Saturday, December 31, 2011

We Don't Follow No Stinking Rules

So says Chancellor Dennis Walcott, in his response to the impasse between the DOE and the UFT. Since the UFT insists that outside mediators must decide whether or not teachers can be fired based on test scores, Walcott has asked that the UFT be excluded from negotiating the evaluation system, in direct violation of the agreement with the state.

This is in keeping with the philosophy of Mayor4Life Michael Bloomberg, who set up a fake board of education to give the appearance he was not simply doing whatever he wanted, however he wanted, whenever he wanted. Perhaps if the UFT were to propose that Mayor Mike hand-pick 8 of 13 arbitrators, Walcott would be happy.

But this begs the question--what the hell sort of role model is this man, the highest official in the school system? Do we want to teach our children that rules mean nothing, that they are to be disregarded when inconvenient, and that they should simply scream loudly when things don't go their way?

Is Walcott, then, the kid at the supermarket checkout loudly demanding a Chunky bar, and refusing to eat dinner until he gets it? The whole, "I want it, I want it now, and I want it all," is hardly the model I'd propose for my child or my students.

Yet it's pretty much all we get from Walcott and Bloomberg.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Ratings Game

You'd think we were a TV station seeking Nielsons, but actually we're the largest school system in the country. An emergency headline from vacationing Gotham Schools blares that we're going to lose a ton of money, but doesn't bother to inform readers of the limited purposes for which the money can be used.

This, of course, leaves readers with the impression the evil UFT is obfuscating so that the lazy worthless teachers won't be accountable. To balance this coverage, Gotham features a DOE employee in their community section telling what a great job the DOE is doing (along with the usual pontification from failed teacher Ruben Brosbe).

The NY Times story is a little more comprehensive:
The money, known as school improvement grants, is supposed to help the schools lift their results through a series of changes, like replacing principals and at least half the staff members; giving teachers extra time for training and preparation; and extending the school day. In New York City, it offers, in essence, an alternative to the most common approach to dealing with failing schools, which has been to close them. 

We all know how effective closing schools has proven, and we all know that the high-needs students simply get shuffled off to nearby schools, which also end up closing. We also know that when new schools don't get grades that please the Emperor, he simply closes them too, taking no responsibility whatsoever. But will replacing principals and half the staff change anything? Will subjecting teachers to even more useless staff development from the people who close schools and have no idea how to improve them help students?

In fact, there are 33 so-called transformation schools getting almost two million each a year in these funds, and reports have been less than glowing. Firsthand reports tell me teachers are miserable, the schools are not better places for anyone, and the Danielson framework is a truncheon to beat staff into submission, or more likely to beat staff for no reason whatsoever. Shall we pursue further funds to expand this practice citywide?

UFT hangs tough, saying we won't accept a bad system. This represents common sense, the least common of all the senses, and I hope we stick with it. In fact, the only incentive to agree to any system whatsoever would be a fair contract, like the ones granted to the NYPD and FDNY. But despite the nonsense from the tabloids and the billionaire-sponsored anti-union groups, there is no bad teacher crisis that needs fixing, no teacher should be fired without just cause, and no system that allows that to happen is acceptable.

It's a disgrace that the state pushes baseless unproven nonsense, and a further disgrace that sleepy journalists can't be bothered to look beneath the surface and inform readers about it.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Dueling Teacher-on-Vacation Conscience

There they are. Right next to my desk here. That pile of essays I said I would grade over the vacation.

I know I should. I know I'll regret it on Tuesday morning if I don't. I have other work to do, anyway--lesson planning, meeting agenda setting. I should just take some time this afternoon and plow through them. Yes, that's what I should do.

Nahhhhh! Come on, enjoy your vacation! It's already half over! You still have 47 episodes of The Tudors left to watch on Netflix and seven dozen cookies still sitting in your kitchen! That's WAY more important!

No! Stop that. I'm going to grade those essays. Tomorrow, though. I'm just not focused enough today.

Suuuuuuure. You're going to say "Tomorrow!" for the next four days, and then it'll be Tuesday and you'll not have graded ANYTHING. Bwahahahahaha!!!

Now that's just nonsense. Of course I'll get my grading done. That's what vacations are for! To catch up on your grading!

Funny, I thought they were for catching up on sleep, friends, family, and TiVo.

Oh, come on, now. I'll feel so much better about going back to work if I can finish at least this much grading.

That new Sherlock Holmes movie is supposed to be pretty good. Say, you look tired...

Arrrrgggghhhh! WHERE'S MY GREEN PEN

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

No Excuses, Say Troglodytes at DOE

It's time to shut down Grace Dodge High School in the Bronx. So says the PEP, the rubber-stamp fake Board of Education that Mike Bloomberg set up to exercise the absolute power that is mayoral control in Fun City. Never mind that 25% of the school is either pregnant or a teen parent.

As usual, the DOE has sound reasons for its decision:

“The 2010-11 attendance rate was 77% compared to the Citywide high school average of 86%, putting Grace Dodge in the bottom 7% of all high schools Citywide in terms of attendance,” the documents read.

And, of course, being pregnant, or having a child at home is no good reason to be absent more often. There must be something wrong with the school, and it must be impossible to fix. Therefore the school must be closed. After all, if the pregnant teens and parents were only shipped off to another building, they'd certainly improve their attendance. Maybe that bracing 90-minute bus ride is just the incentive they'd been lacking.

As usual, the DOE provided its sterling level of support. The first thing it did was give it a principal whose resume reads like a personification of the kiss of death. Then, in their infinite wisdom, they chose to deny the School Leadership Team's request of a child care center. After all, those slackers would likely place their kids in it and then hang around McDonald's all day, drinking milk shakes and taking on those calories that so worried the visionary Joel Klein.

Sure, there's no data to back up that theory, but there's no data that suggests closing schools improves anything either. Those pointy-headed intellectuals are always bandying about how Mayor Bloomberg's policies have produced no decent results whatsoever, even by his own standards, but the important thing, according to every DOE talking head I've met, is that they're willing to do something. Why is everyone always whining about why they need to do something effective?

Mayor Bloomberg is always willing to close schools, no matter who he has to blame for it. It may be the teachers, it may be the students, and it may even be those pesky, big-mouth parents. The important thing to remember is that, under mayoral control, nothing whatsoever is his fault, and that he will accept no excuses for why, after a decade of power, nothing whatsoever has improved. And if that's not good enough, he's got a building full of people at Tweed, talking in echo-filled rooms where no one can hear anything, and each and every one of those people backs him, and at a damn good salary too.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Bad Ways to Spend Your Holiday Break

The scene: Miss Eyre's home. Mr. Eyre, though he works in corporate America, is taking the week off along with his wife because he has to use up his vacation time for 2011. Mr. Eyre has just done some laundry and is now relaxing, watching some television. Miss Eyre notices some tense-looking people sitting in chairs and a middle-aged man asking them some probing questions.

MISS EYRE: Wait a second. Are you--are you watching Maury Povich?

MR. EYRE: Yup.

MISS: Oh, come on. "Casey's Been Keeping Secrets From Miranda"? This is what my kids watch when they're playing hooky from school.

MR.: Well, I am playing hooky from school.


Hope you all are enjoying playing hooky from school this week, too. But may I suggest watching something--anything--other than Maury Povich?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Massive Global Warming Protest

The Occupy movement is active everywhere. An astute reader sent me the photo below, assuring me these activists mean business.  Apparently they want global warming stopped immediately, no ifs, ands, or buts. The notion of gradual improvement is utterly unacceptable to these folks. With an impending presidential election, perhaps this is the ideal time for them to press their case.

