Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Moskowitz Anomoly

Eva says the "got to go" list was an anomaly, one of those wacky things that happens once in a blue moon.  Yet there have been stories for years of kids pushed out of Moskowitz Academies, for inconvenient behavior, low test scores, whatever. Eva is now demanding public funding for the Moskowitz pre-K but refusing to submit to required oversight by the city. Rules are for the little people, and that would be us, the people who serve all children.

If there's an "anomoly," it's the fact that this particular list was placed in writing.



Eva's test scores are no miracle. They're a product of the drill and kill method she favors that values test scores over children. How else do you explain children soiling themselves as a matter of course under the abusive leadership she fosters and defends. In a public school, this would be considered child abuse. If you didn't allow a child to go to the bathroom and that child soiled herself, you'd be guilty of corporal punishment under CR A-420. When my dog asks to go out, I jump up and take him. Therefore I treat my dog better than Moskowitz treats the children under her care.

Anyone who tells you Moskowitz is an amazing success story is ignorant, willingly or otherwise. There is no way I'd subject my kid or yours to the ridiculous and joyless discipline inherent in her test factories. There is also no way I'd equate a Moskowitz Academy with "Success." In my view, success entails a certain degree of happiness. Creating compliant drones is great for companies like Walmart which pay poorly for lives of drudgery. Doubtless that's why the Walmart family is all in for charters. Nonetheless I want something much better for the children I serve.

That's just one reason I don't work for the likes of Eva. A better reason is I have a better job. I serve all high-needs kids, none of whom will get a great standardized test score, and none of whom would be accepted into a Moskowitz Academy. Despite recent reforminess, I still have better working conditions than Moskowitz teachers ever will. I want my kid and yours to have better working conditions and therefore reject the preposterous claims that we somehow oppose "excellence." If "excellence" entails forcing working people to demonstrate publicly against their own interests, like Eva just forced her teachers to do, who needs it?

Moskowitz Academies take public money, but are not public schools. Public schools serve the public, and do not discriminate against ELLs or kids with disabilities. They don't write "got to go" lists about kids whose scores will hurt the bottom line. The stakes attached to scores are there because Eva and her BFFs are waging war against us, the last bastion of unionism in these Unitied States.

It's an important war, because if we really cared about "excellence," we'd want our kids to have excellent lives, as opposed to excellent test scores. Hobbling union deprives our children of opportunity and makes it more likely they'll spend years of drudgery in service of Eva's BFF the Walmart family.

Moskowitz is a demagogue and I applaud NY Times reporter Kate Taylor for shedding further light on her misleading and unethical practices.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Punchy Mike Email October 2019

Hi folks. It's me, your old buddy, "Punchy" Mike Mulgrew. Now I'm damn proud of that moniker, I defended Common Core, and I defended having those tests. Of course the initial rollout was a problem, and the subsequent 9 rollouts have been problems as well. When are those darn bureaucrats gonna roll out this thing the way it should be rolled? I was at Cinnabon yesterday, over at the mall, and those buns were rolled out perfectly. Why can't Governor Cuomo roll out something like that?

Now a lot of people are complaining about the new APPR system. We know that the matrix is the way to go, and despite what our opponents say, we've kept state assessments down to 80% of your evaluation. In Florida it's up to 99%, and we've drawn a line in the sand at 80%. We're good at drawing lines in the sand, because we've been drawing them since way back in 2015 when it was 20%.

So let's get down to the new 3020a system. As you know, at one time the burden of proof was on the DOE to show that you were incompetent. We improved on this by adding UFT dementors evaluators to decide whether or not they needed to prove your incompetence, and they only threw 70% of poorly rated teachers under the bus. This was a great victory, as Governor Cuomo wanted to throw 100% of poorly rated teachers under the bus. Now we all know that, for a period of two years, the governor had actually thrown them under Greyhound buses, but after my strongly worded letter, we were able to initiate the current much-improved system.

Now a lot of people are making a big fuss about teachers being clad as gladiators and fighting lions in Citifield, but as usual, our opponents are engaging in relentless negativity. They fail to consider what would've happened if we had not negotiated it down. Governor Cuomo wanted teachers to fight fire-breathing dragons, and we told them that just crossed a line. We told him we would not stand for it. Remember, we are always smart and tactical, and once we pointed out that fire-breathing dragons do not, in fact, exist, the state dropped that demand.

Now it's true working teachers have not had much luck fighting the lions. But we're holding regular lion-fighting workshops at our borough offices, and we've even build a working stadium at 52 Broadway. We've also found that the lions help to keep out the riff-raff during the Delegate Assemblies, and we've found that most votes are unanimous since we've threatened to uncage them at meetings.

And I know, the ATRs are still bellyaching because they haven't got a chapter. I know a lot of them are upset because they don't want to fight the lions, but we have to stick together and put on a united front. And the good news is that any teacher, ATR or not, who isn't eaten by a lion will get the full final retro payment next October.  Honestly, the opposition demands that people eaten by lions be made whole is simply unreasonable.

Remember that we in UFT leadership are always smart and tactical. Remember that no UFT member has ever faced a fire-breathing dragon, and I give you my most solemn promise that this will not be a feature of the new contract, which, under my leadership, is only one year overdue.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Student Observers

My AP often sends student observers to my classroom. I have no problem with that, and I tell her so whenever she brings it up. I was a student once, and I feel it's a way of passing it forward or something. Still, supervisors ought not to be unilaterally assigning student observers to teachers. For one thing, there's specific language about who and how many people may observe your class, and student observers aren't included. For another, there are a variety of reasons you may not wish to have student observers. Maybe your students are sensitive. Maybe you are.

More to the point, though, if we are thoughtful, we don't simply dump people in classrooms and say, "That's the way it is." It's common courtesy to consult with the people in charge of said classrooms about any proposed changes. While I don't much care when student observers come in, I've been in classrooms where there aren't enough seats for my kids. In that case, forewarned, I might ask not to have observers in. I have had to ask student observers to get up so my kids could sit down. Had I known that would be necessary, I would have sent them elsewhere.

Most student observers are polite. I had one, though, who sat in the back of the class texting on a phone. I told her that it was inappropriate, and she claimed she was actually doing school work on her phone. I found this odd, because she also carried a laptop. I then told her to do her school work on her laptop, because whatever she was doing on her phone, she appeared to be texting. My students were not allowed to do that, so she couldn't do it either. I didn't need to revisit the issue.

I've only had one observer who I really had a problem with. This one walked into a small class I was teaching at Queens College. She turned on a tape recorder and my students all looked at her when she did it. This was problematic in that this was a class where I had to work very hard to get the students to talk and participate. I could see the tape recorder wasn't going to help. I asked her to turn it off.

"Why?" she asked.

"I'm not having this conversation right now. Please turn the tape recorder off."

"Miss Abromowitz lets me tape the class," she said.

"I'm not Miss Abromowitz. Please turn the tape recorder off."

She made some irritated noise, but complied. Later that evening I had to take the class to the language lab, where they listened to recordings and such. At one point, my student observer decided it was time to ask a question.

"What purpose does this serve?" she asked, in full hearing of my students.

"You can leave now," I told her.

"Why do you want me to leave? You can't do that."

"I can and I am. You now have a choice. You may leave on your own, or I will call security and have you removed."

That was the last time I saw that particular observer. I've no doubt she was happier with Miss Abromowitz anyway, whoever she may have been. I hope that doesn't happen again. My AM class is large, off the wall and unafraid of anything, but there are some very sensitive souls in my PM class. Maybe that's what differentiation is for. I think my AM class would be delighted to see me throw someone out of the classroom, but my PM class would be horrified.

Fortunately, I try to throw as few people out of the classroom as possible. Last year, when I got kicked out of the trailers after a full decade of exile, I became a little more conscious of what it means to be territorial. And every time it rains, or snows, or gets hot, or cold, and I'm indoors, I think about those trailers with inverted fondness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Double Decker Day

It was a typical day, back when high schools still had teacher cafeterias. The teachers sat and chatted about what they had done the previous weekends, what they planned to do on upcoming weekends, and there was the usual amount of shop talk. After all, you never know what teenagers are going to do, they almost always do it anyway, and once it's done, how can you not comment on it.

Everything was pretty much normal until Ms. Abromowitz saw it. She was without a comment, and that was unusual for Ms. Abromowitz. But Ms. Gonzalez, in the next seat, who was usually quiet, knew exactly what to say.

"A rat!" declared she.

