Wednesday, June 30, 2010

One Is Silver and the Other's Gold

OMG did you know that the last day of school was Monday??? Is there anything like waking up on that first day of vacation and remembering that you don't have to go to work??? THERE IS NOT. Naturally, I am not the least bit excited to be away from my school and stu--OH WAIT THERE IS A PHILOSOPHY MARATHON ON QVC, JUST LET ME GET ANOTHER LONG ISLAND ICED TEA AND SOME AMERICONE DREAM.

Joking aside, I think, I'm simultaneously incredibly relieved that this school year is over and heartbroken to see my students go. I really bonded with my group this year, maybe even as much as I did last year's group, which I didn't think was possible. It's funny; rereading the post I did like this year, I find myself feeling almost exactly the same way. I had a million good reasons to quit or at least to transfer, yet here, at the end of the year, I find myself resolved to come back even better in the fall.

It wasn't even an easy end to the year. A student of whom I became very fond, who I will not even identify by his pseudonym in relation to this incident, did something very foolish near the end that got him into quite a bit of trouble. Several teachers at my school have been excessed, all of whom are fine teachers, ones you would like to teach your own children. And a few people--some I know in real life, others I know only through their blogs--have decided to lay down the chalk, so to speak, for good as of today.

So why am I going back? Forget for the moment that it's a paycheck and a group insurance plan; as a reasonably competent youngish lady, I could surely dig that up elsewhere if I tried hard enough. No, let's look at the fact that, for better or worse, kids are counting on me in September, and that, frankly, I like that. I like knowing that I, personally, matter. I like knowing that there will be at least some kids in that room who care about learning something from me. And I like knowing that I can make an impression on at least some of them. I hate to cast my lot with the "relationship" educators wholesale, but, well, relationships do at least kinda matter. And good ones with children make a big difference--not just for them, but for us, the teachers, as well. Without them, our job is, well, just a paycheck and a group insurance plan.

In the fall, then, I look forward to hanging up my snapshots of the class of 2010 and welcoming with open arms the class of 2011. As the Girl Scout song says, "Make new friends but keep the old/One is silver and the other's gold."


By the way: I'm dropping back to one day a week here (Wednesday, obvs) for the summer, only to satisfy my own urges for sleeping late, hanging out at the beach, and home shopping. I wish I had a better reason, but I don't, and NYC Educator was nice enough to let me take it easy for the summer months and come back full throttle in the fall. And if you have any suggestions for a series of posts like my "What No One Will Tell You..." series from last summer, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

It's Your Fault!

NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein may not know what the hell goes on in public schools, may not care, may not listen, but he's an unrivaled expert in assigning blame.   When the city closes dozens of schools and labels them failing, it's not his fault.  He seems to think his job is to run the system any way the mayor tells him, but not to take responsibility for it.  When Bloomberg makes draconian budget cuts, he says oh well, that's the way it goes.

One of the many idiotic talking points to justify the Chancellor's abject failure to improve schools is his length of service.  "He's been around longer than anyone."  So have many diseases, but you never see people praising them for it.  And the fact is, he's only been around this long because his primary job is doing whatever the hell billionaire Mike Bloomberg tells him to.  Stand up for the kids?  That's not his job.  So essentially, NYC schools don't have a chancellor--they have another echo chamber for Mayor Mike, just like the toothless and pointless PEP.

So when Joel Klein stands up and says, "Gee, I really wanted to change the idiotic calendar I created, but that mean old UFT wouldn't let me," the NY Post may write yet more crap reinforcing his delusions, but that doesn't make them true.  Joel Klein can change the calendar any way he wishes.  This is the guy who insisted kids come in on June 25th even though all their grades were done, all their tests were done, and they were, for all intents and purposes, finished.   At my school, very few of them came in.  I have that info secondhand because I didn't come in either.

And when Joel Klein comes to the UFT asking for favors, even legitimate ones (as if), the appropriate response is "no."    We gave the rubber room, the ratings, "fair student funding," mayoral control, and every professional gain we'd made since I became a teacher 25 years ago.  For that, we get a mayor saying first, "I'll give you less than half what other public employees got,"  and then, "I'll give you nothing,"  and later, "Maybe I'll lay off teachers even though I'm giving them nothing."  Oddly, when he violates the Taylor Law the papers, which would have crucified us for it, praise him.

If Mayor Bloomberg wants the time of day from the UFT, let him come bearing a fair contract.  Otherwise, let his puppet Joel Klein point his fingers any way he wishes.  Ostensibly, he's the chancellor.  What that really means is this--when schools fail, it's his fault.  When he closes schools based on false statistics, that's his fault too.

Most relevant here, though, is that he can unilaterally change that Wednesday to a PD day without touching the contract.  He doesn't need UFT permission.  When he violates the contract, when he ignores the Taylor Law, which he does as a matter of course, he doesn't ask, "May I?"  Were he reasonable, were he fair, we could say, "Sure, let's do that."  But he isn't, and we can't.

I applaud UFT leadership for declining to make any deals or alter the contract.  I sincerely hope, until and unless the city negotiates in good faith, that they continue to do so.

Monday, June 28, 2010

This Is It

The last day.  Our kids are coming back for their report cards, and this will be the last time we see them this year.  Some are moving on, and this will be the last time we see them at all.  Sad but true.

But tomorrow is the first day of summer break.  Some will actually take a break.  Many will teach summer school.  An acquaintance of mine who hadn't been offered a position eagerly awaited filing a grievance.  "Last year a bunch of people didn't get the jobs, grieved, and ended up getting paid."

