Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Teacher, the Businessman, the Blueberries

I can't believe I never heard this story before. I also kind of can't believe it's true, but it is. Click over and read it. I'll wait. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story, a teacher points out to a soon-to-be-humbled businessman from an ice cream company that while he can send back an "inferior" shipment of blueberries for his top-quality ice cream, teachers can never send back children.

I loved the story, but as I share it with you (many of you who have undoubtedly heard it before), I have to say that I don't view children as raw materials in education, either. I don't see any child as "unteachable," "undesirable," or, heaven forbid, "inferior." Let's not pretend that all children are equally teachable or lovable, mind, but, even given the choice, I wouldn't refuse to educate any child I've yet encountered.

That said, when working with children with serious intellectual, emotional, or behavioral challenges, teachers do want and need extra support in the form of co-teachers, smaller classes, or more rigorous disciplinary procedures. Rather than think of these children as "inferior," I'd like to challenge more people to see these children as "artisanal," perhaps; in need of more time and care, but capable of turning out with a great deal of beauty and variety.

Damn, I'm feeling corny this week. But I suppose it's a good time to pause, as we drag ourselves toward the end of the marathon seven weeks between the winter and spring recesses, what we're doing here and why.

Bronx Cobra Tells All

Look, don't believe all this nonsense about me on Twitter. Really, have you ever heard of a snake who could tweet? It's absurd. I yam what I yam, like Popeye, and you won't see me writing cutesy nonsense on some iPhone gadget.

The truth is the Mayor came by, and who would've thought he was a Parselmouth? But there it was, and once he explained his problems, I could see he'd been misled. I mean, here's this guy trying to fire teachers who make too much money so he could have the newbies take their place, and he's saying it's a budget thing, that if he gets so much he has to fire so many, yadda yadda yadda, and other such unbelievable nonsense.

I told him this was not the way to go. He complained that his Department of Education was being run by some clueless lush, and that he didn't know what to do. I told him I'd take care of things for him if he could supply me with rodents, and he said Tweed was full of nothing but. I told him I'd be happy to eat, or at least bite anyone he couldn't fire, and we set off arm in no arm. I knew I was what he'd been looking for. He said he used to have someone just like me but he'd set off to make more money.

He mentioned how everyone complained how his programs didn't work and I told him it was not about whether they worked or not. It's about getting what you want. So now we have an agreement. I will visit every school in the city, get rid of every teacher making over 50K, and spare all others until they, too, reach 50K. This will not only allow millions to be freed up for preposterously expensive no-bid computer programs, but will also eliminate the need for future costly pension programs.

I'm really looking forward to my new gig, but Rupert Murdoch came by this morning and offered me something political, which really appeals to me. But the mayor says if I stick with him through his fourth term he'll make it worthwhile.

Anyone know the name of a good agent?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Uncoolest Cool Kid in School

I went to one of our school's baseball games recently to cheer on the team. A few of my students and a few others I know slightly are playing, and I genuinely enjoy cheering them on. Shortly after I arrived and checked in with my colleagues to find out about the score, I looked, through the chain link fence, up and down the bench until I found Richie.

The kid I'll call Richie is the subject of this post, the Uncoolest Cool Kid in School. He's one of the kindest, gentlest most young men I've ever met. He's not exactly shy; I wouldn't quite say he keeps to himself. He just doesn't say more than is necessary in any given situation. And he's nice to everyone, even to kids who seem very different from him.

In a school in which most of the males strive to live up to a macho or at least class-clown-ish ideal, Richie, with his quiet and unassailable dignity, simply opts out, day after day. It just isn't his game. And yet no one says a word to him--no teasing, no freezing him out. Everyone treats him with same calm courtesy with which he treats them. I know adults who don't have the strong sense of self, somehow merged with a complete lack of ego, that Richie has.

Richie wasn't playing during that game. He was fully dressed, of course, his jersey tucked neatly into his trousers and his ever-present cross necklace tucked into his jersey. While his teammates whooped, shouted, and chattered at the other team as much as their coach would allow, Richie sat on the bench with a clipboard, keeping the stats for the game. He offered hearty applause for hits and a solid "All right" for runs. But for the most part, he sat and kept the stats.

Anyone could see that he stood out. I did. Sometimes I worry about Richie, and I worried about him then. Will four years of high school get to Richie, or will his remarkable strength of character carry him all the way through? Time will tell, I suppose. I guess I just have to keep showing up to the games, waiting to see Richie at bat. If he hits, I'll applaud. If he scores, I'll call out, loudly but calmly, "All right, all right."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Public Enemy Number One

That's you and me. How did we become such a dire threat? Tough to say.

Right here if seniority protections are not stripped from NYC teachers, the quality of teaching will plummet and lives of our children will be ruined. This does not apply to teachers in other parts of the state, for whom quality does not matter. Nor does it apply to police or firefighters, because it makes no difference what the quality of their services may be. This is what Mayor Bloomberg wants us to believe, and this is why he's set up groups like ERN and E4E, to relentlessly push this illogical fairy tale.

In Wisconsin, of course, they need to save money.

There is no fiscal crisis in Wisconsin.  Governor Walker reports a nearly 130 million dollar deficit, but doesn't report that he caused it by giving a 140 million dollar tax break to large multinational corporations here in Wisconsin (e.g. WalMart). 

But even after the teacher unions offered large givebacks, Walker insisted he needed to preclude collective bargaining, and has been pushing through his programs, laws and courts be damned.

In Florida they're changing teacher evaluations in a manner described as all stick and no carrot. Why anyone wants to teach there is a mystery to me. In fact, in states all over the country, newly elected teabagger governors are going after teachers in a big way. Even in liberal New York, Governor Andy Cuomo is is posing draconian education cuts while refusing to extend taxes on New York's Richest.

You see, people who make 250K, or even 1 million a year, can't pay any more taxes. But teachers need to take pay freezes, benefit cuts, and lower pensions. And kids, particularly poorer kids, need to make do with fewer services, fewer courses, fewer teachers, and larger class sizes. In fact, in Missouri, just around the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist disaster, they're contemplating the rebirth of child labor.

