Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Timeliness and Learning

I apologize to regular readers of this little blog for not posting as frequently as usual. I'm sure you know I'm a full-time teacher. In addition, I've been running for Executive VP of NYSUT these last few weeks.

Last Tuesday, I went to a forum in Manhattan. On Wednesday, there was one in Newburgh. On Thursday, there was another in Mt. Kisco. And then, of course, there was my job. These forums pop up with short notice, and I'm all in.

Our opponents favor forums like the one in Mt. Kisco, where there was no interaction whatsoever. My direct opponent reads very well (though that can't be said for everyone on his slate). In Melville, they did not look good, as they had to face not only unexpected questions, but also unwelcome and inconvenient contrary opinions. In Lake Placid, they tossed about sleazy and transparent innuendo, winning over no one.

In Newburgh, they didn't even bother to show up, and sent out a ridiculous email explaining they are grassroots working teachers. I'm a grassroots working teacher, and I don't have the UFT-Unity machine behind me. I drove over two hours through the most miserable rainstorm I've ever seen to get home, and went to work the following day. In fact, Port Jefferson Station Union President Beth Dimino is also a working teacher, and managed to come all the way from the Far East of Suffolk County.

In any case, since I got more involved with union matters I've come to value teaching more than I once did. When I first started as CL, and dozens of people were coming up to me with questions for which I had no answers, it was very challenging. When I stepped into the classroom, I realized I really knew what to do there.

I knew what to do in the classroom because I'd gotten a lot of help. I've had very good teachers. Sometimes I had very good supervisors, and I've always had great colleagues. If you have an unhelpful supervisor, your colleagues are the best resource there is. When you've got an issue, any issue at all, it's likely that one of your colleagues has had the same issue and knows how to deal with it. In time, you build a repertoire, and you can make snap decisions that work well. To my mind, "rigor and grit", and the other crap spouted by corporate reformers does not represent our primary challenge. Knowing what to do at the moment is very tough, and simply does not come instantly. When you face 34 teenagers, you'd better be able to think fast, and more accurately than, say, CC architect David Coleman, who dismisses student feelings as crap. In the classroom, you do that at your peril.

This, of course, is just one reason why misguided corporate reformers are wrong to rely on instant and replaceable teachers. It's one thing when you are making burgers at McDonald's, but quite another when you are shaping young minds. I'd risk an overdone burger much more readily than a cynical or unhappy child.

I guess it's the same with any demanding job. I've gotten great support from any number of people since I became chapter leader. I've met chapter leaders from all over the city, and have benefited from their experience. I've met great people from the press, who early on got the word out and helped save our school from the overcrowding that threatened our very existence. A UFT leader helped us get a meeting with Tweed, Bloomberg and Klein actually acknowledged us on network TV, and we managed to reverse the overcrowding trend. We're still overcrowded, but my kids are no longer sitting on windowsills. (Of course the trailers don't have windowsills.)

You quickly learn who gives worthwhile advice and who invents nonsense on demand, and proceed accordingly.  Despite my frequent criticisms of the Stepford Wife Unity mentality, I know great people in the UFT. I know others who slavishly follow without question, and for whom original thoughts would die of loneliness. Several times people from the UFT have called to demand I do this or believe that. One told me how intelligent I was, and I asked, "If I'm so intelligent, how come you've never asked me to be part of Unity Caucus?" Happily, I haven't heard from that person since. Another got all Tony Soprano with me, and got nowhere. If you haven't signed up to believe what they tell you, they simply can't tell you what to believe. And if you aren't part of the caucus, threats to kick you out mean little indeed.

Anyway, posting may be spotty for the next few weeks, so please bear with me. To partially compensate, I promise you something special from a guest blogger tomorrow. It will pop up at 4 AM, in case you want to get the first look.  I'm off to New Jersey now, as sometimes in life one must go to New Jersey. I hope I don't run into Chris Christie (but if I do, it will certainly be something worth blogging about).
blog comments powered by Disqus