opponent 14 to 1 and squeaked through the polls with nothing like the overwhelming mandate the papers predicted.

This mayor loves private schools, and wanted to devote a whole island to their recreation, taxpayers be damned. The next best thing is charter schools, which almost universally reject unions and rights for teachers. They merit no special treatment, but get it as a matter of course from a mayor and chancellor who don't give a golly goshdarn about working people.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Fair Warning

You know who you are...
A friend of mine recently was offered a slot in a NYCTF-like program, and asked me about my experiences in the Fellowship here. Well, as you can imagine, that was one long e-mail in response. I tried to be circumspect, fair, and honest. He's not the first person to ask for my input about the Fellowship, so he's not the first person to whom I may have issued the tiniest of caveats emptor.
Nevertheless, he asked one important question: am I happy? And, when I thought about it, and I reminded myself that at the heart of my job lies teaching and (yes) caring for children, I remembered that the answer is, I suppose, yes. I am happy being with the kids. When I have a chance to do things I believe in with kids I believe in, that's a great day, corny though it may sound. I think caring for the kids and liking them can, in many ways, help us get past all the other horse manure that comes with the job.
So that's what I told him, in a nutshell. I think it's fair warning--not just about the horse manure, but about the unexpected heartbreaks, frustrations, and joys that come with the children themselves.
Please be aware, if you are outside NYC, that NYC Educator and our colleagues and I are currently on winter recess, which surely explains the rosy and wistful tone of this post. I daresay you can check back here at this point next week for a markedly different mood.

Monday, February 15, 2010

72 Million for Charter Construction

Even as Queens high schools are short 33,000 seats, Mayor Bloomberg is making sure his charter buddies don't go without.
"It pays to have friends," said Community Education Council 15 Co-President Jim Devor, criticizing the choice to spend public dollars on a new school for Red Hook, Brooklyn, which doesn't have an overcrowding problem.

And the public school kids? They can sit in trailers, closets, bathrooms, or wherever. After all, it's "children first," which means after you cater to the needs of your political cronies, the overwhelming majority of children are the first to be screwed in your endless quest to accomplish the destruction of public schools.

And public school kids? They can follow the instructions on the upper left.

Expanding the Gap

The Daily News proclaims "Enrollment of black students in prestigious city schools drops 10% during Bloomberg reign." This is, of course, directly counter to one of their mantras, that they are closing the gap. What's their response?

"Graduation rates and test scores for black students have risen in the last eight years," said David Cantor.

Indeed, the graduation rate for black students has risen from 40% in 2002 to 51% in 2008

First of all, that's nothing but obfuscation, and even if it's true, any figures emanating from Tweed are questionable. Do they count the dropouts as dropouts, or assume they moved away and enrolled in Kansas or somewhere? Who really knows?

If we make the leap and assume it's true, the fact is Jamaica High School's graduation rates rose even more over the last four years, and its facing closure. If Bloomberg's miracle cure program can't do better than that, shouldn't the mayor and all the leaders of Tweed, at the very least, commit ritual suicide to show they mean business? After all, these are the same guys who "help" minority neighborhoods by killing their neighborhood schools. Shouldn't they put their money where their mouths are? Isn't commitment a virtue?

Perhaps. However, unlike the Tweedies, I'm not an extremist, and I don't believe in wanton destruction. Let's get real. Since neither Mayor Bloomberg, nor David Cantor, nor Joel Klein actually knows what works in education, since they can't respond to failure directly, since they either twist it into success or change the subject altogether--well--they're failing. They're failing our students consistently and substantively.

They need to move their talents somewhere they can do some good. Why don't they travel around in their Town Cars with an array of brooms and sweep up? The schools are a mess. At least if kids saw them cleaning the floors, they'd know they care.

How about it, guys? Why not do some good for once?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Work for Mayor Mike's Re-election...

...and maybe he'll buy you a house in Forest Hills Gardens.

Happy Valentine's Day

Thanks to all who spend a little time here! And lest you get cynical, here are 100 reasons to be a teacher. For this lunar new year, let's resolve to create more!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Thank You, Mayor Bloomberg

Yesterday morning I got up bright and early to go to work. As it happens, I am a fool, and I always arrive a little early to take care of all the nonsense that invariably comes my way. Thus, I leave pretty early. Yesterday, to be sure, I left even earlier.

