Thursday, May 30, 2013

Getting Ready for Reformy John King's Plan

The administrators in my building are hard at work figuring out just what the hell they are going to tell us at PD next week. They're looking at Danielson, and figuring out how we can meet whatever requirements the DOE has told them Danielson demands.

Now the geniuses at the DOE, because they know everything about teaching and learning, have determined that observations should take only 15 minutes. Therefore, if Danielson demands kids turn and talk, you'd better have a lesson plan that allows them to do so in any 15-minute segment of your lesson. In fact, allow is not the proper word. You'd better compel them.

UFT says a lesson should be an entire lesson, rather than a 15-minute drive-by. I agree, particularly during a year when we're going to be judged by a system with no more reliability than voodoo. I fully expect Reformy John to agree with Bloomberg, no matter how stupid his ideas are, because Bloomberg's ideas will be more reformy than those of the UFT. So I guess my kids had better be asking questions, using the proper degrees of knowledge and whatnot, or I'll be selling pencils on the corner pretty soon.

This will be a tough feat for me, as I teach English to people who mostly don't speak it. In fact, because most of my kids, perhaps 90%, speak the same foreign language, it's a small miracle I get them to utter any English at all. Doubtless Charlotte Danielson could do my job much better, and thank goodness I'll be following whatever outlandish dictates Reformy John sees fit, rather than rely on almost 30 years of teaching experience--and that's ten for every one Reformy John has--one public and two charter.

Another genius notion is separating your lesson and lesson plan--the DOE wants to judge them individually. Now I'm not an administrator, but if I were, and I walked into a classroom and liked what I saw, I wouldn't care if the lesson plan were two words on a bubble gum wrapper. I would compliment the teacher profusely and put it in writing.

I would only ask to see a lesson plan if I didn't like what I was seeing. Were that the case, I'd want to know whether the teacher had a good plan poorly executed, or a bad plan well-followed. I would need to know that to help this teacher give a better lesson next time.

I plan lessons every day, based mostly on what I did the previous day. I think about what I want to do, and I write it down largely because I'm responsible to show evidence of prior planning if anyone asks.  I suppose, now that Danielson will dictate I must do a, b, and c, I will have to adjust my plans and interrupt them every 15 minutes with whatever she demands.

I will do it rather than be fired, but it's patently idiotic, and anyone who can't see that ought not to be educating children.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

An Encouraging Word

I've been attending meetings and talking to people from UFT for some time now. Often, they say things like no city union has a contract. Of course, that's hard to argue with, being that it's absolutely true. But what I rarely hear is that UFT was ignored not only in this round of pattern bargaining, but in the last as well. I've brought that up to vacant stares, and while no one contradicted me, no one seems to comment on it one way or another either.

This piece in the Daily News is all about the taxpayers, and how awful it is that they have to actually pay people to work. Evidently, if teachers, cops and firefighters would work for free, it could save the city billions. Yet those greedy public sector unions, with their health benefits and 5-day weeks, are ruining it for the rest of us.

Despite that tone, here's something I didn't expect to see:

Mulgrew has sought a ruling by a factfinding panel as the UFT seeks to gain two 4% raises that Bloomberg granted to other unions but denied to the teachers after the national economic meltdown slashed city revenue in 2009.
Many labor experts give Mulgrew a good shot at winning.

It's nice to know that the union recognizes this and is not letting it go. Because it's ridiculous that they hold the pattern as sacrosanct when it's crap, and the one time in my living memory it isn't, tell us, "Screw you, you guys get nothing." In fact, it appears Mayor4Life is offering even less:
The mayor has offered raises only if the unions grant money-saving contract concessions, most likely by having workers contribute to health care.

Actually, a raise is when you get more money. For example, the price of gas is constantly going up. The price of food, housing, electricity, and pretty much everything goes up. Yet I, like all the teachers in NYC, haven't had a raise in almost five years. We would be morons to accept a contract under which we pay for our own raises.

Now I understand that Bloomberg wishes we would all go away, so that untrained, unqualified college grads, or non college grads could train our kids how to be Walmart associates. Doubtless the 200 hour a week charter schools are doing just that. 

But I want my kids to grow up in a world where their time and work are valued. I have no problem demanding that for me, particularly as a role model.  So I hope UFT hangs tough and demands the city follow the pattern. 
We deserve nothing less, and anything less is unacceptable.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Lucky 7?

UFT President Mulgrew says about 7% of teachers will have bad ratings under the new evaluation system.  If this is the case, a lot more teachers will be looking at early retirement, a push off the cliff, or whatever you want to call losing your job over junk science. Around the country, the new junk science systems have not really changed things very much. If Mulgrew is right, NY is going to be worse off than most of the country, despite the fact that we're only at 40% junk science rather than 50 or more.

Another source of mine suggested that 7% is not the anticipated figure for NYC, but rather for NY State.  This person further stated that this was expected to be the average, that suburbs were expected to have fewer bad ratings, and that urban areas with more high-needs students were expected to have more. So if that's true, prepare to see even more of our members facing unemployment, surely the only thing Mayor4Life wants.

It's my understanding the union already negotiated a plan to appeal these much more serious bad ratings. First of all, the burden of proof will not necessarily be on the DOE anymore. Up until now, they needed to establish your incompetence before firing you. Now, a "validator" will observe you year two, after your bad rating. If the validator says thumbs up, you're fantastic, they will still need to establish your incompetence. However, if the validator says you stink, you will need to prove you are NOT incompetent, and your tenure will mean virtually nothing.

Sometimes I go to meetings and UFT reps find my concern over the new evaluation system so hilarious they crack wise over it. Here's another thing one rep laughed over--I said only 13% of poorly rated teachers would get a fair hearing. He said I wasn't always right. I suppose that's true, but if I'm not, Leo Casey is also wrong. Since Casey also points Walcott uses a rubber stamp to deny 99.5% of rating appeals, with such high stakes, we need a new system.