Yesterday he called me and said he was finally offered a job.  "It's the next best thing," he assured me.

I had to disagree.  The next best thing, really, is not to teach summer school at all.  Sure it would be great to get paid to do nothing, but if you really want a career like that it's better to get into politics.  I think kids need a break (if they haven't spent the entire year taking one) and teachers need one too.  In Europe everyone gets a month off, and people are in unions that actually have real power--no Taylor Law for them.  It's incredible that we are plagued with President Hopey-Changey, a faux-Democrat who spends his time trying to demean and degrade one of the last good jobs Americans can get.

But I'm not going to think about that today.  I'm going to look forward to a great summer re-energizing, recharging and doing things I really want to do.  I hope you are too.

I hope everyone has a great summer.  Is that your plan?  What are you going to do this summer?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another Innovation

I've just been notified that the 11 "transformation schools" that were spared the ax under the Bloomberg Inquisition will be "piloting" the new paradigm allowing teachers to be fired after two unfavorable ratings.  This is significant and new because, theoretically, 40% of said ratings will be based on student test scores.

First of all, there is no research whatsoever to support the "value-added" model leaving teachers holding 100% blame for student achievement (or lack thereof).  This is a blatant end-run around tenure, and the union position---it was coming anyway so we did the best we could---is irresponsible and violates the core purpose of union.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, a union is supposed to empower its members, not simply instruct them which way to bend over when autocrats make demands.

I have a proposition below for anyone who believes principals, under constant pressure from Tweed, will actually limit the test-score based rating to 40%.  The notion that individual teachers, like individual schools, should be destroyed based on test scores while Bloomberg accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the school system, his personal fiefdom, is outlandish and idiotic.

Someone has to stand up and speak the truth when the "reformers" make idiotic demands that benefit neither teachers, students, nor the working people the students are bound to become.  It's painfully disappointing to see the union sidestep such a vital role.  The "piloting" program instantly belies the UFT's much-ballyhooed notion that this system would be negotiated and that if it were not acceptable to us it would not be enacted.

For anyone who thinks this is a good idea, please email me as I can offer you a very attractive deal on the bridge pictured above.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mayor Mike Answers to a Higher Court

In case you've spent the last 24 hours incommunicado, the city has openly announced it's closing more schools next year, including many it was ordered not to close this year.  Bloomberg's contempt for the court order was clear when the city assigned 23 freshman students to Jamaica High School and 21 to Beach Channel.

Apparently, the city will go through another round of public hearings.  Perhaps it will even investigate the effect closing neighborhood schools will have on affected communities, so as to preclude another lawsuit.  But judging from the city's position, Bloomberg's people have no plans of listening to community members.  They can all go to hell because the mayor has made up his mind already, and he has more money than they do.

Just weeks ago Bloomberg announced, supposedly to avoid layoffs, he would not give teachers a raise.   Every single major media outlet, including the New York Times, took this as gospel and praised him for his incredible insight.  None bothered to check the Taylor Law, which requires he negotiate with the UFT.  None questioned his sudden decision to ignore pattern bargaining, which had been regarded as more vital than the Ten Commandments when the pattern was undesirable.

It was good that the UFT threw a wrench in the works with their lawsuit.  However, it appears to have been nothing more than a band-aid on a gaping wound, and Tweed appears to have disregarded it with incredible impunity.  I hope the UFT has something more up its sleeve than the new merit pay scheme it's agreed to.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Klein Considers Doing Something Sensible

It appears the September master plan of having kids come in for the first time on Wednesday, then being off until the following Monday has got Tweed thinking.  This is a positive step.  Had they begun this earlier, kids certainly wouldn't be coming in for a full day today.  In fact, they won't be coming home for a full day today.  They'll be in the park, at the beach, at home, at their friends' homes laughing at the likes of us.

I'll be watching my daughter graduate from junior high school, thank you very much.  Someone else will have to see the handful of my kids who show up, if even that many should bother.

If Tweed persists with its plan to drag kids in on a September Wednesday, I'll explain the rules to the few kids who show up.  Then, I suppose, I'll do it again on Monday, when the majority shows.

Tweedies don't think like that.  That's because they aren't teachers, they've never attended public schools, their kids don't attend public schools, and beyond the thin facade of boilerplate edu-jargon, they haven't got the remotest notion of what the hell goes on in public schools.

If they do the right thing here, it will be the exception that proves the rule.   Unsolicited advice to UFT leadership--offer nothing for this, no more, no less.  If they want 80,000 teachers to teach 200,000 kids one day, fine.  If they want to look like idiots, it's their absolute right, and we need sacrifice nothing to help them.

If they want favors, let them offer us a fair contract, even if it means dipping into Mayor Bloomberg's 3.2 billion dollar slush fund.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Get Out the Tissues

Since this will be my last post here before the last day of school, I figured that the generous and big-hearted readership of NYC Educator wouldn't mind if I got a little mushy. As you probably know, I teach eighth grade, so my kids are out the door for good. There are some I'll miss more than others, of course, but on the whole, I'll miss this group a lot. While I plan on going into more detail on my own blog in the coming days, I thought I might provide just this one vignette for you here.

We had our senior dance recently, and though this is but a middle school event, most of my students, particularly the girls, take it quite seriously. There are always elaborate hairdos, sumptuous dresses, and professional makeup jobs. I find it a little over-the-top, personally, but I can't possibly give them a hard time about it. They like it too much. Anyway, two of these professional makeup jobs were being cried off towards the end of the dance, and, always fearful of middle school drama, Super Chaperone Miss Eyre went to investigate the situation.