We will keep you posted on this developing story.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Christmas

I hope you're having a great day. Just in case you aren't, it may give you some perspective to hear the story of someone having a day that's even worse.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Deck Us All

I always loved Pogo when I was a kid. Walt Kelly's heirs tried to continue the strip after he was gone, but he proved irreplaceable, just like Mayor Bloomberg deludes himself to be. Sadly, Bloomberg's no Walt Kelly. But here's a Christmas carol from Pogo and company, the likes of which we won't see again. Hope you fare better than Nora this holiday season.

Friday, December 23, 2011

This Is the Day

The tabloids hate us. Our neighbors spit when they utter our names. But here we are, and with our kids, we get a week off. Don't listen to the haters. You deserve every last moment.

I want to wish you a joyful and restful week. I hope you get to spend time with your families, near and far. I hope you find something you love to do, and do as much of it as you possibly can. Just smile at your neighbors.

Smile because they are not the model, and making your life worse will not make theirs better. We are one of the few professions in these United States that still allows for time to breathe, to recharge, to travel. And the fact is, it's not a problem that we get time off. It's a problem that our neighbors and friends do not. And depriving our students from that time would not address the problems perceived by the "reformers. In fact it's a problem that the politicians, paid off by the corporations, don't give a darn about.

But the OWS movement, and it's wildfire growth, suggests that people are waking up. America is paying attention. It's time for a change. It's time for all of us to wake up, stand up, and tell our country we can do better.

But right now, before we do that, it's time for you to take a break. I wish you a wonderful holiday season, and a great new year!

What would you like to see in this new year?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

So Close We Can Taste It...

Don't want to jinx it, but the approach to holiday break has been pretty low-key here at TMS2. We had our staff party, a few advisories are doing some modest celebrations, cookies have been exchanged and vows to NOT try to get into the building have been made. And, most importantly, none of our darlings have made any egregiously bad errors in judgment that would have disrupted the holiday spirit.

(So far. Knock on wood. As I write this, we still have two nearly-full days of school to brave.)

It's strange...I've been so run-down the past couple of weeks, but these last few days have given me a pretty serious second wind. I'll be sprinting to three o'clock tomorrow with a smile on my face. Not looking forward to facing the traffic to get out of town, but that can't be helped.

Once we get back, it's going to get intense with the approach of Regents Week and first-semester grades, so enjoy your time off for whatever holiday you are celebrating or ignoring. This will be the last time you hear from Miss Eyre before the Christian holidays, so if you are celebrating the birth of the baby Jesus, Merry Christmas, and if not, Merry Sleeping Late and Watching TV. It's cool. We're inclusive here at NYC Educator.

See you next week!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

To Serve You Better

Yesterday I got a letter from Arthur Pepper of the UFT Welfare Fund. Apparently, we teachers have got it too good. We've been overusing the privilege of patronizing our local pharmacies and must now send all long-term prescriptions to Medco. Medco, as you may know, is the mail-order pharmacy company the UFT does business with.

One of the great things Medco did was do away with the simple postpaid envelope the previous mail-order pharmacy had. On that envelope, you could fill out a few things, drop the scrip in the envelope, and mail it away. Medco prefers a long incomprehensible form that fits in a very particular way into some oddly shaped envelope. If you are frustrated by that you can always drop the scrip in your own envelope, include your name, address, phone and Medco ID, and send it off to:

PO Box 650322
Dallas, TX 72555

I find it easier than the one they provide, even if I have to use my own stamp. Considering they're forcing us to use Medco, though, the UFT ought to bring back the old simple envelope that could be used for any prescription, rather than just a renewal. I usually just pay extra to bring it to my local pharmacy, but that appears to be going the way of the dodo. Perish forbid we should support local business.

Also, copays are tripling and quadrupling on our dental plan. Actually dentists have been covering extra, to me at least, for the last few years. I can only hope that the copays don't come along with the extra payments I'm already compelled to make, but hope springeth eternal.

Regardless, our prescription gurus have dispensed a bitter pill for working people who haven't had a raise in almost four years. Cops and firefighters, who got the 8% pattern that lowly teachers do not merit, may respond better to something like this (or not). With a contract that expired over two years ago and no progress in sight, this will result in fewer happy campers of already demoralized union members.

I have nothing against dentists. But I presume they're better paid than we are, and I have to wonder why the UFT sees fit to better their contract before doing something worthwhile with ours.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Festival of Lights

Today marks the beginning of Hanukkah for our Jewish friends, and while I'm not Jewish myself, I've long had more than a passing interest in Jewish thought and tradition. I was looking up the dates for Hanukkah this year a few weeks ago, and, as often happens when one begins web searching, found myself bouncing from page to page reading up on Hanukkah.

Hanukkah is occasionally known as the Festival of Lights, and it shares this theme of light in the darkness with, for example, the Christian holiday of Christmas and the Hindu festival of Diwali. And as we approach the darkest, longest night of the year, I've been thinking about some of the darkest, longest moments of the school year as well.

Heaven knows we have them, of course. I'm continuing to struggle with one student who inexplicably, randomly hates me. Another student keeps coming to me with her romantic issues and I just want to tell her that her boyfriend is, to put it gently, not fit to be scum on the soles of her Jordans. The last three weeks have been intense with Regents right around the corner, students at their behavioral breaking points, curricular experiments not quite working, days on which you leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark...the list goes on.

And yet there's light even in these dark moments. A student who has been flummoxed by English (both the language and the subject) for years has a breakthrough and writes a solid essay. Another student who had been treating school attendance as though it were somewhat optional starts showing up every day. These are small victories--small flickers of light in what can seem like a very vast darkness. But they are there, and worth celebrating, in this darkest week of the year.

Still, I'm looking forward to having these upcoming eight days off. That is looming as a very bright light in the darkness indeed.

Happy Hanukkah to our Jewish friends!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Are Students Your Friends?

Mine aren't, at least on Facebook. But I know a lot of people who feel and act differently, and that's potentially troublesome. When you read about teachers losing their jobs simply because they were seen drinking alcohol on a European vacation, and when you read that the geniuses at the DOE have seen fit to get involved:

New York City, the nation’s largest school district, has been at work on a social media policy for months, and expects to have one in place by spring.

You have to wonder how they will take a troubling situation and find a way to make it worse. I've absolute faith their policy will consist of the same draconian nonsense they've been spouting for the last decade. Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg, in his zeal to fire any teacher earning more than minimum wage, will simply declare he needs to lay off anyone on Facebook or Twitter. That will pretty much give him that blank check to which he's felt entitled forever.

Meanwhile, I'd advise you not to share photos like the one above on your Facebook page. As the woman pictured is a principal, she may fare better than you or I would. Nonetheless, it's not precisely the sort of photo I'd like to see of myself in the local tabloid. Are we entitled to private lives? Of course. But relying on the good folks at Facebook to protect our privacy is not what I'd call the very best judgment.

Kids can mistake their Facebook friends for real ones. Working people can't. While I've yet to hear of a city teacher being dismissed over some social media nonsense, I do know of one now-unemployed paraprofessional, for no good reason I could discern.

I'm friendly with my students, and I help them whenever I can. But I do it in person. Thus far I've friended precisely one graduate of my school. That's probably too much. But I never post anything truly private. If it were really private, why on earth would I be posting it on the internet?