How did we become so gullible, so apathetic, so docile as to accept moving back the clock a hundred years or more? Wisconsin appears to have awakened, and there are signs of life elsewhere.

But any country that's made its teachers the enemy has a questionable future at best. What can we do to move away from this paradigm, move away from oligarchy, and reclaim our city, state, and country?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

More Money for New York's Richest, Cuts for Schools and Health Care for Needy

That's what Andrew Cuomo appears poised to deliver.

From the Cover Tune Grab Bag

Here's Obladi Oblada, done in unforgettable fashion by a bunch of musicians I've never heard of. (Miss Cellania has all the details.) All in all, a very cool low-rent music video:

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Of Note

Kristina Daniele says teachers are not the enemy after all.

Friday, March 25, 2011

NY Post, Fox News, and Gotham Schools

It's kind of heartbreaking what's happened to journalism in these parts. You have to wade through oceans of crap to get anywhere, and even then you can't be too sure what you're looking at. But in America today, we get very selective news. Is there war in Afghanistan and Iraq? I mean, I don't see it on TV, so how can it really be happening?

Education news was looking up for a while. I mean, sure, the Post prints the same one-sided crap all the time, there's a definite slant at the Daily News editorial page, but at least there are all these blogs, where real people give it to you firsthand. Gotham Schools was a really exciting prospect. For the busy blogger, you could find all the headlines every morning rather than combing the web every day. Sure, every piece of crap one-paragraph "story" from the Post got a link, and some things seemed to escape them, but there it was.

Yet their community section has progressively become less challenging. It's dominated by one of the very worst writers I've had the misfortune to come across, who's managed to acquire remarkably little insight about our profession. Of course, when we found this writer was a member of E4E, featured on a Michelle Rhee video, and angling for a "reformer" gig (none of which Gotham Schools saw fit to include on his bio), there was suddenly a reason Gotham may have seen fit to feature him. Never mind that none of the programs this writer embraced had any track record, or any realistic possibility of helping education. Never mind that his group is funded by "reform" billionaires--this baseless point of view was something Gotham Schools felt needed further exposure. After all, Bill Gates can always use a helping hand, what with so few outlets available to him--Oprah, the so-called "Education Nation," and the entire corporate media can only get you so far.

Gotham crossed a line when it chose to spit in the face of a bunch of teachers who supported union. A movement, led by teacher-bloggers, called Edu-Solidarity, offered dozens of posts last Tuesday about why union was important to them. Gotham Schools thought it would be a good idea to put up a disingenuous scab post the following day.

Gotham Schools is free to publish what it sees fit. Like Murdoch ventures, it need not trouble itself with whether or not what it publishes is accurate, valid, or based in anything resembling objective reality.

But that big old "screw you" to bloggers like Miss Eyre, Jose Vilson, and Stephen Lazar is disgraceful, an act of outright depravity. And again, Gotham Schools may do what it wishes. It can even pretend to be objective when doing so. But I'm not buying.

Are you?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"This Is Not the Place to Take it Easy for the Day"

I hurt myself a couple of days ago--no big deal, just a sprained ankle at yoga. For the last three days, I've been hobbling around my school on crutches, trying to avoid putting any weight on it.

What's that? Hobbling around my school on crutches, not staying at home with my foot on a pillow? Sure. My students seem consistently surprised that I'm at work. For me, since I'm not in pain to the point of feeling unable to get through the day without screaming, I can come to work without much of a problem. Since, as you know, so many of our students struggle with coming to school consistently, it's important to model mucking through a day or two at less than 100%. So that's part of it.

But since the topic of "you teachers have it so easy!" has been on my mind lately, I thought I'd also share what our secretary said to me yesterday. Asking if I was well enough to be at work, I said I thought I would be fine if I could just take it a little easy, maybe sitting down more during the lesson or asking kids to bring me their work instead of constantly circulating around the room.

She laughed dryly. "This is not the place to take it easy for the day," she said, rolling her eyes.

I laughed too. Now I'm pretty lucky to be at a point with my students where they see the situation I'm in and they'll work with me and not take advantage of it. But I know what she means. Mine is a school where even the principal rocks Nikes most of the time. Teaching is not a job for anyone who needs to slow down--literally. It's a physically demanding job as well as an emotionally demanding one.

Well, I'd better go get dressed. Got to find something that matches the crutches, maybe for just one more day.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

There Is Sanity Out There. (You Just Have to Find It.)

Here's a piece by Linda Darling-Hammond. She did not prove to be the darling of the "reform" crowd, which prevailed upon our eager-to-compromise President to hire Arne Duncan, whose Rennaissance 2010, an abysmal failure, needed to be replicated for the entire US of A. There's a very good reason Darling Hammond is not popular in "reform" circles.

She actually looks at what works, and thinks about it:

In a statement rarely heard these days in the United States, the Finnish Minister of Education launched the first session of last week's with the words: "We are very proud of our teachers." 

That is indeed rare in these parts. All I ever hear about is how we can fire teachers without regard to seniority. In fact, Finnish teachers are all unionized. What's more is they don't use standardized tests. They--get this--let teachers decide how and what to teach. And it turns out, by international standards, they do way better than us. I guess Bill Gates didn't do much checking before he started talking about Finland.

Not only that, but there is a tendency in other countries to actually pay teachers. Because it's an important job, because we trust our children with teachers, other cultures feel we ought to compensate them for it. I've met young teachers who had to debate whether they could afford to see a movie. I've met others who had trouble coming up with ten bucks for a gift pool. What the hell kind of way is that to treat people we trust with the awesome responsibility of teaching our children?

And now there are people saying it's not cost-effective to keep them on, that we ought to dump senior teachers, that teachers don't learn anything after the first three years. That's simply ignorant. We learn and improve all the time, and those who judge us solely by standardized tests are unfit to discuss education at all.

Officials from countries like Finland and Singapore described how they have built a high-performing teaching profession by enabling all of their teachers to enter high-quality preparation programs, generally at the masters' degree level, where they receive a salary while they prepare. There they learn research-based teaching strategies and train with experts in model schools attached to their universities. They enter a well-paid profession – in Singapore earning as much as beginning doctors -- where they are supported by mentor teachers and have 15 or more hours a week to work and learn together – engaging in shared planning, action research, lesson study, and observations in each other's classrooms. And they work in schools that are equitably funded and well-resourced with the latest technology and materials.

