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.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Dignity Gap

Who thought it was a good idea to send ATR teachers from school to school from week to week? How does that help anyone? The stories I'm hearing and seeing would be beyond belief it it weren't for the fact that, under such an agreement, they were virtually inevitable.

A female ATR was instructed to do secretarial duties.  For those unfamiliar with the concept of contract (for example, the administrators who issued this instruction) secretarial duties are to be performed by secretaries. The teacher declined, saying she was a teacher and wanted to teach. The administrator's conclusion?

"This is why none of you guys are able to get a job."

How outrageous that a teacher would want to do her job. Another ATR was instructed to do hallway duty. He was upset, but the administrators insisted that the halls were a mess, and that they needed patrolling. The school looked to be in pretty bad shape. "Don't you have any kids who need tutoring?" asked the teacher.

Apparently not. Helping kids with academics was not the way this school wished to use teachers.

In my own school, an ATR teacher who cried to me the other day came to visit me. She actually thanked me for speaking to her, strongly suggesting there were people in other schools who did or would not.

Tell your colleagues, but for a whim of fate or a stroke of a pen, we are all ATRs. Should the UFT ever give up their contractual employment protections, you'd better believe that the DOE will make tens of thousands of ATRs, causing teacher jobs to be no more worthwhile than those in McDonald's or Walmart. That's the long-cherished goal of the "reformers" who monopolize our news media, and they will stop at nothing and leave no billion dollars behind to achieve it.

If you meet them, offer them the support they should be getting from everyone else. There, but for the grace of God and our own determination to prevail, goes each and every one of us.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Issue 2: Why Are Cops and Firefighters More Convincing Than Teachers?

In a move that comes as a relief to many public sector workers, Issue 2 won by a landslide in Ohio on Tuesday. Issue 2 is the ballot question that repealed the stripping of collective bargaining rights from public employees, including teachers and, more pointedly for the Issue at hand, police officers and firefighters.

Don't get me wrong, this public servant is pleased at the outcome, for Ohio public workers and for public workers around the country whose collective bargaining rights are under attack. But some commentators have observed that a series of advertisements that featured firefighters and police officers stating (correctly) that the law would have prevented these workers from, for example, organizing for staffing increases to more effectively prevent and fight fire and crime, persuaded many voters to decide for repeal. And that's great.

But I wonder why the appeal from uniformed heroes was necessary. I wonder why an appeal from teachers was deemed somehow less effective by, say, the AFL-CIO or the DLC. After all, the law would also have prevented teachers from bargaining for smaller class sizes or bigger supply budgets, issues that are just as crucial to the common good, if not perhaps as immediately dramatic.

Maybe we should just be glad that the repeal is happening. It really is good news. But I do wonder why teacher voices weren't heard.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

A Lesson for Joe Nocerra

There are a lot of things you can do if you don't wish to investigate a situation beyond whatever you hear on the news. You could continue watching your TV and believe whatever it told you. You could join a cult, perhaps. Of course, a far more desirable option is to get a column with the New York Times, the paper of record, and spout whatever gibberish happened to catch your fancy.

To Joe Nocerra, Steven Brill's book is revelatory, Never mind that it's largely billionaire-sponsored nonsense. The important thing, as Mr. Nocerra sees it, is that Brill's goals can be easily achieved by courting former part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten.

I don't doubt he's correct. After all, Ms. Weingarten decided to make Bill Gates the keynote speaker at the AFT convention. Can you imagine the conversation that led to that?

Weingarten: I have a great idea. Let's have Bill Gates be the keynote speaker at the AFT convention.

Toadie #1: Love it, RW!

Toadie #2: I love it more, RW!

Toadie #3: You are a genius, RW!

Weingarten: The motion is passed.

The spectacle of those who disapproved being ridiculed at the podium by Weingarten was an absolute disgrace. And Gates thanked her and the AFT by attacking teacher pensions the following week. If I'm not mistaken, he soon came out for higher class sizes, echoed by Arne Duncan.