"Everything okay?" I asked the two girls.

"Oh, nothing's wrong," one said tearfully. "I'm just sad that we're all leaving."

I looked out on the dance floor where kids were alternately dancing, hugging, and crying. So many of my students really are friends with just about everyone, and I know they really will miss each other. These weren't just crocodile tears.

"You know what, hon," I said, "if it makes you feel any better, I'm sad that you're all leaving too."

And with that, she passed me a tissue, too.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Here's a Quarter, Go Buy a Congressman

It's now common knowledge that Charter Schools tried to buy NY State Assembly candidate Steve Baher for $200,000.  200K here, and 200K there, and they own the entire legislature.  It's not enough to own Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo.  After all, there's just so much the President can do to push their agenda.  If they had legislatures statewide they wouldn't need to pimp out Arne Duncan on his race to see how high cash-strapped states can jump. 

Is there anyone out there who really believes these hedge fund guys are worried about the welfare of our children?  More likely they're tired of paying taxes to support education.  After all, if the public school system were to collapse entirely there'd be no change whatsoever for the children of Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein or Barack Obama.  They talk a lot about public schools, but you wouldn't catch their kids attending on a bet.

It's interesting they always act so concerned about the schools they long ago deemed not good enough for their children.   If we really wanted better public schools we'd mandate that people who control school systems send their own kids there.  Maybe then they'd find ways to devote the hundreds of million dollars NYC took to reduce class size to reducing class size.  Maybe instead of bashing unions, which have historically enabled a middle class, they'd be encouraging them.

Stranger things have happened.  But our political system is so thoroughly corrupt, our free press so incurious and one-sided that all we hear about is the one politician who didn't take the money.  Who knows how much it costs to buy Andrew Cuomo? How much is David Paterson?  Did they get a discount when he chose not to run again?  And how much was the President of the United States?

More importantly, what will it take to get politicians who represent we the people rather than merely they the hedge fund gazillionaires?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dear Miss Eyre

No, I'm not starting an advice column. (Unless you want me to.) Rather, at this most wonderful time of the year (better than Christmas!), I'm reflecting on some of the missives I've received from my babies recently. What with the school year ending (and me working with a couple of kids to save them from gloom, doom, and summer school), I've gotten some very lovely words from the kids. My favorite goes something like this (I'm paraphrasing):

Dear Miss Eyre,

When the school year started, I was really scared! You seemed like you had a million rules and all these deadlines. You gave us that big packet with all the things we'd have to do all year in it. You seemed really organized but also really demanding.

I'll stop this letter here to say that thank GOD I was not in the presence of children when I read it, because I laughed and laughed aloud when I read that. ORGANIZED. A child called me ORGANIZED. Either this child is extremely diplomatic or has never actually looked at my desk once all year.


But it turned out that you helped us with everything. You always made us believe we could do it and made sure we were successful. Your classes were really fun and you were always energetic.

Oh, this poor deceived child. If only she knew how much coffee it takes to get me to that state sometimes.

Thank you for everything you did for us. Have a great summer! I'll miss you!


**wipes away tears of laughter**

No, no, Jemima. Thank you.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Madam Randi Reveals All

In a recent op-ed in the Daily News, Michelle Rhee explained that, because she's "pro-kid," teachers should give up any and all job protections, trust their fate to the hands of demagogues like Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, and hope for the best.  Miss Rhee praised the visionary Randi Weingarten for giving away everything but the kitchen sink.

Ms. Weingarten responded with another op-ed, saying that DC had already given away a lot, and that her most recent deal did not actually give away all that stuff, since some of it had been given away earlier.

Ms. Weingarten's final foray into NY negotiation reversed one of the many odious provisions of her giveaway-laden 05 contract--the two August punishment days.  For this, Ms. Weingarten exchanged one day in June, .58 percent of a point of the raise Mayor Bloomberg is now denying us, and 3% of the salaries of all future hires for an additional seventeen years.  I certainly hope we derive maximum enjoyment from those August days.

Meanwhile, back here in NY, thousands of teachers are being excessed.  Older teachers would have been placed in positions before 05, but will now be dumped into the Absent Teacher Reserve, from which their chances of being hired are abysmal.  Rhee thinks, as does Klein, that they should be fired.  The fact that yet another Weingarten-approved measure forces principals to consider their salaries when hiring them is neither here nor there.

Ms. Weingarten lays out the differences between DC and NYC:

In Washington, the approach to education has been to flirt with fads and cure-alls. Instead of tackling systemic problems head-on, the city often has relied on a kind of magical thinking.

To Ms. Weingarten, this somehow represents a difference from NYC.  Ms. Weingarten, apparently, has forgotten mayoral control, which she repeatedly endorsed.  She's also forgotten her merit pay system, the one that isn't merit pay, which failed to influence student achievement.  She's also forgotten about the "lead teacher" position, the one that also didn't represent merit pay.  And perhaps she's forgotten the bull's eye painted on the ATRs, none of whom would be in that position if not for her specific approval.  Maybe no one has told her that the current UFT President just negotiated "value-added" to rate teachers--despite the fact that no research whatsoever supports its validity to do so.
Ms. Weingarten labels DC “a school culture defined by education fads and a complete lack of trust,” and seems to feel because of that, it's  somehow different from the school culture in NY.   Is there anyone reading this who doesn't think her description applies to NYC as well?
Ms. Weingarten is very good at noting what’s coming and embracing it early.  That's how she and her army of sycophants enabled the miserable 05 contract.  On the other hand, by that logic, death is coming too.    You can't stop it.  I can accept that.

