Friday, September 30, 2016

I'm the Worst Tutor in the World

Yesterday I had to tutor one period in the library as part of our school's SBO agreement. A kid came over looking for an English teacher. I said I was one and asked what I could help him with. He said he needed help with the SAT. I asked him what exactly he needed help with and he said writing. But when I asked to see his writing he showed me a booklet he'd gotten from some SAT prep program. He opened it up to a baffling paragraph about journalism.

There were two multiple choice questions. I was able to figure out the first one but the second one didn't make any sense to me no matter what answer I used. I asked the kid what he wanted, and he said he wanted the answers. I asked him how it would help him if I answered the questions for him, and he couldn't really answer.

It was really an awful paragraph. I was sorry anyone had to read it, but happy none of my students had written it.

I asked some questions about what he liked to read. I got the impression that he'd read a whole lot of things like the one he showed me, and that reading was not something he looked forward to. If I had to read crap like that all the time I would surely not look forward to reading either.

I asked the boy where he got the book. He said he'd taken a prep course, and that he finished the first part, but they'd given him the second part books for free. I told him if I were him, or if my kid were taking the SAT, I'd buy a review book that contained explanations. He didn't seem to like the idea, and went off in search of a better tutor.

Later, another teacher told me that the SAT was being given this Saturday. I didn't understand the pressure he was under, and I now know my advice was not helpful at all. The thing is, though, that had I known the test was Saturday, I don't think I'd have been able to come up with much better advice. Maybe he had waited a little too long to seek help. I don't know.

Anyway, when he walked, the girl sitting across from me asked me to read her work.

"I am flat screen TVs," it began.

"Why are you a flat screen TV?" I asked her. She appeared to have multiple features I'd never seen on a flat screen TV. If she didn't I'd have worried.

She said it was a poem. Her poem contained a whole lot of other things she was, but she didn't look like any of them to me. Then she showed me another poem, which this one was evidently based on. I noticed that she had stolen a line about some tree, "the branches of which are my very soul," or something like that.

I told her she couldn't just go stealing lines from poems because it was plagiarism.

"But it's in the template!" she said.

"What template?" I asked her.

Then she showed me an outline of the original poem, with some pieces missing. Evidently the branches of something were going to have to be her very soul whether she liked it or not.

She made some funny comments. I told her she seemed very smart, which she did, but that I had never written poetry, and that her teacher was looking for something that was a reflection of who she was. I didn't believe she was a flat screen TV, not for one minute.

The girl was amused if not assisted. If anyone had brought me stuff they'd written without a template, I may have offered better advice. I must be old-fashioned or something.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tons of Coverage, Hundreds of Millions of Dollars for Charters--We're on Our Own

I cannot believe the crap that passes for news nowadays. Families for Excellent Schools says any damn thing it likes on behalf of Eva Moskowitz, who terrorizes young people into peeing their pants over tests. She's celebrated in the pages of the tabloids and, of course, in Chalkbeat NY, which considers her every move worthy of a feature story. They just had another expensive customized t-shirt heavy rally for more charters.

Meanwhile, I'm sitting in a school that's been over 200% capacity for decades and we have no place to put kids. My inbox is full of complaints from teachers in rooms with no windows that may or may not have air sources. I myself am in a room with a sunny southern exposure on the top floor that gets so hot I can barely concentrate. There's a non-functional air conditioner in front of the room. I complain and I'm told it will be fixed tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

It's a dual-edged sword for public schools here in Fun City. If your test scores and graduation rates aren't where the city wants them to be, you're under one program or other, and now they don't close your school anymore. You simply rehire the entire staff, and everyone has to apply to keep their jobs or become one sort of ATR or another. A lot of teachers don't bother to reapply, as they don't want to jump through all the various hoops demanded by the city and state, and who can blame them? Root causes like poverty, learning disabilities, and lack of English are no excuse for low test scores, and the core problems are vigorously ignored by all levels of government, right up to and including Secretary of Education Reformy John King, who happily dumps hundreds of millions of federal funds into charters.

And make no mistake--charters are not public schools. We don't run them, and we don't get to make decisions about them. We are, however, graciously allowed to pay for them. There is no way Eva takes the kids I teach, the ones who arrived here last week from countries all over the world. There is no way Eva takes the kids my school does, essentially everyone, up to and including alternate assessment students who are not expected to graduate and are a drag on the all-important stats. There is no miracle whatsoever in selecting students, dumping those who don't measure up, and achieving high test scores. If you or I allowed a student to pee her pants in class, we'd be up on corporal punishment charges via CR A-420. Of course Eva doesn't need any stinking rules.

My school is the most requested in the entire city. Any kid who lives in our district, or can successfully pretend to live in our district, gets in. As such, admin scrambles to meet contractual class size, but whenever you push out of one class, you push into another, and it's almost impossible. Our class sizes are already too high and we can barely keep up. Even if we do, 100 kids can walk through our doors on any given week and we'll be right back where we started.

It's a disgrace that the media celebrates the moneyed charter school astroturfers while studiously ignoring the effect on public schools. The more they draw from our best students, the more they can vilify us for not attaining the scores that they've achieved. The more they ignore what's actually happening on the ground, the more the public uncritically accepts their nonsense.

I don't know about you, but it's pretty clear that critical thinking is not being propagated no matter how much Common Core Crap we hurl at our hapless students. If so-called Families for Excellent Schools can regularly feed the media soundbites and stories, why the hell can't we?

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Stupid Stupid Stupid

This week I’ve been examining the new DOE grading protocols, which insist everything be fair and transparent. I’ve written about their notions about homework, which I deemed borderline clueless, but I’m learning even more about them.

In our school, we are semi-annualized. This means that most classes last a year, though they get one credit for each half. We have an understanding that if a student gets a 55 in January, it will be reversed if the teacher grants a 65 at year’s end. This, since it’s understood by staff, makes sense to me. But it doesn’t make sense to the geniuses at Tweed. You see, the average of 55 and 65 is 60, and if things aren’t properly averaged, it’s likely the world will stop turning. We can’t have that, can we?

So teacher discretion is a thing of the past because it’s all about the numbers. To me, that’s ironic because our esteemed chancellor made her bones by running a school. She was legendary. She turned the whole thing around. And she did so by turning down 6 out of 7 applicants, according to the New York Times. If that’s not juking the stats I don’t know what is.

In any case, God forbid some kid should rehabilitate herself, start attending, and actually learn what I have to teach. If her average does not rise to 65, screw her. Let her take the whole course over for no reason because fairness. After all, there should be no discretion whatsoever on the part of the teacher to help a child. Who the hell do these teachers think they are anyway? Why on earth should their individual subjective judgment or desire to help a child trump an average?

It’s funny how people in NYSED and the DOE who regularly mess with figures have no trust whatsoever for working teachers. People who aren’t trustworthy, for some reason. seem to assume other people aren’t trustworthy either. Now I have my bad qualities, and I could line up a lot of people who would characterize me as a pain in the ass, but my word is my bond.

Nonetheless, that’s not actually the stupidest thing I’ve seen this week. While I’d actually planned on saying it was, something happened this morning that made me reconsider. This morning, after a test, a girl in my class almost passed out. I called for a wheelchair. I was told that there was a directive that they not be used. It seems people have not been sufficiently trained in their usage and maintenance, and are therefore not only unqualified, but also liable in the case of anything untoward occurring.

I’m supposing that someone got hurt while using a wheelchair somewhere. What the geniuses at Tweed fail to consider is the number of people who will be hurt by not using wheelchairs. It must be good to sit around an office all day, come up with stupid ideas, force schools to use them, and blame the people who actually teach children for everything and anything that goes wrong.

Sure beats working.

Correction--Actually the document gives as an example that a student with a minimum grade of 75 in June will have her  January grade adjusted to 75 as well. I'm not sure this is minimum policy. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

UFT Executive Board Minutes September 26th, 2016

 Apologies to names I missed. I spoke, and included are the notes from which I spoke.

I arrived at 6:06, missed speaker.

Approval of minutes for last meeting—Howie Schoor uses his new gavel.

Adcom minutes approved

President’s report—Secretary starts to explain Mulgrew not here, but Mulgrew objects, clear evidence secretary was mistaken. Mulgrew asks we keep it short for debates. AFT will be giving us instructions on how to support FL, Nevada, and PA. Says we all know what is at stake.

ATR negotiating session did not go well—no agreement. As of Friday 5794 new teacher hires. Asks we support them.

Paperwork being resolved, Manhattan school no longer needs to write goals for conferences.