More recently, Weingarten actually hosted a party for anti-union, anti-teacher Steven Brill. I'm proud not to have made the invitation list. Brill suggests in his book that Weingarten should be chancellor. No doubt he's thrilled about the piece of crap contract she managed to shove down the throats of UFT members in 2005. Thanks to that contract, 1200 teachers are running all over the city like gypsies, week to week, place to place. I met one today who cried to me. I've had ATRs email me, for years now, of the discouragement and depression this placement has caused them. One wrote that she was moved to resign, no doubt a big victory for folks like Bloomberg, Gates and Brill.

Joe Nocerra knows little or nothing about what really goes on in schools. He knows, like Rod Paige before him, that Randi Weingarten never met a giveback she didn't like. He knows that she's a new kind of union leader, the kind that doesn't worry about getting more money or better working conditions. Unfortunately, what America needs is not worse conditions for teachers, but better conditions for everyone.

And while I don't expect someone as incurious and sloppy as Mr. Nocerra to bother reading Diane Ravitch, or any reality-based education writers (Nocerra prefers to call anyone opposing "reforms" status quo, and to quote blatantly stereotypical nonsense from KIPP, another outfit he can't be bothered researching.), there is something for the UFT to learn here.

In a nutshell, appeasement doesn't work. Gates thanked Weingarten by stabbing her in the back, and Brill, who trades in pushing a billionaire point of view, is hardly likely to help working people. After the 2005 contract, the tabloids praised the UFT for about five minutes before going back to trashing us for our cushy jobs and lavish lifestyles.

There is no point in giving these people anything, They are parasites. They claim to put "Children First, Always," but cut their budgets, overcrowd their schools and overload their classes without a second thought, They allow ten percent of their teachers to disappear by attrition and take responsibility for nothing. They allow schools to close, because they "failed," but the failure is never, ever attributable to them. And the abundance of high-needs kids in those schools, the ones who either don't make the charters or are "counseled out," are sheer coincidence.

Never sell out the ATRs. Don't give them an evaluation system they can manipulate, just as they've manipulated the one in the "transformation schools."  Don't do anything, ever, to get the fleeting approval of the NY Post editorial board.

I don't have high hopes for Nocerra. But if we don't learn, we may as well pack in the union, sign ridiculous contracts like the one at Green Dot, and give up altogether.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Prouder

Miss Eyre had to go home sick a few days ago, something that throws quite a bit of a monkey wrench into one's day when one is a teacher. At an office job, most likely you'd just tell the boss, send an e-mail, maybe cancel an appointment or two, and be out the door. But here's my "oh God I can't take it anymore I HAVE to go home" routine:

1.) Send a note to the secretary to see who's available to cover;

2.) Hide anything interesting in my classroom;

3.) Track down two reliable students from my afternoon classes to serve as student aides for the unfortunate ATR who had the pleasure of covering my classes;

4.) Figure out how to get the computer lab keys returned;

5.) Post incredibly detailed instructions on the whiteboard for my students to cope in my absence;

6.) Print extra copies of seating charts and handout; and

7.) Be on my cell phone to my doctor begging for an appointment WHILE trying to explain the relationship between a claim and a counterclaim to a confused but dogged young lady rewriting an essay for the third time.

Well, nevertheless, I made it out the door, fretting, as usual, about what would happen in my absence. As it turns out, I didn't need to fret. When I spoke to my student aides, one excitedly asked me, "But can I scream?"

"Um, what?" I asked.

"Can I scream," she said. "You know, if they're not doing their work. Can I yell at them and tell them to do it?"

"Oh sure," I assured her, much, I imagine, to the chagrin of my colleague next door. "Scream away."

Whatever she did must have worked, because I got a nice note from the sub and an e-mail box full of work that the students sent me.


Monday, November 07, 2011

Governor One Percent Discreetly Pulls a Scott Walker

by special guest blogger Reality-Based Educator

Governor Andrew Cuomo was all smiles last week with the news that PEF, the Public Employees Federation union, had agreed to his contract offer that gives employees furlough days, 0% salary increases for most of the contract, and much higher health insurance premiums after he threatened to lay off thousands of them if they didn't take the contract. 