This caused a panic amongst the staff. In a school like this, where most expected the unexpected, this was unusual. Yet teachers of both sexes became panicked. There was much screaming, and there were those who actually jumped on chairs so as not to be on the same level as the offending rodent.

After what seemed like a long time, but what was likely not more than a minute or two, the uninvited guest disappeared. To where, no one knew. But after a few minutes, the hysteria died down. Teachers resumed their conversations and continued to purchase the then ubiquitous double-decker grilled cheese sandwiches on white.

Everything had gone back to normal. Then shots rang out. People listened, then went back to those double decker sandwiches.

Then one of the cooks made a rare exit from the kitchen, with a bloodied but extent rat held by the tail between his fingers.

"This one won't be bothering you no more," said he, and more than one double-decker grilled cheese sandwich hit the garbage can unfinished that day. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Jia Lee for UFT President

MORE/ New Action has selected Jia Lee as its candidate for UFT President. Though I had to leave early and run to Macungie, PA (don't ask), I was very pleased to be part of the meeting in Brooklyn where her candidacy was announced. I've met Jia on numerous occasions and have seen her speak in various venues. Jia is calm and thoughtful, two qualities wholly lacking in what I've seen from Michael Mulgrew. She is someone who can speak for public school teachers, parents and students.

While Michael Mulgrew wants to punch your face and push it in the dirt if you lay your filthy paws on his precious Common Core,  Jia thinks we ought not to have adopted it in the first place. While Mulgrew defends high-stakes testing, Jia not only opposes it, but has opted both her child and herself out of it. This can be a very risky stand for a working teacher, but Jia has taken it nonetheless. Fearlessness is a good quality in a leader. Risk-averse Michael Mulgrew and similar leaders have led us down a path of concession that has emboldened our enemies to the point of threatening to bankrupt public union.

Jia traveled to Washington DC to address the Senate on the travesty that is high-stakes testing. She spoke for us rather than union leadership. I know leadership tried unsuccessfully to co-opt her, and that she was not for sale. It's high time we had a leader who spoke for us. Current leadership thinks it's our job to speak for them, and forces everyone who allegedly represents us to do just that. That's simply ridiculous. It's one thing to present a common front, but quite another to support programs that actively hurt not only students, but also the working teachers you ostensibly represent. While Mulgrew can go to Albany and negotiate our current soul-crushing rating system, while Mulgrew can thank the Heavy Hearts Assembly for supporting and enabling one that's even worse, Jia Lee will stand with Diane Ravitch, with working teachers, with the American Statistical Association and spread the rational view that judging teachers on test scores is both invalid and counterproductive.

Jia, a UFT chapter leader, has been part of MORE for several years. She could easily have been on the road to Unity stardom if only she sold her soul for a few shekels, and who can't use the odd shekel these days? This is the sort of sacrifice we don't see from most chapter leaders. It's pretty easy to take the Unity road, take trips to conventions on our dime, pretend to represent us, but vote any damn way Leroy Barr tells you. Like everyone in MORE, Jia has forsaken trips and patronage to stand on principle. Jia has evidently determined union positions ought to be based on merit rather than a loyalty oath to ideas that frequently run counter to what's good for public school teachers, parents, and students.

Jia will not be drawn into petty nonsense or feuds for no good reason. She won't indulge in paranoiac innuendo, and she won't resort to logical fallacy to sell us a substandard contract. She won't personally insult people from the podium at 52 Broadway. She won't spend 90 minutes sharing private jokes with her BFFs on the stage. Who knows? With someone like Jia at the helm, maybe the DA will become something more than a few hours in which we're expected to heap adulation on the keeper of the patronage mill. Maybe we'll hire people on the basis of competence rather than loyalty. Maybe those people will inspire members to be active unionists rather than passive recipients of eyeglasses.

In short, Jia is a breath of fresh air, and NYC Educator endorses her without reservation or hesitation. Vote early, vote often, and vote for Jia.

Monday, October 26, 2015

From Obama--Too Little Too Late

Barack Obama, the reformiest President in US history, paid what he evidently considers to be valuable lip service to reducing testing in a Facebook message. Obama made a non-binding suggestion that districts may or may not accept. Evidently the President stuck his finger in the air, felt the winds of discontent, and determined he did not wish people to blame him too much for the misery his policies have wrought.

Today President Obama plans to stand with his two corporate stooges, Arne Duncan and John King, and pretend that he is taking action on this issue. Arne Duncan famously stated that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, and for that drew not a single word of reproach from the Commander in Chief, who appointed Duncan and threw Linda Darling-Hammon under the bus at the behest of huge campaign contributor, so-called Democrats for Education Reform, an astroturf group formed by Mc Donalds and Walmart-loving hedge-funder Whitney Tilson. Pedantic, thin-skinned John King is the guy who canceled NY Common Core forums when he found NY State parents and teachers had the temerity to disagree with him. He called us "special interests." President Barack Obama saw fit to promote him.

AFT President Randi Weingarten had this to say:

"It's a big deal that the president and the secretaries of education-both current and future-are saying that they get it and are pledging to address the fixation on testing in tangible ways," Weingarten said.
But, she added, "the devil is in the details."


To my memory, this is at least the third time I've heard Weingarten praise the President for words. But words are not deeds, and in the deeds department Obama is sorely lacking. Obama enabled and supported Race to the Top, which waved money before the noses of cash-strapped states and pretty much forced them to accept Common Core and junk science-based teacher evaluations. Even then, after pretty much making teacher jobs dependent upon test scores, Obama was saying things like we shouldn't teach to the test. Does he think we should set ourselves up for dismissal based on the junk science his programs have enabled and mandated? Who knows? That's just one of many factors he hasn't bothered to consider.

I voted for Obama the first time he ran, though I had deep reservations about his obvious ties to reformy astroturf groups with suitcases of cash to offer candidates they could buy. It quickly became clear that Obama not only gave GW Bush a third term in education, but was also willing to sign off on pretty much any program self-appointed education expert Bill Gates was able to pull out of his abundant hind quarters. The second time Obama ran, Randi Weingarten's AFT endorsed him, asking no concessions whatsoever, but I was unable to vote for him. The explosion in testing Obama now bemoans is a direct result of his policies.

It's not enough to talk about non-binding policies now that he's a lame duck. On education, Barack Obama's legacy is the very worst of any President since the inception of public education. He's moved us backward and extracted the joy of learning with almost surgical precision. And despite his words, demagogues like Andrew Cuomo and Chris Christie are not going to move toward reasonable policies anytime soon. Though they're also willing to drop a few words here and there, they don't want to make any reasonable changes and read about themselves in the NY Post.

It's pathetic that, in the United States in 2015, the President, not even facing election, is too timid to appoint a Secretary of Education who isn't insane. Even worse, the best he can do for us is advise us we don't have to kill our kids with testing. The fact is neither Obama's kids, nor Duncan's kids, nor King's kids are subject to the hurtful policies they've imposed on our kids.

And that is nothing less than a national disgrace.

Related: Principal Tim Farley points out we already have a 2% cap on test time in Andrew Cuomo's NY, and that it's not nearly good enough. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

On Your Teacher Team

So there you are on your teacher team, looking at a stack of papers and wondering how you can make the papers better. You can write them yourself, of course. You probably write better than most of the kids, except that one in the first row, who writes better than anyone you've ever met. How do you improve on that? You could tell the kid to start writing worse so you could make suggestions for improvement.

On the other hand, there are the four kids who've never been in school in their lives, and they don't know how to write at all. Fortunately, you have an ESL teacher in back of your room, and you can blame those kids on her. After all, it's her job to get them up to snuff, and not only has she failed to teach them English, but she's further failed to teach them to write in their first language. The fact that she doesn't know that language either is neither here nor there. She should be getting them fluent in L1 so they can do better in your class. How the hell are you supposed to show improvement when those kids cannot produce writing in any discernible language?

It's 50 minutes you have to sit at this meeting. Five minutes are already gone, and in another five minutes ten will be gone. You haven't watched a clock like this since you were in elementary school. Of course it's a DOE clock and it says six o' clock even though you know for a fact it's closer to three. The second hand is moving, and that's evidence that time is passing. But is it really? Is this the longest fifty minutes of your week?

Thank goodness they've at least picked someone else to lead this team. Last year you had to fill out the paperwork and show alleged goals and achievements. This year someone else is doing it, though they say they're gonna alternate. You try to fade into the background. You wonder why you don't own a shirt that's the precise puke green someone painted the wall 50 years ago.