FSF—we were ruled out of order—had hoped this admin would change it—even Rhee stopped using it. Believes there are political issues preventing its being revoked.

UFT ad—says there are great reviews. Mentions op-ed he wrote against Eva Moskowitz, who wants to double charter cap while half of her classrooms are empty due to discharges. Expects bad press. Says we will win. Plays ad.

Says they always say public ed. is failing, it isn’t. Graduation rate excellent. Community learning schools, with high need numbers, level 1, 2 down, 3, 4 up. We empower members to help kids.

Mulgrew exits.

Staff Director Report

Leroy Barr—Parent conferences, various dates. Wants to push teacher union day 11/6. Making Strides 10/16. We are largest group who raises most money for last few years. Next meeting 10/16 DA 10/19.

Much debate about who had hit with some song, debate continues all night.


Mike Schirtzer MORE
—speaks of issue with budget. School underfunded. Experienced staff. High average teacher salary. Principal has been transparent, DR helpful. Problem is no title one and experienced staff. No per session, no per diem. Lost administrator. Have one principal, one AP, 3 counselors. Will work with SLT and parents. Question—I know we’re doing a lot.We have 33 oversized classes because we’re underfunded. What else can we do as a union?

Secretary—we can bring it up with DOE at next consultation. Asks Jonathan Halabi to provide info about his school as well.

Ashraya Gupta MORE
—what data do we have about how many oversized classes there are? Why isn’t it published in NY Teacher anymore? In Detroit a parent took photos of overcrowding. Went viral on net. Teachers can’t do that. How do we highlight this?

Ellen P. Grievance dept
. We will post them. Slightly up from last year. Queens HS have most because of space

Arthur Goldstein MORE—By a very conservative estimate, my school is at 200% capacity. Our problem with reducing class size has to do with lack of space, despite 8 trailers and having halved rooms and created additional space via conversion of closets and bookrooms. When de Blasio demolishes our trailers, it will be a disaster for our school community. I suspect we won’t be alone in that. In fact, our neighbors in Forest Hills are having even worse problems.

Let me add that we do simply not need additional seats in Queens. We need additional seats in the schools most requested by students. We need, actually an extension on our building.

I’m really tired of hearing about Students First, Families for Excellent Schools, Educators for Excellence and all the nonsensical reformy groups supported by Gates and hedge-funders. I’d like to see the United Federation of Teachers at the forefront of really making things better for all students.

How can we help to create seats for students and schools that most need them?

Ellie Engler staff director, will set up a meeting. Will meet with space allocation to brainstorm. Says they are open to our ideas. Will set up next month.

Kuljit S. Ahluwalia—New Action—Asks about ATRs. Many feel discriminated against for age. We would like a report broken down by age, experience, license. Perhaps data would help. We would like to know UFT position.

—We will get you info that we have. We don’t ask ages. ATRs are safe due to contract. Subject to same layoff provisions. Board wanted to limit ATRs. We did not give them that. We do not plan to give that up and ATRs have nothing to be nervous about. Says numbers are down but not exact.

Report from district—George Altomare—reports on Italian American committee. Would like everyone to celebrate Italian American culture month in October. 40th year of celebration. Speaks of BRAVE, anti-bullying, Peter Yarrow doing concert for it.

Secretary celebrates George as founder.

Karen Allford Elementary VP speaks of learning retreat. Says they helped build communication between admin and teachers. UFT community schools make teachers the base. Says there is always UFT teacher center, model teachers, and job-impeded PD. Says we bring programs to school, not cookie cutter models, that there are food pantries or reps from food banks to take care of primary necessities like these and dental, vision.

Paul Egan
—Mentions debate, hopes for movement. Will phone bank in October. Says race is tightening. Ohio, PA, FL are important. Asks for members to make calls. We cannot have Donald Trump as President.

Special Order of Business
—election appeal report

Secretary shows letter with 7 complaints, considered and rejected by Exec. Board. Are 8 additional complaints from Solidarity Caucus. Opens for debate.

Ellen Dreesen.—says some things are questionable. Were reps from every caucus at every step. We made decisions equitable to every caucus. Questioning of AAA surprising. They make money by being fair. Don’t work only for UFT. Union pays a lot of money to ensure fairness, proper handling. Doesn’t know what was untoward. These questions must be addressed and understood. We use them because they are fair.

Secretary asks for move to accept challenge and reject report. Many yeas. Few nays.

Motion carried.

We are adjourned.

Homework--Threat or Menace?

I've recently become privy to a DOE directive about grading policies (and I'm sorry, but I haven't got a link). It says that homework may be used as a tool to measure mastery. It seems to place less value on teachers walking around the room and giving simple credit for homework, or giving a grade of 100% for completion. On this astral plane, that's more than a little disappointing.

Homework is routinely copied, and anyone who doesn't think so is either a fool, in some proverbial ivory tower, or composing directives at Tweed. Most homework I give is relatively easy. While I don't want to make kids miserable, I have no problem giving them a few minutes of review at home. Were I to always grade homework I gave, I'd have to not only penalize students who honestly entered incorrect answers (which they could review and correct the next day in class), but also grant higher grades to those who copied from someone more capable. I'd rather just give everyone 100%.

In my sordid past, I did not give number grades to homework. I simply entered check marks in a book. But I now grade via a program that likes numbers, hence the 100. It's certainly true that students who copy homework get undeserved credit, but I can see who does and does not understand in other ways. For one thing, I'm in the classroom every day and I can see who does and does not complete and understand the work. I have a pretty good idea of who will and will not pass actual tests, which happen to be another indicator of who has mastered the material. Homework alone will not make anyone pass my class.

Another advantage of electronic grading is the chance to assign weight to various assignments. A homework assignment that I grade up or down has a value of one. If I simply walk around and look, it's 100 for completed homework, 50 for incomplete homework, and zero for nothing. My program enables this by allowing me to give a grade of 100 to everyone, and alter only those who vary via icons I set in advance.

I don't do that for all homework, though. if I assign, for example, a paragraph, I'll grade each one individually, and assign a value of two, so that it counts double what a short-answer homework assignment does. If I assign a multi-paragraph assignment, I'll grade that individually, and assign it triple value. On assignments like those, copying is quite a bad idea, as I notice pretty much all of it.

Unfortunately, if I were to expect my students to do homework assignments like that on a daily basis, they'd likely as not hate me and everything I stand for. That would make me sad, particularly as there's no need for it. Also, some kids do not do homework alone, or at all. Some families employ tutors who simply do homework for students. Some kids hand assignments to these tutors, or friends and/ or family who complete them. Often kids, perceiving nothing wrong with this, just tell me.

For a few years, I taught ESL students how to pass the English Regents, which of course they should never have had to take in the first place. At that time, it was a marathon writing test. I showed students how to complete formulaic four-paragraph essays that I would never dream of using for anything but that test. At first, I had students complete a lot of writing at home. That didn't work well.

I'd get papers that clearly had nothing whatsoever to do with what students were writing in class. Sometimes they were not even on topic. Sometimes I could find sources from which students had plagiarized, but often I could not. To stop wasting my time, I utterly eliminated homework in these classes. Absolutely every piece of writing was done in class, before my eyes. It gave me a much better idea of what my students could and could not do.

In fact, there is another potential value to checking homework, one of which the DOE never dreamed (what with their not being real teachers and all). If teachers check homework immediately upon student arrival, it's a great tool to discourage lateness. Oops! You're late and I already checked the homework? Gee, that's too bad. Not doing it again. Hope you're quicker tomorrow.

DOE also wants to make sure there is a policy explaining how late homework can come in, and they're much more patient than I am. When can students make up homework? Should it be a week after it is due? Should it be up to the end of the semester? I'd argue that it ought to be made up only if the student were legitimately absent, and only within a day or two after said student's return. Are teachers seriously expected to monitor whether or not students copied late homework weeks after it was assigned? How long does it take a kid to copy thirty homework assignments and why the hell should I give credit for such dubious effort?

The DOE is obsessed with making everyone college-ready. I taught in colleges for twenty years and I was never handed a policy instructing me to grade like this or like that. The DOE thinks everything can be measured on a rubric. The DOE is wrong. We are routinely subjective in many things, but our opinions are crafted on observations of who is and is not doing the work, or at least trying to, when we spend time with our classes each and every day. There needs to be a balance, and in fact there needs to be trust. Of course people whose careers revolve around manipulating data to make themselves look better have trust issues.

Nonetheless, teachers, as professionals, ought to be able to exercise discretion. If not, why are we even here?