PEF members had rejected the contract the first time, but the PEF leadership, along with Governor Cuomo, redid one or two things in it (not making it any better, IMO), and this time around, the PEF members agreed to it. 

I know one PEF member and she voted for it the second time because she felt she had to or she would see many of her co-workers laid off.  (I would have voted no, btw, but that's me...)

This is the second contract negotiation Cuomo has won by threatening to lay off thousands of state employees if the unions did not agree to huge concessions.

CSEA, the Civil Service Employees Association, also agreed to a contract with huge concessions after Cuomo threatened layoffs

Here is how Governor Cuomo did his victory lap for the PEF vote:

"This shows that collaboration works," Cuomo said at a news conference after the vote. He drew a contrast between New York ‘s labor negotiations and those in other parts of the country that have been more contentious. “This is slowing people down, providing the information, removing the emotion and cooler heads prevailing for a better outcome for all.” 

Oh, yeah - there's nothing "contentious" about threatening to lay off thousands of employees unless they take your garbage contract offer that will cost them thousands of dollars a year in lost pay and extra health care costs.

That sure sounds like "collaboration" to me.

Tell me how "cool" it is to threaten to lay off thousands if they don't agree to concessions?

Cuomo is smarter than some other union-busting governors around the country because he has gotten the shills running the unions to not peg him as the union-busting oligarch that he is. 

But make no mistake, Andrew Cuomo is no different than union-busters like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie or Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker or Ohio Governor John Kasich.

He is defending the 1% of this country on the backs of the 99%.

Cuomo has made ending an income tax on millionaires and billionaires the signature achievement of his administration, he has happily (and greedily) gone after the unions to take huge concessions or face layoffs, he has slashed the state budget for education and health care for senior citizens even as he has opened up the state to polluters in the gas industry who want to hydrofrack.

And if you don't like what he's doing, well, Cuomo doesn't want to hear from you.

Not at all.

A protest group modeled on Occupy Wall Street has sprung up in the state capital.

They call themselves Occupy Albany.

The Occupy Albany group has turned their protest to Governor Cuomo, who they have dubbed Governor 1% for his refusal to keep the millionaires' tax in place even as he slashes the state budget to the bone. 

They call their encampment "Cuomoville."

Cuomo, famously thin-skinned and vindictive beyond belief, wanted the Occupy Albany folks arrested and displaced from their place of protest.

He called on Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings to have the protestors arrested and the protest ended.
The mayor tried to do Cuomo's bidding but was rebuffed by the police chief of the city who said he would not use any police officers to

"monitor, watch, videotape or influence any behavior that is conducted by our citizens peacefully demonstrating."

In addition, the Albany DA said he wouldn't prosecute any protestors arrested for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Cuomo, not used to losing political battles these days and certainly not used to have people under him like an Albany County district attorney or police chief tell him that they're not going to do his dirty work for him, backed down from the confrontation.

In public, Cuomo's people say the story about his demanding Occupy Albany arrests was not true.

I guess they're trying to "save face."

But make no mistake, Governor 1% backed down when students, middle aged parents and senior citizens protesting his policies in Albany didn't run from him, didn't agree to concessions or give him his way.

Here is how the NY Times viewed Cuomo's "defeat" by the Occupy Albany protestors at Camp Cuomo:

"Perhaps, as the governor’s men now say, Mr. Cuomo never sought this conflict and his aides never pressured Mr. Jennings, who they suggest may have suffered a failure of will. Or perhaps a willful governor watched others take a step back, and despite himself acquired a dose of wisdom."


Or perhaps Governor Cuomo, like all bullies around the world, backed down when somebody stood up to him.

Which is  exactly what PEF and CSEA should have done in their contract negotiations.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Friday, November 04, 2011


Every few days our comment section gets spammed. Sometimes the spammers choose posts from years back, perhaps thinking I won't notice. The spammers who love this site best are those who are selling term papers. Here's one of their most recent comments:

It is absolutely an fantastic advice and gives abundant advice about education. Thanks for providing such affectionate of advice with us. Thanks for sharing.