From my vantage point, in a trailer behind an overcrowded building, that sounds pretty good. As Miss Eyre mentioned yesterday, we actually have less time for preparation than our foreign counterparts, spending more time in the classroom. Now I'm not complaining, but how are we rewarded for that? By having Mayor4Life Bloomberg unilaterally announce that teachers would get half of the raise all other city workers got, and only on part of their salaries, and then announcing, to avert layoffs, that we were getting nothing whatsoever. Then, of course, with a 3.1 billion dollar surplus, and the DOE sitting on 275 million dollars, he announces he needs to do layoffs anyway, to save 269 million dollars.

As if that isn't enough, he and his billionaire buds get a bunch of scab teachers to leave their jobs, pretend they're still teachers, and try and subvert union from within.  They claim to revere "excellence" but unlike Darling-Hammond, have not the remotest notion how excellence is achieved here on earth.

In these summit discussions, there was no teacher-bashing, no discussion of removing collective bargaining rights, no proposals for reducing preparation for teaching, no discussion of closing schools or firing bad teachers, and no proposals for ranking teachers based on their students' test scores.

Sound decisions are based on what works rather than the druthers of billionaires. If President Hopey-Changey were interested in making education better, he'd have nominated Darling-Hammond rather than already-failed Duncan. I can't believe Obama is too ignorant to know the difference, and ultimately, that makes me respect him even less.

Why on earth must the United States indulge in such nonsense rather than help our children?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

UPDATE: Go to EDUSolidarity to view similar posts from educators around the country. GothamSchools has also picked up the story.

If you feel like you've seen that title before, it may be because today, a number of teacher bloggers, including NYC Educator and myself, are dedicating our blogs to the topic of solidarity and, dare I say it, pride. In light of repeated and, frankly, ever more ridiculous attacks against the "lavish lifestyles" teachers enjoy, we feel that it's important to make people understand why unions are relevant and important to good teachers and why we feel that union memberships benefit children and public education generally.

I support unions for teachers because they work to guarantee academic freedom for teachers. Though I'm careful to encourage my students to be open-minded and consider multiple perspectives, I do have beliefs and principles of my own, and knowing that I can't be fired for holding or expressing them is important to me. Union membership means being able to be true to who I am without worrying that I'll lose my job over it.

As well, due process is a crucial right for which teachers' unions have fought. At one time, teachers, like many people in this country today, could be fired at any time, for any reason. Teaching sometimes requires trying new things, which then sometimes involves needing to try again; and, teaching is a job into which the people who do it invest enormous amounts of personal effort and energy. Knowing that the job at which I work hard to excel won't be pulled out from under me without warning is very valuable to me.

Finally, unions work to protect some minimal work rules that keep the job somewhat manageable. Although we may disagree among ourselves about whether those rules go far enough or whether they are implemented equitably and consistently by administrators, the rules exist to keep teachers' workloads realistic and our time respected. For teachers whose unofficial work days run ten or twelve hours on a regular basis, the idea that just because our official work days run out at seven hours, we're slacking, is laughable to us. Teaching is an emotionally and physically stressful occupation. Rules that say we're entitled to a lunch break and a limit on our official contact-with-kids hours help teachers to manage their time and stress, making the teacher who comes to your kid in the morning fresh, attentive, and energetic. It's important to note that, even with some union protection, teachers in the U.S. spend far more of their time with your kids than teachers in most other countries, who spend more time engaged in common planning. That can be tough. Unions demand that teacher time be at least somewhat balanced.

Teachers who feel secure in the jobs, who don't fear arbitrary firing because of political or other beliefs, and whose time is respected are better teachers. Kids can feel confidence and comfort from adults, and they respond to it in kind. That makes for a better experience in school and a better education for kids. So as someone who, yes, loves children, I continue to support unions for myself and for all teachers who hope to make teaching their lifelong careers.

(image courtesy the always-hilarious Natalie Dee)

Monday, March 21, 2011

An Updated Enemy Within

I'm reading Lord of the Flies with my 9th-grade daughter. I don't exactly love it. The prose is leaden and confusing, and her teacher insists on making every word, no matter how obscure or impractical, a required part of study. But despite my misgivings,  the book's message is starting to resonate with me.

Americans are all riled up against our particular beast--quite different from that in the book--more modern, frightening for different reasons, but still ourselves. We're guilty not of savagery, but of being a middle class, personified by unionized teachers. We threaten society's march toward "progress," lead by the likes of Rupert Murdoch and Bill Gates.

All woes are attributable to us. Families are blameless, and poverty plays no part either. The siren call of computers, Ipods, and even Gates' own Xbox, popular for the most desensitizing and vile war games, plays no part in America's failure to achieve. The primary culprit is the classroom teacher, and we must pay (being the largest group, inevitably followed all remaining unionized employees).

And pay we do, as state after state makes it unprofitable, demeaning, and pointless to pursue our much-vilified profession. NYC's Bloomberg trots right at the heels of Scott Walker, though he's managed to appear less fanatical to many. (Recent abysmal poll numbers suggest that may be changing.)

We have an Education Secretary who takes marching orders directly from billionaire Gates, echoing his message at regular intervals. It doesn't matter that none of their programs work, that there is no research to support them, or that the goals are plainly impossible. No child must be left behind, and if we have to close schools, fire teachers, and eliminate every program that doesn't focus on math or English, we will continue pursuing that impossible goal. As we do this, neither Gates nor Duncan takes any hint of responsibility the failure to realize whatever it is they claim to wish to accomplish.

The bodies we leave in our wake will be washed out to sea, and no one need know that we're abandoning our own interests, ourselves, our middle class, that we're depriving the children we didn't leave behind of a future, or that we've given away their prospects to further comfort the comfortable. We siphon more and more money to those who have no need of it, and MSM, along with most politician from both major parties, pointedly ignore this. Witness Cuomo's ads boasting of no tax hikes, the ones that fail to note cuts to education and health care for those who most need it.

And that doesn't take into account the legions of Americans that eagerlyt believe the utter nonsense that appears daily on Fox News, in the New York Post, and in scores of less blatant publications. We don't question it.