Friday, September 23, 2016

Not Insane---A Supervisory Blueprint

Chalkbeat writes about the "authentic" learning standards pushed by UFT President Michael Mulgrew. I am not at all sure there's any validity to judging teachers by student work, be it tests, portfolios, projects, or whatever, and I've seen no evidence supporting this presumption. In fact, there's a lot of evidence pointing otherwise, including that of the American Statistical Association, which suggests that teachers affect student work by a factor somewhere between 1 to 14%.

When the junk science rating law was passed, Mulgrew boasted of having a hand in writing it. The official position was that we were very smart to place this in law, as it would now be firmly in place (proven wrong when Cuomo and the Heavy Hearts made it worse). It was supposedly a good thing, a counter against crazy supervisors. I know multiple teachers whose ratings have been dragged down by this junk science, some all the way down to ineffective. (In fact, I know one who got crappy ratings from a UFT rat squad person, and much better ones from a working supervisor. That's ironic, because the rat squad was supposed to be a check against crazy supervisors.)

What makes someone want to be a supervisor? Well, there are those who want to help. Maybe some principal respects a certain teacher and asks that this person get trained and contribute. Maybe some people fall into supervisory positions and catch up to keep the jobs. Of course, some people were recruited by Joel Klein's Leadership Academy and were trained to actively go after working teachers. You read a lot about these supervisors in the NY Post, about how they're removed from one position after another, and are given new positions either in schools or shuffling papers at Tweed.

Then there are those who want to "get out of the classroom." In my humble opinion, anyone who wants to do that is unfit to lead. The classroom is the center of school activity. It is where the most important work takes place. Anyone who can't or doesn't want to do that ought not to be rating teachers. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people like that opt to take supervisory courses and are now running around with iPads passing judgment on those of us who actually do the work. I have seen incontrovertible video evidence of supervisors saying any damn thing they like, whether or not it actually took place in the classroom.

On the other hand, supervisors who are not insane can be supportive and reasonable in a system that is (or is not) supportive and reasonable. I'd like to see a focus on hiring and retaining such people, as I think that would lead to retention of teachers and more effective education of students. When I read Carol Burris I know she's smart and capable. She was a teacher, she was a principal, and now she's a writer and movement leader. You will not see that from any supervisor who checks off boxes and settles personal vendettas via teacher ratings.

Mulgrew's intentions notwithstanding, the issue is not which variety of junk science we use to rate teachers. We can jiggle forms of junk science but it won't fundamentally improve the morale of rank and file. No matter which form of junk science we use, crazy incompetent supervisors can jettison anyone they choose. I've seen brilliant, inspired teachers walk because they simply could not take the pressure of working for people who were nuts.

If UFT leadership wishes to really support us, they need to take a bold stand against unproven nonsense of any stripe. You can't just jiggle around nonsense and hope that today's nonsense is better than yesterday's. At the UFT Executive Board, MORE/ New Action proposed moving to get rid of incompetent supervisors. Leroy Barr likened our proposal to a scatter gun, which I assume to mean would attack supervisors indiscriminately.

Let's give him the benefit of the doubt. If our proposal was not specific enough, let's adjust and tailor it. We could start with little things. Barr mentioned PINI, principals in need of improvement. Let's restore and expand that. Let's re-open the Apples and Worms section in NY teacher and tell members who is and is not doing a good job.

Let's insist that supervisors be not insane. Let's stand together and show working teachers we have their backs. Alternatively, we can continue painting and repainting the lipstick on the pig that is APPR.

If UFT Unity doesn't like our proposal, it behooves them to work with us to find a workable alternative. If not, we'll know that crazy vindictive supervision is not a priority for them.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Andrew Cuomo's Education Philosophy

Governor Cuomo visited Queens, gave a teacher an award, and made an announcement. Here it is, word for word:

“Education always comes down to one factor and that one factor is the teacher,” Cuomo said. “And that’s what makes education work or not work.”

This is very convenient for our esteemed governor. After all, he's failed to fund schools adequately since he's gotten the job, owes millions upon millions to our schools due to his failure to fund as the CFE lawsuit mandated, and now that the only factor is the teacher, he's completely off the hook.

It's kind of amazing that, even as he's ostensibly praising a teacher, he manages to vilify us. The fact that over half of our students live in poverty is neither here nor there. Andrew Cuomo can't bother himself with that. Governor Cuomo is more concerned with saving millionaires from the inconvenience of paying taxes, even when millionaires write and ask him not to. Evidently the folks who contribute to his campaign coffers are not of that persuasion.

It is pretty incredible Andrew Cuomo made it this far as a Democrat. Of course, he's one of those "New" Democrats. In fact, he ran first term on a platform vowing to go after unions. As a lifelong Democrat, I couldn't believe that this was who was representing us. I mean, if Democrats are going to do that, who needs Republicans?

Cuomo has been quiet about teachers for a few months. After all, he's already managed to take the worst evaluation system I've ever seen, at the lowest point of his popularity, and make it even worse. I shudder to think of what ridiculous "authentic" assessments our union will negotiate. I fear it will make us spend time doing pointless busy work so as to fill portfolios with crap to meet some arbitrary standard or other. I fear it will take time away from the important work of teaching children. I hope I'm wrong, but I've seen no evidence anywhere to suggest Mulgrew's ideas have merit, just as there was none that the "growth model" worked, and there was none that VAM worked.

But every now and then Bill Gates pulls yet another golden egg from his fruitful hind quarters, and the entire country must follow. After all, he's an education expert, like Whoopie Goldberg, Campbell Brown, Pitbull, and whoever that famous guy is who started another charter school in Harlem. Bill's got money to burn and once he makes a mistake, everyone else has to make the same one. It's certainly paid off for Andy Cuomo, Eva Moskowitz's favorite pawn now that she hasn't got Joel Klein to kick around anymore

I cannot find words to adequately express the depths of Andrew Cuomo's ignorance. When I get little girls falling asleep at 9 AM because they've been up all night delivering Newsday with their grandmothers I want to take pictures and send them to Cuomo's house, you know, the one in which he won't permit local inspectors because as governor,  why the hell should he have to pay taxes? Why, to support public schools in which money plays no role, since the sole factor in education is the teacher?

I guess I'm a miserable failure. My students, having been here only weeks or months, don't tend to speak a whole lot of English. That's my fault for not running over to China and El Salvador and Korea and Afghanistan to teach them. I was preoccupied with going to my job in Queens to support my family and failed to pay attention to those obligations.

That's about the level of logic utilized by our esteemed governor. You know, we're New Yorkers. We have reps as being nobody's fool.

How the hell did we elect this guy?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Late Log

For years I've been hearing about this magical phenomenon called the late log. Here's what it is--it's a list that students sign when they're late. They come in, note their name, the time, and a reason for their lateness. This, they say, will discourage students from coming late. And by doing this, you don't have to interrupt your class with any sort of confrontation or discussion that doesn't relate to the rest of the students.

I've resisted this, though it's been suggested by a few principals of mine. I actually prefer to ask them why they're late, right then and there, and show my horror and shock to everyone who showed on time. I think they notice, and I think they think twice before coming late to my class. It's all about tolerance, and my feeling is if I have to be there on time, so do they. So frankly, I haven't got much tolerance for kids who come late for no reason, and no reason happens to be the most popular reason kids come late.

In fairness, I understand if a student is late now and then. But I'm a little upset by students who come late each and every day, and I like to discourage that if I possibly can. 

Sometimes I give the kids an assignment for the first few minutes, pick up my cell, and call the homes of the students who've yet to arrive. This sends a message to the students sitting there that if this teacher is crazy enough to do it to them, he's likely crazy enough to do it to me too. Actually few students come late to my class, but there are some with whom you just can't make headway. Some kids don't care if you call their homes, and some parents don't care either. But they're in the minority, in my experience.

This year, I have a co-teacher. She's a little more receptive to suggestions from administration than I am. So the first day, she established this late log. The second day, she was otherwise occupied, and maybe fifteen kids walked in late. I didn't know where the log was. But day three, I was ready. As soon as the bell rang, I pulled out the folder with the log in it. When the same kids as the previous day showed up late, I put it out and they made a line.

Now despite the assurances that this late log thing would reduce disruption, it actually slowed down things a whole lot. All the kids had to fill out the form, and they all had to wait for everyone in front of them to fill out theirs. It was interesting to read the answers. Clearly some of the kids copied the reasons from whoever preceded them. A popular response was, "too far." That was interesting to me, since it precluded the possibility of their ever arriving on time. Too far is too far. That's it.