Of course no one on your team teaches the same subject as you, or has the same students as you, or knows anything about what it is you do, and your team was chosen at random based on room availability. Perish forbid you should sit in the cafeteria like you do at least once a day with the teacher who teaches the exact same kids you do. It would be terrible if your teacher team was with her, because as it happens you speak to her every single day. So what if you speak one language, she speaks another, and you collaborate to call homes together. That doesn't matter.

The important thing is you sit here, look at stacks of papers, and think about all the things you've done wrong, all the things that could be better, and all the reasons the failure to do better is your fault.

Because that's why you need teacher team meetings.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Class Size Progress

Somehow, in UFT-Unity World, having 5,000 oversized classes is a huge improvement over having 6,000 oversized classes. Granted, the problem is down by almost 20%, but it is a problem. And once it's solved, if it's solved, all it means is that high school classes will be at 34, still the highest in NY State.

Lots of people are out there paying valuable lip service to class size. There's our President, Michael Mulgrew. There's our Mayor, Bill de Blasio. If I recall correctly, at some point even Michael Bloomberg was planning to reduce class sizes. Of course, that devolved into his asking teachers to teach extra classes for free, and finally to his proposal we raise class size to 70 and fire half the teachers.

While it's nice to hear Mulgrew talk class size, and while it's also positive that he's pushing for CFE funds, it's quite obvious that the only instrument that controls class sizes is the UFT Contract. I've been doing this since 1984, and it hasn't changed at all. I understand the current class limit had been another two decades before I started. So in 50 years we've made no progress at all beyond blah, blah, blah.

A colleague pointed out it used to be that 34 was the maximum. Now it's pretty much the norm. I know someone who likens it to a game of whack a mole. Every time someone new comes in, class sizes pop up. Then someone complains, or files a grievance, and hopefully it gets fixed. But maybe it doesn't.

People in other schools have reported to me that some arbitrators have been ordering that class sizes stay high in exchange for teachers being relieved from their C6 assignment. I was pretty surprised to hear this because a music teacher in my school had a strings class of 35 and we had to pass an SBO to allow him to continue teaching it and be relieved from his C6 assignment. As it happens, his assignment was maintaining instruments and I happen to know he continued to do it.

It's nice to be relieved from your C6. It's particularly nice if you have some idiotic assignment like hall or lunchroom duty, or the ever-popular potty patrol. Why should teachers fritter away time preparing classes when they could do that? Thanks, 2005 contract. Actually I'd rather teach an oversized class than do any of those things. On the other hand, maybe your C6 is something, you know, professional, like tutoring. You then have a school with oversized classes and fewer opportunities to compensate for them. Of course, you may very well have teachers who do the C6 despite not having to. That's a lose-lose, if you ask me.

For decades we've managed to sidestep this issue. Union leadership supports it but refuses to negotiate it into contract. (And perish forbid we should as for lower class size in exchange for waiting ten years to get paid, or second tier due process, or selling out members who resign, die, are fired, or on leave.) The mayor supports it but does nothing about it. The state supports it as long as they don't have to, you know, pay for it. Perish forbid they should do like other states and finance needier districts at a higher rate. Who cares if a lawsuit fought over a decade orders them to do it? How can Andrew Cuomo focus on that when he has to spend so much time kissing Eva Moskowitz's ass? After all, isn't that what he's paid to do?

It's pretty frustrating, because there's a huge difference between teaching classes of 25 and 34. It's very tough to give the sort of attention kids need and deserve when you see 170 of them every day. I'd like to see Andrew Cuomo the student lobbyist give it a try. Someone as thin-skinned as he is wouldn't last long.

It would make a great sitcom if the situation weren't so tragic.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Colors

After over thirty years teaching teenagers, I'm not a spring chicken anymore. That's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, I've seen lots of people dance like chickens, and it's not a fun thing to watch. I'm certainly happy to be off the hook for that.

But yesterday we were doing colors. I made the egregious error of asking what color my hair was. Someone said gray. Then someone said white. It became a pretty enthusiastic discussion and the whites had it, apparently. Now I was disappointed. I thought it was grey, but I didn't really see myself evolving into Bernie Sanders territory just yet. Not that there's anything wrong with Bernie. Mostly, I'm a fan. Still, I don't see myself like that.

So here's the thing--is it just in the minds of the kids, or are they right? I'm thinking it's just in their minds, but it could just as likely be in mine. After all, as anxious as they are to label it white, I want to label it grey. Is color in the eye of the beholder? It looks like it.

Now there's an easy remedy for this problem. I could buy a can of shoe polish and rub it all over my head. Or I could shave my head for that rugged Michael Mulgrew look. But then I'd have to run around punching everyone's face out, because just about everyone I know opposes Common Core. Truth be told, there are a lot of people bigger than I am, and if I were to start punching their faces out, they could very well end up punching my face out.

I used to know a very pretty young singer. She used to sing at folk clubs and bars and such. Then she went skiing and broke her face. The next time I saw her, she wasn't ugly or anything, but she had a different face. It was very disconcerting. I was once invited to go skiing, but turned it down. The truth is, however people may feel about my face, I've grown pretty used to it. So if someone were to punch it out I'd be pretty upset. I guess the head-shaving thing is off the table.

Now my wife has worked in beauty salons, and she urges me against the shoe polish thing. She says she can dye my hair. But she also says that every few weeks I'd have to do it again. That's the part I really don't like. I could see doing it once, but I've seen people dying their hair and it seems really messy and inconvenient. Basically, if I have to do it more than once, forget it. I've seen my dog run away from a bath, and I'm fairly confident I'd run away from the whole dye thing too.

So what are my options? I could offer the kids extra credit for calling my hair grey, but that seems borderline unethical. I could teach them color incorrectly, but that seems grossly unethical. Or I could simply face the truth and admit the kids could be right.

Nah.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

DA Takeaway

I was pretty surprised that this DA largely repeated the talking points of the September chapter leader meeting. If the content is the same, why do we actually need two meetings?  It's nice to hear chapter leaders encouraged and praised, but Mulgrew offered almost exactly the same message for the delegates. I, for one, don't need to travel downtown Manhattan on a school night for an additional "attaboy," or a rehashing of Mulgrew's prized joke about how we're crazy to do this work.

It was disappointing to hear a good idea to ameliorate one of the ridiculous terms of this contract shot down in flames. Why should people who happen to be on leave have to wait two more years for money they earned over five years ago? Telling them to wait for a "big magical chest" to open is insulting, to say the least.

It also begs the question, if you happen to be on leave the last time the "big magical chest" opens, what the hell do you do then? Go screw yourself? What about the people on leave who don't return? Clearly they, like those who resigned or were terminated, can go screw themselves. Another thoughtful feature of this contract. If half of teachers leave within five years, there are a whole lot of people who are never "made whole." How many other city workers will not be paid for work they did over five years ago?

It's possible the Unity folks will introduce a version of MORE's idea and try to take credit for it. After all, saying wait two years is not all that far from the go screw yourself thing, and it doesn't exactly jibe with Mulgrew's happy-talk-UFT bus message. (Funny how a few months before every UFT election there's a TV commercial that appeals to teachers more than the public at large.) On the other hand, there appear to be so many ways, under this agreement, that teachers could forfeit the future payment, the collateral, that Unity may deem the risk unacceptable.

I admire Jia for bringing up the resolution, but I knew they would find a way to kill it. Once the Unity person complained of the MORE ad on the back of the resolution, the faithful knew how they were to vote. Then there was her nasty insinuation there was no "union bug" on the paper, as though MORE had the work outsourced to slave labor in some third-world banana republic.

There's been a lot of talk at 52 about Robert's Rules and democracy, but in fact most of every DA I've attended is Mulgrew filibuster. I've seen him insult people from the stage. He denounces bloggers and suggests we're liars. He's rolled it back just a little lately.  Still, despite his frequent joking about how he shouldn't say this or that,  or how he's controlling his naturally vulgar language, it's tough for me to buy that regular guy routine.

He announced he was going to talk for a long time, and that he did. He went into a little more detail about Friedrichs, and his comments on it were very much on target. For me, that begs the question of why we spend so much time seeking the "seat at the table" with people who hate us and everything we stand for, people who take every conciliation as weakness, people who redouble their attacks with each and every concession.

I don't really understand the democracy inherent in a forum in which the chair talks about whatever for three fourths of the meeting, entertains a few questions, and needs to add extra time to allow a single motion. I wonder whether he wants people to come back, or whether he wants to drive them away so as to ensure the "highest decision-making body in the UFT" remains largely a forum for his pontifications and indulgences.