Given that, maybe there's a glimmer of truth in what they say. Maybe education has failed us after all. Otherwise, we'd rescue ourselves.

If we don't, you can bet your life no one's coming to our island to do so.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post of the Week

Don't miss Mr. A. Talk's shot at the big time. This is one blogger who will leave no stone unturned in his ruthless quest to the top.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Right to Shirk

Diane Ravitch writes an impassioned condemnation of Governor Scott Walker, and his cynical, disingenuous push to kill collective bargaining rights even though all his economic requests--the ones he said were crucial--were met. Of course there'd be no crisis whatsoever had Walker not granted Walmart such a huge tax break, but that's neither here nor there.

Several commenters suggest that unions are extortionists. Simply because they offer advice, representation, negotiation of contracts, benefits, higher wages, and all sorts of other services, you have to not only join, but also pay dues. How dare they? Actually you don't have to join, but unions here require you to pay a fee anyway, so there's not any advantage in not joining.

I know how these people feel. After all, I failed to vote for George W. Bush, not once, but twice. Despite this decision, every time I looked at my paycheck stub, I'd paid plenty to support his programs, many of which I viscerally opposed. There were those endless wars. There was that utter lack of support for organized labor (which I happen to support). Then there were those tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, who least needed them, while we were at war. There were the huge deficits. There were the reprehensible social priorities, the loathsome and cynical disregard for the needs of most Americans, the rampant corruption.

Yet still I had to pay taxes. And now, President Barack Obama, for whom I actually voted, seems not much different from cowboy GW. In fact, his education policies seem not much different from those Johny McCain proposed, the ones that kept me from voting for him. We're still in both wars, the health care bill is a shadow of what I'd hoped for, the Bush tax cuts are extended, and the Employee Free Choice Act, which Obama promised to support, is more dead than Elvis in the face of the GOP House.

Now President Obama spends his time talking education with Jeb Bush rather than walking it in Wisconsin.

If I had half a chance, maybe I'd withhold taxes. If there were a President I liked a bunch of other people would withhold taxes. But when you're part of a community you can't, you don't do that. Those who speak of freedom to withhold union dues do not want union to survive, just as a government couldn't survive with voluntary taxes.

Their talk of freedom is simply nonsense, another distraction. We're all about distractions in this country today. If people were paying attention, the whole country would look like Wisconsin--if not Egypt.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spring Parent-Teacher Conferences Are Coming, But Then Again, So Is Summer

Ah, parent-teacher conferences. The day on which you get together with the parents of your students to duke it out over whose fault it is that darling Johnny is failing. (Just kidding! Obviously it's yours.)

If it helps any of you psych yourselves up for the event, maybe my own philosophy on the spring PTCs will help you; namely, that the spring PTCs are The Beginning of the End. The evening PTC day is one of the longest of the year for many of us, but once it's over, it's downhill from here.

My cynical start to this particular blog post notwithstanding, I have some pro tips for PTCs in this old post that you can click over to if you like. And my experiment in student-led conferences went well enough that I'm planning a similar approach this time.

I'll end this post, since, frankly, I'm pretty tired and need all the beauty sleep I can get before Share the Blame Fest 2011 tomorrow, with a funny story about PTCs.

STUDENT: Miss Eyre, you wanna meet my parents?

ME: Sure.

STUDENT: Well, you can't. They're not coming.

ME: Oh. That's too bad. I'd like to meet them.

STUDENT: Why, am I doing bad?

ME: No, in fact, I'd like to tell them how much I enjoy having you in class. [Not, actually, a lie.]

STUDENT: Oh. Well, I'm 19. I don't have parents anymore.

ME: [sensing that argument will be futile] Well, in that case, why don't you come to conferences, and I can have a conference with you about yourself?

STUDENT: Yeah. That'll be fun. Let's do that.

ME: Okay. I'll put you down for 7:30?


Happy PTCs, everyone!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Smile

She cut my class day before yesterday. Well, that's not precisely true. When she didn't show up, I called her Mom, who failed to answer the phone. That was not a huge problem--Mom likely speaks only Chinese, and I don't speak it at all. But then I noticed she'd written her own cell number too, so I called her. She said she was on her way, and would make it for the second period of my double-period class. Half a loaf is better than none, so I told her to hurry up.

Only she never showed.

So yesterday, when she did, I told another girl to tell her I wasn't speaking to her, which the girl did with great delight. I folded my hands like one of those guys who sends the poor waif into the snow in an old movie. Predictably, that didn't work at all. So I asked her directly why she didn't come, and she told a sad story about security guards not letting her in or something. It sounded viable, but I felt the need to tell her she needed to show up, she shouldn't be late, and all that teacher stuff they pay me to tell kids.

But she just nodded her head and smiled, and I couldn't stay mad at her. I wanted to, though, so I enlisted the help of my friend who teaches Chinese. Once she gets yelled at in her native language, I figured, things would clear up immediately. But the Chinese teacher, who I know is well-equipped to yell (she yells at me all the time), seemed to lose steam in the face of the girl's smile. Where was the rancor? Where were the withering looks that turned crazy teenagers into shaking masses of jelly?

There was no hope whatsoever. This girl just kept smiling. Something inside her made her happy with herself, and no matter how we tried to shake her, she was determined to stay that way. Somehow, she was smarter than both of us. 

How dare she be like that at 14 years old!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pay Teachers More?

I received an e-mail from a friend today asking me what I thought about this op-ed from Nicholas Kristof in yesterday's Times. And on first blush, I wasn't sure what to say. So since I'm always telling my students that writing is, among other things, a way to sort out what your thinking on a subject actually is, I thought I'd try a blog post about it.

It should be pretty obvious to say that I believe in paying teachers more. Mr. Eyre and I are working on buying a house, and it's depressing to see what we can afford in NYC right now. Mr. Eyre works in the private sector and makes what I always considered to be good money, yet buying even something modest in District 26 or similar seems out of reach at the moment. If I could match his salary, we'd be in much better shape. Although he hasn't been in his career much longer than I've been in teaching, he makes more than twice what I do. So I agree with that part of Mr. Kristof's argument.