Now a good thing about having a co-teacher is the possibility of doing two things at once. So while my co-teacher ran the class, I pulled the students on the list out one at a time and talked about their issues. Our classroom is on the third floor in the easternmost part of the building. As it happens, when the first bell rang I was talking to my supervisor on the first floor on the opposite side of the building.

So a question I asked the students was this--how can I, an old man with one foot in the grave, make it to class on time while you are late? This was a tough question for them to answer. There really wasn't a satisfactory response. Only a few students had a really good reason. Their math teacher had kept them after the bell to work out a problem.

After I interviewed twelve students, I saw there was another page and I had six to go. I was pretty sick of having these conversations, and none of the students wanted to have them either. So I interrupted my co-teacher, and explained how deeply hurt I was by lateness. Then I taught them a new sentence.

"My English teacher is crazy. I can't be late."

I had them repeat it chorally, and then I had a few of the students say it individually. It seemed to make an impression. The next day, and the day after that, no one came late.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

UFT Executive Board September 19th

 My apologies to those whose names I did not get or misspelled. I will correct them if anyone can provide me info. DR--district representative. CL--chapter leader

Howie Schoor, UFT Secretary, welcomes us. Videotaping and audiotaping not permitted, he says. Hopes for good discussion about issues.

Open Mike--

Norm Scott—Speaks of abuse on part of principals. There is a pattern, a blueprint, by DOE legal and/ or Leadership Academy. UFT unprepared to respond. Norm advises people, anticipates complaints, says they are exacerbated by fair student funding. Asks union pay more attention, perhaps devote TV time to what FSF has done to schools.

Central Park East place 10 of 40 teachers under investigation months after new principal arrived. Other school had 90% turnover. Is this discussed at DR meetings? Do they support membership or urge votes for Hillary? Says there is pattern of supes telling principals to wipe out staffs, go after chapter leaders and get their own. Is declaration of war. We need to stand up, use NY Teacher, publicity and commercials.

Georgia Allignu—WC Bryant High School—on CL elections. Found themselves with no CL in beginning of year as CL was victim, targeted, transferred. Was going to present case for renomination but as they are now planned she says thank you. Says this serves democracy.

Rema Margi—District 15 CL now, was abused by principal in district 7, left school after 14 years. Was part of community, had to leave parents and children. Had a good career, but new principal came and diminished everything. CL, elected previous year, resigned. Was attacked, all administrators observed, multiple times on several days. Frank Hernandez principal. 3 people resigned year before she did, two early retirement, and then 5 people transferred to other DOE schools. Got D rating despite having no previous issues.

At new school, was effective continuously. Year after she left, over 25 members left. Last year, 15 left. One who resigned midyear last year developed panic attacks. Principal had called police accusing him of drug possession. Para wrongfully terminated, overturned. Principal looks good on paper.

Dermot Myrie—Asks how DRs are accountable. Too many teacher abused while DRs collude. Teachers brought up on bogus charges. Can this body show data with # of grievances, charges, discontinuances based on race and age? In my school there is no CL.

Minutes reviewed. Accepted

President’s Report—Mulgrew has not arrived 6:15

Staff Director Leroy Barr thanks us for supporting LIU teachers in resolution. They are back at work with 8 month extended contract. Welcomes us. Speaks of breast cancer awareness month, Making Strides walk.

Secretary mentions how breast cancer walk activates many members who had not previously shown up.


Jonathan Halabi, New Action—Body passed res calling for return of unit costing. This was how people were assigned. Now principals have to take experience into account. Bad for school, teachers, students. Said we would work on ending it. What were discussions with DOE and what are we doing about it?

Secretary defers to Mulgrew, who has not yet arrived. Says it may be managerial prerogative

Ashraya Gupta, MORE—At CL meeting we asked about paid family leave, but members don’t know what’s going on.

Secretary says we are still negotiating with city. 30K managerial employees not represented by union had two holidays and .5% of salary taken from them. We will not accept that. We are negotiating. Nothing comes for free from city.

Kuljit S. Ahluwalia New Action—Came from phase out school, Many of my colleagues are ATRS, considered pariahs. What are we going to do for them? Will they get jobs, or just keep moving on?

Secretary—DOE not phasing out schools anymore. Seeing fewer ATRs. Treatment in schools will vary. Depends on principal

Amy Arundell—No exact numbers yet, but generally number is lower than it has been in many years. People being picked up daily. There is no increase.

Secretary advises that ATRs get in touch with Amy.

6:25 Mulgrew arrives.

President’s report—School year off to decent start. Thanks victim support people. Had great communications with NYPD. Says ATR numbers lower than ever since he became President. We don’t know exactly, and also have no evaluation agreement. Negotiations are private but we want authentic learning measures and not standardized tests.

CFE push—small cities filed lawsuit and lost today. Problem for us, though CFE already adjudicated. We want full funding, not dribs and drabs. We need this money now and cannot wait for their appeal.

Mulgrew speaks of Single Shepard Program. Says it will help people with additional guidance counselors who will track students’ entire academic careers. Counselors assigned to kids, not schools.

NYC grad rate now about 70% first time ever.

Secretary says Halabi’s question will not be addressed by President until next week.

6:33 Mulgrew leaves.

Rep thanks Michael Mulgrew for supporting her district. Asks for support 10/16.

Mindy C.—CL Speech Improvement—Had 250 Speech teachers trained all day.
Camille Edy D16—First D16 kickoff. Over 500 teachers.

Paul Egan—Legislative Report—Last Tuesday, Primary Day, by and large positive. Good night in Queens and Brooklyn. Were 4 people targeted. Spent 2 million against us. We spent 250K, but did better job. Latrice won 6 to 1. Pam Harris 5 to 1. Bronx won 4 to 1. Big money did not fare well.

In Manhattan, we worked hard for Robert Jackson but were not successful. Micah Lasher of Students First was not elected. Few hundred votes was difference. Elections decided not so much by those who vote, but by those who don’t. Only 20% showed in that district, and that is relatively high turnout. When people don’t turn out it’s important. Says we need to get Hillary elected as Trump would be bad for unions, working people, Supreme Court.

NY should be OK. We need to look at PA, Ohio, and FL. Too many union members don’t vote. If we’re going to be successful we must put in people who help us. Urges us to get people to vote.

Secretary speaks of COPE money.


In support of streamlining CTE programs

Sterling Roberson—CTE skills and academic based programs preparing students for career and industry. Challenge is in applications. NYSED makes process an impediment. 3-5 years for approval. Calls for NYSED to streamline and simplify process. Asks we support resolution.

No opposition. Debate closed.Passes unanimously.

Removing abusive administrators

Mike Schirtzer MORE—Speakers told stories of abuse. Abusive administrators are big problem. Bloomberg years remain as 2-year teachers became principals. They really do have blueprints on how to make people miserable, run them out of schools. In fact, schools have budget issues. Ours does because of veteran staff. This causes bad admin to run people out.

We must do something as a union. Teachers, counselors, social workers ought not to feel threatened and harassed. We are a union of 200K and we must take action using any means available to us. Admin with two unfavorable ratings from staff should be removed. If this happens to teachers, why shouldn’t it happen to them?

We need a check and balance, and we need to be the check and balance.

Leroy Barr
—Rises to table. We have been engaged with trying to get APs either checked or removed. We had a program principals in need of improvement. Some items here are the same as we’ve pushed. We know they are there, we are engaged in those fights every day, we have no problem bringing entire weight of union against them.

Can’t be scatter gun. Depends on nuances of individual schools. Agree with essence. We want to make sure we are creating a great environment and ensure it for our kids. Want’s to raise title of District Rep tonight. You will never know all the work they do to save the jobs of our members. They do the work every day and you don’t know what they do. Some are behind closed doors. Some members want to leave. There is a variety of answers. We need to talk about how we solve and create good environment for both teachers and students. Asks we table this tonight.

Secretary—Invites voice of support

Marcus McArthur
MORE—I walked into a building 6 years ago, my first job, and CLs classroom had been defiled, garbage everywhere. Principal was responsible. Still in power, in that school. Was a lot of fighting and conflict. Was traumatic.

While union has tried, it has been a catastrophe for those who had to work under these conditions. For me, as new teacher, I was completely at mercy of that principal. Didn’t get a classroom, placed with another teacher to retaliate against that teacher. Was a big threat to me remaining as African American male, as special ed. teacher. Without support of staff, I’d have left system like half of special ed. teachers.

Asks reconsideration of resolution. We must take all action in our power. Cannot tolerate such abuse.

Vote on tabling resolution.

Resolution is tabled as Unity appears to vote Yea in unison. MORE-New Action votes Nay.

Secretary says supervisors are represented by union, that there is a yin and a yang.