You have to wonder who would want to buy a term paper from someone who wrote like that. I suppose you'd have to be not only pretty desperate, but also naive enough to believe the person who wrote it was a native English speaker.  Sometimes the spammers try flattery:

This is a really good read for me. Must agree that you are one of the best blogger I ever saw.

I suppose they think that will persuade me to leave their ads up. It seems to me, though, that if I don't make money from this site, they shouldn't either. Sometimes they get really enthusiastic:

HEY; congratulations a lot for brilliant performance; really
you guys performed fairly well; all the very best to your all; keep continuing
as like.

Wow. Thank you very much. Miss Eyre and I had tears in our eyes when we zapped your comment. Here's one from some outfit pitching high school diplomas:

I have heard so many things about NYC Educator and suddenly came across this blog. The information is very informative and thanks for sharing such kind of things to us

You know, with that degree of specificity, I have to wonder whether the writer ever got a high school diploma. Well, with Bloomberg and his stats, and NY State grade inflation, it's entirely possible. Here's one from a first class essay service:

The more you are growing up, the more such things make you feel embarrassed. Kids are so ... "look I'm so bossy here", I don't know how to explain it.

Of course you don't. So naturally, I'm willing to shell out my hard-earned bucks to have you write an essay for me. If I'm lucky, my teacher won't actually read the essay. Now that's entirely possible. I once had a young student whose essay landed on the desk of our department office.  She got an A, from an AP no less. I took one look at it and knew it was 100% plagiarized.

I went to the girl's classroom.

"You're not going to tell Ms. Braindead!" she protested.

"No I'm not," I told her. "But if I can see it, so can a whole lot of other teachers. So don't think you'll get away with this forever. I'd fail you if you tried that with me."

I wonder whether she bought it from one of these outfits. If she did, they certainly bought it from someone else. It's amazing they can't find spammers who can write competent English.

Until they do, I'm gonna keep zapping their comments. And when and if they do, I'm gonna zap their comments anyway.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

"That's Just Mean": Bullies at the Heritage Foundation

Usually, after a trying day with the children, checking in with the adult world has the effect of, if not cheering me up, then at least keeping me real. Reminding me that I do not have to base my self-worth on the evanescent opinions of 15-year-olds is, generally speaking, a healthy exercise. And, hey, there's politics and humor and literature out there in the adult world with which I can engage and remind myself that my work is to prepare my students to engage with those same things, so I have to keep myself fresh with that wider universe as well.

So after my last class, I'll often take a few minutes to read, say, the Times, Education Week, GothamSchools, Slate, Gawker (granted, not the best example of "adult media," but still), or similar. And again, this is usually a nice part of my day.


Because yesterday, just before I sat down with my colleagues to grade an exam that we gave jointly, I read Slate and found this odious little gem. You see, a study by the Heritage Foundation finds that not only are teachers overpaid (yes, you read that right!!!), but actually, we're paid far too much for the far lower quality of thoughts in our dull teacher brains. Teachers, so they say, "have lower cognitive abilities than those private sector workers with similar educational backgrounds."

Something about that really hits below the belt for me. First of all, how on Earth was this research finding compiled? Why, by noting that grade inflation is a problem in education programs. Now I'll grant you that one, I really will. My education courses in grad school were, as a rule, not as challenging as my undergrad liberal arts courses. But this stupid English teacher is smart enough to point out that a person's grades in an inflated degree program do not necessarily prove anything about his or her cognitive ability. I did very, very well in college. Very well to the tune of summa cum laude, if you must know. And I work with people who are also across-the-board high achievers. So just because people get high grades in education classes doesn't mean they wouldn't do well in other classes--and it also means that, rather than assume that teachers have "lower cognitive abilities" (and again, OUCH), education schools need to be more practical and rigorous, something with which I imagine many teachers who find themselves underprepared for the day-to-day challenges of teaching would agree.

Despairingly, I showed the article to my colleague, also an honors graduate of a prestigious university. "That's just mean," she remarked. "Why would they write something like that?"

