Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Right to a Decent Classroom

Recently, in my school, two foreign language teachers were placed in computer rooms. In our school, there were a bunch of bowling alley-style rooms. You could choose between either ten rows of 3 or two rows of 15. Neither was a good choice. A former principal hit himself on the head, shouted, "Eureka!" and declared he would render them all computer rooms. (Full disclosure--I wasn't there when he had this epiphany, so it isn't a direct quote. But it was still a great idea.)

The problem is that there simply are not enough computer classes, so someone has to work there. If you're a dimwitted supervisor, you might dump anyone with a bad rating there so they can't do groupwork, and then Daniel-slam them for not doing groupwork. If you're a conscientious supervisor, you might lobby for your people or try to make fair deals. Either way, someone gets stuck in the crap room.

There is an article in the UFT Contract, 7R, to be precise, that says teachers need adequate supplies. Here it is:

The Board and the Union agree that schools should provide appropriate and sufficient basic instructional supplies and books to deliver an effective educational program. Basic instructional supplies and books are those that must be provided for use by students without which classroom instruction will be impaired.

In the event a member or members of the faculty believe that such supplies and books are not available to students and faculty, the chapter may request a meeting with the principal. Upon the request of the chapter leader, the principal shall meet with the UFT chapter committee to resolve the issue. If no resolution is achieved at the school level, the district representative and the appropriate superintendent will meet within five (5) school days to attempt to resolve it. If they are unable to do so, the dispute will be forwarded by the Union to the Chancellor for his/her prompt review and response.

I used it once when a principal, angry at me for having spoken with a NY Times reporter, deprived my students of books. I threatened to file a grievance, and voila! We got the books. Now I'm stretching it and asking UFT to claim that, by giving my members inadequate classrooms, they are depriving them of supplies. I mean, how can you teach, especially to Danielson, with an inadequate classroom? Will UFT show any love at step two? Will they enable or push for those meetings? Hard to say.

But it's unconscionable that teachers are expected to use facilities like that. I know well, because I've taught in every crap room in the building. I taught in the music wing next to a teacher who adored playing "Flight of the Valkyries" full blast, every day, and never closed the door. I was reprimanded by his supervisor the one day I walked over and slammed it myself. I've taught in rooms adjoining fragrant dumpsters. I taught in a room with no ventilation and a dance class outside in the hall. You had to choose between hearing or air, because you couldn't have both.

I also taught in various iterations of the bowling alley rooms, they that are now computer rooms. One year, they dumped me in a trailer. I thought, hey, it sucks in the rain, it sucks in the snow, it sucks in cold weather, it sucks in hot weather, but at least there's a full room. Once I noticed no one else liked it, I started requesting it. (A big DOE secret is that when you request something no one else wants, it's pretty easy to score it consistently.) This worked for about a decade, and I got a lot of mileage complaining widely about it. But then my supervisor went and kicked me out of the trailers. I told her I'd been thrown out of worse places, but I wasn't altogether confident it was true. 

I've never taught in a bathroom, but I know teachers who have, one of whom was featured in the NY Times not once, but twice. I know there are kids learning in basements and hallways, and I know there are facilities far worse than those we have to use when 400 extra kids show up unexpectedly. But I can't face that all right this second.

What I can do is the best I can for my affected colleagues and their students, and right now that's filing a grievance. Maybe UFT won't back me, but in this case I'm not sure it should be on union. Not that I wouldn't advocate for it given how things are, but why should it need to be in a teacher contract that kids can have decent facilities? It seems to me it ought to be a matter of course, and not just for the Moskowitz Academies and their reformy donors. Shoudn't Mayor de Blasio reach into that whopping surplus our contract enabled and refurbish schools and rooms that have grown unfit over the decades?

I ought not to have to complain about this situation because it ought not to exist. But it does and I will. If you have any ideas about how to do so more efficiently, I'm open to suggestions.

What was your worst classroom like?
blog comments powered by Disqus