Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Part 154 Comes to My Class

Next year, I'm going to have to work with a co-teacher. This is because of the ridiculous regulation in CR Part 154 that ELLs cannnot be more than one grade apart. With decades of experience, even though I am state-certified in multiple subjects, I can't legally teach the class by myself. And despite being the largest high school in Queens, with one of the largest ELL populations in the city, we haven't got enough students to reasonably separate our beginners--the group is very lopsided.

What's going to happen is that there will be one group of grades 9-10, and another of grades 11-12. We will teach them together because one teacher will be assigned to each group. Under the current UFT Contract, our classes can run up to 68. Now I absolutely believe the good intentions of my administration. But I've seen good intentions go awry, even with good people in charge. That's why I'd advise any teacher not to get into what I'm getting into--it's an unacceptable risk. I know for a fact that if we need space for another classroom there simply will not be any. 

In most if not all other places, things are even worse. I've written before about the idiotic rules that keep ESL students from getting the level of direct English instruction they need.  For over a year now, I've been trying to get UFT leadership to support us, UFT teachers, in an effort to not only restore their instruction, but also to restore ESL teachers to their jobs of actually teaching ESL. A whole lot of us have been reduced to supporting subject teachers, and there's simply no way to make 154 work effectively.

In small schools, ESL teachers are expected to do everything and support everyone. They're supposed to do that while other teachers are teaching so-called core subjects. You know, those are subjects like social studies and math, which matter. According to the State of New York, the ability to actually speak English does not.

UFT has passed a resolution condemning the fact that students get less English instruction. Alas, the only follow up they've done consists of a "white paper" that has not been released, containing I have no idea what, and a study. Unfortunately UFT has decided to actively study the only part of 154 that is not problematic--an additional year of ESL instruction for students who've tested out already.

The fact that students are going to get direct English instruction cut has not yet been deemed worthy of examination by our esteemed leadership, nor the fact that ESL students are supposed to learn both English and a core subject simultaneously in the same time American-born students learn only the core subject. Another thing UFT thus far deems unworthy of examination is the effect on teachers. As previously mentioned lot of small schools have only one ESL teacher who is expected to run around like a chicken without a head and do everything all at once, an impossibility according to those with whom I speak.

At the advice of several people, I've reached out to Regents Commissioner Betty Rosa. Evidently Dr. Rosa is quite busy, because she hasn't bothered with even a form letter in response. In fact, the only response I've gotten from her was in person, when she defended it by saying there were "good intentions" behind it. I watched Dr. Rosa speak the entire evening. She is very smart. She has to know that good intentions are no defense whatsoever for catastrophic results, and that sitting around hoping for the best is hardly an action plan.

I am not yet sure what I am going to do about this. Dr. Rosa can sit around and hope for the best, but I most certainly will not. I'd very much like to get UFT leadership on board with me, as I'll bet Dr. Rosa answers their email.  I fail to see why we can’t simply and openly work together toward improving conditions for ELLs and their teachers, or why anyone in leadership need be adversarial in this matter.

But this is one of the stupidest things I've seen in three decades of teaching, and I won't be twiddling my thumbs. I'm very much hoping to push not only UFT policy, but also UFT action somewhere far away from the entire thumb-twiddling thing.
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