Friday, December 16, 2011

I Am Educated by the DOE

I was called to UFT HQ in Manhattan for a discussion on the Izone. What the hell is the Izone? Well, it has something to do with innovation and/ or technology, and they showed us a flowchart that describes three ways it's used. Me being a mere mortal, I barely understood any of them, nor did I have the vaguest notion which category my school fell into.

Nonetheless, we got to hear Michael Mulgrew comment on how rarely the UFT and DOE get to do co-presentations.  He mentioned that education was the only area in which we get technology and it actually makes our lives more difficult. Any special education teacher dealing with SESIS, and any general education teacher performing their convoluted and idiotic attendance procedure can attest to that.

Then we heard from the DOE rep, who said it was all about the kids. He was careful not to use the usual crap about how it's usually all about the teachers, and instead said things centered around administrators. His goal, he said, was more personalization. For example, you'd be able to approach your student and say, "Hey, you look a little down today. What's bothering you?"

That's a worthy goal, but his very DOE has reduced the number of working teachers by 10% over the last three years, while also cutting budgets to the bone. This has resulted in huge numbers of oversized classes, and many, many more at absolute contractual maximum. I couldn't help but wonder, if they really want kids to get more personal attention, why the hell do they load them like sardines?

He discussed flexible learning settings--for example, do we really have to have a 45-minute period? He discussed various SBOs that had permitted innovations, and stated, "If it works well, chances are there are positive relationships." I agree with that.

Nonetheless, his boss, Mayor Bloomberg, has been systematically poisoning the relationships between teachers and admin for a decade. Over a year ago, he announced that teachers would not be getting the raise NYPD, FDNY, and everyone else got, despite his insistence on pattern bargaining when the pattern was crap. So yes, positive relationships would indeed help things to work well, and why on earth does the DOE work so hard to ensure so few exist?

The DOE rep said blended learning, entailing online activities as well as live teachers, was not intended to replace working teachers. I wondered then, why the hell Joel Klein would land working for Rupert Murdoch on some online learning enterprise. I'm afraid I would have to ignore quite a bit of history to believe this rep, even if he himself believed what he was saying.

However, his mention that the DOE had applied for "seat time waivers to enable students to receive accelerated credits" suggested to me that the DOE was indeed trying to replace working teachers. It's unfortunate they have fostered so much fear and loathing that nothing whatsoever they claim can be believed.

But that's Mayor Bloomberg's vision, and Lord have mercy on all of us if we can't put a stop to it soon.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Digging in His Heels

"Ronny" is a senior at my school. Ronny is universally regarded as, on one hand, bright and capable; on the other, as stubborn, strong-willed, and difficult to get to know. As you can imagine, working with Ronny is not an easy task as the seniors wrap up their college applications.

Ronny does not want to go to college. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Four years at an ostensibly college-prep school have not changed his mind. He wants to be an auto mechanic, he says. He has applied to a technical school in New Jersey. He has an uncle in the garage business. That's it, Ronny says. He's done. No college applications and certainly none of this bee-ess paper-writing that his peers are dragging themselves through at the behest of their teachers, anxious to make them college-ready by June.

Ronny's attendance is fairly regular. His teachers say, exhausted from arguing with him, that he simply refuses to write papers. He'll do everything else, he says. And he will. His grades on other assignments are generally decent. But he won't write those papers. He doesn't need to, he says.

The college counselor is confounded by his refusal to apply to even a single CUNY community college. The administration doesn't want him to fail his classes due to his subsequent refusal to write the papers his college-bound peers are writing. Ronny, it seems, doesn't much care about any of this one way or the other. His disagreement, his teachers admit, is largely respectful and not disruptive. He doesn't try to distract other students, or curse his teachers out and storm out of the room like other frustrated students might. But he's digging in his heels on the college applications and the paper-writing. He's. Not. Doing. It. His philosophy on it boils down to, "Who's going to make me?"

Who's right here? I'm asking all of you, the wise audience of NYC Educator, because I seriously don't know.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Eternal Quest

I was talking to a group of people yesterday about the agreement Governor One Percent made to reshape the tax system and bring 1.9 billion in revenue to NY State. That is indeed a positive step. However, the expiring millionaires' tax will cost us five billion, so we're left with a net loss of three billion. Overly optimistic UFT sources suggest that this is a victory.  It is indeed better than losing the entire five.

However, some have suggested to me that this will deter the mayor in his annual spring quest to kill LIFO and fire people like me just because he feels like it. This is a highly unrealistic expectation for a mayor who will sit on a surplus, as he did last year, and declare we were in such crisis we needed to lay off teachers. Undeterred, this person suggested we simply had to wait out Bloomberg for two years and things would be fine.

Let's ignore the fact that four years ago, UFT sources suggested precisely the same thing--we would wait out Bloomberg for two years and things would be fine. Let's ignore the contract promised us as our last with Bloomberg, even though it's likely true. Waiting out the mayor is an experiment we've been tinkering with for almost three decades. When I started teaching, Ed Koch was mayor, and teachers said once we get rid of that old skinflint everything would be fine.

Then came David Dinkins. At some point, he granted us a 5% raise (although everyone's favorite chapter leader, James Eterno of Jamaica High School, informs me we somehow financed it ourselves). The media was outraged. Marcia Kramer, who had just jumped ship from the striking Daily News to TV, announced we'd gotten a "grab bag of goodies," prompting me, in my very first move of union activism, to write her a very nasty letter. 

But Dinkins, when roundly criticized by the press, failed to stand up for teachers or education, opting rather for a "Homina-homina" moment, a la Ralph Kramden. Dinkins, cowed by the press, turned his back on us. In my second act of union activism, I marched in the Labor Day parade with the UFT. They gave me a black t-shirt that said UFT in front, and "SHAME ON CITY HALL" on the back. (It's still stylish and suitable for all occasions, if you ask me.)

The UFT declined to endorse Dinkins, and Rudy Giuliani beat him by the same miniscule margin to which he'd lost to him four years earlier. Man, did I hate Giuliani. He said the most vile and stereotypical things about teachers. He was always wanting to blow up Board of Ed. buildings, and demanding ridiculous fascistic levels of control. Fortunately he was always suing everyone and going to court to demand the right to bring his mistress to the home he shared with his wife and young children, and was generally such a son of a bitch that he accomplished very little. He was largely regarded as a bum before 9/11 elevated him to sainthood.

Then came Bloomberg, with the same crackpot ideas. But early in his tenure, he did not appear to be the frothing at the mouth lunatic who recently declared we needed to reduce the teacher force by 50% and up class sizes to 70. He managed to get pretty much everything Saint Rudy had wanted, and he's been systematically destroying and privatizing the entire city school system. I've never seen anything worse than Bloomberg.

Personally, I'm not inclined to wait out this mayor. I'm inclined to be active now, to be active tomorrow, and to keep being active as long as we, our students, and our children will have to work for a living. It's simply ridiculous to sit, wait and hope for the best. We, teachers, New Yorkers, Americans, simply cannot afford such folly.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rating of ATRs: Out of Place, Out of Subject Area, Out of Element...Out of Luck

The UFT left the city to its own devices when it comes to supervising and rating the wandering ATRs. The plan they've offered is one by which field supervisors will observe and rate the ATRs, with input from the principals under which they've worked over the year--which, if my math is right, could be up to 35 different principals, yes?