Still,  I won't be stepping in front of a moving truck this morning.  I'll leave such moves in the capable hands of Ms. Weingarten and her ilk.

Thanks to David Bellel for the picture!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Presented Without Comment

Stolen from GothamSchools

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hands Off

Here's a story about a teacher who died after breaking up a fight.  It's not clear whether or not the fight was a direct cause.  Nonetheless, the result is the same.

As a fairly new teacher, I came up the stairs one day to find two girls fighting.  One girl appeared about to kill the other.  She was smaller, but on top of a larger girl.  When I came up she was alternately striking her and extracting clumps of hair from the larger girl's head.  I wasn't sure whether the girl on the bottom was even going to have a head much longer.

I tried to pull the smaller girl off the larger one.  Unfortunately, when I picked her up, the larger girl came up too.   A few feet away was a boy who looked like Mike Tyson.  He was looking at me and I asked him to help, but when he got to us, the smaller girl managed to kick him to the floor.  A minute later some security guards showed up and managed to pull the girls apart.   Mike Tyson Lite got up and dusted himself off, but wasn't really hurt.

I got called into the principal's office.  The principal introduced himself for the third or fourth time, and told me how he liked to meet the new teachers, for the third or fourth time.   He then explained that I should never get involved in a fight between students.  If I got hurt, he said, my health insurance wouldn't cover me.  I took him at his word and didn't get in between any more scuffles between students.

It seemed to me I was doing the right thing by not letting that girl get killed.  But what do I know?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Packing Up

Over at my own blog, I wrote a post about the experience of packing up my classroom. That post was a bit more rant-y, so this one is going to focus on some pointers for cleaning up, packing up, and getting out of Dodge.

I'm determined to not end up with a few boxes of indeterminate junk this year, so I'm being pretty ruthless about what I toss and give away. Student work gets put on a table for a few days and, if it's not claimed, it gets trashed. I hate throwing away kids' work--so depressing!--but keeping every piece of paper is just not practicable. My kids keep portfolios of projects and published writing pieces that get sent home on the last day of school, but around this time, garbage bags start piling up. If I want to save a couple of especially good projects as examples for next year, I ask the kids who made them first, then have them laminated and file them with the materials for that unit.

Taking down bulletin boards can be sad, too, even if you hate making bulletin boards like I do. They do look pretty, and they look desperate when totally naked (or covered with garbage bags so the backing paper and borders can be reused next year). Every year I ditch some charts and laminate others to save for next year.

I separated into boxes all the books that I, personally, provided for my classroom library this year through my own sweat, money, or both. I'm up to 6 boxes and still counting.

Kids leave things in classrooms all the time. I have a box in my room full of hoodies, baseball caps, umbrellas, even a basketball. I ask kids to check it every day. Whatever is left on the last day of school goes to Goodwill.

Before you throw away things like samples of textbooks, catalogs, posters, etc., ask around to your colleagues. They might be looking for the thing you're about to toss. Maybe your school has a point person to collect unwanted materials, or a central location to drop off items that are no longer needed so that everyone can paw through.

What are your favorite cleanup/packup tips for the end of the year?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What a Maroon! What an Ignoranamous!

That's what Bugs Bunny would say at the notion of kids coming back for a full school day on June 25th.  Supposedly it's to make up a snow day.  It was tragic that we had to close the schools for snow this year, but hey, IT WAS SNOWING!!!  It's a long and hallowed tradition that when every school in the area closes, because IT'S SNOWING, NYC schools stay open.  While in the suburbs, slippery streets are dangerous, people slip, people freeze, people die, it's a well-known fact that city kids and teachers are impervious to nature.

I know this well because in the burbs, where I live, my daughter often gets days off when I have to go in. While it's too dangerous for her school bus to cross town, it's fine for me to get on the LIE and hope for the best.  I remember one morning I was driving in, cars crashing to my left and right, and then-mayor Saint Rudy Giuliani was on the radio saying, "For God's sake, don't come to work today unless you really have to."  But he was my boss, and he was the same guy telling me to come to work.

I wrote his quote on the board for the handful of kids who showed up. 

In any case, if there are too many snow days in our district, they may schedule one during February or spring break.  I don't ever keep my kid out of school so we can go to Disneyland or something, but if we have a trip planned during a break, I don't cancel it so she can go to school one extra day.

But Joel Klein, in his infinite wisdom, has decreed that kids will return for a full school day June 25th.  It's likely Joel Klein has never taught a class of kids that's already taken all the tests, received all the grades, and seen all the consequences of their actions.  Personally, that's not a class I want to meet, even though they know me well enough not to mess with me.

More to the point, the overwhelming majority of those kids are simply not going to show up.  Some might say that this plan is the work of a petty, small-minded fussbudget.

And that's precisely the person the dimwitted, tone-deaf "reformers" think should decide the fate of teachers, regardless of seniority.

In conclusion, Bugs was right.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The TEA Party: Tested Enough Already

I've no great love for the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) movement. I'm all for fiscal responsibility, but too much of their rhetoric has a racist and social Darwinist undercurrent that I can't buy into. Not to mention that I find it perfectly appropriate that the extraordinarily fortunate should have to pay a great deal of taxes, and have never complained about my increasing tax bill; to me, that's a sign that, for better or worse, I'm making it in the U.S.A.