Mulgrew rambles, fools around, and does not seem at all concerned about whether or not he's on topic. He announces topics and fails to talk about them. He puts up visuals, clearly planned in advance, and fails to discuss them. He fools around with the good old boys on the stage, makes inside jokes and couldn't care less whether we follow.  If I were to teach that way I would not only lose my audience, but I'd certainly garner an ineffective rating if observed doing so. (Of course my students haven't signed a loyalty oath, and are free to say and do pretty much whatever they wish.)

Some things Mulgrew said resonated with me. I was right with him when he called it child abuse to test by chronological age rather than ability, and I had actually blogged to that effect about the PSATs on beginning ESL students that very day. I liked it when he said that schools and teachers ought not to be judged by test scores. But was this the very same Mulgrew who offered to punch us in the face for opposing Common Core? Was it the same Mulgrew who boasted of having taken part in negotiating New York's first APPR junk science law, the one that terrorizes so many of us no matter how we are rated?

Mulgrew posted a photo of John King under failed leadership, but did not elaborate. I agree that King is a failure, but can't help remembering Mulgrew's enthusiastic support of King as an impartial arbiter of NYC's evaluation system. According to a Chalkbeat piece, neither the UFT nor DOE wanted the number of observations King imposed.

Mulgrew also said it was our duty to let our members know what happened at the DA. He specifically said, "you can report out on it anyway you want." That was not what he said last year, after I chose to tweet it out. What he did at that time was say someone was "tweeting to the media," as though I targeted which of my followers could read my tweets. (It's unlikely Mulgrew understands Twitter, since he urges us to tweet but can't be bothered himself.) In fact, this was when Cuomo's punitive Heavy Hearts law was only a proposal rather than a fait accompli (one for which Michael Mulgrew eventually thanked the Heavy Hearts Assembly) .  Mulgrew clearly felt addressing a renegade tweeter was more important than addressing APPR, and did that first thing before his indispensable hour and a half of lecture.

Another whopper was when he said UFT Welfare Fund never denied drugs. I had cancer, and I distinctly recall being denied a very costly drug. You tend not to forget that sort of thing.

Last year there was a woman who was a communist or something, and Mulgrew always called on her. I honestly believe he felt people would find her extreme and determine that's how all opposition was.
For the record, I don't always agree with everyone in MORE, or everything they do or say. But whether I agree with them or not, they are among the most dedicated unionists I know. A good number of them could have joined Unity, signed the oath, and gone to conventions to vote as Mulgrew instructed. Instead, they opt to lobby for member voice.

If I were running Unity, facing Friedrichs, I'd start bridge-building. But Michael Mulgrew, with an army of patronage-inspired activists, thinks he's bulletproof. And maybe he is.

It's the rest of us I'm worried about.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Teachers Won't Take This Sitting Down

That was a comment I saw on a Facebook post announcing to the world that the principal of PS 24
had unceremoniously dumped all teacher desks and filing cabinets onto the street. Evidently the principal felt teachers should never sit under any circumstance. When teachers asked where they should work, she told them to use the lunch room. Evidently she doesn't want them frittering away precious time taking sustenance either.

Naturally, I'm curious what sort of person would take the Facebook photos and send them to a New York Post reporter. I mean, where's the team spirit here? OK, maybe it was me. In any case, I'm also curious, spurred on by another Facebook comment, whether the principal had her own desk removed. After all, don't we lead by example? Is that principal doing whatever it is she does in the lunch room as well?I don't sit very much when I teach. I'm fortunate enough to have enough mobility to do that, but I would not say being in a seated position precludes being able to help or instruct students. I sit when I give a test. I sit when I need to go over a paper with a single student. Sometimes I sit during announcements. In fact, sometimes I throw crumpled paper at the speaker if they go on too long. Once, an administrator found out I did this while she was speaking and confronted me. I told her it was nothing personal and she seemed to accept that. I wondered which of my beginning ESL students mustered the initiative to rat me out. Is that worse than sending pics to a Post reporter?

Regular readers of this blog know I spent a decade in trailer exile before my AP tossed me out. One morning at 7 AM, I discovered someone had thrown an ice cream party after school. I knew this because there were paper plates with what used to be ice cream melted and stuck to the top of my desk. My trailer was fortunate enough to be the storage facility for a huge box of paper towels, and there was a working faucet in the trailer. I did my best to clean up the mess, and students who wandered in helped me. It was pretty gross, but we cleaned it up.

Another morning, I arrived early and needed a paper or something I'd stored in the desk. I was pretty shocked to find that there had been a fast food party the previous evening, and rather than dumping the stuff on the desk, the revelers had dumped the stuff in the desk. There's an Arby's near our school, and I discovered the remains of sandwiches, fries, and most notably, soda inside the desk. It was absolutely disgusting, and everything inside the desk was useless.

I carried the desk outside the trailer, and a custodian, after having ignored my complaints about just about everything that happened in the trailer, came by 20 minutes later and asked, "Why didn't you tell us about this?"

No replacement was forthcoming, and I commandeered a small wheeled cart that had been left there. It said it was property of the science department, but no science teacher came forth to claim it, so it was good enough for me. Along with every other teacher who used that trailer, I daily dumped my books on top of it, and no one saw fit to use it as party central.

Toward the end of that year, I was elected chapter leader. Right after that happened, a custodial employee walked into my class with a desk and announced, "This is the last one you're getting." I guess I failed to perceive the humor, and replied, "I don't appreciate being threatened in front of my students." That employee didn't speak to me for at least three years.

But what's in a desk? That which we call a desk, when covered with ice cream, will still smell as sweet. Actually, there are a lot of things in a desk, like pencils and papers. There are tests of the kids who did not show up to get them back yesterday. There are all sorts of things that we put in them so as not to carry around. Same for file cabinets.

The lack of respect this principal has for teachers is palpable. You can see it in every desk and filing cabinet in that pile.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Callousness or Compassion?: Retro On Leave


In the closing minutes of the October Delegate Assembly, a motion was raised proposing consideration in November of a "D.A. Resolution on Immediate Retroactive Money for UFT Members on Unpaid Leave for Maternity, Child Care and/or Restoration of Health."  When the motion was raised, given its length, more hard copies were presented to the audience.

Jia Lee spoke in favor of the resolution.  She referenced President Mulgrew's previous words regarding unfair profiteering by pharmaceuticals; members in distress should not have to suffer aggravated financial distress.  Ms. Lee pointed to members on maternity leave, child-care leave as well as a particular chapter leader suffering through brain surgery.  The resolution asks the City, the Union or "another labor friendly institution" to help provide no-interest loans for U.F.T. members on unpaid leaves, in need of their financial arrears.

The Queens maternity liaison for the U.F.T. rose to oppose the resolution.  First, she objected to the printing of the resolution on a page containing advertisements for an opposition caucus, free of the "union bug."   Even the parliamentarian, himself, could not say whether it was permissible or not.

Then, she proceeded to oppose the motion on the grounds that people on leave must know what they're getting themselves into.  I would guess, however, if one is fighting off a deadly disease or surviving brain surgery, one doesn't have much of a choice.  If one is about to give birth, although the situation is usually infinitely more joyous, one may also lack much choice.

The Queens liason further stated that the resolution seemed vague and that all persons on leave would be made "whole again" when the next retro check rolls around, provided he or she has returned to work.  It is my understanding, however, that if one dies, not only will one never be made "whole again," but one's spouse, children or family will never be made "whole again" in more ways than one.  The money once earned will be gone.  Perhaps, retro is not a "God-given right," but the Union might have taken further pains to fight for it as a contractual right for those who might need it most.

The arguments used by the maternity liaison struck me as callous, particularly to our colleagues fending off life-threatening illnesses and those who are the parents of children, much like the ones we have dedicated our lives to teach.  So many members of our profession are women and so many are mothers.  The system is stacked against them and the Union seems unfazed--even the Queens Maternity Liaison.  Given that all members were asked to create a sea of pink shirts at the October Delegate Assembly in recognition of breast cancer, the callousness was magnified many times over.  It felt like a flood.

When the vote came along, the motion was rejected by the majority.  Were they swayed by callousness, "vagueness," or did the MORE stamp on the reverse side of the resolution serve as the guiding signal to the pack?  Following the vote, Mulgrew recognized that more needs to be done to help members in distress or those on maternity leave.  Then, ironically, the discussion turned towards the Breast Cancer raffle.