I don't have high hopes for this system working out. The ATR situation is a mess. We have a different ATR in my school every week. I really liked last week's ATR; I even saw him teach part of a class, and thought he was pretty good. He certainly seemed competent to me. But this seemingly solid, knowledgable, hard-working man has been replaced by a different one this week.

Here's a thought: As the ATRs rotate through the system, why not let them stay in one place if a principal likes them? The principal could make a phone call or send an e-mail letting someone know that the ATR teacher is working out well and that s/he would like to retain the ATR teacher as a long-term substitute. That ATR doesn't have to wonder where s/he is headed each week; the school gets a reliable long-term substitute that works well in that particular school; the DOE has one less teacher to find a random place for every week. Problem solved. I'm off to go work for Tweed now and enjoy my BlackBerry/latte/town car budget.

But back to the issue of evaluation. If, as the city claims, one or two formal observations by a principal is insufficient to rate a regularly appointed tenured teacher, then how on Earth do they propose to complete 4, or 6, or whatever the magic number is, observations for a teacher who isn't in the same place, the same subject area, or in front of the same kids for longer than 5 days at a clip? I've never been observed, even informally, while doing a class coverage, and I'd never in a million years want to be. "Survival" is a fine goal for most coverage lessons if you don't know the kids. I can't imagine my job security turning on how well I taught a lesson for which I knew none of the kids, didn't know the subject area, and had been in the school less than a week. (Although if a teacher could actually pull that off, they should be hired, for any vacancy, from wood shop to AP physics to French, immediately, because clearly s/he can do anything.)

Well, good luck, ATRs. It looks like you're going to need it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

*(Except Teachers)

A few weeks ago, every teacher in New York City received an exciting email:

20% New York City Employee Discount Every Day!*
Discount on all Gifts & Collectibles.

Shop Online @
Enter Employee Code 4212

Well, how could anyone resist such a bargain? Cool stuff everywhere. You could get t-shirts, hats, mugs,  calendars and all kinds of things. You could show your support for NYPD (New York's finest), FDNY (New York's Bravest), or SDNY, the Sanitation Department (New York's strongest).

What every teacher in New York did not see was one single solitary item celebrating education, or educators (the DOE, or the UFT, New York's most vilified). Since Mayor Bloomberg is the "education mayor," you'd think he'd want to tell the world about his sterling deeds. Apparently not.

You can buy the pictured t-shirt at the NYC store. But truth in advertising suggests it ought to add an asterisk.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

And Now For Something Completely Different

Here's Earl Scruggs and a bunch of musicians (How many do you recognize?) playing the classic Foggy Mountain Breakdown he first recorded on this date in 1949.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Being Rude Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry

The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery. Yet many of my colleagues have been working for nothing all year, teaching 6th period classes and looking vainly at each paycheck for some acknowledgement of their efforts. The DOE, in its infinite wisdom, let them wait three months but is bringing them a little Christmas cheer come December 15th. In fact, they have received written notice of such.

Unless, of course, they didn't. One of my friends didn't get one. She was told her supervisor was supposed to have reported it, but didn't. The supervisor, of course, denied having neglected anything. Yet there was my poor colleague, bereft of holiday cheer while everyone else was decorating a tree. The supervisor complained there would be extra paperwork. My colleague offered to help.

Later the supervisor approached my colleague and complained again of all the awful paperwork this would entail. It's tough, apparently, when people expect you to fulfill the conditions of your employment. How arrogant of my colleague to expect to be paid for her work. Who the hell does she think she is?

I've no doubt this supervisor would have a bright future in the Bloomberg administration. The one percent would have a field day with this working philosophy.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Don't You Mess With My Teacher!

I'd been having a relatively minor, but annoying, issue in my classroom for, say, a few weeks. My sixth period class is, as a group, quite prompt and is typically completely assembled a little before the bell rings. I'll close my door, get them settled, and they'll start working. However, as anyone who teaches in most any high school can probably guess, my class is the exception rather than the rule. This means that, although my darlings are largely contained at the start of the period, there are still our--how shall I put this?--less motivated students malingering their way to their own classes a minute or two minutes or five minutes later.

One of these malingerers is a young man I'll call Jamal. Jamal has it bad for a young lady I'll call Jessica who happens to be in my sixth period class. Jamal unwisely decided that the best way to get Jessica's attention is to throw open my classroom door and, at full volume, declare his affections for Jessica on an almost-daily basis. Asking politely, then not so politely, for this behavior to stop didn't help. As you can imagine, this does not exactly do wonders for the focus and calm of my class. Rather the opposite.

I didn't know Jamal's name at first, but with a little creative subterfuge I was able to pull it out of Jessica by appealing to her vanity. ("Who is that handsome man coming in here looking for you at the beginning of the period, hmmmm? Aren't you lucky!") Then I sic'd the deans on Jamal's ass, and our most elder-statesmanly dean took him aside for a little man-to-man chat. That was yesterday, but I'm hoping that the days of having my class interrupted by "YO BABY!!!" are over.

Anyway, that's not even the best part of the story. After school yesterday, Jamal was hanging out in the hall with a couple of girls from a different section of my class, young ladies I'll call Natalie and Natasha. Jamal gave me a sheepish look, on which Natasha picked up immediately.

"What did you do to her, Jamal?" she demanded to know.

Jamal explained the situation.

"Jamal, you a clown," Natalie said, shaking her head. "What's wrong with you?"

"I don't know what is wrong with him," Natasha replied on Jamal's behalf, "but let me tell you, I better not hear you doing this bullllllll-shit again. Don't you mess with my teacher. She got enough to worry about with me in her class."

"Um, thanks, Natasha," I said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Oh, I'll see you tomorrow, Miss Eyre," she said, nodding decisively. "This [expletive]"--she indicated Jamal "--better not see you tomorrow, though."

Jamal looked much more scared than he did when he was with the deans.

(For some more tales of Natasha, who is one of my funniest [intentionally and unintentionally] students, reread "Generosity," and keep in mind that Natasha is Student #1.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Mr. Educator Spins a Tale

Very early in my career, I worked for a supervisor who was hell on wheels. This man walked around in a tweed suit with a tie, and 98-degree non-air conditioned days never induced him to remove that jacket. The entire staff lived in fear of his observations, which could be devastating. The first one I received was single-spaced, three pages long, and I could not make heads or tails of it.

"He must like you," suggested a more experienced colleague. "If he didn't you'd certainly know it."

Another of my colleagues was about my age, but he spoke with what all of us felt was an affected accent and wore a bow tie. This upset me a little, as I feel men over the age of five should generally not wear bow ties. But he'd heard I'd been observed, and couldn't wait to hear about it.

"It was outrageous!" I told him.

"Really?" he asked.

"Yes. He woke me up. I've never been so upset."

"You were sleeping?" he asked.

"Just resting my eyes," I said. "But that's not the outrageous part."

"Oh my goodness. What happened"

"Well, first he woke me up, which upset me. I mean, does he have the right to put his hands on my person?"

"I don't know."

"Well, I don't really mind that so much. The thing is what he said to me afterward."

"What did he say?" asked Mr. Bowtie, peering through his horn-rimmed glasses.

"He said I should sleep on my own time! He has no right telling me what I should do on my free time! Am I right or am I right?"

"Well, I..."

"Look, when a man leaves his job, he has the right to do whatever he wishes. You can't tell me to go home and sleep. I might have things to do."

I'll never forget the look on Mr. Bowtie's face. I hear he left teaching and got a job in high-level admin.