I also agree with more rigorous evaluation for teachers. Putting aside the thorny issue of test scores for money, I'd be comfortable with being evaluated on the full spectrum of what I do as a teacher with evaluation from peers as well as supervisors thrown in. No decent teacher should fear a multifaceted performance assessment, one that examines classroom management, school involvement, parent and student relationships, common planning, and other aspects of the job. Getting beyond "S" and "U" would not, in my opinion, be such a bad thing.

I do have two points of disagreement with Kristof, however. The first is on acquiescing to larger class size. While a large class size might be acceptable and even advisable for highly motivated, well-behaved high school students who can deal with lecture and whole-class discussion on a daily basis, keeping class sizes manageable is a must for teachers dealing with higher-needs students. Teachers who have good classroom control with 25 students do not necessarily have good classroom control with 35 or 40, and the kind of work necessary to develop the absolutely essential positive relationships with higher-need students to bring them on board with the classroom experience is less and less realistic as class sizes inch upwards. Large class sizes in Japan and South Korea are realistic when discipline in schools is paramount and most students are either intrinsically motivated or firmly under a cultural mindset of reverence for education and teachers. This is not the case here. Perhaps a one-size-fits-all approach to class size isn't the answer, but safeguards must be in place to protect and encourage teachers who take on (in manageable numbers) our neediest children.

The other is inflexibility on work rules. When I think of teacher work rules, I think of the rule specifying that the work day is 6 hours and 50 minutes long (HA HA HA HA!!!!!!!!!!), or the rule that teachers cannot teach more than three consecutive periods, or the rule that teachers must have a duty-free lunch period every day. These are things on which I think it is fine for teachers to be inflexible. Teachers who care about doing their jobs well by giving students meaningful feedback on a range of assignments, taking on extracurriculars, offering students extra help after school, and planning engaging lessons need limits on their time that many principals cannot be trusted to respect. I can tell you that teaching five periods a day is exhausting, and it is even more so when lunch is a sandwich choked down while grading papers or filling in roll sheets, and it is even more so when I spend an hour after school tutoring or running my club, and that after all those things are done, I still have work left to do. I will be flexible about my work rules when I have an assistant teacher and/or secretary.

So that's what I think of Mr. Kristof's suggestions: Sure, I'll take more money. I'll even take it with some strings attached in the form of more rigorous evaluations. But not for more students, or more planning, and certainly not for more busywork like potty patrol or lunchroom duty. I'm already not sure how it's possible to work harder than I'm working now. You can't get blood from a stone.

Monday, March 14, 2011

To Serve You Better

Mayor Bloomberg says dirty oil is so bad it costs lives. But that doesn't stop him from using it in hundreds of city schools.

NY Times' Kristof Tackles Pernicious Fallacies

NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is demanding we pay teachers more. Sounds good, doesn't it? Which teacher couldn't use more money? It kind of makes you think he's pro-teacher. And it would be true, if it weren't for the fact that no one is actually offering teachers more money, and the priority in these United States is not compensation for teachers, but lowering taxes for Steve Forbes.

Nonetheless, you'd think the man who declared qualifications for teachers were so onerous that Meryl Streep and Colin Powell couldn't get classroom jobs (despite the fact that neither had expressed the remotest interest in them) had finally come to his senses.

But like the Republicans, who claim it's in the public's best interest to strip working people of bargaining rights, Kristof tosses out misleading headlines and saves his real message for later:

Look, I’m not a fan of teachers’ unions. They used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective. 

In fact, history dictates that teachers did even worse before the advent of unions. Of course, history is neither here nor there to teacher-bashers. The media devotes enormous attention to a charter with a handful of teachers that are allegedly paid more. Never mind that its track record is miserable, that there is no research whatsoever to support its methods--that's what you'll see on 60 Minutes, rather than what's really happening in the overwhelming majority of American schools.

Kristof knows nothing of what's really happening in most schools, can't be bothered to research it, and seems to pull his opinion directly from his hind quarters. Despite his apparent sympathy for teachers, there's no indication he remotely understands what people in Wisconsin are fighting for--the right to come together and fight for what's in their best interests.

In fact, the non-union utopia of Kristof's vision already exists, in non-union and union-lite charter schools. And guess what? Such teachers, despite dubious exceptions like the one mentioned above,  are not paid more than union teachers. They are subject to arbitrary and capricious dismissal and do not seem to remain on the job as long as their public school counterparts.

But at the New York Times, you can propose ideas with no research, no basis in practice, no vision for realizing them, and still make many times more than any public school teacher.

Kinda makes ya think we're in the wrong business, doesn't it? Of course, educators, unlike American journalists, are supposed to deal in truth.

And that's one more reason the big money, disingenuously dangled by faux-liberals like Kristof, consistently eludes us.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Not Enough Horses..

...and too many horse's asses, my grandfather used to say. If we believe the nonsense spread by MSM about how public sector workers are breaking the bank, that's us. But it doesn't have to be.

Here's an Ohio Congressman speaking sanity to power. Worth a look, and hopefully America is listening.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm Not Against Tenure, But...

So says faux-Democrat Cory Booker in his love letter to the reformers who put him where he is today. Sure, let's not abolish tenure. Let's simply make it meaningless. The Wal-Mart family did not finance Booker so as to help working people. Wal-Mart money subverts public schools because union is a scourge that must be stopped, so that people can do as they're told, shut the hell up, and work until they die.

Booker hits all the same tired points "reformers" hit every morning instead of the national anthem, including the nonsensical claim teachers get lifetime jobs, and that we need to add merit pay. This, of course, is trotted out despite very recent evidence that it doesn't work. Predictably, Booker goes into the same old nonsense about bad teachers. They are a plague, apparently, and the only way to get rid of them is to worsen working conditions for all teachers. Teachers, says Wal-Mart's favorite mayor, must be compensated based on "effectiveness." Now what the hell that is, Booker doesn't say. Does it mean they get higher test scores? Does it mean they're cute and perky?