Perhaps, the resolution needs to be slightly rewritten and placed on a caucus-neutral page with a "union bug."  One thing is for certain, no matter what the case:   We are all doomed, teachers as well as the Union, itself, if against the backdrop of the U.S. Supreme Court potentially defunding unions in the Friedrichs Case, the UFT emits callousness in the place of compassion.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

DA Notes--UFT Unity Declines to Consider Helping Members On Leave

They must wait two years for "big magical chest" to open again.


Announcements

Mulgrew calls crowd to order, welcomes us. Asks new delegates to stand. Applause.Mulgrew says we’re all in it together. Says going into education not an easy thing these days, that you have to be crazy to be a unionist. Thanks new delegates again.

Mulgrew thanks those of us who wore pink. Says UFT single largest organizer for Strides, speaks of people walking this Sunday.

Mulgrew gives a brief lecture on democracy. Says it doesn’t matter if people agree with him and we will follow Robert’s Rules. Says we are conduits of information to members. Says it’s important we get a group to help and support us. Says CLs asked for union to support chapters and DA agreed.


President’s Report

Mulgrew warns report will be long. Says every year there is crisis. Since he’s been president, all there is is crisis. But we never panic, we are smart and strategic and that’s what we do.

National

Mulgrew praises Democratic debate for being substantive. Says we know of people trying to destroy middle class and we are at war with them. Says this viewpoint was previously deemed crazy. Speaks of pharma benefits under great scrutiny, but unless pharma companies are put in check, this will be a problem. Speaks of hedgefunders buying patents and price-gouging.

State

Mulgrew was in Albany, says Janella Hinds testified against notion of receivership. Mulgrew glad that schools in NYC get extra money and support. Mulgrew says state has adopted a Bloomberg plan. Bloomberg originally wanted to close 16 schools, closed many more, and failed to improve them.

Mulgrew says we can work with difficult students if we have the right support, but can’t do so when we are constantly under attack. Says it’s wrong to judge teachers and schools by test scores. Mulgrew says if we don’t agree tests are only measure of student learning, then schools that do well on tests are not necessarily doing well. Says teachers in challenged schools doing hardest work in the nation.

Says law says SED will review Common Core Standards, and governor signed it into law. It is therefore odd that Governor is forming his own commission. Says we are participating in both commissions, but that they will both come to same conclusions. Says they can be developmentally appropriate and not scaffolded correctly.

Mulgrew says we need a two year commitment from state to develop standards for IEP and L students. Says if you make a child sit for a test based on their chronological age when it’s not appropriate, it is child abuse. Says it’s the same for kids who do not speak a word of English.

Says SED will place a review of CCSS on line. Says he’s worried people will write inappropriate things and they will be used against us. Says comments should be professional, and free of four-letter words. Says he doesn’t want to deal with the “crazy nudniks” in the media.

Says no electronic recordings or “things of that nature” in the hall. Says “you can report out on it any way you want.”

Says he will let us know when SED goes live. Says there’s a lot of info but he usually likes to stand there and crack jokes.

Says there is a whole lot of room inside of regulations that are very important to us. State must adopt emergency regulations as they contemplate final regs. Says Board of Regents wanted to make emergency regs final, but we do not agree, We want changes, to with, teacher privacy law. Says regs would have undone it, but it was put back into effect.

Says we fought for teacher growth scores during entire session, that there will always be outliers. Students at top and bottom may show no growth. Recalls NY Post citing worst teacher. Says she taught low level non-English speaking students. Says state needs to deal with that right now.

Mulgrew says there are other smaller changes, but we don’t have everything we want. Says there is a 30 day review period and we are in midst. Says there will be others. Says 100 teachers have been officially designated outliers. We don’t know who they are, as per privacy law.

We are required to negotiate new evaluation system by November 15th. If we don’t agree, we may ask for waiver. We are negotiating with DOE as per law, and will continue to do what is required.

City

Mulgrew says there will be battles. Says debate gave him hope because they discussed small group of people trying to do bad things. Speaks of threats under Bloomberg. Cites 4000% increase in legal bills under Bloomberg. Says in the end, Bloomberg knew we won as he had 20% approval rating in education. Says he hated us more than anyone.

Says FariƱa had to undo many things he did, and that Bloomberg signed many contracts to ensure there was no city surplus. Bloomberg then said there could be no retro pay for city workers, but then specifically cited no retro for teachers. Says we now have better friends in the community than ever before.

Mulgrew says retro is not an entitlement, no guarantee we can get it. Says he sat down for days and days and days. Says city realized what Bloomberg had done. Says he tried to privatize many different services in many different agencies. Says what Bloomberg did was unconscionable and our coming to an agreement showed him. Says the city didn’t have the money. Says those of us who’ve never been in a negotiation need to know that everything we do has a dollar sign on it.

Says there were things we could not get that we wanted. Says we wanted and got more voice for educators, and it’s surprising with our huge financial package. Says this week that part of this agreement starts to become real. Says everyone said we would never get it, but tomorrow and Friday we get first installment. Moderate applause. Says editorial said it couldn’t be done.

Says we got through a war, Bloomberg thought he would get last laugh, but it’s not a guarantee, there’s no entitlement to retroactivity, and that you have to work hard. Says we tried to collapse it, but “we made sure that everybody’s gonna get made whole.” Says this has never been done before, and no one’s ever done anything on this scale.

Says not to advise anyone on individual retro packages, that every person’s is different. Says there are UFT experts who can advise.  Says city wanted no one at leave to get retro. Says city wanted continuous employment.

Mulgrew says all contributions and deductions are included in retro including TDA and dues.

Mulgrew says if you are giving 10% of your salary your retro raises your salary and you will contribute more to TDA. Says we like that. Says this money is all pensionable.

Question he hears the most is about individual calculations. Says it is a compound growth formula. Says 4% 09, 4% 10, but every day you have 8% more in your workday. Since it’s stretched out, that number continues to grow. Says next 12.5% will have grown and will be higher. Says it gets more complicated, as per session or longevity compounds. Says every little change moves it up. Says it will continue to go up until fully phased in in 2018. Says this is why we can’t answer individual questions.

Says to stress compound growth agreement with members. Says only UFT specialists can calculate, and that there is an inquiry form online.

Says oversized classes are down dramatically this year. Says despite all ugliness in Albany last year, we got more money. Says we need Contract for Excellence because it will lower class size. Says we have almost 6,000 new working UFT members. Expects press conference about class size to encourage CFE funding.

Explains courts said, on CFE,  NYC and other districts are being underfunded unfairly by state, and suggested funding based on need.  Says state owes us 3 billions. Says parents need to understand they’ve been shortchanged. Says Bloomberg spent all the money on lawyers, but CFE was stopped when economy collapsed. Says we will try to fix it via court or legislation. Says it’s important we can show we lowered class sizes with influx of money.

Says we have same amount of re-org grievances but 50% are already resolved. Says we can use arbitration and grievance processes for other things now. Says chancellor said when principals were wrong, things needed to be fixed for teachers. Says this is in contrast to Joel Klein’s approach.

New teachers


Mulgrew wants 80% retention. Says we’ve already done these programs. Says we need committees to help them. Asks who needs help helping them. Mulgrew speaks of being a new teacher and how difficult it was. Says he taught in a storage closet, had to empty it.

Mulgrew says the partial weeks have not helped. Says we’ve already had teachers who’ve left. Says he respects them for recognizing how tough this job is, but the folks who stay need help. Says UFT will have events for them, and that we should send their info so UFT can make database. Urges us to send DR all contact info.

Chapter building

Mulgrew announces Met game is over. Goes into various jokes and stories, Lectures Emil about something. Chapter building discussion concludes.

Labor education institute.

Says any DA member can take classes. Says it starts in November. Says money we saved in lawsuits will fund classes. Says we’re always trying to help our members.

New Battles Same War

Says national coalition of NEA, AFT and someone are up against Rhee Kochs, Bloomberg and Moskwoitz. Says everything goes back to education in the classroom, and you never know if you’re gonna get a better class. Says we are regularly attacked, but we’ve gotten through Bloomberg and will get through Moskowitz. Says we knew she’d have the commercial deeming us failing. Says bad guys will never go away and we have to deal with her.

Says we will celebrate our schools and that we do great work, Says we will be at war with Moskowitz, but other villains have disappeared. Says they have shifted money and resources into LA. Speaks of Chicago where members are fired after 3 months it schools closed.

Says our Gov, may avoid education but we will urge funding based on need. Says NY state only one where affluent kids get more funding than needy ones.

Toxic idea.

Bloomberg portrayed on screens. Mulgrew says enough said.

Toxic leadership

Screen shows pic of Cathie Black and Joel Klein.