Why indeed. It couldn't have anything to do with the fact that, as Kim Anderson of the NEA remarks, "The study is funded by the very same groups that are trying to eliminate the right of workers to have a voice in their workplace altogether."

No. That couldn't possibly be it.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

As Stupid Does

A friend at Long Island City High School contacted me a few weeks ago, expecting a whole new schedule. How can they change your schedule two months into the term, I asked. That's nuts. Oh no, said my friend, it's not just my schedule, it's everyone's schedule--every kid, every teacher, everyone who actually has a schedule.

I couldn't believe it. How could anyone even contemplate anything so utterly stupid? I kept it to myself, but when I read about it at the Times I figured, wow, they're really going through with it. LIC is a "transformation" school, so the alleged goal is to improve it one way or another. Apparently, the geniuses entrusted with this task felt causing abject chaos was the way to go.

They apparently had a lot of vacancies, but didn't see fit to hire replacements. They thought having kids sit in the auditorium for a few months was a better way to "transform" the school. When that didn't work as well as they'd anticipated, they simply killed the small learning communities and electives programs.  After all, courses that don't culminate in standardized tests won't get you a better grade from the DOE and are therefore useless.

Some kids still have holes in their programs. Under the new paradigm, you might find a kid attending periods 1-11, with four free periods but no math. Teachers met with the principal, who in true DOE style, appears neither to have listened nor addressed their concerns.  I'm told the network leader (Where would we be without network leaders?) showed up and helpfully suggested the problems were the fault of the teachers.

Imagine a school full of thousands of kids who've already received textbooks, but not from the teachers they now have. Imagine the task of collecting books from 170 kids who may just be anywhere. Imagine the empty bookrooms staying that way until the teachers, already nuts from dealing with their new schedule, track down those 170 math books.

I first started teaching in mid or late October 1984. One of my biggest problems was overcoming the resistance of a group of kids whose teacher had simply walked out on them on her retirement day. This is ridiculous, thought the kids. They knew there was no continuity, that something was wrong. And they knew that this was the time to test me, their utterly inexperienced teacher.

Kids test teachers all the time. That's kind of their job. For me, at least, by this time it's largely over. They know what to expect from me for good behavior or bad. That's because I've put quite a bit of energy into responding to their tests. I'm very glad so many are over and done with.

But for every teacher and every kid at Long Island City High School, it's back to square one. What can I get away with in this class? Will this teacher really call my house if I throw just one cheeseburger at her? My last teacher was a pain in the ass but maybe I can do whatever I want here. What the hell. If the people running the school gave a golly goshdarn about me or my education they wouldn't have let me spend two months wasting my time with classes that are now completely meaningless. Why did I do all that homework? Should I really waste my time with more? How do I know they won't change us again come Thanksgiving?

Kids are pretty smart. They may not say these things outright, but they certainly know what's going on. And they're certainly going to react, one way or another. Any principal not cognizant of this has likely not spent the Leadership Academy's requisite five minutes as a teacher.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Happy November! Time for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Well, happy November, which means one thing for many of us: time for parent-teacher conferences! Just like on The Simpsons, we'll be preparing for Let's Share the Blame Fest Fall 2011 for the next couple of weeks as the first report cards see the light of day and the honeymoon period concludes (if it hasn't concluded for you already).

My own parent-teacher conference season has started off with a bang, as one set of parents has already blown off two (!) appointments I made with them. It seems that perhaps they don't share my sense of urgency about a child who is failing every class and has missed fourteen days of school (so far!, but the year is young!!!).

This year, I'll be keeping a Google Translate tab open on my web browser next to my online gradebook for my substantial percentage of non-English speaking parents. I also resolve, as always, to do less talking and let the students dig their own graves explain the situation for themselves and propose workable solutions. I've gotten much better at this with meeting one-on-one with students; let's see how well I do when other adults are in the situation.

Here's a link to my old post on parent-teacher conferences for complete novices. And here's my previous year's reflection on student-centered conferences. As always, please add your own tips, fears, irrational anxieties, and horror stories in the comments.