I'll tell you precisely what it means. An effective teacher, to disingenuous corporate puppets like Cory Booker, is an at-will employee. Booker rubs shoulders with Democrats and appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a reasonable guy. But he speaks well of anti-teacher Chris Christie and crooked Chris Cerf, because in whatever remains of his heart, he's no different from them or indeed, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

They all represent the same interests. Perhaps Booker takes another approach, not wishing to appear so radical. But make no mistake, like Christie, like Walker, he'll happily roll back the twentieth century so if you don't come in Sunday you won't bother coming in Monday.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Two Steps Ahead, Huh?

Love how this Flypaper post is titled "Looking Two Steps Ahead." Maybe I'm just cranky because I'm feeling under the weather (and it's not just the rain) this morning, but I'd like to know how this author gets away with calling herself two steps ahead of anything.

The author has a shocking revelation for us: Cut teacher benefits without increasing salary and that's a decrease in teacher compensation. That might be bad for attracting those all-important talented 22-year-olds into the profession! Hey, maybe we better think about that! Thank God that this author reminded us all of that. It sure hadn't crossed the minds of us stupid working teachers that that just might be a problem.

But maybe she is two steps ahead. It certainly looks like she's two steps ahead of the Wisconsin Republican Senators, who last night exercised the nuclear options in voting down collective bargaining rights for public employees. They clearly haven't thought through the implications of their decision--for example, possibly being recalled by the voters.

Remind me again why teaching looks like a good deal?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The Value of a Teacher

There is no question in my mind that the path we're embarking upon is littered with, reeking of, completely composed of sheer nonsense. We're moving into an evaluation system that relies on "value-added" information, information that can make an exemplary teacher look like an utter incompetent. And we're also playing right into the hands of "reformers," yet again.

As it happens, I've been called upon to raise test scores, to clean up after others have not done so. I've been able to do it. Does that make me a good teacher? I don't think so. It makes me a determined taskmaster. If you tell me these kids won't graduate unless they pass a test, they will golly goshdarn do so, and no, I didn't cheat to make it happen. I simply drilled them to death in a joyless spiral, never ending until they reached their goal, whether they wanted to or not. I've done things I'm proud of, but that's not one of them.

A problem is you can't always raise test scores. What if the kids have 95 averages? Can you get them to 97? Does it even matter? At some point, students are excellent. There's nothing more frustrating to me than meeting a parent who chides a kid for getting a 98, when only a hundred will do. Your kid is wonderful, I say. If she were my daughter, I'd wear sandwich signs, beat a bass drum, and shout to everyone up and down Main Street that she was mine.

Still, what if she were in my class and I failed to get her to 99? What if she went down to 97, or worse, 96? Would that give me a negative value-added, like the poor woman in the linked article, the one denied tenure based on nonsense? The one who'd be in line to be fired under the scenarios laid out by Mayor Bloomberg and the acolytes he's purchased at E4E?

There is a national insanity, rooted in the idiotic and witless assumption that every child in the United States will be not only constantly improving, but also passing absolutely everything by 2014, otherwise known as No Child Left Behind. Our current President, Barack Obama, has assumed the education mantle of George W. Bush and is continuing this fanatical, nonsensical policy to the benefit of no one but demagogues who wish to undo public education. Joel Klein is taking millions to figure how to replace teachers with computer programs.

A teacher can turn a kid's life around. A teacher can negotiate the tough paths teenagers face, show them options, talents, passions. A teacher can inspire a child to be virtually anything, anyone. A teacher can open a child's eyes, sometimes literally, but more often to possibilities the child would never imagine alone. A teacher can give kids what they don't get at home, for whatever reason.  A teacher can show kids that life is full of joy, that there is humor in everything, that people are full of love and hope and things they'd never imagine without a helping hand. A teacher can unlock mysteries, open doors kids never knew existed.

But in 2011, in these United States of America, the only value a teacher has is to improve test scores. Fail that task, and nothing else matters.

You're fired. Good luck at whatever job you can muster with that on your resume.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

A Note to Ms. Isaacson

Dear Ms. Isaacson,

It sounds like you're not the type to let nonsense like the "Teacher Report Cards" get you down, which is good. You probably don't even need the words of encouragement I want to offer you; it seems like your supervisor and your students have all the words of encouragement you could ever want.

From those who know you best, the children and adults with whom you work every day, we hear nothing but praise. If a mathematical formula says otherwise, well, frankly, screw it. As Albert Einstein wisely observed, "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

And in your sad case study, we see the (perhaps unintended) results of the value-added craze: A teacher who is clearly dedicated to her students, who are quite obviously high-achieving children, is somehow determined to be deeply inadequate because her already high-achieving children fall a few hundredths of a point below where they "should" be. Never mind the fact that this shortfall has not prevented her students from gaining admission to the city's most exclusive high schools. No, Ms. Isaacson, a fine teacher by any other commonsensical measure, is deemed to be far below average.

How many Ms. Isaacsons will be lost in the obsession with "data"? I hope that not even one will be lost--especially not you, Ms. Isaacson, yourself.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Where's the Liberal Bias I'm Looking For?

The New York Times, always staid, always calm, ran a featured editorial about the need of public workers to sacrifice. While the Times has a reputation for liberalism, like all papers, it's had to deal with unions.  And that's not always easy. My uncle was an accountant for the Times, and he hated unions. When the News unions struck, he made it a point to buy the scab paper on the street every day.

So when the NY Times speaks of sacrifices public employees need to make, I'm not surprised they neglect to mention Andy Cuomo just dispensed a 5 billion dollar tax break to New York's Richest. I'm not surprised they forget how Barack Obama just extended the Bush tax cuts, the ones he specifically promised to cut if we voted for him. I'm not surprised they conclude being overly generous to union workers is breaking the bank.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised that the Times forgets how many of us worked for lower salaries than our private counterparts for so many years, and that whatever benefits we accrued were directly related. It was pretty much understood that teachers, for example, would never get rich, but that we had better pensions and health benefits than many of our private counterparts.

Now, of course, our friends in private industry are hurting. And the right, joined by faux-Democrats, sees an opportunity. There was no problem in us making less money all these years. That's particularly egregious to longtime city teachers, constantly paid far less than our suburban counterparts. While it's not quite so outrageous as it once was, I will never forget meeting a teacher from East Meadow with 10 fewer years than I had making 10K more than I was.