Failed “reforms”

Says bad guys don’t go away. Says they always have a plan. Says people thought he was nuts when he used to say a small group was trying to ruin us. Says they were pushing school closings, merit pay, were snake oil salesmen. Says we pushed back hard so they tried to change laws.  Says they caused economic downfall and then wanted to change laws, as in LIFO.

Says they wanted 50% test scores minimum. Says they had political momentum behind them. Says our job is to organize and strategize how to push these people back. Says we’ve changed political climate and people understand education reform has failed and their ideas do not work. Says it was about destabilizing unions. Says they killed private sector unions and are now after us as largest public sector.

Big battle now is getting rid of us.

Failed leadership

Screen shows pic of John King. No comments

Attacks on public schools

Says best way to deal with Moskowtiz is to celebrate schools. Says we will base resources on poverty and need. Says we are largest school system with most diverse needs and we celebrate that.

Friedrichs

Mulgrew calls it Hail Mary pass by those who hate us. Says legally is small group of teachers from CA. Ten teachers now have millions and best law firms in US to carry their case. They will render every state in US right to work if they win. Says it’s about small group of people determined to kill middle class to collect more money for themselves. Only organized labor has been able to stand up to them.

Says they own politics, and that corporations are now deemed private citizens, unless you sue them. Says they believe they have court where they need it right now. They agreed to lose political process in CA so they could get it on SCOTUS docket this session, before anyone leaves or dies.

Mulgrew says no one has to be UFT member. Saying otherwise is not true. You can be an agency fee payer. Was determined by SCOTUS in 70s that unions that provide services have right to collect fees. Says it is effort to bankrupt unions.

Says they are trying to take away the last piece that stood up to them. Says decision will come during school year, and that decision hinges on one judge on fence. He says it’s Scalia. He says Scalia seems to agree with Aboud. Says it was 9-0 decision and SCOTUS doesn’t reverse 9-0 decisions.

Says they know if we have to spend all our time organizing and collecting we cannot be active against them. Says we will start an informational campaign about what this is about. Says almost all of our political money is via COPE. Says first people we have to educate will be members. Says most schools he’s visited are uninformed on this. Says UFT will get a packet out, and we will follow by educating public. Says it dovetails with what he heard on debate.

Says union doesn’t just do one thing, and we therefore have to celebrate our schools. Asks us to remember to do that.
UFT commercial

Mulgrew shows commercial at 5:42 PM. Gets applause. Asks if we do a damn good job, repeatedly. Gets loud positive response. Says you may request the bus in commercial, and wants parents and students around if it comes. Mulgrew apologizes for going long.

Leroy Barr talks, and Mulgrew promises a shorter message next month.


Questions

CL IS 52—Superintendent mandating online record keeping. Is that kosher? Mulgrew says no.

Question—why does dental plan copay go up every year?

Mulgrew says medical costs keep going up and we have to keep up. Says we love benefits but to make it affordable we have to negotiate with providers. Says dental is one issue, but you should call Welfare Fund and find out what provider rates are. Says drug prices out of control. Says it’s important we have national debate on pharm. Says we deny no one coverage, but other organizations don’t. Says we don’t deny drugs. (I’ve been denied drugs, actually.)

Question—are D75 teachers on panels? Speaks of child abuse on testing. Speaks of high-needs children and their needs.

Mulgrew thanks her for question. Says they are included in UFT working groups. Says her kids are tested because of federal law Says feds decided this was necessary unless there was alternate assessment. Says fed thinks IEP suggests kids can perform at chronological age, and calls that crazy. Says feds must remove mandates. Says there may be path in next year to do that, and that GOP and Dems agree.

Question—Is there a way for us as members to express disgust with John King appointment?

Mulgrew says do what you like in your private time. Says state came up with plan to eliminate layoffs. Says they were going to train everyone in CCSS and then do testing and compile data. Says they never designed curriculum, trained no one, and developed data system. Then they developed an evaluation system. Says rollout in NYS was a debacle. Says data system that they spent on is garbage, and that person who initiated this is now US Sec. of Education.

Sean Ahern—Rikers Island—says people got highly effective ratings based on two students who passed Regents exams.

Mulgrew says it sounds funny but he’s right.

Ahern—Students come, are there for 40 days, whole system is crazy, but shouldn’t Rikers teachers be outliers?

Mulgrew—God bless work you do, all your students are transient, when fight occurs placed is locked down. Says this should be taken out. Says project based portfolio learning much more valid. Says people assume worst about us.
CL—Is there a way to work into ads and PR about all work union does to advocate for students getting their services? Says he’s the one who fights for kids. Applause. Says union interest intertwined with student interest.

Mulgrew agrees. Says he appreciates comment. Says it’s insulting when you’re in a dispute with someone who doesn’t want to pay for needed services. Says we should use social media in a big way to say this. Says he doesn’t like DN but participates in Hometown Heroes. Says teachers honored say their peers do same all year round.

Mulgrew says we are officially out of time. 6:02. Says body can decide to extend. Asks for motion.


Motions

Dave Pecoraro moves to extend for motion period. Mulgrew says for ten minutes. Is seconded. Mulgrew calls second vote, and extends motion period.

Jia Lee—interrupted as Mulgrew explains procedure.

Mary Ahern—wants to know why we need two thirds for this month, cites Robert’s Rules.

Parliamentarian—says meeting run by Robert’s, but constitution says meeting will only discuss matters for which it was convened. Therefore rules must be suspended. Mulgrew calls for cheer for parliamentarian.

Jia Lee—proposes for next month. Says has to do with retro pay.

Mulgrew says everyone must have copy. Mulgrew asks who needs it.

James Eterno turns to me, says, “I wrote this damn thing so I want to see how they turn it down.”

Jia—thanks Mulgrew for health and other benefits, says members with health issues need retro pay and we need to consider them. Cites members in economic stress. Says we should stand in solidarity and there is a way to help them. Says we could get DOE to help. Says city has 5.9 billion dollar surplus. Urges low interest loan so members on leave can get retro pay.

Point of information—CL asks if this is proper. Questions political ad on back of flyer. Says there’s no “union bug” on paper.

Parliamentarian doesn’t have answer.

Seconded.

Mulgrew calls for speaker against, and then vote.

Delegate, PS 164—Queens Maternity Liaison for UFT, does workshops—speaks against. Says there was appreciation for hard work. Says you have to be on payroll to receive retro and they will be made whole. Says when big magical chest opens it will be closed for two years, but will still be there for you next rollout. Says everyone will be made whole.

Says maternity leave is just a six or eight week absence. Says it’s a choice. Says for us to endorse loans, that’s a personal decision.

Boos ensue—Mulgrew says we’re going to be respectful.

Speaker says you must consider things when you take a child care leave. Says asking union to be involved with loans when it made arrangements for them to get money…says vagueness of how much money is problem..says that they will be made whole is important and union ought not to participate.

Motion is defeated.

Mulgrew says we figure out how to do the things we do for members in distress. Says this bothers him a lot. Says he hopes next time we won’t need retro and wants fair maternity leaves for members.

Mulgrew says thank you and calls for raffle.

PSAT Day

Yes it's here, and my beginning ESL students need to take it, because no excuses. It's important the 
College Board know where you stand in relation to those of us who were born here. After all, if you don't know the answers, it's the fault of your unionized teachers who should all be fired with extreme prejudice. For goodness sakes they've been here 20 school days already, and if they can't learn English by then the state's probably right to do away with all that ESL nonsense altogether.

The College Board needs everyone to Be Accountable. That's why they sent the application material to the school, for thousands of kids, and gave only three days to prepare. In our school, the ESL students are given the materials to fill out in class so they don't have to do so right before the test. And this is indeed a job. First of all, I only got the materials yesterday.

Here's the thing with kids who don't understand English--it isn't easy to get them to follow directions. So yesterday, in my morning class, I organized all the students who had to take the exam. Then I started to explain what they had to do and wouldn't you know it? They didn't understand.

I then separated my kids into language groups--Spanish and Chinese. But here's the thing--I don't speak Chinese. I tried to get some colleagues to send me Chinese-speaking students to help, and they obliged. But the students my colleagues sent spoke Cantonese while my kids spoke Mandarin. As I was despairing of ever getting this done, having already lost quite a bit of my class, my Mandarin-speaking ESL colleague had the misfortune of walking down the hall. I dragged her into my classroom, and she assembled the Chinese speakers and helped them.

I huddled in back with my Spanish speakers and we managed to get through. But then there were the convoluted instructions of what to fill out and what not to fill out, which I hadn't read all the way through. I was fortunate enough to get a helpful administrator, better prepared than I was, to explain to us, and my Chinese-speaking colleague duly translated everything.