After all, someone needs to believe in Bill Gates. I've no doubt he's well-compensated for believing such things.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Let's Ask the KIds How They Feel about Class Size

After reading Mayor Bloomberg's fascinating views on class size (for everyone else's kids, of course, not his own), I realized whose voices weren't being heard in the discussion: Those of the children. I thought about some recurring comments made under the collective breath of my class of 30+ tenth graders who are crammed into middle-school-sized desks in a room that, as you know, typically hovers at summer-like temperatures in December.

STUDENT 1: Damn, it's so crowded in here.

STUDENT 2: Open a window, miss, it's hot!

STUDENT 3: I can't move! Move your desk, I gotta get around!

ALL: There's too many kids in this class!

Class size is more than just the number of kids in a room. It's about, for one thing, the physical space required to increase class sizes. Classrooms are simply not built, in general, to accommodate 34 (0r, heaven help us, more) large young adults, plus computers and SmartBoards and classroom libraries. There's quite a bit more stuff in rooms than there were when many of our schools were built, and while much of the "stuff" is welcome, you can't stuff in more stuff and more kids and expect it to just work itself out. Kids are uncomfortable, easily distracted, and learning suffers.

As well, it's about the rigor of work and the amount of individualized attention you can give children in larger classes. You can't dramatically raise the rigor in a large class when many of those students will need a lot of support to meet those higher standards. You can raise the standards for, say, 15 high-needs kids and have a pretty good chance they'll be able to meet them; or you can have a class of 35 and accept the same mediocre work because you just can't give intensive support to those 15 kids while also trying to motivate and manage the other 20.

Finally, there are needs that we as teachers are expected to address that teachers in countries accustomed to large class sizes are not expected to address. Yes, you can have large class sizes if classes are full of mostly intrinsically motivated students and if the rest are under the firm control of high cultural expectations and administrations and families that back up these expectations. We simply don't have that here, and there doesn't seem to be much chance of building those expectations that would allow for large class sizes.

But go ahead, Mayor Bloomberg, raise those class sizes, fire those teachers...and get the same old results. Because maybe your so-called "legacy" as the "Education Mayor" hasn't been proven to be quite enough of a sham just yet.

Monday, December 05, 2011

In Which My Argument Is Decimated by Icy Cold Logic

Last summer I had a pretty rough operation. I'll spare you the details, but it left me recuperating for many weeks and was no fun at all. For most of the summer I was stuck inside and unable to do much but watch TV. I was bored out of my mind and couldn't wait to go back to work. I missed the early part of the term, but got back ASAP.

When I did go back, everyone thought I was crazy. Now I don't mean to be critical, because there's every possibility they were correct. The woman who runs my department was particularly upset with me, but I'm just a little bit stubborn. She would not let up about it, so I finally told her I had to get out of my house or I would have killed myself.

She was silent for just one moment. Then she said, "Well for goodness sake, if you were going to kill yourself, why didn't you do it before you had the operation? I mean, why go through all this nonsense if you're just going to kill yourself afterward? It hardly seems worth it."

There was really nothing I could say. I guess that's why she's the boss. (It may also be that my utter lack of ambition precludes any advancement whatsoever, but that's beside the point.)

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Cartoon of the Week

Friday, December 02, 2011

Congratulations, Miss, You're Old

In my ongoing and increasingly desperate attempts to appear young, hip, and with it to my tenth graders, I planned a lesson that included some musical selections. "Yes!" I thought, as no doubt many of you have also thought. "They will think this lesson is relevant and interesting! They will rap and human-beatbox their way through author's craft like those kids in Dangerous Freedom Mind Writer Kids Leaning on Me! I can TEACH ALL THE THINGS" etc. etc.

In fact, I was so excited for this lesson that I decided to include a snappy PowerPoint with some celebrity pictures from the Google Images on the Intertubes. These pictures were of the artists in question, whose music I had deemed at least tangentially relevant to the lesson.

The lesson was going swimmingly. I played the first two songs. The students nodded with approval at the photos of Jay-Z and Rihanna. "Wow, Miss Eyre, you know Jay-Z songs?" one young man asked me.

"I sure do!" I said, my excitement bordering on zeal, about to gleefully shout "H TO THE IZZO" were it not for my principal's office being just down the hall and my classroom door being wide open because the thermostat in my room read (no joke, this) 86 degrees.

Then we got to the last song and its accompanying artiste photo. "Yo, miss, who that?" asked one of my young lady students skeptically.

Hesitantly, I asked her to identify who she meant.

"Him," she said, pointing to the only photo left. "The old guy," she added, in case I didn't get it.

I sighed. "That's Bono," I said.

"Bono? Who's he?"

"He's from the band, U2," one of my other students thankfully assisted.

"Oh," said the first student. "Man, he's ugly."

That moment, I sensed, would not have been the time to tell her that Bono was the celebrity crush of pretty much all of my galpals from college. Not the time to tell her, "But he was SO HOT when he was younger."

I was already old. That would have only made it worse.

And, by the way, young(er) teachers: If you haven't had this moment yet, it is much, much closer than you think. I'm not yet 30.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Public Notice

Miss Eyre found herself buried under a sea of papers this morning and cannot crawl out until she has corrected each and every one. However, she expects to be finished sometime in the wee hours of the morning, and has agreed to share her wisdom with you at that time.

I can't wait. After the meeting I went to the other day, I'm yearning for a little wisdom. Or even common sense. In Spanish, people say, "Common sense is the least common of all the senses." I'm inclined to agree. If you haven't got your share today, head over to Perdido Street School, where Reality-Based Educator, back from a brief but too long retirement, is tearing the place up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Was There Clarity Now?

Good morning. You can imagine how thrilled I must be to be amongst all you instructional purveyors. Let's get right down to it and clarify why we're in this location at this point in time. Our objective, naturally, is to enhance the experience of your instructional targets.

We will do this, of course, via differentiated instruction. Over decades of facilitating standards-based rigorous curriculum and instructing pedagogues how to integrate rubric-centered learning styles, I've concluded definitively the most desirable mode of achieving differentiated instruction is via the quality review rubric, because it's uniform, and thus there is no room whatsoever for variation.

I glean you've consummated your arrival tardily. Was there any particular objective you were trying to achieve?

Well, I was talking to a kid...

Let's get this in perspective. You were interfacing with an instructional target?

He had an issue...

So, there was an obstruction in communication? Did you consult a rubric? One can never be too proactive. You know, 20 years ago I was in a standards-based aggregate in Cleveland. Would you like me to expound on what we synergized there?

No, I just want to sit down, please...

So, let's rap. OK. Was there clarity now? Let's implement the document I've allocated. Presently, we shall cast our collective gaze upon indicators 1.1, 2.2, 3.2 and 4.1. Is everyone thoroughly prepared to be waylaid by a wholly unexpected notion? These four items alone constitute 40% of the quality review. That's why I'm so excited to be networking among your peer group.  If we can exercise shared initiatives to meet the objectives of this rubric, are you cognizant of what that will signify?

I have to be at the trailer in 8 minutes...

This entire process is in your hands! You will be empowered to orchestrate outcome-based initiatives that will potentially delay the inevitable closure of your educational facility! Imagine the mastery-focused benchmarks we can unleash upon the observers!

Now it's vital you retain the manipulatives I've distributed. I can sense the problem-solving rubrics we can create together. With a little perspicacity, and a touch of perspicuity...

What's perspicacity?

