On May 19th, Union president, Michael Mulgrew, held a Question and Answer Webcast to discuss the contract proposal. Many, but not all, of the questions seemed to be posed by the Unity faithful. One asked, "How does the proposed contract support the ATRs?" The question itself seemed to affirm that the contract does nothing but support ATRs. It allowed Mulgrew to elude the issue of the two-tier due-process system which ATRs find highly unfavorable.
Another person asked a question in regard to retro, pointing out that he didn't know that we had given the City a loan on our retroactive raises, leading to Mulgrew's seemingly well-rehearsed "God-given-rights" response. One could sense that people with questions such as these will get the green light in Unity, move up from their after-school jobs of $20,000 or more in union offices and secure more for their double pensions. After all, who needs a really good contract when Unity has your back?
I don't think anyone could doubt that the webcast was designed specifically to sell the contract to people. According to Mulgrew, it's going to become "complicated" and ugly if we turn down the contract. At one point, Mulgrew spoke in favor of "professional dialogue." But what about a formal debate, the kind which he seems to reject at all the important crossroads? Or, what about some other format by which people can ask follow-up questions? Mulgrew attempts to marginalize his opponents by painting them as bloggers of myth, but if this is the case, why should he be afraid to take them head on and expose their myths? Why would he fear to engage them in a more evenly balanced dialogue? Why would Unity advise its own caucus members, with the seemingly singular exception of Edwize, to close up their blogs?
I found some quotes from Mulgrew's webcast of last Monday particularly memorable:
1. "Retro is not a God-given right." Prior to the Enlightenment, people did not have a sense of natural rights. Three-hundred years ago, John Locke identified God-given rights as life, liberty and property. I might ask, Mr. Mulgrew, since he seems to know, "what are our 'God-given' rights today?"
2. When asked if the families of teachers who die before accumulating the full retro will receive the lump-sum payments, Mulgrew stated "This has always been worked out. Nobody's looking to hurt a family in distress. We'll work it out." Although, I would have loved to hear a definitive "yes," I believe the Union would step up to protect families of the deceased. I'm betting many of us will die by 2020. For peace of mind, it would be nice to know. Will you be able to guarantee that my family will be protected, Mr. Mulgrew, before I succumb to Death by Danielson (now 8 elements times six observations which still "gums up my works")?
3. Mulgrew said something to the effect that "Few locals have class-size limits" in their contracts, besides the UFT. I believe this is true. Apparently, thirty-five states place limits on class size. Oddly, D.C. appears to have no limits. Some of these limits leave something to be desired though and some seem to be increasingly under attack. In my opinion, and that of many others, there is no more important path to helping students than reducing class size. I might ask, "Do you agree, Mr. Mulgrew and did you mention it at all to Mr. de Blasio?"
4. When asked whether there would still be six observations, Mulgrew stated, "We think of observations as bad. We love being isolated. We got to get over it. Helping each other will make us stronger." We must "switch paradigms" both ways, meaning teachers and administrators and engage in a professional dialogue in order to learn and help each other.
I am prepared for my class every day of the year. I have been all my teaching life. It adds undue stress to know that six times in the year my administrator is going to walk in with a pad and hold me up to some detailed rubric that may not fit the needs of my students on that individual day. The rubric puts an emphasis on spontaneous eruption of student discourse. This works upon occasion, but it cannot work all the time, and it definitely cannot work in preparing students for college settings.
When administrators have to repeatedly observe teachers who are doing their job, it detracts from the administrators' ability to complete other tasks or help the teachers who need the most help. When I was a new teacher, I was observed with this high frequency. This was twenty years or so ago. I personally find the micromanagement demeaning at this stage in my career and I don't imagine I'll be getting "over it" anytime soon. How can you talk about "empowering educators," Mr. Mulgrew, so long as I and my colleagues are so demeaned?
5. My favorite quote of the webcast came from a Staten Island teacher. Without realizing the potential for misinterpretation, she prefaced her question to Mulgrew by saying, "Thank you for your collaboration." Mulgrew hastily changed the topic and asked her about her ferry ride. Maybe it was just me, but I couldn't stop laughing. Did you find that statement or misstatement at all funny, Mr. Mulgrew?