That system, of course, is that UFT will pick 13% of bad ratings and send them to an independent arbitrator. This assumes, of course, that Reformy John King won't just decide the city can do whatever it golly gosh darn feels like. But let's see what happens if he doesn't.

13% is a number selected because it resembles the number of successful appeals back when someone less insane than Bloomberg was in office. However, if this independent arbitrator is selected by both the union and the city, isn't it likely he or she will try to find a balance in rulings, so as not to antagonize either employer? If this is the case, we'll likely see 6.5% successful appeals. And that assumes the UFT selects only the most outrageous of injustices. With so many 29-year-old Leadership Academy principals out there, there will be lots from which to choose.

I don't envy the UFT rep who has to tell 87% if poorly-rated teachers they will get a kangaroo-court appeal. On the other hand, extremist that I am, I think everyone should get a fair appeal.

Monday, May 27, 2013

It Will Be a Reformy September

Next year, there will be a new evaluation system in place. No one knows precisely what it will be like since Reformy John of Albany has not made up his mind yet. We do know, however, that teachers will be judged by value-added methods. We have heard a couple of reasonable-sounding arguments from union leadership as to why this is a good idea.

1. Principals have too much power under the current system. It's true that, via observations and whatever else makes principals decide, they can pretty much singlehandedly say thumbs up or thumbs down on any given teacher. And it's also true that there are crazy vindictive principals who do so for no good reason. The solution, according the UFT leadership, is to use multiple measures rather than leave it entirely within the hands of any principal.

Unfortunately, adding junk science to the mix does not precisely enhance the process. Here's the story of one teacher who got a crap VAM rating one year and an excellent one the next, through no discernible fault of his own. Here's another, a DC teacher regarded as excellent, but fired for VAM scores. Here's an excellent teacher in NYC, denied tenure for value-added scores.

In fact, with the value-added fairy in the picture, principals may have less power in evaluations. But it's likely their power will be decreased only in their ability to help good teachers. If 40% of a rating is test scores, 60% is still in the principal's discretion. Since you will need 65% to avoid an ineffective rating, you could have perfect VAM scores and still be derailed by a vindictive principal.

2. Under New York State law, co-crafted by UFT leadership, we get to negotiate an agreement. This sounds promising. After all, the crazy reformers will want to be as unreasonable as possible in their ongoing effort to get rid of unionized teachers with salaries and benefits. For example, they've already persuaded our union to embrace a system that has no basis in science or practice, a system that's a crapshoot at best, and voodoo at worst. But won't we be able to negotiate it to make it more reasonable?

That was indeed the hope. However, Bloomberg rejected whatever it was the UFT and DOE had hammered out. Naturally, he blamed the union, and insisted he wanted a system that would hold teachers' "feet to the fire." The UFT then agreed to binding arbitration. Many opposition voices complained that this was not what we were promised, and that this was not the negotiation we'd depended upon. Unity-New Action's responses seemed to indicate that these people were ignorant, and that binding arbitration was indeed part of negotiation.

It's true that binding arbitration is often a part of negotiation. However, it's not true that the dissidents are ignorant or incorrect. This is because an arbitrator is presumed to be objective. I'm sorry, but NY State Education Commisioner John King, who taught one year in a public school, two in a charter, and began his meteoric career trajectory by running charters, is far from objective. He embraces every piece of reformy nonsense that comes down the pike, and has no problem subjecting our children to excessive testing and anything else Bill Gates thinks is good for them. I say our children because Reformy John, like Gates, sends his own kids to private schools, where they aren't subject to this nonsense.

King is a hypocrite, with insufficient classroom and public school experience. He's unqualified for his current position, and not remotely objective enough to make a reasonable decision.

The UFT has failed its membership. Any teacher can be fired in two years under this system, for any reason or none. Tenure is moot. While the UFT can proudly boast it now takes two years to fire a newbie teacher, I hardly see one extra miserable year at a job where said newbie is unwanted and unappreciated as much consolation.*

This is a terrible deal, the worst I've seen in almost 30 years of teaching. I honestly wonder how people who negotiate such things, under the guise of advocating for working teachers, can sleep at night.

*Correction: Jamaica Chapter Leader James Eterno informs me I am mistaken about untenured teachers getting two years, and says it's his understanding that they will not receive such protection. I apologize for my error, and to any untenured teachers I may have disappointed.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Scapegoating 101

It's odd to live in a country where billionaire Bill Gates can single-handedly control the education of our public schoolchildren. Gates, of course, sends his own kids to private school, so they won't be subject to the untested, unproven nonsense for which our children serve as guinea pigs. After all, his children are precious, and he wants the best for them.

Meanwhile, most of the country is wrapped up in value-added ratings for teachers. This means that class tests don't measure how prepared or informed kids are, but rather how well teachers are doing their jobs. Bill Gates knows that the only measure of a teacher's success or lack thereof is how well students score on standardized tests. How he knows this I have no idea, but since he has all that money there's not much point in questioning him.

Therefore students are responsible for nothing whatsoever. If they fail tests, it's because teachers failed to hammer the information into their receptive little heads. This is convenient not only for Bill Gates, but also for tinhorn politicians of every shape and stripe. After all, they've been working for years on their prime directive, cutting taxes for Bill Gates and big corporations, and working people have been slammed for years as a result. Poverty afflicts many Americans, and to fix it, it might be necessary to ask Bill's BFFs to pay their fair share.

What would happen then? It's well known that billionaires cannot be separated with one additional cent of their money. They might leave the area, leave the country, or move to another planet. Who, then, would suck the resources needed for our kids? Furthermore, is it fair to say that folks like Mike Bloomberg, who owns a mere ten residences, should have to think twice before buying another 90 or 100? Should Cathie Black have to check her purse before buying another penthouse or Hummer?

Let's get real, folks. Rich people are far too sensitive to think about that stuff. It's far more efficient to simply blame working teachers, and ignore facts on the ground. In fact, No Child Left Behind was modeled after GW Bush's Texas Miracle, which was an utter fraud. And the renowned architect of Race to the Top, Arne Duncan, was renowned precisely for Chicago's Renaissance 2010, which was an abysmal failure.