Meeting adjourned.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A Safe Place

I teach kids from every corner of the globe. It's one of the best parts of my job. You never know what stories the kids have, what struggles they've been through, or where they might offer something you've never conceived of before. In short, they're very interesting.

And yet, human nature is such that the most interesting people might carry the most mundane of prejudices. I like people from my country, but not yours. If you don't speak my first language, I'm not speaking to you. Your religion is weird. Why do you dress like that? But they're teenagers, and hopefully they're still open to new viewpoints. I've actually seen kids overcome negative attitudes. I'm thinking of one who's come a long way from last year.

But while prejudices come in and out of vogue, new ones can always replace them. Sometimes I see
teachers vilified in ways that make me think we're public enemy number one. With kids, though, there is a built-in adversarial nature. I understand they might not want to do homework, and I understand they might want to go to the park on a nice day. I might go with them if I had half a chance.

Last week we did an activity related to identity. As part of it, students had to write on the board one thing that they are, and one thing that they are not. One student wrote, "I am not gay." Another, in a gesture he deemed hilarious, erased the word "not." I was going down the list and discussing it with the class when I encountered this.

I was not pleased. I explained to my kids that we are from other parts of the world and from various cultures, and told them that someone, somewhere, hates each and every one of us just for being who we are. I told them that was not acceptable in this classroom. I told them there was no difference between judging someone for being gay and judging someone for being Christian, Muslim, Jewish, black, white or green.

They were a little surprised. Isn't it okay to make jokes about that group of people? Well, not in my classroom it isn't. My classroom is a safe place. No one here will make fun of you for the way you speak English. No one here will make fun of you because you come from this country or that, or even if you come from the moon. No one here will make jokes about your language, your religion, or your family.

I don't remember everything I said because it was kind of a torrent. I expect better from kids in my classes. I expect that we will have the sort of respect for one another here that we may not find out on the street. I expect not to see that kind of attitude in my classroom, and the next time I do we're gonna have a long talk about it when I drag your parents to school.

I don't know, really, how effectively I can unset or remedy deeply held prejudices. But anyone in my classroom who chooses to act on them will find it inconvenient to the extreme. My classroom needs to be a safe place for everyone. My students now know that, all 46 of them, and if they ever fix my class size, I hope even those who move bear this in mind wherever else they go.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Chapter Leader Meeting Takeaway

The overarching theme at 52 Broadway on Wednesday was paperwork. There's a lot of paperwork, too much paperwork, paperwork is the scourge of civilization, and the number one concern of UFT members is paperwork. Principals are evil, among other reasons, because they don't hand teachers paperwork filled with curriculum, scope and sequence. Mulgrew goes off on tangents, makes in jokes with his BFFs, but every road leads back to paperwork.

I'm sure there are abuses of paperwork. I'm sure there are abuses in making teachers write curriculum. I've seen them, and I've moved to correct them. Now, though, there is a form for that. I certainly hope it's more effective and less restrictive than the APPR complaint form.

In my job, I get complaints all the time, from all sorts of people. In my building, at least, paperwork is not a particularly pressing concern. Members are more concerned with ratings. Why did this AP walk in and see things that didn't happen? How come when a dozen kids raise their hands, on video, my supervisor sees only two? Why does he always observe me last period on Friday before vacation in my worst class? Can Mulgrew really get rid of crazy supervisors? That would be something good for everyone, even remaining supervisors who aren't crazy.

Mulgrew shared some interesting news. We're going to replace the test-based junk science in the APPR system (the one Mulgrew himself had a hand in writing and creating) with authentic measures, or it's no deal. What will they be? Who knows? Portfolios perhaps. You may recall them rearing their heads maybe twenty years ago. You needed a portfolio for every student. It needed to be in the classroom at all times. If you didn't have one it was the end of the world. Until the next year, when portfolios were out, passe, utterly without value.

And with the new matrix, the portfolios, or whatever the hell there is, will count for half your rating. This, evidently, will reduce the principal's input to 50, rather than 60 percent (or perhaps less, with the magical outside observers who know nothing about you, your school, what you do, or who you teach). Of course Mulgrew vehemently denies that the matrix makes the junk science/ authentic ratings or whatever they may end up being 50 percent. But with only two axes, it's hard for mathematically-challenged individuals such as myself to fathom why they don't count for half. On the other hand, if they actually do not count for half, won't the principal still have the lion's share of control in evaluation?

Mulgrew spoke of the ATR, and said it's at its lowest ebb since his caucus created it in 2005. Evidently, though, provisionally placed ATRs, the overwhelming majority of whom will return to the pool in June, are not counted. And there are still hundreds of wandering ATRs without classrooms. I cannot tell you how unhappy I would be to be in that position, and I'm very sorry so many of my brother and sister teachers find themselves stuck there. I'd hope we'd give them jobs rather than lip service as to how few of them there are, but that's just me.

Ironically, after listening to Mulgrew lecture for hours on excessive paperwork, I went downstairs at the end of the lecture to find a huge package filled with--get this--excessive paperwork. I thought it might contain a revised chapter leader manual and various forms for my members. Instead, it contained two huge stacks of COPE recruitment cards and a big stack of forms which I'm supposed to give my hundreds of members so they can update their UFT information. You know, since we almost never do boots on the ground stuff anymore, we can send them emails and stuff and hope for the best. Ground up organizing is a thing of the past now that we're content to get paid interest-free a decade after everyone else.

Mulgrew was very specific that new teachers had to get bathroom keys. Now you can't deny that all of us, teachers of all ages, have certain biological imperatives. Yet the most new teachers ask me for bathroom keys is never. What new teachers ask me about, over and over, is tenure. They ask me if they're going to get it. They ask me whether they've already gotten it. They ask why it's delayed. Some in other schools ask me why they were discontinued and are involved in lawsuits stretching out over years after losing their jobs for no good reason.

Another thing new teachers, and not so new teachers, are pretty worried about is the new 100 PD hour requirement. I've heard exactly nothing from UFT on that, though a special rep seated next to me said they now have an idea of what the requirements are, and that they are not so onerous. She said under certain circumstances school PD would count. Hopefully she's right. I'd like to see something in writing to that effect.

I was also approached by several people who handed me Team High School pamphlets. There were a few Team High School people giving courses or something. As it happens, high school teachers voted against each and every one of those people. I know, because high schools selected Jia Lee as President and James Eterno as VP for Academic High Schools. Of course, uppity high school teachers, having chosen a non-Unity candidate decades ago, are no longer permitted to select their own Vice President. In fact, the only people high school teachers were permitted to elect for themselves were seven of us who actually won seats on the UFT Executive Board. Yet none of us are remotely involved in Team High School in any way, shape, or form until they need us to hand out their pamphlets. Go figure.

As for the smooth opening, I can only go by what I see. In my school, I reported 246 oversized classes. As I write this, three of them are mine (Update--all of my classes are now oversized). I just checked my sheet and my two classes of 43, which went up to 44 yesterday, are down to 43 again. My air conditioner doesn't work, and the day I went to 52 was particularly brutal for me and my students. The teachers working in converted bookrooms and closets with no windows were not precisely jumping for joy either.

But Michael Mulgrew, as President of the United Federation of Teachers, hasn't got time to speak to me, the lowly chapter leader of the largest school in Queens. Instead, he complains that I report on what happens at 52. Evidently NY Post reporters may read about what he said, and then, heaven forfend, ask him about it.  It appears that, while Mulgrew can easily duck talking to classroom teachers and working school reps who haven't signed loyalty oaths, NY Post reporters need answers.

I'm not sure why Michael Mulgrew thinks when he tells thousands of people something that it's remotely confidential. I represent fewer than three hundred people, and I don't place secrets in mass emails or announce them at staff meetings. I need to keep a lot of things confidential. They don't go out in mass emails, and you don't read them here.

As long as Mulgrew surrounds himself with people sworn to support whatever, as long as he avoids conversation with those of us who question the orthodoxy, as long as he's angry with those who report what he says rather than keeping it buried in his carefully crafted bubble, we're not gonna hear the message we need from leadership. Leadership says we win when we get VAM, we win when we get rid of VAM,we win when we get Common Core, we win when we lose Common Core. In fact, Mulgrew said we won all the political races in which we were involved. I was therefore pretty disappointed to learn later that the candidate we supported against a couple of reformies, the one I followed most closely, Robert Jackson, in fact lost his race.