We can network the outcomes to create a hands-on process that no one will be able to touch. We will assess our evaluations. We will evaluate our assessments. Then we'll exercise and re-evaluate our already assessed evaluations...

Isn't it a film? Perspicacity and the Sundance Kid?

And I want to thank you for coming here. I look forward to many more sessions in which we can scaffold differentiated tiers, and answer all your outcome-based inquiries with actionable feedback.

Until we interface again, I wish you all dynamic adventures in learner centered, counter-intuitive, higher-order thinking.


Oh, thank you, thank you sweet Jesus....


I've never been so happy to go to my building assignment...

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year Revisited

Hope we all enjoyed our Thanksgiving break. Sadly, we have a long way to go until the holiday break in December--nineteen school days and counting, at the beginning of this Tuesday. One of my colleagues commented yesterday, "Three weeks until Christmas break!" and I grumpily reminded her that there are, in fact, four. Hey, just being helpful.

I don't know about your school, but the past few years, at both of the schools in which I've worked, December was a, shall we say, unsettled month. Last year, the principal here sent out a memo asking us to be mindful of this tendency. I remember getting to December 23rd last year feeling like I'd run a marathon, though at least this year I'm not also co-directing the holiday talent show, which, as you can imagine, draws all of the school Drama Queens together in one hot, cramped auditorium for several hours a day for several weeks. I won't miss that particular experience; I'll be quite happy to be a spectator this year.

So as we brace ourselves for The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, in all seriousness, keep an eye on your more fragile kiddies. And be extra-vigilant with your valuables, too. Wallets, cell phones, and iPods tend to disappear quite a bit in December.

What's your advice for making it to December 23rd with your sanity intact?

Monday, November 28, 2011

One Size Fits All

I really love Chris Pearce's comic/ teacher blog. I'm fairly persuaded that it must be fun to be in his class, and see the incredible drawings he uses to illustrate whatever he happens to be teaching. Recently Chris attended a PD session in which he was urged to relate to kids via rap.

Hey, if you want to do that, and it works for you, God bless. If Chris can reach kids via his art, that's great. If you can do plate-spinning, lion-taming, opera-singing, or whatever to get the attention of your kids, that's wonderful. The thing that continually boggles my mind is that the People in Charge still observe one thing, done by one teacher, and insist it must be replicated everywhere without exception.

That shows incredibly limited imagination, a quality I would not want in any teacher. You won't see me putting on a backward baseball cap and rapping to my class anytime soon. And while I love the comics Chris draws, I'm more on a stick-figure level. In fact, I'm quite grateful I can now conjure up Google images on my iPad to show kids the things I'm incapable of drawing.

And yet, I know how to get the attention of kids. I tend to over-dramatize things. I will break down in false tears upon hearing a failed subject-verb agreement. I will feign a heart attack, or attempt to jump out the trailer window. I will do anything that comes to my mind to make a point, and I don't care how crazy I may appear. Such things seem to work for me. However, I'm not presumptuous enough to assume they will work for you, or anybody, let alone everybody.

One of my favorite colleagues is incredibly kind, calling kids "honey" and "sweetie." I'm fairly certain I'd have been in the rubber room years ago if I'd used that approach. But it really works for her, the kids feel comfortable in her class, and they do well. Had the people pushing rap walked into her class, they'd be telling us all to say honey and sweetie, and dozens of us would probably end up in jail.

There's an incredible irony in the fact that the same people who lecture us on differentiated instruction continue their quest for the educational Holy Grail--the one way to teach that is guaranteed to work no matter who uses it or who is taught.

And all they really have to do is ask a teacher. Most of us are well aware this particular magic bullet does not, cannot, and never will exist. What's really tough for teachers nowadays is that, despite all the talk of "reform," people who administrate education at the highest levels are still a bunch of pedantic, self-serving ignoramuses--people who couldn't navigate their way around real classrooms with maps, flashlights, GPS units, or even Smartboards.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Times Are Tough All Over

I ran into the gentleman on the left while walking through our fair city. He indicated he was once largely without a care, and whenever he used to have a care, he didn't care.

He works for a once-prominent magazine, apparently, but with the advent of the internet, and high-flying executive Cathie Black slashing salaries before cutting bait to take a job in the public sector, things took a turn for the worse.

This, evidently, is the best side gig currently available to him. Like many Americans, he can't make ends meet without a second job. Black Friday, he says, was a total wash, as everyone flooded into department stores and ignored him utterly.

I gave him five bucks and wished him a better Thanksgiving next year. I told him not to worry on my account, but I don't know whether or not he took my advice.

I was actually a little surprised he didn't follow Cathie Black into the public sector. He's at least as qualified as most people in the DOE. He repeatedly insisted he generally worries about nothing whatsoever, no matter what, a highly prized quality over at Tweed.

Could we be looking at our next Chancellor?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The New Paradigm

I wish all readers of this blog a happy and restful holiday. I hope you go out and do something fun.

Of course you need to exercise care if you should decide to do anything dangerous, like sitting peacefully on the ground.

And, of course, being Black Friday, you may wish to exercise caution. There are a lot of crazy people out there.

I know because I'm certainly one of them.

Enjoy your well-deserved break!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Generosity: A Post for Thanksgiving

The scene: Miss Eyre's tenth-grade English class. After reading nonfiction pieces about responses to tragedies, a small group is discussing the topic of generosity.

STUDENT 1: I am generous. If any of y'all got kicked out of your house, I would let you sleep on my couch.

STUDENT 2: Your couch? Why not your bed?

STUDENT 1: Ewwww! You nasty.

STUDENT 2: Then why don't YOU take the couch and I take your bed?

STUDENT 1: Oh no. You're already in MY house. Let's not push it here.

STUDENT 3: If you're not nice to her, she's gonna make you sleep on the floor.

STUDENT 1: That's right. You could forget the couch. In fact, you know what, [Student 2's name]? You ever get kicked out of your house, I PROMISE you, you're gonna be sleeping on my FLOOR. You can still come to my house. But you're not TRYING to get my bed or my couch, nuh-uh.


Let us all remember to be generous to everyone on the holiday we call Thanksgiving--including ourselves, by taking a day or two off from grading papers and planning lessons. Travel safely, if you're traveling, and enjoy the time off!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Watch That Mouth

It's pretty troubling to be charged with verbal abuse. Chancellor's regulation A-421 tells teachers to be careful what they say to kids. It specifically prohibits:

  • language that tends to cause fear or physical or mental distress;
  • discriminatory language based on race, color, national origin, alienage/citizenship status, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation which tends to cause fear or physical or mental distress;
  • language that tends to threaten physical harm; or
  • language that tends to belittle or subject students to ridicule.

Now this isn't necessarily unreasonable, but there's a lot of "eye of the beholder" in this language. I heard of a teacher who got in trouble for calling kids "silly goose" repeatedly. Certainly this sounds innocent to those of us familiar with the term, but who's to say it didn't tend to cause mental distress in a kid who didn't understand (or simply claimed not to)?

Perhaps it's worse for people, like me, who teach speakers of other languages. No one even expects them to understand me all the time. Still, I usually get along with them fine. One kid was very upset with me yesterday for having a teacher who spoke his language call his home, but I can live with that. (I don't think he'll be bringing us up on charges, as he seems keenly desirous of less parental involvement at this time.)

I do remember once, years ago, I got a kid in trouble with the dean and things were not so simple. The kid, rather than fessing up to whatever I may have accused him of, called me a racist, and told the dean I hated everyone who spoke his language. Oddly, 99% of the kids who spoke his language were not sitting with him in the dean's office. The dean marveled that a racist would choose a job like the one I had, and the accusation, baseless as it was, went nowhere.