We were never the money-hungry, self-serving slobs the media has portrayed us to be, and that hasn't changed at all. I'm not saying anyone else has to do this, but I'm at work an hour early almost every day. I stay late on a regular basis, for various reasons. I know many of my colleagues do the same. I can't and don't stop thinking about my job when the final bell rings.

Yet I'm certain Mayor4Life Bloomberg would fire me if he got half a chance, and hire someone making half my salary. And please, don't even get me started about merit. If this mayor gave a damn about merit, he certainly wouldn't have hired Cathie Black as Chancellor. He wouldn't overcrowd schools, and he wouldn't make phony unenforceable deals about class size reduction. If he gave a damn about merit, he'd offer city kids the same sort of education his kids, Joel Klein's kids, and Cathie Black's kids got.
In fact, if Michael Bloomberg gave a damn about merit, he wouldn't be talking about layoffs at all. There's no merit in that notion whatsoever, and class sizes will explode even further if there are fewer teachers.

I don't suppose the editorial writers from the Times read this blog. Maybe they're too busy poring over PR from Tweed. In any case, the result is the same. The "paper of record" has little notion of, let alone interest in what's going on in education. I can only speculate on what that means for those who rely on it for national, international and political news.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Truth to Power

Michael Moore in Wisconsin

Thanks to Fred Klonsky

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Notable This Week...

Leonie Haimson's message of optimism at NYC Parents Blog

Jon Stewart exposing hypocrisy at Accountable Talk

Parents  standing up to Mayor4Life Michael Bloomberg

Modern School on Two-Face aka Arne Duncan

We know how Cathie Black feels about teachers. Is she also opposed to Teddy Bears?

And Miss Cellania is waxing nostalgic over Beatles cartoons.

Friday, March 04, 2011

In Other News...

My teenage daughter has suddenly become obsessed with American Idol. Last year she liked it. This year, it's of vital importance. I'm supposing it forms much of the water cooler discussion at her high school. She's even thinking of auditioning. (Sadly, she sings painfully out of tune. What I learned from watching the auditions with her is anyone who's out of tune is bounced, with amazingly tactful remarks from Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez. Remarkable how rejected candidates still need to curse, spit and throw things.)

Last week there were a lot of Beatle songs. I grew up listening to the Beatles, love the Beatles, and am sickened by many who presume to do their music. It's sacrilegious or something. Yet my daughter has become suddenly fascinated with the Beatles, and has gotten me to dredge out all my old Beatles CDs. I found the first volume of Anthology, and have no idea where I got it. I was playing it today and realized I had never heard it before.

I have to give credit to the show for turning on young people to this music. I have to suppose there's other good music they get to see, but haven't got the patience to watch and find out. I don't love reality shows, except for cooking competitions. A few years ago, I was temporarily so sick I couldn't eat, and became fascinated with Top Chef. I suppose if I became temporarily deaf I might learn to appreciate American Idol.

All in all, though, it doesn't seem worth it.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

"You Feel Punched in the Stomach"

Well, it's another fun-filled day of being a public educator in a union here in the U.S. in 2011. After rising at 5 a.m. to work on a lesson plan for the day, I'm making a quick blog post before getting dressed, climbing into my 13-year-old car, and driving over to the school in which I work. Today will be a day full of calling parents to try to cajole them into making their children not curse, drink soda, and/or sleep all the way through one of my classes. As you can see, I have one of those cushy unionized public worker jobs, and then I have the nerve to take the summer off as well.

So I enjoyed this article from the Times, which explores the public schizophrenia about teachers pretty well. The public wants good teachers, but maybe doesn't want to pay them; the public believes that they collectively had good teachers, but deeply resents the perceived benefits for which teachers bargained and worked hard. The frustration comes out in jabs about having "part-time jobs," when my job is anything but part-time. Without drawing a bright line around Saturdays and one or two evenings a week, my job would easily consume 60+ hours a week if I let it. "You feel punched in the stomach" when you hear the snide remarks, admitted one teacher to the Times, and I know what she means. It's difficult enough to do a good job under the circumstances in which many of us work; it's much more difficult to feel like public support, both moral and material, is slipping away, encouraged by elected bullies who have never taught a day in their lives.

The Times article does suggest that there is a backlash to the backlash, and that the public may be coming round to the idea that anti-teacherism has gone too far. I hope they're right. We need and want the support of parents and community members in our work. I don't need support in the form of a medal or a monument; I wouldn't even say that my effort is exceptional among teachers, as I know many teachers who work just as hard as I do. But stop the nasty comments, understand how hard we work, and demand that governments live up to the contracts that they signed. Maybe these days that is too much to ask, but it doesn't seem like it should be.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

UFT--Time to Take a Stand!

I went to Albany yesterday with the UFT. We sat for about an hour in a hotel ballroom. Then we listened to a bunch of strong speeches. Some were great. Afterward, a bunch of waiters passed out some rubber chicken. After traveling three or four hours, with a choice of rubber chicken or rubber chicken, you tend not to complain.

We waited an hour to get into the Senate building. We had a 1:30 appointment to meet a legislator, but didn't actually get into the building until about 2:30. An intern took us into an office, and interviewed us for a while, when the legislator suddenly came back, for some reason or other. He told us the bill to end reverse-seniority layoffs was dead in the water, or at least in the Assembly. We were pretty happy to hear that. There's far less chance Bloomberg will fire anyone if he can't pick and choose, or simply use salary scale rather than seniority.

But he said something else that was very disturbing. He said there would probably be some compromise bill. He said the UFT tended to do things like that, just as they did on the evaluation system. Now here's the thing--the evaluation system, based on value-added, is crap, because there is no validity to value-added.

The official UFT rationale, that value-added is only 20-40% of the evaluation, is nonsense. The argument that some states have 50% based on value-added, and that we therefore made a better deal, is also nonsense. That we accepted less crap than some other state does not mitigate our acceptance of crap. That we accepted additional crap in 02, and a ton of it in 05, means that there simply is not room to handle much more of it.

Here is the stance we should take on this new "reform"--we refuse to discuss it until and unless we get the 4/4 raises all other city employees got.

Then, and only then, should we calmly sit down at the negotiating table and tell Mayor Bloomberg and his band of corporate goons to go to hell. After that, we can explain our positions to faux-Democrat Andy Cuomo.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Bloomberg's Bill Goes Down, Anti-Labor Andy Cuomo Comes to Rescue

Right here.