From all I see, it appears our President is perfectly happy to paint a happy face on whatever and have us hear very little of substance. Unfortunately, there are substantial problems facing us. We're gonna need to acknowledge them, and do a whole lot more, if we're gonna help our current students and future colleagues.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

September 2016 Chapter Leader Meeting--Anything I Say Will Be Blogged in 15 Minutes

Mulgrew lets us know we are crazy for being CLs, and refers to school opening as “smooth.” Says budget is not so bad, and principals are lying if they say it is.

Primaries—poor turnout, but hedge funders always back candidates. This time they had a new group with a new name, with the same people funding it. Attacked UFT backed members—we were outspent 6 to 1 but won every race. Hedge funders accused union backed candidates of hating kids.

Says it’s important that parents know we are there for them. Speaks of three groups, Republicans, Dems, and so-called independent Dems who largely support Republicans.

Presidential race—UFT chooses candidates based on what’s best for union and professions. Says sometimes it’s simple. Trump has come out with educational platform, vouchers, charters, eliminate tenure, privatize public ed. Suggests no matter how low race gets it can get lower. Asks us to understand importance of it in term of work we do. Suggests Trump wants to abolish public education.

Asks us to thank retirees, already working with AFT in swing states. Says no matter what happens our focuses in Albany will be funding, particularly CFE, and that city spends it well. We don’t want APs, consultants or crazies. We want reduction of class size.

Other focus will depend on evaluation agreements. We are required to have one by December 31st of this year. We are in negotiations but don’t have agreement. We must have authentic student learning measures that are not standardized tests to reach agreement. We are trying to find a substitute for tests, and offer them multiple options. We would like, then, to encourage legislative support. Standardized testing should be for info, not penalization, not high stakes.

Family leave agreement being discussed. ATR agreement lapsed, we are now at lowest point. Asks CLs to welcome them, respect and support them.

Every school should be well managed and respectful, says Mulgrew. DOE will claim they already are. This is our time to set a tone. We will prove those that are and are not. Mulgrew consulted yesterday with chancellor, who thinks most schools are well managed and respectful. Says last chancellor did not deem that important.

Class sizes reported this Friday and next Thursday, Mulgrew asks us to monitor and report. Mulgrew says we need to ask for Galaxy budget now, in case principal says we have no money. Principals required to share with us.

Mulgrew says we need to have master schedules for our buildings. We need them in order to do reorganization grievances.

Mulgrew says post 911 we are not allowed to have safety plans, but are entitled to see them. Does not have to be CL on safety committee. There has to be a protocol for people entering the building. UFT ought not to be escorted wherever they go.

Mulgrew asks if we have consultation committees. PD committees. Safety committees. MOSL committees—form and discuss, but not yet time to decide. Will use last year’s list if there is not an agreement. School leadership teams—Did they discuss school budget?
Job of teaching difficult, teachers under constant stress, we have to make sure teachers get the supports they need. We must act professional, but so should admin. They ought not to be withholding budgets or denying consultation. If principals deny consultation, there is a problem and schools are not well-managed. Such principals ought not to be in charge of building unless CLs modify their behavior.

No. one issue for members, from poll, is paperwork. Was problem years ago, is new provision in contract, yet two years later it remains number one issue. There is a disconnect because things members are doing are things they are not supposed to do, as per contract. Much paperwork is tied to curriculum. Who thinks they get curriculum? Much laughter ensues. Should be list of topics, with scope and sequence, with what students are expected to know, for semester or year. Why are teachers writing this? Why would a principal ask you to write something she is supposed to supply.

We get paperwork complaints in June because of bad rating fears. Important to file such complaints more early. We have to change that culture. Mulgrew’s issue is we have to figure who has a curriculum, who doesn’t, and how we systematically collect it. DOE has a lot of curriculum offered to principals online. Why would they ask us to do it?

Mulgrew wants to go after paperwork and curriculum issue. They should supply in five core areas, FL being fifth. Mulgrew asks who has been given curriculum. Few to no hands. Mulgrew frustrated because principals have access to all.

UFT has a chapter advocate department, first and foremost devoted to simplifying paperwork. Says it doesn’t matter whether or not you get along with principal. Says without curriculum teachers lack basic tools to do jobs, placing undue burden. Says teachers can modify curriculum. Mulgrew wants a place for us to file if there are paperwork issues. No teacher should be designing scope and sequence or curriculum maps. Says maps change from school to school depending who principal is—should be group of teachers getting together to coordinate instruction. Impossible if there is not actually a curriculum.

Things that don’t get resolved will go to a citywide paperwork committee. Were only four complaints in city that made it there, despite it being number one issue with members. Mulgrew shows us paperwork reduction reporting form, encourages us to use it. Says all cases will be tracked and there will be automatic central reporting. Resolution sought could be knock it off, cut the crap, whatever.

Mulgrew says we need reports. We cannot fix this if we don’t know about it. He says again this is the number one issue. Says we can file for departments who haven’t gotten curriculums, and that teachers ought not to be doing this work. We can get curriculum and modify it to meet the needs in our schools. Says it should be our number one hot button issue.

Says schools may not deviate from contractual unit plans. If admin demands one daily, they haven’t got a curriculum.

Mulgrew says he will focus on members not wasting time on paperwork because principals can’t manage their jobs. Non-core subject teachers ought not be writing curriculum or scope and sequence without proper compensation.

Mulgrew tells us to greet new teachers and help them get bathroom keys. Says he tells them it’s a really hard profession. Just because children know you are here to help them doesn’t mean they are going to listen. Asks if people got calendars. Asks why they are so popular now that everyone has a phone. Mulgrew says state wanted to discontinue them but said UFT would rally in Albany for them. Says we send them to retirees overseas.

Says a lot of CLs not getting packages, but they are right outside. Some confusion as to where they are. Says they are in deserted cafe, and that many were sent back last year. Says chapter advocates has expanded. Says they are not there forever and have to move on to other schools.

New position for paras—lead teacher assistant. Are filling positions now.

New posting for IEP teacher. Negotiated by VP Alvarez. Says this position is about supporting the work of instruction in special education. Who has been informed by principal that position is funded? Very few hands. 960 schools have been sent funding and have budget line for this position. This is one reason we need a snapshot of budget. We don’t want another AP telling teachers to do paperwork.

Mulgrew says he’s ending his report. Says June’s around the corner. Says we have only one snow day in calendar. Says we will have to add days if we lose more than one snow day. Says we will not extend end of year, but will agree ahead of time with DOE. Says NYC has more holidays than any other system,but this gives us longest year as well. Says his email lights up whenever it snows, but decision is mayor’s.

Says tone is better than with Bloomberg, wants well managed schools, respected members.


Skedula—has problems with idea that everyone can look into this system. Sees it as micromanaging tool. What is union’s position?

Mulgrew—Skedula designed by teachers in Brooklyn in response to Aris. Ten years later, being used all over the place. Anything being used punitively needs to be reported to union. Work product is owned by employers. Says some schools use it really well, but with a bad person, issue isn’t the tool, but the person. Says if someone’s misusing Skedula, you probably have paperwork problems too.

Can student removal process be part of school safety plan?

Mulgrew—Under current conditions, we believe first graders should be suspended. If there were a place to remove them and put them in clinical evaluation, we would prefer it. Only way to get evaluation has been to suspend them. We haven’t got a system set to take care of children’s needs without it. There are programs to help these kids, but they aren’t universal. We have other kids who need attention, who can’t learn with huge distractions. City may be more flexible about removals.

State law does not allow them to ban suspensions. There is a SAVE legislation that says they can’t, that students removed three times to SAVE rooms must be suspended. City may want to remove our ability to remove kids. Mulgrew says he went to press over that. Says politics should not trump student learning. Says we want clinical psychologist in every single building. Guidance counselors and crisis intervention specialists ought to be available. Says nothing yet in writing, but mayor says that classrooms have to be for learning. He says city is hearing us.

Says this is an opportunity to get systems in place to support us and help children who need it.

Music teacher says principal has asked them to write curriculum, scope and sequence, says what is given is just blueprint.

Mulgrew—principals need to give a curriculum. Cannot ask teachers to write it.

Is there anything more specific about new evaluation?

Mulgrew—No. If I say anything it’ll be on a blog in 15 minutes and I’ll be answering questions from NY Post on way home. Says he won’t do anything without authentic learning measures.

Mulgrew announces raffle, wishes us great school year.

Oversized Classes and Ridiculous Exams

The beginning of school is pretty exciting, but it’s also pretty frustrating. In my school, for example, there are over 200 oversized classes. I know because I teach four of them. These will mostly be worked out over the next week or so, so that’s not a disaster.