But administering the state's social studies assessment today made me think I could get behind a different TEA Party. It could stand for Tested Enough Already. Because, middle school humanities teachers like myself, do we know of a more useless and pointless test than the social studies test? Without getting the scores on the exam, which we don't, they don't really help to inform instruction. What this does other than help us kill 2 days at the end of the year is beyond me, particularly when left with a room of 30 hyper eighth graders for the rest of the day who are entirely uninterested in doing any more work.

I'm not totally anti-testing, not even anti-standardized testing. Testing can be helpful and tell us useful things. Being anti-testing is like being anti-rain or anti-fiber; sometimes things that are unpleasant on their surfaces do an awful lot of good a little down the road. But sometimes testing lacks a sense of purpose, or tests are used for the wrong things. That's when testing is unhelpful to the point of being counterproductive. I'm sure that today's test helped to kill some interest in history, which is of course a rich and rewarding subject and one that can be made accessible to even very resistant learners.

As always, I welcome your comments on testing, social studies, and tea.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Michael Bloomberg, Indispensible Financial Genius, Tosses 30 Million Tax Dollars in Trash

It's well known that Mayor Bloomberg's absolute mastery of finance necessitated tossing the term limits law, twice affirmed by voters, straight into the dumpster.  We couldn't possibly do without him, and the fact that his polls indicated he had no shot at the presidency in 2008 did not remotely influence his decision.  In yet another inspired decision, out of personal animosity, Mayor Bloomberg saw fit to withhold the lease of the family who'd run Tavern on the Green since 1974

Apparently, their 86 million dollar bid was not as attractive as the 57 million dollar bid the city accepted, by a gentleman who "made a lot of promises."  This, apparently, is important in the world of city politics.  Also, the finances of the woman who offered the 86 mil were questionable.  You have to take into question the character of the applicants, of course.

Oddly, Mayor Bloomberg's chosen candidate never managed to open the restaurant.  He was unable to come to an agreement with unionized employees.  It makes one wonder whether the inability to deal with unions is a prerequisite to doing business with the city nowadays.

It's odd that, under the concept "Race to the Top," Mayor Bloomberg's best bud Barack demeans and cheapens one of the most worthy and meaningful professions a person could aspire to, with neither research nor history to support his corporate-backed ideas.  Back home, Mayor Mike has managed to take a world-famous, world-class restaurant and turn it into a hot dog stand.

Which is precisely what the United States will be if we leave these autocrats to run it.  It's also where many of us could end up working if they aren't stopped, and soon.

Thanks to GC

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Not to Be Missed

Accountable Talk analyzes Michelle Rhee's pile of boilerplate reform nonsense that appeared in the Daily News this morning.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

America Welcomes the McGangBang

In the ever more competitive American quest to create the most atrocious fast food imaginable, this new entry seems to have an edge on the competition.  First of all, it only costs two dollars and sixteen cents.  Second, it's composed entirely of "food" from McDonald's.

In my wayward youth, I worked doing whatever needed doing at a beer distributor.   Across the street was a McDonald's, and I knew a girl who worked there. She used to stuff extra burgers and things into whatever I ordered.

After overdoing it two days in a row, I decided there was something off about McDonald's products.  Perhaps it's all made of plastic in different colors and shapes.  Or maybe it's something else.  Still, I haven't been able to eat there in decades and the very thought of it makes me ill.

Now, some creative genius has decided to take the double cheeseburger and stuff a "McChicken" sandwich in the center.  Looks tempting, doesn't it?

I wish you all a great weekend, and remember--the only thing better than going to McDonald's is not going to McDonald's.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Pure Joy

Here's something Joel Klein doesn't understand, will never understand, and will never experience.

I have a girl in my afternoon class who I fight with all the time. 

"You are a troublemaker,"  I tell her.  "I don't like troublemakers."

She doesn't care at all.  "YOU are a troublemaker," she says.

"Oh, you call your English teacher a troublemaker?  How could you?"

"Because it's TRUE.  Ask anybody."

We've had a hundred similar conversations.  The other day, I looked around the room at these kids.

"You are a great class," I told them.  I'm really going to miss you."

"You are a great teacher," the girl said.  "I will really miss your class."

It's the first nice thing she's said to me all year.   But I treasure it.   To have someone as smart as she is give such a great compliment--it means a lot.

It made my day, anyway.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Happy Brooklyn-Queens Day!

Top of the morning and happy Brooklyn-Queens Day to you! As a non-native of NYC who is always curious to learn more about some of the city's peculiar and beloved institutions, Brooklyn-Queens Day is a favorite topic of mine. Originally celebrated as "Rally Day" to celebrate (really) Sunday schools, it became Anniversary Day and later Brooklyn-Queens Day, on which we commemorate the joining of Brooklyn and Queens with New York City proper. (These tidbits courtesy Welcome to Brooklyn.) These days, Brooklyn-Queens Day is also a Chancellor's Conference Day, on which the kiddies stay home and we go to school.

My dollbabies will undoubtedly be celebrating by sleeping late; catching up on Degrassi, Maury Povich, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare; and, I hope to God, finishing their social studies exit projects. Somehow I doubt that any of them will be commemorating the vital role that Sunday School, Brooklyn, or Queens has played in their lives. I suppose that's all right. If I were at home, I probably wouldn't be doing any of those things either.

I will be at school, maybe doing some collaborative work with my colleagues but probably listening to a consultant read a PowerPoint out loud to me. This is how Chancellor's Conference Days tend to go. Every year I'm tempted to start up a game of Bullshit Bingo, but by the time the day rolls around, I'm usually feeling less than puckish.