But as long as we ignore facts, experiment with hapless public school children, and blame teachers for everything, we don't need to think about any of that.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bill Thompson Is Unacceptable for Working Teachers

It's more than a little depressing to read that AFT President Randi Weingarten has seen fit to endorse Bill Thompson for NYC Mayor. First of all, she's got enormous sway over the UFT. It's possible that UFT could go its own way, but I wouldn't bank on it. More to the point, we've got history with Thompson, and it's not good at all.

It's certainly true that UFT worked closely with Thompson before billionaire Bloomberg decided to buy that third term. In fact, I recall his saying things that could just as easily have come out of Weingarten's mouth. But Thompson must surely have been disappointed when, after all that happy camping, the UFT declined to endorse a candidate against Emperor Mike.

I recall being at a chapter leader training where I complained about that. A UFT rep told me that we could only sway the electorate about five points, and that Bloomberg was so far ahead this would have been futile. At another training session, after Bloomberg won by five points, a more senior UFT rep announced to a room full of chapter leaders that we could only have swayed the electorate about three points, and that this would have been futile. He added, however, that had Hitler been running, the UFT would have taken a principled stand against him.

This was a little bit shocking to me. I did not feel any compunction to wait for Hitler to run before taking a principled stand. It was obvious to me then, and even more obvious now, that Reformy Mike's cherished goal is to break our union and privatize education. In fact, my principled stand has an even lower standard. Mayoral control is, as Mulgrew says, mayoral dictatorship. That in itself merits our principled opposition. Teachers being judged on junk science VAM merits principled opposition. It's supremely disappointing that UFT has supported both.

My buddy Reality-based Educator has mentioned that, with Common Core and junk science issuing us an untested and unscientific double whammy, the system may collapse under the weight of its own disorganization and chaos. While I hope he's right, I'm not persuaded. Bill Gates hasn't spent all those millions just to be proven a failure yet again, and the tabloid editorials will love this stuff no matter how badly it turns out.

Back to principled opposition, once the UFT left Thompson standing in the rain all by himself, he proved himself a fair-weather friend indeed. I don't speak for Weingarten, but I haven't forgotten that Thompson publicly supported Bloomberg's decision to unilaterally deny teachers the 8% raise virtually all other city employees got between 2008-2010.

Like all of my UFT colleagues, I haven't had a raise in almost five years. That's just fine with Bill Thompson. While he may be paying lip service to us now that he needs our help, he's shown us precisely how shallow his convictions are. That's unacceptable.

Since I started teaching in 1984, we've been waiting out the mayor. This strategy has proven a huge loser. It's time we back someone who will really support us, and stop wasting our time with empty suits who sway with the wind. Remember, even if Bloomberg doesn't buy a fourth term, his money will be pushing that wind, and we certainly don't need a candidate as flexible and uncommitted as Bill Thompson.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Disappearing Teacher Caf

I'm in one of two Queens high schools that still has a teacher cafeteria. It's under threat of closure, as not enough teachers are patronizing it lately. A food truck has parked by our school and has become pretty popular. Mayor Bloombucks has decreed if teacher cafes don't make enough money, too bad for the teachers.

There's something incredibly callous about this. Teachers don't get a whole lot of luxurious perks, and this certainly isn't one of them. I love the kids I teach, but sometimes I want to be with adults. I can't imagine I'm the only teacher who feels that way. It's a pretty basic consideration. Here's the big secret--Mayor Mike doesn't think we deserve any consideration at all.

That's why just about every city union got an 8% raise between 08-10 while he loudly told us to go fish. Some school buildings have been around over a hundred years, but it wasn't until Bloomberg took over that anyone decided teachers didn't warrant anything so basic as a place to talk or get a cup of coffee.

This year, we're facing an evaluation system based on fairy dust, and no one's even seen it. Reformy John King, who taught one year in public school before launching his charter career, will decide which sort of junk science can best determine whether or not teachers are "effective." Meanwhile, with the advent of utterly untested Common Core, most of which no one's ever seen, let alone holding a curriculum, test scores are expected to plummet. Doubtless the tabloids will take that as further proof of teacher incompetence, and further evidence the only way children can learn is buy placing more tax dollars in the grubby little hands of hedge fund managers.

Bloomberg works for a dollar a year. It's too much. That dollar buys the lowest teacher morale I've ever seen.

How that benefits the million kids who go to city public schools, I have no idea.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Chancellor Walcott Addresses Bullying

Hi. I'm New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and I think it's about time we addressed bullying. Personally I've had it with bullying. That's why I'm making 80 thousand teachers give lessons on it. After all, I've made them come back for full school days on June 24th and 25th, after they've given grades and their students have finished all their tests. What better time to tell 34 kids you oppose bullying than right after you've forced them to come back to a hot classroom for no reason?

I'd also like to say a few words about the Democratic mayoral candidates, who have been criticizing the mayor's initiatives, which they have no right to do. It's important we continue closing schools, and those candidates have made unconscionable statements saying we shouldn't do this. That's bullying, and I will not stand for it. Who the hell does John Liu think he is saying we need to involve parents and communities? Does he really think any community would let us come in and close their neighborhood school if we gave them a real say? Of course not. We won't let them bully us like that. We will come in and close their schools whether they like it or not. It's for their own good.

We've also had it with those damn UFT teachers. Who the hell do they think they are trying to push an evaluation system on us by negotiating, just because the law says we have to negotiate? We will not be bullied like that. We will accept our own system, with no variation whatsoever, and as soon as they're willing to accept it, we will agree. If not, we'll just let Reformy John King decide, and whose side do you think he's gonna take? Get real, people.

Once we get this new evaluation system in place, the mayor can buy himself a suitable candidate, and within two years we can fire every single teacher who isn't part of E4E, so if you want to be working in 2016, you'd better join now. Of course if you don't want to, that's entirely your choice. We aren't bullies and we understand you are free to do as you choose.