Another time I had a kid of another nationality who didn't do homework, cut class, failed all tests, and gave me permission slips for trips he had already been on. After I had someone who spoke his language call his mom, he persuaded his language teacher that all this was actually my fault. In fact, the teacher called mom and told her so. The kid also made it a point to stop me in the hall and say whenever a parent of his nationality got a call home, it meant the kid's life was completely ruined and he could never go to college or achieve anything whatsoever. (You'd perhaps wonder why, then, anyone of his nationality would tempt fate by behaving as he did.)

I was called to a meeting with the kid, his mom, my AP, his guidance counselor, and a translator. The kid asked why his language teacher couldn't be there, and my AP told him it was none of her business. I showed my gradebook, my attendance book and pretty much sustained every claim I had made. The kid claimed everyone asked permission to go on trips after they took place. I said not in my class they don't, and no one contradicted me.

However, I'm well aware this meeting could have gone another way, and I don't doubt that a less competent and confident AP could have handled things differently. After all, refusing to sign that expired trip form may have tended to cause mental distress. Furthermore, the kid had pretty much told me I had ruined his life. If that doesn't tend to cause mental distress, I don't know what does.

I have a 15-year-old daughter, and I'd be horrified if any teacher were to verbally abuse her. I'm also aware, though, that what people hear is not necessarily what other people say. Some people hear only what they wish to, and have no trouble swearing to it as absolute truth. Of course we have to be careful how we speak to kids. We also have to be really careful to be around a lot of witnesses when faced with people who may say anything at any time.

Mike Bloomberg isn't the only serial liar out there, and the New York Post can't wait to put out yet another sensational anti-teacher story. Whether or not it happens to be true is of no consequence whatsoever.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The NYCTF Recruitment [Soon-to-be] Scandal

I'm trying to be cheerful this week. It's a 3-day week, after all, and those of us traveling are looking at mild weather for the journey out on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. I'm pretty caught-up on my grading and I might be able to take the long weekend off--woohoo! Even our new ATR was jovial this morning. (I really like this guy, by the way. I hope he gets hired somewhere. He seems to have a good way with the kids, tons of experience, and a great sense of humor. Good luck, This Week's ATR! I do know his name, but you know, anonymity and all.)

And I could have persisted, too, if it hadn't been for those meddlesome kids the marketing department over at the Teaching Fellows program. You see, I got an e-mail this evening asking me to recruit my friends for the June 2012 cohort of Teaching Fellows, promising me a handsome reward if I could recruit the greatest number people I allegedly love and care about into teaching in the New York City schools. I'm completely serious. This is a contest.

Look, NYCTF, I try not to be too hard on you. You started me off a new career that I love (most of the time). Your hiring policies are set by the people higher up the food chain. You don't set policy, you carry it out. I understand that. But this recruiting business strikes me as foolish, counterproductive, and, dare I say it, tone-deaf.

I mean, if you need a bulleted list of the inconsistencies, here's a list:
  • The City continues to maintain a pool of ATRs, many of whom, it seems, would like to still be teaching full-time;

  • The City can't afford even $150 in Teacher's Choice money for us, but apparently it can afford a pool of new employees;

  • The City is, for the highly qualified NYCTF applicants it apparently needs, encouraging its current employees to cast wide nets and get any warm bodies among their acquaintances to fill out an application for what I thought was a highly selective program.
Like I said, I'm trying not to be too negative here. This is probably just a drop in the bucket of terms of cost and boneheadedness. So maybe I shouldn't be surprised. Maybe I'm just excited that, two school days before Thanksgiving, I have any energy for even mild outrage.

Monday, November 21, 2011

On Punctuality

For the first ten years I taught, I attended a lot of meetings. There were, of course, the new teacher meetings, required to maintain my city license. In these meetings I learned that the presenter was a dean, and that this was significant because he had aspirations to become an AP.

I learned it was important to get admin to notice you if you wanted to be an AP, and that as a dean you had frequent opportunities to remind the principal you had an AP license. I learned that every week for an entire year. You can imagine how thrilled I must have been.

Then, of course, we had PD. I learned that an aim was very important, and that it must be phrased as a statement. On a subsequent occasion I learned the aim was vital, and that it must be phrased as a question.

Then I learned that the important thing was portfolios, and that once kids had portfolios we could look at all their work right there and figure everything worth figuring. The next year they told us portfolios were out, a complete waste of time, and why would anyone bother with such a thing? The important thing, they told us, was a good motivation, which must be sexy, like Gina Lollobrigida (really).

Without a Gina Lollobrigida-style motivation, no kid would ever listen to a thing you said. Of course, the next year, that was out, and the important thing was constantly repeating "each, every and all" of you. This, they told us, would cause the kids to respond instantly, and there was absolutely no other way to reach kids.

Around year 11, a colleague told me that he was going to a three hour lunch rather than an afternoon session. But they take attendance at those things, I said. No one looks at it, said he, and went off. Nothing happened to him. I overslept the day of the next session, showed up an hour late, and nothing happened to me either. In fact, I may have overslept for just about every PD session for the next 10 years or so. This was odd, because I am never late on days when I actually teach. In any case, nothing happened.

Then we got a new principal. I overslept (only an hour or two), and got a counseling memo. When I signed it and brought it in, I told the secretary I was a little surprised. "You and the other 72 people who got the memo," she said, a little sarcastically in my view.

Since then, I've woken up on time for every PD day, as have my 72 colleagues.

Is it coincidence? Is there a moral to this story?

You tell me.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ought We Crown Bloomberg King?

by special guest blogger Nicholas Azcona

The suggestion merits consideration.

"A military style raid on peaceful protesters camped out in the shadow of Wall Street, ordered by a cold ruthless billionaire who bought his way into the mayor’s office."

It's not everyday that new monarchs rise. Now, you may not be a  fan of Bloomberg, but consider the evidence as it happened:

-Creating a no-fly zone for press helicopters? This is impressive. It's the type of thing The United States and Britain used to do to Saddam Hussein's Iraq. It takes real muscle. If anything, it was an act of mercy. Bloomberg the Kind has previously proclaimed that his guards have the ability to shoot down aircraft.

-Arresting and attacking journalists while barring the rest of them from even getting close? The Hosni Mubarak special. He was called the last Pharaoh for a reason. 

-Closing the Brooklyn Bridge and Subway system? Well you can't allow escape routes for when you send in your military police.

-Sending in bulldozers, snipers, riot police, gassing the protesters etc.? That's part of being the Alpha and Omega of New York City. Bulldozing over peaceful settlements isn't just for movies like Avatar. It's the stuff of legends- legends like our King Mayor. Let's not forget the deployment of sound cannons too.That's just cool and star treky. Protest against inequality and you deserve to get your ear drums blown out.

- Throwing out over 5000 books from the Occupy Wall Street library, and then cutting down trees? Books are pesky things for a Monarch. If the people read, then they might question, and that's not good. Besides, he may have even spared a couple of the books, so people should be grateful. Now, "some" might ask why trees were cut down,and why tents were physically destroyed. To them I say: Carthage. It's standard Emperor 101. When the people don't listen to you, you go in, eliminate them, and then salt the Earth so that nothing again may ever grow from their ruins.

It's the job of the mayor after all to maintain peace, law, and order. Especially the law.