We'd shoveled several times the night before, so I figured I'd be in good shape. But lo and behold, my car was covered with so much snow it was like we'd never done a thing. So I cleaned the whole car. My local sanitation department, much to my surprise, had plowed my street for what seemed to be the first time ever. This boded well, thought I.

But who would've thunk it? My little Prius could not make it over the wall of snow the plow had left in the street, and I got stuck halfway into the street. My wife boldly came out and helped me shovel. I decided if I could get the car back into the driveway I was calling in. Who needs this nonsense? But I couldn't budge it.

I woke up my poor daughter, happily sleeping through her second snow day. After all, where we live, we haven't got a mayor who can predict weather, or circumvent time and space to declare the day before that coming in would be no problem. We spent an hour shoveling, and finally I got the car out. I called in to say that I might be late. How late? Who knows? I'd get there when I got there.

And I actually got there on time, having prepared to leave 90 minutes early. I heard similar stories from my colleagues. It was very tough to park as most spaces were covered with snow, despite the Mayor's assurances. You see, when you have an SUV to pick you up at your house and drive you to your preferred subway station (so you can boast about taking the train to work) you don't run into such difficulties.

Perish forbid we should have a delayed opening. Days like this are precisely what they're for. Unfortunately, neither the mayor nor the chancellor sees things beyond the span of their own noses.

And how did the Mayor deliver on his promise all the streets would be cleared? Watch and learn:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Snow Day Redux

Well, Miss Eyre just left the manor to go to dig out the horseless carriage for the fourth time today. I wish I could say I'm surprised that Mayor Bloomberg has preemptively announced that Mother Nature will cooperate with the schools being open tomorrow, but I suppose I'm not. Even storm systems obey his will, apparently.

As of 8:30 Wednesday night, I'm not so sure. I shoveled my front walk, went around the corner to dig out the horseless carriage, and then came back to mi casa to find another quarter of an inch of snow had already fallen. I don't think the weather is improving. I suppose I'll drag myself in to work tomorrow, slowly, but I know some of my colleagues might not be able to do the same.

"Sorry about that for those that wanted another day off," Mayor Bloomberg smarmed in today's press conference as he announced that schools would be open. I wish it was that simple. Personally, I'd love it if the roads were safe and clear tomorrow and I could get to school with no worries. I just don't know that that will be the case. And, as always, I wish for a bit more in the way of humility and grace from Hizzoner.

Imagine a press conference in which the mayor said the city would do its best to clear the roads overnight, weather permitting. "We would like to open the schools safely tomorrow," he might say. "We'll try hard to make that possible for the morning. But, if that's not the case, we'll announce a delayed opening or closing as early as possible. Above all, we want our students and teachers to be safe."

The way he speaks conveys no sense of concern or respect for children or for teachers. Contrary to what he probably thinks, teachers are not lazy lieabouts praying for another snow day so they don't have to do their jobs. They just don't want to choose between coming to work and living to see another day.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

If It Sounds Too Good to Be True...

What was it that made schools chancellor Joel Klein close the schools today, without waiting till 6 AM? Was it that thousands of kids and teachers went to school that day last year? Was it that he inconvenienced parents even worse by waiting? Was it that he cared?

Personally, I doubt it. It was all the bad PR. Joel Klein has just closed 19 schools, with absolutely no regard for anyone who spoke up against it. His naked grab for space for charter schools has been widely exposed, and people are taking a closer look at charters.

In fact, he was unable to raise the charter cap because parents insisted on a voice as to whether or not charters could move into the schools their kids attend. As a parent, I don't want a charter taking space from my kid's schools, and if parents get a choice, they won't put the education of their children into the hands of demagogues like Joel Klein and his good buddies, like Bill Gates and Newt Gingrich.

Chancellor Klein, as usual, is concerned with his reputation and viability. Perhaps he'll look like a nice guy today. Unfortunately, he hasn't fooled me.

I doubt he's fooled you either, but let me know if I'm mistaken.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Snow Day

I've just heard that NYC schools will be closed tomorrow!

Punch You in the Stomach

Tammy was having a rough day. She's a handful, even on a good day. To her and her mother's credit, a not-exactly-gentle phone call and conference early in the year largely nipped her bad behavior with me in the bud. But other teachers still complain about her, and even though I have a fairly good relationship with her, it's not hard to see that there's a lot of anger and attitude lurking beneath the polite veneer. Nevertheless, in exchange for her cooperation, I try not to be too hard on her, knowing how explosive she can be.