But we will not be bullied. We will get what we want, when we want, however we want it, and we will settle for nothing less. So I urge teachers to demonstrate to their students that bullying will not be tolerated, and that includes any criticism, however trivial, of our Great Leader Mayor Michael Bloomberg, blessed be his name.

Thank you very much, and remember we have cameras everywhere.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Chancellor, Bloomberg-Style

I'm surprised at how many people are shocked at NYC Schools Chancellor Walcott's sales presentation to principals last Saturday. It's encouraging, of course, that the principals gave him such a cool reception. After a decade of crap that never works, it's good to see that even administrators are not buying it. Bloggers I read regularly are shocked that he resorted to being outright political.

Yet it's one of Walcott's primary duties to fight for and defend crap that doesn't work. As long as Rupert Murdoch can squeeze a few extra millions out of it, whether or not it works is of no consequence. The important thing is to keep tossing out untested and unproven mandates and hope for the best. The best, of course, means Mayor Mike gets to fire as many teachers as possible, close as many schools as possible, and have Eva Moskowitz and her minions take over as many buildings as possible. Every dollar paid to a unionized teacher is a dollar that hedge-fund magnates may not get their grubby little hands on.

The NYC Chancellor, since the advent of Michael Bloomberg and mayoral control, is not at all the same position it once was. Ostensibly, the chancellor is supposed to be a voice for public school children. But now, the chancellor serves at the pleasure of the billionaire mayor, whose pleasure is closing neighborhood schools. undermining others by siphoning high-performing kids to charters, and thus creating a domino effect.

When Democrats stand up and say it's time to stop closing public schools, it's time to respect parents and teachers, and it's time to stop enacting insane policies that help no one who isn't already a billionaire, that threatens Bloomberg's legacy. It cannot be tolerated.

Thus, Walcott must be trotted out to proclaim how successful the mayor's policies are. That's his prime directive. He follows in the footsteps of previous non-educators Cathie Black and Joel Klein. Since none of them know anything at all about what it means to be a teacher, they can spout whatever they're told and not worry about how utterly inaccurate it is.

I certainly hope we get a mayor who isn't insane soon. It doesn't seem like a lot to ask, but it's been a long, long time with Emperor Mike, and who knows whether or not he'll change the law again to buy a new term for him and best bud Christine Quinn? But it's time for a new mayor. And it's time for a new chancellor who really has the interests of children at heart.

And if that mayor wants to know what children need, there are a whole lot of parents and teachers who can fill in the details.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Quest for a Union-Friendly Mayor

It's good to see UFT President Michael Mulgrew talking of mayoral dictatorship. Clearly, with 8 of 13 votes on the PEP, our fake school board, what Bloomberg wants, Bloomberg gets. Of course, this was apparent when mayoral control was established in 2002. At that time, the UFT supported it, perhaps even enabling it. As if that weren't enough, we supported it again in 2009.

Now we're contemplating throwing our support to a Democratic mayoral hopeful. That, in itself, is probably a good idea, but there are serious considerations. Number one, as UFT members showed, there is a lot of distrust for Christine Quinn, the apparent frontrunner. It's tough to forget she not only supported and enabled Mayor4Life's third term, but also grabbed one for herself. How yet another self-serving brazen opportunist mayor will benefit working people in NYC is a huge mystery to me.

Then there is Bill Thompson, who seems to have gained some traction with teachers. He worked closely with the UFT before the last mayoral election. However, after the UFT failed to endorse him against Mayor4Life, he supported Bloomberg's position that all city workers except educators should get raises in the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining. This suggests to me that his convictions do not run deep, and that he is easily swayed by circumstance. While I'd prefer him to Quinn, I don't think he merits our support.

That leaves us with John Liu and Bill DeBlasio. I'd love to see Liu get our support. However, the pragmatic nature of UFT leadership, as exemplified by our failure to endorse against Bloombucks in 09, suggests to me that won't happen. Liu is surrounded by scandal, and the Bloomberg-loving tabloids seem to delight in smearing him, though he's yet to be personally implicated in anything whatsoever. DeBlasio has been friendly with the union, and critical of slime like Eva Moskowitz, so he may be a good bet for us.

The UFT is right that this election is important. I also hope to see a time when we aren't waiting out the mayor, as we seem to have been doing for three decades. I only wonder why it's taken us so long to recognize mayoral dictatorship. Though I'm glad Mulgrew's jumped on the bandwagon, many of us recognized this years ago.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Principal Sappenbottom and the Workshop Model

by special guest blogger Curious Teacher

Assistant Principal Sappenbottom got a promotion: she was now Principal Sappenbottom. She got a raise, she got a bigger, more private office, and now she really could exercise her prerogative to do nothing as all she had to do was close the door and say she was in a meeting. She was the principal. Who was going to bother her? The students? They didn't even know who she was.

Principal Sappenbottom attended a Principal's Workshop in which she was told that the new educational model of learning was the Workshop Model. All desks now had to be arranged in groups and students worked together every day in those set groups. Ideally they would walk through different "workstations" as students progressed through the lesson.

This sounded good to Principal Sappenbottom. It was the New Thing. And so she sent out an edict that from now on, all lessons had to be based around the Workshop Model. AP's were instructed to give "U's" to teachers who didn't follow the Workshop Model.

One AP objected. He pointed out that the Workshop Model was great for some classes and lessons, but might not work every day, in every class, and particularly not in his subject. This made Principal Sappenbottom mad. She already disliked this AP and now that she was principal, who was he to question her edicts?

But this AP stuck to his refusal to "U" rate any teacher who wasn't following the Workshop Model. She got madder and madder. It was so much work, having to observe these teachers herself and "U" rate them for not following the Workshop Model if the AP wasn't willing to do it.

But Principal Sappenbottom had a creative solution. She was principal now! She could fire her AP's! So she fired this Non Workshop Model AP and put in place an AP that swore that he'd enforce the Workshop Model as strictly as possible. Old AP was out, much to the consternation of his department.