- Finally, some question how he managed to arrest hundreds, and still had the park sealed off for hours, despite the fact that there was an ORDER from the New York State SUPREME COURT, telling Lord Bloomberg that he had to cease at once and let the protesters back in. This is the silliest of all. Everyone knows that the law of Man doesn't apply to The King. It only applies to his subjects.

Thus I have concluded: He must be a King ruling from Divine Right. It must be so, otherwise the only other rational explanation is that he's a fucking criminal that belongs in a jail cell. 
And that's just too unpleasant to be the case.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Scholarship Report

I always get nervous when I look at the scholarship reports for my class. No one at my school is silly enough to say so, of course, but it's easy to feel like the pass/fail rates say something profound about you as a teacher.

No more than the old Teacher Data Reports, of course, do the scholarship reports mean. They're one piece of information in a sea of information about what you do as a teacher and what happens in your classroom.

But as we begin to look at the information, identify the at-risk students, and brainstorm what we can do for them, I have this awful feeling, because I looped with my students from last year, that I've played this particular game before and already know the outcome. The at-risk students this year are the same at-risk students as last year. They're almost across-the-board kids with emotional issues, behavior problems, poor attendance patterns, or some combination of all three. We can argue about the root causes all day, but the core of the problem, for me, is that these students, by and large, don't come to school and, when they do, they don't do any work.

I'm sure there are root causes, about which I am sympathetic. But there is little I can do with a student who comes to my class twice a week, never comes to tutoring, and sleeps, doodles, or chats when s/he is there. It's much more fulfilling for me to spend time on the 90% of my students who show up consistently, try hard, and generally don't present themselves as a puzzle for me to solve.

So when I see the scholarship report, I have to tell myself, as always, that that ugly failure rate is a combination of many factors, only one of which is me and my class. And I can do everything I can to make that factor the best and most helpful it can possibly be. But until those 10% or so start coming to school, putting in the effort, and putting down the iPhones and the Modern Warfare 3 on their off-hours, I'm limited in what I can do. And that's a piece of information a scholarship report will never give any of us. We have to keep telling ourselves that.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Heckuva Job, Barackie

For about 20 years I've lived very close to the water. Sometimes it comes to visit us, so we've got two sump pumps in our crawl space to discourage it. That usually seems to work. In case it doesn't, I've been paying FEMA for flood insurance for, oh, 20 years. I'm a pretty good customer.

So when Hurricane Irene came calling, I wasn't too worried. After all, I was insured. My little family evacuated that night and went to visit my brother, whose home was much farther away from the water. He lost power hours into the storm, but things went as well as they could.

When we got home, we couldn't help but notice that our garage and utility room had had four feet of water flow through it. Goodbye, washer. Goodbye dryer, hot water heater, boiler, and oh my gosh, that foundation is not looking too good. It took a few weeks before anyone bothered to look at it. I had to lay out for a hot water heater, because, well, you can't go running to friends' houses for showers indefinitely. As October approached, I figured I'd better replace that darn boiler, because who knows? It might get cold.

Now I'm looking at the last warm spell, so I'm having the foundation fixed. That's a little costly, but no one does cement work in the cold. My flood insurance doesn't cover possessions, so I applied to NY State to reimburse us for the washer, and waddya know? I just got a check. Now if I hadn't been paying flood insurance for 20 years, I could've had one for the boiler too.

Instead I call FEMA every week. Last week my case was so serious they were going to contact a supervisor. This week it appears someone will call me. But they're in no rush. If I didn't have the money on hand to lay out, we'd be in sad shape indeed.

I know our troubles pale in comparison to those of the people in New Orleans. But from what little I've seen of Barack Obama's FEMA, I see no indication it represents any improvement whatsoever.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More Changes to Regents Exams, Less Trust of Teachers

Among the many changes being made (maybe, if the State can actually afford it!) to Regents exams is a move away from teachers grading their own students' exams. I actually have mixed feelings on this one. It is hard, I think, to be impartial when you're grading the Regents exam of a student you know. I know I've graded exams of students that I sat and tutored one-on-one, students I know struggle and fight for every word. Who wants to be the one to give that kid a failing grade? Nobody. You have to be fair, but boy, it's not easy.

At the same time, though, blogger Stephen Lazar makes a powerful argument for teachers continuing to grade their own students' exams. At the heart of Lazar's argument is the idea that everything on which we evaluate students becomes high-stakes; if we're capable of being trusted to grade senior seminar projects or midterm examinations that count towards semester transcript grades without third-party assistance, why are we not capable of grading Regents exams? It's a fair question.

I'm not sure, as well, why spending the millions of dollars it will undoubtedly cost to shuffle around the Regents exams for grading purposes is available when giving the January Regents is somehow cost-prohibitive. If part of the goal is to make grading more rigorous, then the upshot is that students will need more opportunities to be successful on the exams.

What exactly is the State's goal here?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why the Push for Teacher Evaluation?

There is a crisis in this country. A crisis of unprecedented proportions. Apparently, there are billions of dollars being poured into this education thing, and many hedge fund managers are not getting even a fraction of this cash. What to do? Most importantly, we have to get rid of this whole union thing so we can stop frittering away vital resources on salaries for teachers. Of course, that message would not sell well enough to accomplish the goals of redirecting the cash.

Thus, there is a crisis in this country. Apparently, the public schools the children of hedge fund managers would not attend on a bet need fixing. The problem? Teachers, the very people preventing the hedge fund managers from wetting their beaks, need to be removed before things can be set right. Therefore, we need evaluation systems like the one in Tennessee that will enable us to remove as many of them as possible. Since it would not be cost-effective to deal with poverty (After all, hedge fund managers tend not to be impoverished anyway.), we'll need to blame all student defects on the teachers. Then, we can get rid of them and their inconvenient job protections, and hire temps to do the job for a few years for almost nothing.

Here in New York, we have a system, a system designed in conjunction with the UFT, NYSUT, and the geniuses who run the State Education Department. This system is so flawed that more than half of Long Island's principals have come out against it. Diane Ravitch applauds them, as principals with principles.

Governor One Percent, Andrew "I am the government." Cuomo, has unveiled a mini Race to the Top, designed to pressure districts into accepting a new evaluation system. Who cares whether or not they work? Governor Andy's priority is protecting millionaires, and indeed, he's taken a principled stand against asking them to pay taxes. That's for the little people, like school teachers, and if they lose their jobs for no reason, why the hell should he care?

Whether or not systems are effective is of no consequence to him, other corporatist politicians, or the corporate media. In fact, days after Michael Winerip hammered home the flaws of the Tennessee system in the pages of the NY Times, its editorial board strongly endorsed it, apparently not having bothered to read their own paper.

Here in NY, trials of the new evaluation system are a disaster, and the writer of the framework the DOE uses doesn't much care for the way it's being used. Is it asking too much for the DOE to bother comprehending the framework it claims to support? Apparently, yes it is.

In any case, if the union wishes to help the billionaires realize their vision of having more money at our expense, it will rush to place an evaluation, any damn evaluation, in place ASAP. After all, how else will NYC get Governor Andy's grant money--money which cannot be wasted on things like reducing class sizes or hiring more teachers, but will be fully dedicated to "reforms" to ultimately place money wasted on schools in the pockets of billionaires.

If, on the other hand, the union wishes to help actual working people, it will take all the time in the world to make sure any evaluation system actually works. And it's an uphill battle, considering that at least 20% will be based on "value-added" metrics, not proven to be effective anywhere for anything.