The only nice thing about this Chancellor's Conference Day is that summer is right around the corner. I know it doesn't feel like it, but it is. Check your calendar. It's coming.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Has Paterson Come to His Senses?

In the long run, probably not.  But his latest emergency budget includes no cuts to education.  That's significant for those of us who spend time reading the tea leaves, but it's likely he'll opt in the end to screw the kids, screw the teachers, and screw working people.  That's kind of the attitude here where 30 billion for Afghanistan is a given, but 23 to save teacher jobs is a boondoggle.

Let's hope he wakes up in the middle of the night to see the ghost of Education Past rattling chains and asking him how the hell kids are going to learn without teachers.  Let's hope he figures, what do I have to lose?  Then maybe he'll do the right thing.

I really would like to see a politician do the right thing.  I used to think people who voted for Ralph Nader were out of their minds.  Now I think they just wised up before I did.

Well, fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, I can't get fooled again.

Didn't make a whole lot of sense when GW said it.  For some reason, it seems to apply here.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Partial Credit: Pros and Cons

Yesterday a colleague and I were discussing the article in the Post that "revealed" what I imagine most teachers knew already: wrong answers to math questions on state exams can be given partial credit if a student can show that he or she arrived at the wrong answer with at least some understanding of how to get the right answer. The "shocked, shocked" reaction of so many folks to that article confused me. I don't teach math, but I teach another subject (social studies) that, despite having clearly right or wrong answers to questions, can allow for partial credit.

Over at GothamSchools, the news is not so much the article itself but the thoughtful commentary. Commenter bronxmathteacher offers a reasoned defense of granting partial credit, particularly in math, with which I agree. In order to give kids credit for critical thinking and closely assessing where they are in mathematical development, it makes sense to recognize progress, even if the "computation," as bronxmathteacher puts it, is not all there.

The problem, as this individual correctly points out, is the politicization of the test scores. Students who would not have taken the Regents before are taking them now, and while many of those students are benefiting from increased opportunity and higher expectations, some of those students are not equipped to take the test. That's not so much a problem in and of itself, but when the "cut scores" (the minimum number of points required to pass) are made very low, what you end up with is a dumbed-down test and pass rates that mean little when students can get few answers actually correct and still pass the test. Then, the pass rates are used to inflate graduation rates and other statistics. Looks good on paper, but not much, if anything, has changed for those kids.

As a non-math teacher, I don't read or understand much about teaching math. But this post was crystal clear to me, and it concerned me.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Klein Meets With Hired Thugs

That's a pretty catchy headline.  I think it's about as accurate as this one:

Klein celebrates no layoffs, hits the bar with young teachers

That appeared in GothamSchools a few days ago.   Not only did it suggest no layoffs, but it appeared under the heading "Bullet Dodged."  In all fairness, the reporter had no way of knowing Mayor Bloomberg had misled the public about his layoff intentions.   Even though he'd lied in the past, even though he'd called revoking term limits "disgusting" before having them revoked,  even though he'd blatantly violated the Taylor Law by unilaterally announcing the terms of a contract without specifically mandated negotiation, there was truly no way for the Gotham reporter to know just how disingenuous he was being at that particular moment.

In fact, no less than the New York Times had just praised Mayor Bloomberg for making a "sensible choice."  They had no issue with his flagrant disregard for law, and their headline read "Jobs Saved: 4400."   If the venerable New York Times, with all its resources, couldn't determine Bloomberg would change his mind three days later, how would one single reporter from GothamSchools figure it out?

However, the Gotham headline was still shocking--it conjured images of the Chancellor getting to know teachers. I found this hard to accept, as his years of vilifying us and our unions suggest he hates us and everything we stand for. 

The article went on to point out that actually he was meeting a more selective group, "Educators 4 Excellence," some young teachers who specifically want senior teachers fired, on the premise that they may not be as good as new teachers.  These teachers appear to trust the judgment of serial liars Klein and Bloomberg to make these determinations.   Or perhaps they simply assume their asses will be covered if seniority goes down the tubes.

They have good reason to believe they'd survive non-seniority-based layoffs--Klein went and specifically praised one of them for going to the Grand Canyon, so you know they wouldn't feel the wrath of their new drinking buddy.  (Perhaps when they become older, if their activism subjects them to being fired at the whims of autocrats like Bloomberg and Klein, they won't have families to support, they won't need health insurance, and they won't have bills to pay, so it won't matter al all.)

The thing that really gave me pause was the "point of clarification" at the end of the piece.  "Clarification" is a funny word.  I always remember Mayor Bloomberg, after having promised to get rid of trailers by 2012, then clarifying to say he would not get rid of trailers.  This "clarification" explained while this faux-grassroots group was called "entirely unfunded," its website was actually paid for by Education Reform Now, the same front group that funded the faux-grassroots commercials urging people not to listen to the teachers' union.  The English teacher in me suggests the word "correction" is more in order.  (Sharp Miss Eyre, on simply seeing the website, suggested they had extra funding months ago.)

The group's co-founder attempts to change the subject by saying he paid for the party himself.  This, of course, comes well after it was falsely reported to be "entirely unfunded," and I've seen no previous attempt on the part of this individual to make that correction publicly.  So--was Gotham misled by the fake-grassroots group?  Or was the reporter simply making an assumption based on the info the fake-grassroots group failed to report? 