The next year, the Workshop Model was Out and replaced by The New Thing. Now the principal issued a new edict: "U" rate all teachers still using the Workshop Model and not using the New Thing. This time all the AP's complied.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What Do People Remember You For?

I taught special education once. I wasn't very good at it.

After teaching for about two years, I drove across the bridge to the Bronx one September morning, only to find my services were no longer required, I decided I would look for a job in Queens, where I lived. Only when I went to the Queens hiring hall, the secretary there showed me a room full of teachers sitting in wooden chairs. She said she had to place every one of those teachers before she could help me.

Things looked bleak. I called the UFT. They told me they were sorry, there was nothing they could do, but when I got tenure I'd be glad they had this policy. Of course now that I have tenure they no longer have this policy.

Anyway I put on a suit and walked into every high school in Queens. I went to every department, and talked to anyone who would listen. Finally I found the special ed. AP of a high school who had a position she was desperate to fill. She sent me back to the hiring hall with a letter promising that I would only teach English to the special ed. students. When the secretary approved me, I went back. The AP told me I would be teaching music and math.

On the brighter side, she gave me a book of lesson plans for the math, and it was things like adding negative three to positive nine, just about my level. When we got to the Pythagorean theorem, I got a real math teacher to explain it to me. Two students complained to the math AP that I didn't do any work, and that I made them do all the problems on the board. He observed me, and gave me a great writeup. He said he wanted all his teachers to make the kids do the work.

My music classes were OK, but not great. They had a bunch of guitars in various states of repair, and they paid for some instruction books that I picked out. But I had a couple of girls in the back who never paid attention, and were constantly talking to one another. We were in a science room. I was behind a big, long black table, and the students all sat behind black tables.

One day, the girls were talking nonstop, and I was behind the big desk. I stood up on the desk, walked across the tables all the way to the back, bent down and asked the girls politely to please quiet down. Then I walked back across the tables, resumed my place, and continued as though nothing had occurred. My 12 students were fairly gobsmacked, having never seen a teacher do that before. It seemed to make an impression, because the girls never disrupted the class to that extent again.

I was in the cafeteria a few months later, and I met another teacher, who asked me my name. I told him, and he said, "Oh yeah, you're the guy who walks across the tables."

It was very odd. There were only a dozen kids in that class, and no adults. Yet word got around.

A few months later, I grabbed a job at another school, teaching ESL. 25 years later, I'm still doing it. I don't walk across tables anymore, but I may be known for even worse things. You never know until people tell you.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

AP Sapenbottom and the Creative Solution

 by special guest blogger Curious Teacher

Assistant Principal Ms. Sapenbottom was irked. She was in her office and tired, and trying to take her afternoon power nap. But teachers kept coming in to make copies. She sighed. She made faces. She angrily stomped out to the bathroom and came back and said pointedly, "Can you guys hurry up?" Finally the teachers were done with their xeroxing, and Ms.  Sapenbottom was free to take her nap.

Except this kept happening over and over again. Teachers came in to make copies when Ms.  Sapenbottom was busy arranging a new addition to her kitchen. They came in to make copies when Ms.  Sapenbottom was busy napping. They came in to make copies when Ms.  Sapenbottom was busy exercising her prerogative to do nothing. She felt attacked -- she knew that they were all saying whispering behind her back that she was lazy. Sometimes she felt that the teachers purposely made copies when they knew Ms.  Sapenbottom most needed her power nap or her "nothing time." Things were escalating.

Finally Ms. Sapenbottom had enough. "The Xerox machine is being moved down the hall," she announced. And so it was moved. But there was a new problem. What would happen when Ms.  Sapenbottom wanted to make copies herself? She had the sketches of her new kitchen addition to photocopy. Walking down the hall to make copies was just SO MUCH WORK. So Ms.  Sapenbottom ordered the machine moved back into her office.

But then the teachers started bothering her during nap time again, and Ms. Sapenbottom remembered why she had the machine moved down the hall in the first place. Things were at an impasse. What to do?

Ms.  Sapenbottom had a genius idea. She started to bake cookies and brought them down to the principal's office. While she ate cookies in the principal's office she whined about her need for her OWN copy machine. The cookies must have been yummy, because a few weeks later the teachers noticed a brand new xerox machine in Ms.  Sapenbottom's office, along with the old xerox machine now moved permanently down the hall. And so the teachers could make copies and Ms. Sapenbottom could nap in peace.

It was the best solution for everybody.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Principal Suit and the Chapter Leader

Principal Suit was busy, in his office, doing Very Important Work, when his secretary knocked on the door and asked if he could see Susan, the chapter leader. He didn't really want to, but he thought if there was some problem, it might be best to nip it in the bud. So he agreed.

"Mr. Suit," she said, "Did you read the observation report that Ms. Sim wrote about Ms. Whitman?"

"No, I didn't."

"As you know, Ms. Whitman has been teaching for 38 years. She's never gotten a bad observation report. In fact, she hasn't been observed in 15 years. But anyway, considering you named her teacher of the year just last year, it might not look so good if she were to get such an awful observation."

"I'm very surprised," he said. "Ms. Whitman has been very helpful around the office."

In fact, Ms. Whitman had written just about every observation report that came from Principal Suit's office. He could just hand her a bunch of notes, and a half-hour later she'd have a full report ready. She did a much better job than his secretary, who could barely read his handwriting. He would have to nip this in the bud.

"I'm sure Ms. Whitman is an excellent teacher," he said. "Let's just forget about that observation report. Tell her she doesn't have to sign it and it won't go in her file. I will speak with Ms. Sim."

"Thank you very much, Mr. Suit," she said, smiling and leaving.

This was an interesting development. It appeared the English AP was trying to make his life difficult. Well, we'll just see about that. This was something that had to be nipped in the bud.