Tammy came into my extended day session and slumped down in her chair. I allow the first 2 or 3 minutes of extended day to be "vent time" in which, within reason, everyone in the room is allowed to complain about one thing should the need arise. Sometimes that includes me. Bless them, I have some very sweet-tempered kids who never complain about a thing. But Tammy, after her moment of slumpage, was ready to complain.

She launched into a tirade about a nameless sixth-grader who, in her view, bumps into her far too often. "He do that one more time," Tammy proclaimed, "I'mma punch him in the stomach. Don't think I won't."

I gave her the usual spiel about violence never solving anything, encouraged her to talk to the boy's teacher about asking him to walk carefully in the hall, and then told her to get to work.

She did, to my surprise, but a little while later, one of the students at her table was apparently looking at her too intently. "Quit looking at me," Tammy snapped. "I'mma punch you in the stomach, I swear to God I will."

"Tammy," I said, "that's not appropriate. Here, why don't you come and sit over here and take a break for a few minutes?"

Like I said, she's surprisingly compliant with me, and she took her things and moved over to the other side of the room. But her concentration was clearly rattled. "Miss Eyre," she said, "those folders are driving me crazy. Can I put them in order?"

Glad to not have her threatening to punch anyone in the stomach anymore, I told her to go ahead. She seemed pleased to have this task, and she took all of my students' reading folders, arranged them by color, and stacked them neatly on a shelf.

"There," she said, "don't they look better now?"

I had to agree that they did.

"Now," she said, "if anyone mess them up, I'mma punch 'em in the stomach."

Monday, February 08, 2010

Common Sense Is the Least Common of All the Senses

You'll know that's true if you read this column in the Daily News, essentially vilifying all educators for the actions of a few. This is a time-honored technique used by racists everywhere. I remember, as a kid, hearing other kids justify their racism with the line, "The bad ones spoil it for the good ones." Of course, there are bad ones in every group, and just because a few papers print bigoted nonsense, I wouldn't assume they all do.

To the writer's credit, she disavowed the implications of her piece, attributing the additions to editors. But there's certainly a pattern here, considering the poorly researched piece of trash the NY Post saw fit to print the other day.

It's contract time, and as usual, the city wants to pay us peanuts. Usually, there's a crappy pattern, and we're stuck with it. This time, there's a desirable pattern, and the city doesn't want to pony up for teachers. Of course the city's broke, there's a crisis, there's no money, and they can't possibly do better. Still, when the dot com craze was booming, we sat with zeroes. I didn't see outrage in the Post and the News.

The trash they've been running is tough to differentiate from common bigotry. Sure, it's directed against a profession rather than an ethnic group, and sure, it's motivated by political ideology.

But the people who choose to print this stuff might as well be Archie Bunker. Unfortunately, they're not remotely as amusing.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200

Go directly to NYC Public School Parents blog and watch State Senator Carl Kruger tell it like it is to Chancellor Joel Klein.

Friday, February 05, 2010

In Which Your Humble Correspondent Takes the Initiative

On February 1st we had a PD day. I looked at the menu of offerings. Do I want to go to Smartboard training for the fourth time? I mean, it's not like they're ever going to put expensive hardware in the trailer, so I'm never getting one. Should I sit through it again?

It sounded like a bad idea. I asked the principal if I could attend the new teacher workshop. He said sure, go ahead. I thought it would be interesting. And it was, too. There I was with a bunch of new teachers, and whoever was facilitating didn't show up. So one of the new teachers wrote my name in the "facilitator" box. I was happy about this because her handwriting was much better than mine.

We talked a lot about home contact and getting parents on your side--finding common interests. I asked them what their toughest experiences were and we discussed how to deal with them. I was completely unprepared, but what the hell, it wasn't my fault.

And then, yesterday morning, I got a letter in my box thanking me for the great workshop I gave, signed by the principal. I just keep wondering--does he know that whoever was supposed to run the workshop never showed? Who was that person anyway? Does he realize I just winged it, with no plan and no idea of what I was going to do?

I guess I'll never know.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Not Very Observant

While taking attendance today, I remarked that a student I'll call Alex has been absent for three consecutive days. This is unusual for Alex, as he hadn't missed a day this school year until this week.