Dispatch from Wisconsin

What follows here is an excerpted from an e-mail from Chris Blythe, a Wisconsin state worker and (undoubtedly long-suffering) spouse of a Wisconsin teacher. Chris's enthusiasm and passion speak for themselves. Enjoy!

Unbelievable rally yesterday!! Temperature was about 18 degrees and it snowed the whole time. Still, close to 100,000 people showed up!! (...) The square was packed shoulder to shoulder - couldn't even hardly move in the streets. There were so many people marching in the street before the rally that it took us about 30 minutes to go 2 blocks!! It was amazing to just see a sea of people in every direction. I have never seen/felt so much energy and togetherness, not even from the presidential candidate rallies I've been to here. Just imagine what will happen when we actually get a NICE day!!

Started out with Peter Yarrow (Peter, Paul & Mary) singing a bunch of union songs. Then a bunch of speakers - some union, an actor (Bradley Whitford of "The West Wing") who is from Madison, plus "Skilley" (Jeff Skille, the co-pilot hero who helped land the plane on the Hudson River 2 years ago). He's from just outside of Madison and he RIPPED the governor and the right-wing crazies, while laying lavish praise on the teachers who are educating his kids. He is a huge hero around here, so it was great to have him point out that when they landed the plane and saved everyone aboard all the people involved - pilots, flight attendants, EMR workers, rescue boat operators, cops, firemen, etc. - were all UNION members, working together for the common good. Then more union members, including a not-too-articulate but incredibly passionate snow plow driver who has become somewhat of a folk hero for his speeches, trademarked by his concluding (and clearly unscripted) statement "AND BY CHRIST, I AIN'T GOIN' ANYWHERE!!!"

This is not going away. On Tuesday our gov will introduce his budget bill that will drastically slash aids to schools, health care for the poor, and municipalities. Then people are REALLY going to be pissed. And the passion here is already running very deep. I've run into so many people I know at the marches, many of whom I would never dream of seeing at a political rally and they are all fired up. One such woman yesterday told me "I don't care if they fire me - I'm not going away!" And they will get the same response from me if they (my bosses) ever ask me to defend any of the governor's proposals in court. Diane & I will both be taking a cut (and keep in mind that we've taken cuts each of the past several years) of somewhere in the range of 8-15%...

I have never seen such an egotistical, arrogant ideologue as Scott Walker in all my years in politics. If you've listened to his phone call with "David Koch" you know what I'm talking about. The guy thinks he is Ronald Reagan and that he's going to be the new leader of the right-wing conservative movement. I don't know what's more pathetic - his shameless ass-kissing of the guy he thinks is a billionaire contributor, or the fact that he considered bringing in trouble makers to stir up the rallies, and thereby risk the safety of everyone.

It's really great to see all the rallies in all the states (all 50, according to news reports) in support of worker rights and what we're standing up for here in Wisconsin. They mentioned that at the rally yesterday and it got one of the biggest cheers of the day. Carol & Rick - thanks for the picture and the poster with our names on it! And we noticed the Wisconsin sweatshirt, too! It's also amazing how much support we're getting from all the private labor unions, plus the firefighters, who would be exempt under Walker's bill. They don't have to be here but they are every day, and as soon as they start up with their bagpipes, it brings tears to your eyes.

As you know, Cathy is an aide to Peter Barca, the Assembly minority leader, who has become one of the stars of our side of the fight. It's nice to get a lot of the inside scoop on what's going on behind the lines in the Capitol. She's pretty much been living down there the past couple of weeks. As we mentioned, if you want to help out financially, send contributions to "Act Blue for the Assembly."

A few items to note, if you're ever talking to people or writing letters, etc.:

-Not once during his campaign, did Walker ever mention his plan to eliminate collective bargaining.

-Walker has NEVER returned a single phone call to any union representative since the election.

-The unions have publicly stated that they will agree to pay and benefit cuts, but not the elimination of collective bargaining rights, yet Walker continues to state that he will not negotiate on anything.

-When the Republicans rammed this bill through the Assembly, they only left the vote open for 17 SECONDS until they got their 51 votes, then abruptly closed the vote, clearly for the purposes of: a) not letting most Dems vote (they were all in line at the microphone to speak on the bill); and b) letting a bunch of Repubs off the hook by not having to cast an unpopular vote. So after 61 hours of debate, during which the Republicans rejected EVERY SINGLE AMENDMENT offered by the Dems, they called for the vote without warning, then shut it off in less than 17 seconds. Democracy? I think not.

-The so-called "budget repair bill" not only eliminates collective bargaining rights for nearly all state workers, it also: a) drastically cuts Badger Care, and health care program for poor people (mostly kids) that was initiated by a Republican Governor (Tommy Thompson); b) adds 35 political appointees for the governor throughout state agencies; c) gives the governor almost unbridled unilateral power to implement "emergency" rules for any state agency; and d) allows the state to sell public power plants through a no-bid process (are you paying attention, Koch brothers?).

-In addition, since he has been governor, Walker has:
1) rejected federal funds in the amount of $800 million for a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee
2) rejected $23 million in federal funds for high-speed internet access in rural parts of Wisconsin
3) enacted "tort reform" making it much harder to ever sue a negligent business (this includes a provision that bans a patient who has been abused by a nursing home from using state investigative reports of that home when suing the institution)
4) made it nearly impossible to add any additional wind power through draconian regulations regarding the construction of windmills (in a state that imports 96% of its energy)

-the legislature is on the verge of passing a "voter ID" bill that would require all voters to show a government-issued photo ID at the polls in order to vote - clearly aimed at suppressing the votes of minorities and students

The one good aspect of all of this is that Walker has succeeded in doing what many of us could not - he has re-energized and awakened the union/democratic movement in Wisconsin in a way that I thought could never happen. And I do not think this is a temporary movement that will fade away in a few days or weeks.

Thanks for your continued support & interest - come to Wisconsin and bring your friends and join us on the streets!

P.S. One of the better lines of the day yesterday - "Governor Walker, thanks for ruining our Super Bowl Party!"