In fact, now that he thought about it, Ms. Sim was probably the rat who'd been leaking info from his top-secret cabinet meetings. She would have to be dealt with. It was time to open a double top-secret file. Also, he would place a copy of everything from the double top-secret file into Ms. Sim's file, because if Susan could block his double top-secret files from being used against teachers, someone could possibly block double top-secret things from going into Ms. Sim's file too.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Observation Report

Dear Ms. Whitman:

On May 9th, I observed your second period ESL class. Your aim was "How Can We Apologize For Our Mistakes?" 21 students were present as the class commenced.

You opened the class by asking who had to go to the bathroom, and listed the names of five students on the board. While you were writing the names, the student in front of me took two wet paper towels and threw them at the blackboard, where they stuck, making a very loud "plop" sound. You appeared not to hear this and continued to elicit names of students who needed to go to the bathroom. 

As I confronted the student who threw the papers and wrote a dean's referral, you proceeded to take attendance. Though the students alternately raised their hands or called out, "here," you insisted they stand and say "present." This resulted in several confrontations and two students actually walking out of the classroom. Both times, when I walked out and brought the students back to class, I found you still reading names of students. You did not appear to notice that the students or I had exited your class, or that we had entered again. However, as ten latecomers arrived, you saw them clearly and asked them individually whether or not they needed to go to the bathroom.

Twenty minutes into the period, you got into a loud argument with one student who did not wish to say "present." You then threatened to send the student to my office, which would not have proven an effective remedy, as I happened to be in your classroom at that very moment. I went over and spoke to the student, who finally stood up and said "present." You then demanded an apology from the student, who appeared not to understand what you meant.

At that point, one of your students returned from the bathroom, you crossed her name off your list on the board, and called on the next student on your list. That student replied he no longer needed to go to the bathroom, and you asked if there were any student who wished to take his place. Three students raised their hands, and you wrote their names in place of the student who no longer wished to go to the bathroom. This caused loud protests from the students whose names fell under that students name, and they demanded their names be placed above his name. There was much discussion until I stood up and told the students that there was now only ten minutes remaining in the class, that the bathrooms were now locked, and that there would be no more trips to the bathroom.

You then began your lesson, saying that when you did something wrong, it was a good idea to say, "I'm sorry."

Several students then called out loudly, "Sorry is garbage!"

You asked what they meant by that.

"Mr. Finch says sorry is garbage, and that we should just do our work without it."

"Mr. Finch must be joking with you," you replied.

Several students called out that Mr. Finch was a serious guy, that he didn't like jokes, and that he had repeatedly told them that. At this point the bell rang and your students ran from the room. This lesson was unsatisfactory.

Positive aspects of lesson:

It is certainly appropriate that students say they are sorry.

Suggestions for improvement:

In our post-observation conference, I suggested you give a DO NOW assignment, and take attendance while students were occupied with it. I also suggested you refrain from inviting students to the bathroom, that you wait for them to ask you.

I was going to discuss lesson planning and curriculum with you, but you pointed out that you stayed after school every day doing typing for Principal Suit, that he had made you Teacher of the Year last year, and that no one had criticized your practice over your 38-year career. You claimed that you had a VAM rating of 96% and were certainly the very best teacher in the school. You then walked out of my office, slammed the door, and the glass broke all over the floor.

I am requesting that you submit lesson plans to me every Friday so that we may discuss them, and so that I will be able to grant you a satisfactory rating at year's end.


Eleanor Sim, AP, English

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Principal Suit Deals With His Bad Rating

The faculty had been polled by the DOE, and they overwhelmingly declared they had little confidence in him. How could this happen? Didn't he wear a tie every day? Didn't he observe their classes and tell them every little thing he could find wrong with them? Didn't he offer them severe looks when he couldn't decide what to actually say about them? And didn't he make sure they actively engaged in his crucial anti-bullying initiative?

There could be only one answer. It was Susan, the UFT Chapter Leader. She had poisoned the staff's minds with her vitriol. Wasn't it she who persuaded him not to give a U-rating to that upstart librarian, after she had the effrontery to challenge his taking a reference book out? After all that he had done for her, the ingratitude! Why did he let her scream at him like that? Why didn't he just nip it in the bud? Nip it! That's what he should have done! And yet, with her in his face like that, it was so hard to speak.

He hastily called a cabinet meeting, to discuss her undue influence and what could be done about it. The English AP, whom he had never liked, suggested his popularity had waned when he placed multiple letters in files about the failure to enforce the anti-bullying campaign. She brought up that damn To Kill a Mockingbird again, and had the audacity to repeat the notion that the book actually addressed bullying. It was time to nip it in the bud! Nip, and nip now!

First of all, we're talking about bullying, he told her. How on earth can we do that if we're promoting books about killing innocent animals? It's our job to protect the innocent! How can we do that if we're teaching our children stories about killing cute little birdies?

The English AP, for once, was speechless. It was about time he put her in her place. He had done it. It was nipped!

And yet, the following day, Susan barged into his office and went off on a rant about how he had no right to blame her for his bad rating. This was unacceptable. There was a rat in his cabinet. He could trust no one. How could he nip this in the bud? And in fact, if Susan had a secret informer, wasn't it already out of the bud? How, then, could it be effectively nipped?

He searched his mind for a suitable comeback, but found none. He thought of giving the wayward librarian a bad rating anyway, but then there would be Susan, screaming at him again, and things would be so far out of the bud there would be no nipping them at all. The only thing to do would be to undermine her awesome and inexplicable power over the staff. But how?

This would take some serious thought and preparation. He steeled himself for a long and arduous battle.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Principal Suit and the Librarian

Principal Suit was in his office doing Very Important Work when all of a sudden he realized he needed some important information. The only way to get this information, he determined, would be to get the book that contained it. Where could he get a book, he mused, when all of a sudden it hit him like a shot. The library! There were lots of books in the library, and it was just upstairs.

However, going upstairs would mean moving from the chair, which fit him so well after all those years sitting on it, so he called a student monitor. The student monitor was excited to be of service, and dutifully took the paper with the name of the book up to the library.