What really frustrates me are the constant changes that we experience. For example, there are 43 students in my afternoon class. A big issue is the fact that at least 15 of them passed that class, with me in fact, last year. To me, that’s an emergency. However, to the 30 other teachers in my department, their classes are the emergency. My problem doesn’t worry them at all.

So really, the only thing to do is wait and hope. You wait, and you hope that your class will come first, or soon, or optimally now. I mean, I’m ready. The issue is that I’m teaching a whole bunch of kids things they don’t need to know, and then when the kids who maybe need to know those things show up, well, I don't think I'm gonna go back to square one and start from "hello."

There's also the issue of the NYSESLAT test, the one that rates and places my kids. I've given and read the test for two years, and as far as I can tell, it has little or nothing to do with whether they know the language or not. So a whole lot of my students tested commanding, or some such thing, which means they are no longer entitled to ESL services. This is unfortunate, because some of them have never passed a single one of my modest teacher-designed tests.

Why might that be important? Well, there's a whole lot of talk about students being "college ready." Now, what that means to New York State is that the students got this grade on some Regents exam, and that grade on some other Regents exam. In fact it's wholly arbitrary and has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they are ready for college. You know, just like answering questions that involve repeating what a teacher said, like in the NYSESLAT, does not necessarily make you fluent in English.

I taught English in colleges for twenty years, and I have a pretty good idea what they want students to be able to do in English 101. Basically, they'd like to see people write coherently. I personally favor coherent writing. In fact, when I teach grammar and sentence structure, things my kids don't know in English, it certainly helps them. Of course I'm not supposed to teach that. I'm supposed to hand them some book about Hammurabi's Code, or The History of Cement, and have them close-read and answer tedious questions.

Now that would be a great idea if my goal were to make them hate me, hate my class, and hate English altogether. But as I'm not a great thinker like David Coleman, I actually want them to look forward to coming to my class. I want my class to be a safe place, a place they can count on for support, a place where absolutely no one will make fun of their English.

David Coleman's gonna have to place a gun to my head, literally, to make me teach his tedious tripe. I think my oversized classes will get fixed, and I think the kids who passed last year will move up. Some of them, sadly, will move up way too high and lose their chance to learn what they really need to know.

But hey, how would Questar, or whatever company that designs the crap tests that place them there, make money to send their reps to gala luncheons if we didn't have those tests? What's good for business is good for America, and it's unpatriotic to suggest otherwise.

Isn't it?

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Crawl Off That Slab and Call Blue Cross

Even those of us with relatively good insurance can be stunned by medical bills. My daughter had an interesting experience last summer. She was feeling achy one evening and I took her to an urgent care. Fifty bucks. The urgent care said they had to rule out meningitis and sent us to the ER. One hundred and fifty bucks.

At the ER, blood tests were negative. They went and did a spinal tap. This caused my daughter extreme pain and we returned to the ER, from which they admitted her. Three hundred bucks. Oddly, the only thing that was wrong with her, five hundred dollars later (not to mention what the insurance paid, which was way more), was that she suffered side effects from the treatment.

So I was a little surprised to get a bill from the hospital for $848.17. That took our adventure to over one thousand dollars out of pocket, all for checking out my kid, who had a virus. And yes, I understand they had to check, and it's certainly better being safe than sorry. So what was the problem?

Evidently, you are supposed to call Blue Cross when you are admitted to the hospital. They give you a 48-hour window to do this, which I guess is enough time to make a call. I gotta say, though, I've had this insurance for over thirty years and I've never made any such call, not for me, and not for anyone in my family. Well, Blue Cross has had enough of me and my shenanigans. I discovered this after waiting twenty-five minutes to speak to someone at the hospital billing department, which played the most awful piano music I've ever heard, over and over, along with messages about how important my call was to them. Of course, if it were really important, you'd think they'd answer it.

The woman told me that Blue Cross had penalized me for failing to call. Man, $548.17 for not thinking of the insurance company while my daughter was in pain. I am clearly a horrible human being. To their credit, Empire answered quickly. When I told them I had no idea I had to call them, the guy said, "It's right there on your card." But I wasn't looking at the card because I was too busy rushing my kid to the ER. He waived the charge.

I called back the hospital and listened to that awful piano tape for another 30 minutes or so. I paid my bill, and the woman gave me a ten percent discount for paying promptly. So it was not so bad.

I wonder, though, what about people with more dire issues? Are they expected to waken from their comas and let Blue Cross know they're gonna be in Intensive Care for a while? Should they crawl out of traction to get their fingers around that receiver? Should they wake from feverish delusions, fish their wallets out of the plastic bags in which they put their belongings, read the little numbers and then dial?

I found myself telling people more than once, "Well, we didn't go to the hospital just for fun." I wonder if that's what they think. What on earth is this phone call designed to do? Are the folks from Blue Cross gonna check whether you're just taking it easy and hanging around in a thin robe so you can freeze to death in some icy hospital? Are they gonna tell people on the spot that their telephone experts have determined that the doctors at the hospital are wrong and you should just go home?

Or is it absolutely vital to have yet one more layer of redundant bureaucracy in our already convoluted and incomprehensible health care system?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Limiting Parent Access

It's fundamental that teachers and parents communicate, and for me as a teacher, parents are my first and best support. The first thing I do when I see a problem I can't resolve one on one is call. And while I get a lot of feedback from commenters and colleagues who say the parents are never home, they don't care, that it's a waste of time, or whatever, I haven't found that to be the case. Of course I am pretty determined to make contact and I search under every rock for that number.

It doesn't always work. Sometimes the parents are frustrated and don't know what to do. Sometimes they are unwilling or afraid to do anything. No one's perfect. But now, after thirty years, I'm hearing about letters to limit parent access. They say they're being used unfairly against parents of color, and that white parents don't even know about them. For all I know, that's true, because I'm a white parent and this is the first I've heard of them.

In fact I know of multiple instances of parents coming to school and confronting teachers. Our UFT consultation committee has addressed this and we now have a procedure. In our school, all non-employees sign in and wear guest stickers. The guests write that they're going to this office or that, but we don't actually have anyone following people around the building.

So if some parent decides to come to my classroom and scream at me for being a terrible human being, or whatever, there's not a whole lot I can do to stop it. And we have indeed had cases where parents sought out teachers while they were working. I'm available to see parents by appointment. I cannot address parental concerns while I've got 34 students in front of me. I particularly cannot deal with disagreements in front of my students. It's especially egregious if the student happens to have done something wrong. Should I discuss it in front of her peers, so that they can talk about it all day?

I'm really kind of gobstruck that there is this mechanism and I've never even heard of it. I wonder how it even works. We have over 4,000 students in our building. When someone signs in, are the security guards expected to check the name against a limited access list? How large do these lists get? I suppose it's viable, but what happens if they have a hit? Does this person, unlike everyone else, have to make an appointment before meeting in the school?

I can understand how that would make a person angry. And it would be particularly egregious if an incompetent administrator (and yes, there are one or two of those here and there) saw fit to just shut out everyone and anyone who reflected potential inconvenience. That seems to be the case in some places. Of course, incompetent administration isn't headline worthy, and the papers are mostly focused on so-called bad teachers, who are evidently the scourge of western civilization.

I think these letters could be used for parents who've been abusive. There's no excuse for a parent stalking or confronting a teacher in a classroom setting. There's no appropriate response for a teacher beyond, "I can't discuss that at the moment," or calling security. I can understand how frustrating that would be to a parent. But there are reasons why administrators are not in classrooms, and a very good one is so they can deal with theses issues while we are.

If they're dashing off letters so as to lessen their workload, well, perhaps they ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. The problem, though, is that individuals who don't enjoy dealing with people often find their way out of the classroom. They become administrators. Quite unsurprisingly, individuals with little or no people skills are miserable administrators. Just as they deal poorly with students, they deal poorly with teachers. And just as they deal poorly with teachers, they deal poorly with parents.

Of course it's to be expected that if you give incompetent administrators a convenient tool like a limited access letter, some will abuse it. It's too bad because there are certainly cases where such a letter is appropriate. Systemic abuse, of course, could result in it going the way of the dodo bird, like suspensions for kids who publicly instruct teachers to perform unnatural acts.

There is another option of course, and that is holding administrators accountable for their lack of discretion, lack of competence, and lack of skill in dealing with humans.

But I'm a dreamer.

Friday, September 09, 2016

That's How They Get You

Man, I am pooped. This week has got me more tired than I thought anyone could ever be. I'm not sure why. It's like every time I say anything within the hearing of my supervisor she needs to prove me wrong. "Well, I'm gonna be in the trailers forever." Oh no you aren't, she decides, and dumps me in a real classroom for the first time in twelve years.