A few of his classmates speculated on his absence. One mentioned that he might have gone to visit relatives in India.

"I don't think so," I said. "He would have said something if he were going to be away for a while."

"He didn't go away," said Jimmy. "I just talked to him on XBox Live last night for, like, an hour. He's here."

"He must be sick, then," I said.

"Sick?" Jimmy said. "He seemed fine to me."

"But," I repeated, wondering how he could tell via XBox Live, "he's been out of school for three days."

"Really?" Jimmy asked.

"Yes," I said, slightly exasperated. "You're telling me you talked to him for an hour last night and you didn't think to ask him why he's been out of school?"

"I didn't even know he was out of school," Jimmy explained.

This might be understandable if Alex and Jimmy weren't in every class, every day together.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Vilifying Teachers R Us

What can you say about the New York Post? Well, as I tread through the various articles on the perfidy of teachers, I don't much wonder what its readers must think of us. Clearly, when they read articles like this one, they must figure we're all in the rubber rooms having a party 24-7 at maximum salary.

An astute reader pointed out the article claims the teacher in question has "about 435" days in his sick bank. First of all, why "about?" Were they too busy to check?

Second, were the figure accurate, it would seem to indicate this man had not taken a day off in 43.5 years. That could represent true dedication. In reality, the maximum number of sick days one's allowed to accumulate in the wonderland that is the NYC Department of Education is 200--so the reporter appears to be indulging in something else entirely.

Perhaps there truly was no time for rudimentary fact checking that day, though personally, I fail to see why this particular story was so time-sensitive it couldn't have waited. But the readers of the New York Post don't know that. What else have they got wrong?

Who knows? Who cares?

They've made their point. And I'm sure they'd write a story about you, me, and scores of other teachers based on misinformation, hearsay and unsubstantiated allegations too, if it gave them one more chance to bash the contract--the one we don't even have.

If this guy is really guilty of abuse, he deserves whatever he gets. However, this is still America, and I could've sworn I heard something in civics class, long ago, about being innocent until proven guilty. I believe it has its roots in British law, and I recall reading in Rumpole of the Bailey that the presumption of innocence was the "golden thread" that ran through their entire legal system.

Perhaps New York Post reporters didn't get the memo.

Related: on the ICE blog

Thanks to Paul Rubin

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

What's in a Name?

During writing conferences with my students today, I came across a story that mentioned the name of another student in a rather unflattering way. I told the author of the paper that while I realized this was a fictional character, it would be better if she didn't use the name of her classmate.

She agreed and set to thinking up another name. But she struggled. I suggested a few, but nothing seemed right to her.

"How about Crystal?" she said.

"That sounds good," I said, knowing that there were no Crystals in the other classes on the grade.

"No," piped up another student, "I'm already using Crystal in my story."

"What if I spell it different?" asked the first student.

"I'm already spelling it different!" the second student exclaimed.

I looked at the second student's paper.

Sure enough, she'd spelled it QRYSTAL.

"Well," I said to the first student, "as long as you don't spell it with a Q, you should be good."

Monday, February 01, 2010

That Wacky Arne Duncan

I'm not covering any new ground here, but I can't neglect Arne Duncan's remarkable quote--"Hurricane Katrina was the "best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans."

I first saw it mentioned in Fred Klonsky's blog, and it provoked a comment from Jose Vilson that I found entirely apt:

It’s OK because enough poor people died through this that the average scores for the district will naturally go up.


There you have it, pretty much.

And Mr. Accountable Talk had another angle on it:

Good thing Duncan wasn't education secretary during 9/11, or he might have said that Osama Bin Laden didn't do enough to really wake up the NYC school system. Good ole Arne probably sees the earthquake in Haiti as an opportunity to improve the schools there as well.

Perhaps what we really need is a nuclear holocaust. That would level the playing field entirely, and allow Arne's corporate buddies to completely take over public education, assuming they, along with the cockroaches, managed to survive the mushroom cloud.

Fortunately for Arne, even the GOP goes along with his union-busting, teacher bashing, corporate agenda. So you won't be seeing demands for his resignation on the evening news, and you won't hear outraged cries from Hannity or Rush.

If he were a city teacher he'd have landed in the rubber room. As US Secretary of Education, of course, there are no consequences whatsoever. Apparently it's perfectly acceptable for our number one educational authority to possess less sensitivity that a number two pencil.