In any case, after that admission, far more newsworthy than the cutesy headline, comes this:

Stone told me today that he and Morris have only begun to look for outside funding for the group...

It's kind of incredible, after having specifically revealed that the group had already received outside funding, that anyone could seriously entertain the notion it had "only begun" to look for it, let alone report it with no hint of irony.  Even more incredible is the notion that this group, sitting there with uber-"reformer" Joel Klein, would have to struggle in any way whatsoever to get funding.  What with the hedge-fund managers that have already funded them, it's not very tough to figure out where more money will come from.  Plenty of billionaires and hedge fund managers are ready and willing to throw money at causes that weaken union and hurt working people.

If you want to see a real grassroots group, take a look at GEM.  Agree with them or not, but they are upfront with their agenda, and have no hedge fund managers pulling their strings. When's the last time you saw a feature about GEM anywhere?  Personally, I'd like to see one at the New York Times, at GothamSchools, and everywhere else, and soon.

As for my headline, these teachers may not be thugs.  But they're most certainly doing the bidding of moneyed interests, whatever else they may believe.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

How Mayor Bloomberg Puts Children First--He Fires their Teachers, Breaking Yet Another Promise

Actually, first he threatened to fire 4400 teachers.  Then he unilaterally declared neither teachers nor supervisors would get raises for two years, blatantly violating the Taylor Law, and promised no teacher layoffs as a result.   This move was praised by the "liberal" New York Times. 

Bloomberg also violated NYC's prime directive of pattern bargaining no matter what.  Apparently, when the pattern is not a piece of crap, it's not important to maintain it.  Finally, after doing all that, he says he may just fire the teachers anyway.

Because it's his city, he's the mayor, and he can do what the hell he wants.

Over the last few weeks we've given him the rubber room agreement, the new rating plan, and the raising of the charter cap.  As far as I can tell, we've gotten absolutely nothing in return.

Except this, of course.

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Fly on the Wall

Hey Mike.

How’s by you, Mike?

Sorry I had ta say all that stuff about the teachers.  I know you probably didn’t wanna hear it.

That’s OK.  Don’t worry about it.  It’s a long ride to Albany and I don’t wanna argue.

So, our deal is still on, right?


So we’ll let ‘em stew in it for a while, then come back with 2.

That’ll be fine.

But only up to the first 70K, right?

We’ll figure that out later.   Let's enjoy the ride for now.  Whatever happens, we can blame the governor for everything.

What if your members don’t go for it?

The members?  Don’t worry, they’ll go for anything.

Are you sure?  Because I don’t wanna dig any deeper.  I hadda give everyone else 4.  That's the pattern, and we've never broken it before.

Look, we’ll tell them we were gonna get zero.  After a while, 2 will look good. I'll be a hero.

OK, if you’re sure.

No sweat.  I'm telling you, the members will vote for anything.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Schadenfreude; Or, So You're Not Getting Laid Off After All: You Suck

Well, I guess I have to cancel my twelve-month plan for writing my memoirs, because we're not getting laid off after all. That's undoubtedly good news for everyone involved. But of course, our laugh-a-minute Fearless Leader issued this proclamation in the same breath as he announced that we would not even see pattern raises. Most of my colleagues are pretty un-psyched about that part. I can see their point. Everyone likes more money. But since even the most ardent defenders of raises can't seem to figure out where the money would come from, I started telling myself quite a while back that I'd probably have to forget about seeing a raise. So I met today's news with relief, followed quickly by "meh." If they keep paying me, I'll keep showing up. I wish I made more money, sure, but it looks like it isn't going to happen for now, and it seems like there might be a good reason for that; namely, there is no frackin' money. Fine. I'll still sleep okay tonight.

What I don't get is the suggestion that teachers already have it so good that we ought to be ashamed of wanting more. Or maybe it's not quite that; that argument is hardly new. Maybe it's more like, "Well, my job in the private sector sucks! I haven't had a raise in three years SO YOU SHOULDN'T EITHER."

I don't quite buy that. It's not that I don't think public employees should have to sacrifice, exactly. But quite a few public employees have already sacrificed merely by being public employees. I don't know that there are many six-figure literary analysis jobs out there for me, granted, but a friend of mine is about to make close to it teaching TESOL classes in a Korean graduate school, and I have other friends who gave up well-paying jobs in accounting and law to become teachers. Teachers don't teach because of the money; if we wanted to make lots of money, we could probably make it elsewhere. We teach because we like it. And because we sacrifice higher earnings right out of the gate, we expect certain things in return: a higher degree of job security, better benefits. That doesn't seem crazy to me.

But besides that, I don't quite get the schadenfreude that people express against teachers. Like us not getting a raise would make them feel better or somehow improve their situation, like because their job sucks, ours should too. I mean, I have students who have deceased parents and incarcerated siblings, and that's horrible for them, but it wouldn't make any difference for them if their tablemates' brothers also went to jail in some crazy solidarity move.

So, okay, we teachers get it. We know what's been happening out in the private sector and most of us are angry about it. But, speaking for myself, I don't understand how acceding to the idea that jobs should be temporary, insecure, and paid at the bare minimum rate of salary and benefits is good for anyone--public or private, white or blue collar, whatever. I'm not sure how teachers giving ground on the ideas of reasonable job security and fair compensation helps anyone. Corporate America has turned their back on those ideas. That doesn't mean the rest of us should too.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010


Every self-respecting New Yorker knows that’s when you murder your parents and plead mercy because you’re an orphan.  However, setting yourself up for a third term after voters twice affirmed your limit to two qualifies.  Also, announcing a settled union contract without bothering to negotiate with said union is up there.