Of course, the real classroom has a smartboard. There it is, big as life and whiter than the North Pole. I turn it on, and nothing happens. So I decide to hang my jacket on it. After all, I haven't got those things where the shades are supposed to be, like in the trailer. So it's perfect. Then, when I get observed, I demand credit for using the technology. After all, my jacket is hanging on it every day. Two weeks later there is an LED screen there that actually works, and I have no alternative but to start using it.

The principal decides everyone should use an electronic gradebook. What a pain in the ass, I think. This time, it isn't even my supervisor, but my UFT District Rep, who says, "Hey, why don't you go to this group in Brooklyn that's studying it and making recommendations for the contract?" So I go. Our group recommends that teachers get one day off weekly from C6 to enter grades, but it doesn't make it into the contract. However, my principal likes the idea and it finds its way into our SBO.  I start using it early, figuring I'd better get used to it.

That year, I'm being observed. I'm talking about I have no idea what, and my student from Peru stands up and says, "HOW COME I ONLY GOT AN 80 FOR PARTICIPATION?" I am shocked. I say, "Wow, you looked at it?" I mean, I've only been using the thing like one day. She says, "YEAH I LOOKED AT IT AND I AM NOT HAPPY AT ALL!" The walls quake, but she is clearly expressing herself spontaneously in English. I raise her participation grade to 95.

Last year, I said I was glad I never had to work with a co-teacher. After all, though Part 154 has insane rules, I was lucky enough to have multiple certifications, so I didn't need some English teacher to help me do my job. But I think I inadvertently planted an idea with my supervisor, who is weary of hearing me say that this and that is all crap. She wonders how she can pair me with someone who disagrees. The insane requirements of Part 154 give her an idea. For no reason anyone can explain or comprehend, the geniuses who wrote Part 154 decided ESL students must be no more than one grade apart. So a ninth grader can never, ever be in the same class with an eleventh grader, as that would surely result in Armageddon. So now we're together, one of us teaching 9 and 10, the other 11 and 12.

So the first two days of school, the days in which we're supposed to get time to prepare for the arrival of the students, day one we get no time at all, and day two we get just a little. I meet with my co-teacher. She has, get this, ideas.  She wants to do this, and she wants to do that. But I want to do that, and I want to do this. So it turns out, when there are two people running the show, you have to compromise. Can you imagine that?

Anyway, I am sorely pressed for time, I am chapter leader, absolutely everyone is complaining about absolutely everything because it's  the first week, and it takes maybe five times as long to prepare because not only do I have to prepare, but I have to, you know, talk about what I want to do, and then she has to talk about what she wants to do. I mean, all summer my wife and kid have been going to work, and I've spent a great deal of time hanging out with my dog Julio. He doesn't much care for lengthy discussion. He licks your face if he's happy to see you and walks away if he isn't.

So there's my frame of mind. But we walk in first day, and in front of our ridiculously oversized classes we are calm and kind and play off one another and it is simply wonderful, even if planning takes way too long.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Actionable Feedback PD

You probably think I don't pay attention at PD but I do. I went to a session on Tuesday all about feedback. Evidently it has to be specific and timely. You know, you tell students right away when they have an issue. That way they can deal with it right away. For example, you should wait 30 days and then tell them about what they did last month. You also shouldn't wait 45 days and then talk to them about what they did six weeks ago, while they wait to find out what they did last month.

It's also important that the feedback be actionable. For example, you should provide strategy. This is how you can write, draw, or do that better. I would do it like this. This is what this writer does. You can't just say, "Boy, did that suck," and move on. That's not actionable. You have to offer ways they can improve.

Also, you should be positive. You can't dwell on the student's incompetence or make invidious comparisons. You can't say things like, "Why can't you teach learn like your colleague that other student?" You can't ask, "Why isn't your passing rate grade as high as this other teacher student?" It's important to be positive. That will encourage people to grow and learn. You certainly don't want to discourage people and have them wondering what the use is.

It's important that you offer change step by step. For example, you ought not to focus on every domain of Danielson paragraph of a composition. You should do one step at a time so the teacher student is not overwhelmed. After all, it isn't reasonable to expect a sea change overnight.

And of course you need to be receptive and assume there is an opportunity for change. Let's say, for example, you're walking around all over the building saying this teacher student sucks and you can't wait to get rid of her. Well, that might get back to the teacher student, and then how would she feel? Probably she'd feel the situation was hopeless and she'd be likely to give up. What's the point of aiming for improvement when you've destroyed a person's morale?

Peer feedback is important too. You can't just have a supervisor teacher talking down to a teacher student. That won't be as effective as it would be if you had peer to peer interaction. That's important in Danielson too, so it's noteworthy in our system. It's also easier to give feedback when the subject isn't present. That way, teachers students can learn without feeling targeted. After all, no one likes being targeted. Anonymity is always good, if possible.

It's important to target specific areas. If you were to say, for instance, that everything without exception is wrong, it could cause the teacher student to shut down. Once that happens, there's little or not possibility for improvement and all your effort is in vain. You can't just hand a person a list, say good luck, and hope for the best.

So that's what I got out of our PD session. Can you see any way it might apply or be helpful at your school?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Old School

A lot of us don't like it when we're told to change our teaching methods. After all, we've been doing it this way for twenty years, and it's been good enough for everyone. Why do I have to deal with all that computerized crap? Who needs a screen? Why do I have to put my grades on a computer? Hasn't my grade book done the job for decades?

I'm guilty of that too. Every time something new comes up, I know it's gonna be a pain in the ass to figure it out and make it work. Of course it invariably is, but I'm often persuaded it's an improvement. One time, maybe fifteen years ago, I lost a paper grading book when someone broke into my trunk and stole my bag. I had to try to remember and improvise. I'm willing to trust our grading program not to have its trunk broken into.

I'm also pretty well sold on using visual displays to teach vocabulary and remind my kids of various things we have to do. Once I got used to using PowerPoint for that it became easy. In fact, because I search for illustrations for the blog each and every day it was just that much easier. Of course there is a whole lot of crap that comes down the pike, and if we use technology poorly we may as well not use it at all.

But I was taught old school in high school, and it sucked. I remember high school as one of the most grueling, tedious and uninspiring periods of my life. Of course I was going through all the adolescent nonsense we all do, and that didn't help. But I also remember a bunch of teachers and their methods, and I'm now absolutely sure they were total crap.

The most egregious case of that was my biology teacher. He was a bearded man with a long white lab coat that he wore each and every day. His primary activity was stroking the beard. Beyond that, he had a binder and an opaque projector. He would place a page on the projector, and we would sit and copy. At some point, he would ask, "Is everyone finished?" If yes, he would change the page. If no, it was more beard stroking. I had a beautiful girl to my right. While she had a boyfriend in college and had no interest in me whatsoever, I found her far more fascinating than the notes about hormones and enzymes, or whatever.

I failed each and every biology test, all year. I had copied all the notes dutifully, but it didn't matter. I had no idea what they meant and couldn't have cared less. Around June it dawned on me that I might have to spend another year copying notes. I bought a red Barron's review book, and read it every spare moment I could find for two weeks. I passed that test though not by much.

I now realize, with the notebook and the projector, I could've taught that class. I don't remember a thing about enzymes but if makes no difference. I could grow a beard and buy the white coat if necessary. In fact, I could probably do it all on PowerPoint. This would be an example of teaching crap with modern technology.

Other teachers I recall were my English teachers. I had multiple English teachers who felt the best way to teach a work of literature was to read it aloud in class, and then never discuss it at all. I believe that was my first exposure to Shakespeare. But I most recall the novels we read. All I had to do was pay close attention when the girl in front of me was reading. If I could figure out which page she was on, I could then read my page. Of course I was daydreaming over 90% of the time and had no idea what the books were about. Were I on my own, I'd likely as not have been reading.

I try very hard not to treat my students like that. If I ask anyone to read anything, we will talk about it. I'm guilty of boring kids sometimes, but I'm always at least trying to capture their interest. Some people vilify chalk and talk, but that would have represented a great improvement on whatever it was I got back then.

I had exactly one single teacher in high school who asked us what we thought and how we felt. It was extraordinary. I loved that class. It was called sociology but it could have been anything. Any teacher can reach out to kids, and that's where I think we need to be.

Alas, the geniuses in Albany and Manhattan are all about finding the One Way to Teach and make us do it. If only we had one single educational leader cognizant of the fact that we are diverse, that we have different voices, and that there is more than one way to crack an egg.

But I'm a dreamer.