Fortunately, things went more smoothly in my PM class. I was able to borrow a Chinese-speaking student from the class next door, and she calmly guided my students through the process. The fact that I actually understood it enough to explain it to the young woman was helpful too. In the second period of my double-period class, one of my shy students confided in me that she was supposed to take the test and that I hadn't given her a paper to fill out. The same administrator who helped me in the morning came up and helped her.

I'm glad we got through this, but I question how much my non-English speakers benefit from sitting through a grueling exam with instructions far too difficult to follow. Is it that important for NYC to support College Board and its near-monopoly on testing? When is College Board, or New York State, or someone going to acknowledge that kids who don't know English have distinctly different learning priorities and needs than those who do?

Or is that too much to ask?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fire Teachers! Save Money!

Part 154 cuts ESL instruction, pretty much to the bone. How this helps newcomers I have no idea. But for principals looking to save a few bucks, it's pretty convenient. First of all, you can eliminate those irritating classes to teach English. That saves space, and Lord knows space is at a premium in those crowded buildings.

Unfortunately, with the personnel you have, you may need to keep those costly ESL teachers on to keep the core content area teachers company. Part 154 says that somehow, by them being in the room, the kids will magically learn English while they prep for that physics Regents. But wait! If the physics teacher, or the math, social studies or English teacher takes the magic 12 credits, you can cut out the ESL teachers altogether! Just have the math teacher with the magic license teach ESL, and everything is copasetic.

After all, once the math/ social studies/ science/ English teachers have those magic 12 credits, they can teach their subject area and English in the same time they used to teach only their subject area. How do they do it? I don't know, because I have a master's degree in applied linguistics. How stupid of me to do that rather than take the discount magic credits from UFT or NYSUT. But back when I started they didn't have magic teachers.

It's bad, I guess, if you're an ESL teacher and that's actually what you do. Because your principal can say, "Hey, you know, I don't need ESL teachers anymore. I need magic science teachers instead." So while ESL teachers are unemployed or ATRs, the principal has a few more bucks to place that laser tag lab in the basement, or maybe to place that hot yoga studio in his office for when big shots drop by.

The only other drawback is if you are a social studies/ math/ science/ or English teacher. The thing is, if you aren't a magic teacher, you may find your services are no longer needed. After all, why should some principal hire you if it means she has to hire one of those utterly unnecessary ESL teachers? That's not only an extra expense, but also one more person to observe four times a year. And that could seriously cut into the Wednesday afternoons at the Comfort Inn where you get that massage therapy.

Part 154 is pretty much a win/ win. Unless, of course, you're an ESL teacher, or a core content teacher without the magic 12 credits.  Or if you're a kid who wants to learn English, because there's clearly no time to indulge in such frivolity. Let them pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Sure, no one even knows what bootstraps are anymore, but if it was good enough for your great grandfather, it ought to be good enough for anyone.

Monday, October 12, 2015

I Am Yellow (Curious)

Last Friday, in my beginning ESL class, we worked on a guided paragraph in which students had to describe a good friend. One word that perplexed my students was "complexion." I told them that meant skin color. Some people have a light complexion and some have a dark complexion, I told them. Then there are all sorts of shades in between.

One of my Asian students declared, "I am yellow." I wonder where that comes from. I held out my arm next to hers and I couldn't really see much difference, except that I had freckles and she didn't. I remember a lot of WWII propaganda showing the Japanese as yellow monsters, but I don't remember actually seeing anyone from Asia who looked remotely like that.

I told her, "If you were yellow I would call 911. We'd need an ambulance to take you to the hospital. I think it's called jaundice when people are yellow." But she certainly wasn't the first one to call herself yellow. It's a common belief. There was a Randy Newman song called, "Yellow Man." I don't remember what it's about, but if I've heard it, and others of my Asian students think of themselves as yellow, it's a pretty widespread belief.

I'm certified to teach Spanish, and one semester a supervisor asked me to do it. A kid asked me, "Why are you white?" I said, "Well, my mother was white and my father was white, so I'm white too." The kid said, "No, I mean, why are you white and teaching Spanish?" I said, "Well, my boss asked me to, and I said OK." He then announced that white people didn't speak Spanish. I told him he looked pretty white to me, and he spoke Spanish, and he took umbrage.

"I'm Spanish. I'm not white," he announced.

A female student corrected him. "You're not Spanish. You're Dominican. You have to be from Spain to be Spanish."

"You know what I mean," he said.

But the girl was not swayed. "I'm Colombian, and you're Dominican. And we're both white."

Our labels are very important to us. Actually no one's really white either, except Casper the Friendly Ghost. And who wants to look like that? But we accept these labels without much thinking about them. Then we fight over which labels are acceptable.

I've been called white all my life, and I guess this girl has been called yellow all hers. We accept these labels, no matter how inaccurate they are, and we never even look at ourselves to check whether or not they're accurate, or important, or worthy of deeper consideration. Will Common Core teach us to question things so we can fix that?

I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The Magical Twelve ESL Credits

In New York, children from other countries are supposed to learn English via magic. That's about all I can conclude from the mandates that have been issued by Merryl Tisch and her gang of geniuses up there. Since I started teaching ESL, beginning students have been entitled to three periods a day of instruction in English language. Because Merryl knows better, now they only need one period per day.

The other two periods can be math, social studies, chemistry, or pretty much whatever. The teacher of those classes will pick up the magical 12 credits of ESL cheap via NYSUT or UFT, and then magically teach not only chemistry, but also English! And this magic teacher will do both those things in the same time it takes all the other teachers to teach the American kids! Because it doesn't matter whether the kids know a lick of English, whether we teach them a lick of English, or even whether they want to learn English. Once that magic teacher gets those 12 magic credits, all those problems will simply disappear.

And even better news--once the kids become high beginners, they only need to study English half of the time. And once they hit intermediate, they don't need to study English anymore at all! Do you see the beauty of that? The magic teachers, with no extra time, will teach them not only how to pass that troublesome Global Regents exam, but also basic conversation, listening skills, and reading and writing. And they will do this while covering the same textbook and giving them the same assessments that kids who've lived here all their lives take.

Not only that, but in New York, we've overcome a basic tenet of language acquisition, i.e., the older you are the harder it is to acquire a language. In fact, after puberty, the ability to acquire language drops precipitously. But that doesn't matter in New York, because anyone with the magic twelve credits can squeeze English out of the most reluctant individuals. It won't matter if they've been dragged here from China kicking and screaming. It won't matter if they've left their families and friends behind. It won't matter if they've missed years of formal education. It will make no difference if they are illiterate in their first languages.

Once people take those magic twelve credits, they will overcome these and all other obstacles via sheer grit. They will impose rigor on these kids, and with rigor and grit the English language will be no obstacle whatsoever. Sure, when they go to college and know little or nothing about English structure or usage they will have to take costly remedial courses to learn what they could have learned in high school. Sure, they will be unable to actually pass tests that are wildly inappropriate. Sure, they will spend extra years trying to graduate, and schools will be penalized, closed, put into receivership, and whatever.

But the important thing is we'll have all those magic teachers, and all those magic credits, and New York will be a magical place to learn English. Because if you can't learn English via magic, you just haven't got any grit. Just ask Merryl Tisch. She's just full of grit.

Or something like that. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Kids Can't Be Bothered with the Niceties

So it is when you are a teacher. Teenagers have no use for diplomacy. Once a thought comes into their heads, it comes out of their mouths. As someone who's gone to many meetings and listened to many people expound at great length about absolutely nothing, I  have great respect for that quality.

I teach two double-period classes this year. My morning class has about thirty students. My afternoon class has eight, but one has never shown up, and another was so traumatized by the notion of the first test that he didn't show. Upon his return, I asked where he was and he told me he'd cut class. Not the very best excuse for missing a test, but you have to give him credit for honesty.

It's odd to have two such widely different classes. My morning class has a few very strong personalities, and they announce themselves at every opportunity. Sometimes I feel they announce themselves at every moment, but I'm kind of OK with that. However, what happens is I get through more activities with my relatively quiet PM class. Everyone there is very cooperative, but thus far none of them are inclined to speak until spoken to. It's as though I step on different planets in the AM and PM, and yet I'm in the very same room.

Having a little extra time, I asked the kids in my PM class whether they liked smaller or larger classes. Most of them liked the smaller classes. They said you can talk more, and that the teacher could help you more. One said she liked it because it was quiet. Oddly, I hate quiet. I like activity and this is a tough group to make that happen.