Let’s review--Chancellor Klein and Mayor Bloomberg, after having set a pattern of 4% raises for two years, first suggested a raise of 2% up to the first  $70,000 teachers earn, thus giving those at maximum 1.4%.   I found this kind of outrageous, since whenever the pattern was unattractive, not only the city, but PERB as well, insisted we take it.

Not only that, but PERB insisted we give back in order to approach parity with neighboring districts.  So we gave back.  We gave up seniority transfers.  Now, when Joel Klein closes a school, teachers have to look for jobs.  And what with the innovation of making buildings pay individual salaries, it’s very tough for senior teachers to find work.  What principal wants a 100K teacher when he can buy two shiny new ones and get a big-screen TV for his office with the change.

Also, since 2005, teachers patrol lunchrooms, dodge flying cheeseburgers, and mediate food fights between disparate factions of sophomore malcontents.  I remember once reading a column in the Times about the secret value of lunchroom duty.  Let me tell you, I’ve done it, and in a school of 4,000 plus you rarely encounter your own students, you rarely have those valuable heart-to-hearts, and only someone who’s never done the job would delude himself into imagining it was of any value.  Lunch patrol is the single most unrewarding task I’ve performed in 25 years as a teacher.  The value of lunchroom duty is a deep, deep secret, and no teacher I’ve ever spoken with has ever managed to penetrate it.

We also gave back the right to grieve letters in our file.  For example, if an English teacher is accused of stealing pencils, she can no longer be defended on the mere basis she did not steal the pencils in question.  You’d think that no one, in this day and age, would get a letter in her file for having stolen pencils that, for all we know, are sitting in the supervisor’s desk under a box of tissues.  You’d be wrong.

Thousands of teachers sit for not 30, not 40, but for 37.5 minutes a day giving “small group instruction.”  This is something that’s not exactly a class, as no grades are given, but it’s going on all over the city.   Perhaps Tweed feels that compensates for our having the largest class sizes in the state.  I don’t know.  But that’s one of the things we gave to get a compensation increase a few points above the pattern in 2002, and then 2005.

So, Mayor Bloomberg, if you’re reading this, know that I’m with you.  I’ll take a zero for the common good.  That’s the kind of guy I am.  However, PERB declared pattern bargaining was sacrosanct, and who am I to question their wisdom? 

So here’s the deal, Mr. Mayor.  You take back all the things we gave you in 2005, and 2002, and we’ll agree to the zeroes.  We are reasonable people.  We’re willing to negotiate.

Are you?

Gym? We Don't Need No Stinking Gym!

Boy, it sure is inconvenient to run around that track.  And those parallel bars?  Who the hell even knows how those things work?  So the folks at the New Design School on the lower east side have worked out a better idea.  Have the kids sell popcorn at a film festival!

After all, when you sell popcorn, it's not the same as when you eat popcorn.  Therefore you won't be gaining calories.  You'll be gaining money for the school.  Or for the festival.  Or for someone.

And really, if kids are making money for someone, who really cares whether or not they're getting fit, or learning anything.  Since much of the all-important "reforms" revolve around degrading one of the few great jobs left in these United States, why not simply prepare kids for a life of servitude completing menial tasks that enrich others?

Because isn't that what education is really about here in Mayor Bloomberg's New York?

As an added bonus for those of you who wish to follow the New Design School regimen, here are a few tips from classic exercise guru Johny LaRue to get you started:

Thanks to AS

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Summer Vacation or Funemployment?: Miss Eyre Ponders

Well, in a few short days, pink slips are going out. Or maybe not. Who the hell knows? Certainly not some chapter leaders, who are advising their members that all teachers with less than seven years in the system are being laid off. This sounded like absolute nonsense when I first heard it, and I was glad when a trusted colleague told me that it was indeed not the way things are going to work.

Nevertheless, at least the threat of layoffs remains. I don't know how afraid I should be. The contract doesn't tell me much. I'm not brand-new, but I'm near the bottom of my school's seniority list. I have no idea where I stand in terms of citywide seniority. I figure I should at least not book my summer vacation until Friday. Other than that, though, I don't know, and no one else seems to know either.

I have to admit that, since I became a teacher, I never ever considered getting laid off. For one thing, in my first miserable year or two, if anyone suggested that they wanted my job, I would have laughed in their face and let them have it. Then, once I grew to actually like my job and not suck at it, it just never occurred to me. My classes are at or near contractual maximum. My school is at capacity and other schools nearby are over theirs. Layoffs? That's what happens when there isn't enough work to go around. Over at the Morton School, the kiddies aren't teaching themselves, and there are a lot of them.

So at the end of this three-day weekend, I have to admit that I'm still a little confused about what's going to happen when and if the layoffs actually transpire. Will the ATRs land back in classrooms? Will my summer vacation stretch out into one long span of funemployment, since I have no idea what I would do if I wasn't teaching? I'd come up with something, I suppose, but, perhaps without even realizing it, I came to believe that I'd be teaching forever.

And, most obviously, what happens to the kids with several thousand fewer teachers? You don't have to tell me, really; I imagine we're talking, basically, larger class sizes and fewer "extras" (that aren't really "extras"). I suppose I'm still shocked that this doesn't seem like more of a priority, that families don't seem outraged, that lawmakers aren't working around the clock to avoid it.

It's going to be a long week. Fortunately, we're now less than 4 weeks away from summer vacation. (Or funemployment.)