The librarian looked at the book title and said, "I'm sorry, but this book is in reference. You can't take it out of the library."

"But it's for Principal Suit," protested the monitor.

"Rules are rules," said the librarian, and began to arrange things behind her desk.

Principal Suit could not believe the news when the monitor gave it to him. We'll see about that, he thought, and personally marched up to the library. He looked around and decided he liked what they'd done with the place, but would withhold any compliments until this matter was dealt with.

"Excuse me," he said to the librarian.

"Yes, Mr. Suit," she replied.

"I sent a monitor to get a book, and you didn't give it to him."

"That's right. It's a reference book, and reference books do not leave the library."

"But I need it."

"Well then you'll have to look at it here."

This was too much. He played his trump card. "But I am the principal. I need this book to do work, and I need to do the work in my office!"

"Well, Mr. Suit, if you insist on doing things this way, I will need a note, written and signed by you, that you took the book out against my admonition."

Principal Suit was dumbfounded. No one talked to him like that. No one. What was the point of being principal if people were going to talk to you like that?

He took one more look at the librarian, her arms folded in defiance.

Then he wrote the note, signed it, and she gave him the book.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Reformy John and the Magic Mirror

Every day Reformy John King peered into his magic mirror and asked, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the reformiest one of all?"

Inevitably the mirror would answer, "You're reformy, this I like, but reformier still is Emperor Mike."

Reformy John was sad. What can I do to be as reformy as Emperor Mike, he wondered. And furthermore, does an emperor outrank a king? Despite these engrossing ruminations, every morning it was the same.

"Reformy yes, this you can do, but Mike's reformier than you."


Then one day, the evil UFT Guild got into the act. They said they too would get reformy, but only if they could collectively negotiate exactly how reformy they could be. They met with Emperor Mike, who cried, "Not reformy enough!" and sent them on their way. But Genghis Cuomo from the North was displeased, and told the UFT Guild that they would get reformier or he would take all the ice cream away from the little children in the UFT Guild's village.

"Fie on you," said Sir Mulgrew of the UFT Guild to Genghis Cuomo.  True to his word, Genghis Cuomo blocked delivery of 240 million bucks worth of ice cream. The village  children were deeply saddened, and Baron Rupert of Murdockistan dispatched town criers throughout the land to call the UFT Guild a bunch of swine, and to further declare that Sir Mulgrew did not want the children to have any more ice cream.

Reformy people everywhere were displeased. Who could help them? Genghis Cuomo decreed that both the UFT Guild and Emperor Mike could issue plans on how to get reformy. And then, Genghis Cuomo decreed that Reformy John could pick the plan that suited him best. And the reformy people rejoiced.

And thus, Reformy John decreed that Emperor Mike's plan was the reformiest ever, and made it the law of the land.

That night, Reformy John peered into his magic mirror, and asked, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the reformiest one of all?"

The mirror paused for a second, looked Reformy John in the eye, and answered, "You are one reformy Dude, the UFT Guild's surely screwed. Term limits mean Mike's hit a wall, and you're reformiest of all."

And all the people lived happily ever after. Except the UFT Guild, the village students, and anyone else who faced the prospect of working for a living.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Unity Hammer

Chapter Leader was surprised. He got an email from his principal about placing a teacher center in his school. The principal forwarded him a letter from the UFT, expressing interest in the proposal. But Chapter Leader had never seen the proposal. He shot an email to the principal saying he was very surprised the UFT had taken any proposal from him without consulting with the chapter, and CCd it to a bunch of people in the UFT.

That night he got a call.

"Why didn't you reach out to us?"

"I did. I sent you a copy of my email."

"Yes, but you sent it to the principal too. You EMBARRASSED us."

"Sorry, I didn't mean to do that."

"This was a BAD idea. We keep UFT matters within the UFT. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"

"I was just trying to point out..."

It's NOT your job to POINT things OUT." Got me?"

"Yes, I was just..."

"DON'T tell me that. Do you want to go to the convention in California next summer?"

"I wasn't really thinking about it."

"ANSWER my question. DO YOU WANT to go to the convention in California next summer?"

"Well, yes, I..."

"Then you will NEVER do anything like this AGAIN.  DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"

"Yes, I do."

"Now this was the wrong thing to do. You MUST agree. You MUST agree with this. Do you understand? You MUST agree."

"I do."

"Now this will NEVER happen again. You will go and apply for the teacher center in your school, and you will act like you REALLY want it. But if you don't get it, you will NOT raise a fuss. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?"


And from that day on, he was a good Chapter Leader. Though his school did not get the teacher center, he went to all the conventions, had big fun, and never, ever complained about another thing, not to the union, not to the principal, not to anyone. 

Monday, May 06, 2013

Was Cathie Black a Victim of Sexism?

With the release of the Cathie Black emails, I'm reading a lot of speculation on how attacks against her were sexist. After all, she is a woman. We didn't know a whole lot more about her at the time of her nomination, other than the fact she had virtually no educational experience, a big plus for Mayor Bloombucks, who apparently met her at the Rich Folks Galas they sipped champagne at.

And yet, many spoke of what a brilliant choice it was at the time. Well, hindsight is 20/20, and even the NY Post, which initially adored her, has pretty much come around to saying what those of us who were not insane were saying at the time. So were we sexist?

Well, she did come across as a blithering ignoramus. However, that's not entirely her fault. After all, she knew nothing whatsoever about the job she'd taken. So why was anyone surprised when she looked like a deer in the headlights or blurted out inanities? It was very much to be expected.

And yet, Joel Klein did not have similar issues. Sure, he knew nothing about education. Sure, he made many an inane utterance. And yet, the papers loved him. He blathered on about theories that had no basis in reality, about untested notions, about things that had never worked anywhere, and the city editorial boards said, yeah, Joel, go for it!

Nonetheless, anyone reading this blog at the time saw stories of how nonsensical and ridiculous his ideas were. Anyone reading Leonie Haimson or Diane Ravitch read much the same.