But two of the kids had different responses. One girl was in my class part of last year, and left for reasons no one has seen fit to share with me. What I remember most about her is her phone cases. Last year she had one with rabbit ears, and another one that was also kind of striking. This year she has one with what appears to be a bronzed door-knocker. I complimented her on it the first time I told her to put it away. She kept it out for a moment to show me it could be used as a stand. I complimented her again and told her to put it away again.

She says she likes bigger classes because she can use her phone. So it is, in fact, me who is ruining her young life by teaching her English. There's a whole world on that telephone and by spending 90 minutes a day with me she can only explore it for 22.5 hours a day. Clearly I am a monster.

A guy in that class said he liked larger classes because you could sleep. I'll grant you sleep is important for teenagers. I spent a lot of time explaining to my own daughter why staying out until all hours and going to school or work the next day was less than optimal. Yet teenagers don't see it that way. Why sleep at night when you can catch some Zs in English class? Who knows what that teacher is blathering about?

Diplomacy doesn't seem to be born before the twentieth year. Is that a bad thing?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Julio's T-shirt

Man's best friend is an awesome spectacle. He protects your home. He barks at canines ten times his size with no fear, until and unless they get up close and personal and common sense takes over. He's proud and independent, except when he isn't. But there is a dignity in being part of the pack, and I question whether or not it's damaged when he's wearing a shirt emblazoned with the picture to the left.

Last week my wife and daughter decided to go to Florida to see Mickey Mouse, and some other friends. It was kind of a win-win for them because I had to work, and consequently there was someone to care for the pooch. So he and I, just a couple of wild and crazy guys, spent the week together. As a gift, my daughter bought him that shirt.

I don't know. I mean, it's actually true. Julio adores my daughter, and every time she walks through the door he jumps up and down, runs in circles, and appears to be on the verge of a massive coronary. I come in and he's like, "Oh. It's you. Yeah, I guess you can give me some food. Yeah, I guess you can take me out a few times. Maybe I'll let you take me in the yard so I can run around like a total maniac while you have no hope whatsoever of catching me."

Anyway, I thought the t-shirt was a little much, but I didn't pay a whole lot of mind. But on Sunday, we went to Petco, where a young trainer is trying to explain to us how not to have Julio run around like a total maniac while we have no hope whatsoever of catching him. (Yes, I'm a teacher, so of course I take my dog to school.  And don't go giving me any guff about how it's a private school. Today, in 2015, there are still no public schools for dogs, and if there were the Koch Brothers would be donating millions to crush them.)

What really irked me was when we were leaving the class there was a new class coming in. There, Julio ran into another dog who looked very much like him, but was wearing some kind of tutu. For me, that was beyond the pale, but my daughter was all, "Oh, look, how cute!" I said, "Well, I'm not walking him if you dress him like that."

The woman with the dog said, "My husband doesn't mind walking him when he's dressed like that." I retorted, "I'm not her husband," which I suppose gives me that right to decline walking a dog in a tutu. Julio's a macho little guy. Now, if she'd dress him in a black leather jacket and sunglasses, and get him a little motorcycle I could see it. This would be a win-win, in my opinion, because with the motorcycle he might not need to be walked at all. I mean, who puts a leash on a dog with a motorcycle?

Anyway, in my opinion, just because you're a dog doesn't mean anyone has the right to dress you in a tutu. There are limits, and there is common decency. The United States may treat teachers like dogs, but that doesn't give us the right to treat dogs like that.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

It Could Always Have Been Worse!



You might have been surprised to see former N.Y. State Ed. Commissioner, John King, promoted to U.S. Secretary of Education.

You might marvel how ed. "reform" can so brazenly be forged ahead against the will of the people, or "special interests," as King would have it.  You might marvel how "reformers" never seem to stomach their own "reforms" for their own children.  King's kids have attended a Montessori school, minus all the standardized testing he promotes for other people's children.  You might marvel how ed. "reformers" can fail in one venue, only to be promoted to even greater heights elsewhere.  Witness MaryEllen Elia, recently all but booted out of Hillsborough, only to be recycled in NY State.  You might marvel how ed. "reformers" learn no lessons from the growing opt-out movement, crystallized so strongly against King in NY State, before his departure.  Now, the lightning rod rules at the national level.

You might find inspiration in the looming battles or you might just rub your eyes out of sheer disbelief.  But, whatever the case, just remember, it could always have been worse!

Exhibit A:  Rhee
Exhibit B:  Moskowitz
Exhibit C:  Walmart

Monday, October 05, 2015

Meet the New Boss, Even Worse Than the Old Boss

There's a very interesting piece up at US News by Andrew Rotherham, AKA Eduwonk. I don't agree with Rotherham about a whole lot in education, but I find myself wishing I agreed with a whole lot of this particular column. Rotherham certainly has a way with words, whether you agree with him or not:

It's too soon to fully judge Duncan's tenure. There are lots of strong opinions in Washington and around the country about Duncan. Privately, insiders' views range from "he's the most committed and effective secretary of education in the department's history" to "he's a jock who's in way over his head on policy."

Wow. I wish I agreed with that. But with the entire country embracing Race to the Top, Gun to the Head policies like Common Core, I'm not feeling the love. The high-stakes testing and developmentally inappropriate tasks for our children (and not his, or Duncan's, or Obama's) are intolerable. That's not to mention the junk-science teacher ratings that have been foisted upon us, rejected by none other than the American Statistical Association.

Education is apparently on the president's "Eff-It" list. At this year's White House Correspondents Dinner, President Obama said that he didn't have a bucket list, but with time running out on his administration, he did have something that rhymed with it. The president's choice of John King* to oversee the department after Duncan is a signal he's not that concerned with education politics at this point.  

That's clever, but not precisely accurate. It appears to me that President Obama, who's certainly in a position to say "Eff-it" to pretty much anything, has decided to continue with the reformy policies that are King's signature. While it wasn't clear to UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who deemed King suitable as an independent arbiter for our evaluation system, it's quite clear to anyone paying attention that John King supports all things reformy, specifically including Common Core and junk science evaluations.

The education debate is about to get nastier. John King is an accomplished African American educator who helped found a highly regarded charter school in Boston. His personal story is as compelling as any education official in the country. Most reform critics don't want to tangle with him publicly, if for no other reason than they have sense enough to recognize the gross optics of well-heeled white people explaining to an African American man why we shouldn't have demanding expectations for educators serving low-income minority youth.

I'm not sure the education debate can get any nastier. For one thing, our unions are under attack, and SCOTUS may reduce us to virtual "Right to Work" status. For another, accomplished though King may be, I've seen precious little evidence of thoughfulness from him, Diane Ravitch goes so far as to call him "brilliant" based on his academic credentials. But King is remarkably thin-skinned and unable to deal with criticism. He thinks it's beyond the pale when people comment that his signature programs, Common Core and junk science, are not good enough for his own children, in private schools.

Furthermore, John King shows little evidence of being able to play well with others. He actually canceled a series of public meetings when people dared disagree with him. In fact, he went so far as to call teachers and parents special interests. That's what we get for advocating for the kids we love, I guess. In Spanish, they say, "Tiene doctorado pero no es educado."  This means, roughly, he has a doctorate but he isn't educated. In Spanish, being educated means not simply sitting through some classes, but rather behaving well. King's been to Harvard but treats the people he ostensibly serves with a sorely limited scope ranging from indifference to outright contempt.

There is no way to read King's ascension other than as a slap in the face to teachers unions, especially the New York-centric American Federation of Teachers, which has been sharply critical of the future secretary.

If it's a slap in the face, that's not precisely the "Eff-it" Rotherham mentioned earlier. If Obama is "not that concerned" with education politics, why would he bother to slap us in the face?

The thing I'm saddest to disagree with is this:

Look for them to ratchet up the pressure on Hillary Clinton to distance herself from reform in a visible way, particularly in a primary fight where she needs labor's support and her political problems lie to the left.

I've seen no evidence of pressure on Hillary Clinton to do anything but smile as both AFT and NEA endorsed her.  In fact, though we had ample evidence of Barack Obama's reforminess in 2012, we endorsed him unconditionally. This was very odd, as LGBT and immigrant groups managed to extract concessions from him. If Hillary Clinton has distanced herself from reformy Obama policies in any way, I'd love to hear about it.

How about it, AFT, UFT and NYSUT leadership? Is Rotherham right? Have you got any demands for Hillary?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Thanks to Sean Crowley for the photo.