So I'm going to say yes, Clueless Cathie was indeed a victim of sexism. When she suggested birth control as a means to reduce class size, there was outrage at the abject stupidity of the comment. Yet when Joel Klein said much the same thing, I don't think I heard about it--until some blogger somewhere pointed out he'd said the same thing Black did.

The papers were sexist in going after her but not Klein. Klein, you'll recall, was on board to praise Mayor Mike for the miraculous boost in NYS test scores, the ones Bloomberg based his third term on. Diane Ravitch examined them next to the NAEP scores and determined the state scores must have been dumbed down. Just a year later, the papers discovered Ravitch's claims to be correct.

So there is some sexism there. Klein was clearly as incompetent and clueless as Black, but has never really been nailed for it in the press. And make no mistake, if there is any sexism, it comes from the press.

I don't feel all that sorry for Cathie Black. But I wonder, is it easier to be a blitheringly incompetent man than a blitheringly incompetent woman in the United States nowadays?

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Letter to File

Dear Ms. Teacher:

On May 1st, I met with you and UFT Chapter Leader Sleepy McBraindead in my office. We discussed your failure to offer mandated anti-bullying instruction on your class. You admitted openly flaunting a direct order from me to teach anti-bullying. You claimed that anti-bullying lessons were implicit in your instruction of To Kill a Mockingbird.

I directly instructed you not to teach this novel, and to focus more on Common Core non-fiction pieces. I suggested Pearson's The History of Cement and 100 Tedious Essays that No One Wishes to Read, but you persisted in teaching the novel, calling it "classic" and "indispensable."

As principal, I determine what is classic and indispensable, and it's your job to promote my directives with sincere enthusiasm and without question. This is the only way we can promote the free and open discussion that is required in the Danielson framework that we will be implementing during the next school year whether you like it or not.

I have determined that what our students need is direct instruction in our schoolwide anti-bullying campaign. Furthermore, I've instructed you that essays on how students feel about literature is not only unacceptable, but also impractical in terms of what our students can expect in the workplace. For example, have I ever once asked you or any faculty members about their feelings on anything whatsoever?

We are involved in very serious matters here. The chancellor and mayor have decided that bullying is now unacceptable, and that we must fight it at all costs. It is therefore imperative that you focus your students on this matter. It is unacceptable that you continue to teach things that will not help our students in their careers, or help them pass Common Core exams, and I will not tolerate your abject refusal to participate in vital schoolwide initiatives.

The next time I visit your classroom, I would like to see evidence that your students have been instructed in anti-bullying. Such evidence may include, but not be limited to:

1. Compositions on the bulletin board that oppose bullying.

2. Spontaneous conversation from students opposing bullying.

3. Student behavior that indicates they oppose bullying, or

4. A mini-lesson on why you yourself are opposed to bullying that inspires student to student feedback on anti-bullying.

Be advised that failure to promote anti-bullying will result in more stringent disciplinary measures, including but not limited to an unsatisfactory rating, gratuitous, frequent and highly disruptive observations by large groups of chattering observers, suspension with or without pay, and/ or dismissal.


29-Year-Old Principal
Leadership Academy

Friday, May 03, 2013

The SBO--Make Them an Offer They Can Easily Refuse

Last week, Ms. Teacher went to work, and noticed there was a ballot box in the check-in room. She had no idea there was going to be a vote, and neither did any of her colleagues. But there it was, and she was handed a ballot.

There was an SBO, a proposal to increase the school day, already six hours and fifty minutes, by 37 minutes Monday to Thursday. Ms. Teacher saw nothing about getting paid for the extra time. Then she heard some of her colleagues screaming about it in distinctly uncomplimentary terms. The consensus was that this was nuts, and why would anyone want to do such a thing?

Ms. Teacher located her chapter leader, who told her the District Representative wanted this SBO. Now, to me, that's pretty hard to believe, but I suppose if I were pushing such a crappy idea, I'd blame the DR, or pretty much anyone handy. You could always blame the mayor, I suppose. Here's the thing, though--an SBO vote is theoretically a partnership between the principal and the chapter leader. Nothing can even come to a vote without the chapter leader's OK.

It was a stressful day for Ms. Teacher. She's kind of sensitive, and doesn't like too much controversy. And yet, there it was. All day, everyone was shouting at one another. They weren't really mad at each other, but rather agitated that anyone would have the audacity to offer such a crappy idea.

At the end of the day, there were over a hundred votes against the SBO, and only one in favor. Ms. Teacher suspects it was the chapter leader, as does everyone else. But Ms. Teacher isn't the sort of person to confront the chapter leader with that.

However, she is the sort who votes every chance she gets, unlike 83% of working NYC teachers.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

What Can an Opposition Caucus Win?

A comment from Norm Scott on one of my recent posts has been rattling around in my head lately, and it really bears a little more attention:

34,000 elem school teachers get only 11 Ex bd seats, 11,000 middle school tchrs get 5 EB and 19000 HS teachers get 7 EB seats for a total of 23 out of 101 eb seats. 

This means if an opposition caucus were to win all the divisions, high school, middle school, and elementary school, under UFT rules, they'd have less than a quarter of the seats on the UFT Executive Board.  As high school, middle school, and elementary school VPs are all elected "at large," none of these divisions would be led by their actual selections.

With retirees controlling more than half of the votes, it would be almost impossible for working teachers to trump their control. So while I wrote a parody piece last week declaring us the United Federation of Retired Teachers, it appears that's already pretty much the case.

So I'm appending one more thing I'd like to see from a social justice union, and that is representative democracy.

The prime purpose of union is to represent the interests of its members. The way our election rules are set up, it appears the prime purpose of the election is to maintain control of the dominant caucus.

That's unconscionable, and I can certainly understand the cynicism that keeps the vote down when I contemplate such an absurd system. I can't help but vote every chance I get, but I can understand why a lot of members might see it as a futile act.