It's 2017, in case it's escaped your attention, and city schools are still not universally air-conditioned. My building is better than most, in that it's largely air conditioned, but as anyone who works in a city school can attest, things break, and they aren't always fixed instantly. Last year the AC in my classroom dropped dead sometime late spring, and I remember a particularly miserable day that I was observed. I didn't fare all that badly, but I'm absolutely certain the lesson would've gone badly if the kids and I were not so miserable in the heat.
And it's not really about being observed or not. NYC has made big noises about being putting, "Children First, Always." The fact is you don't do that by placing kids in miserable learning conditions. When I lived in a non-air conditioned apartment I remember retreating to the library to do work, simply because it had AC. In fact, when Chancellor Carmen Fariña wanted to rationalize keeping schools open during a massive snowstorm, she cited the fact that Macy's was open. Well, if we're gonna go by what Macy's does, it probably isn't working out that well, since they just closed 68 stores and fired 10,000 people. Aside from that, there's no way Macy's would open on a summer day without AC.
The principal of Fashion High School is now running a GoFundMe campaign to get air conditioners for his school. I have to applaud his efforts. He's really showing concern for not only the kids he represents, but also his staff. There's no way that kids can learn efficiently, or teachers can teach efficiently when it's 98 degrees in the classroom. There are only so many articles of clothing you can take off, roll up or loosen, and then you're pretty much stuck wishing you were anywhere but here. How you are "highly effective" under those conditions is a mystery to me.
But as laudable as the principal's efforts are, if I were Carmen Fariña, I'd be utterly humiliated. This principal's efforts are her failure. Fariña can talk until she's blue in the face about how much she cares about schoolchildren, but leaving something like this out there in the public eye is a huge embarrassment. It would be for me, anyway. I mean, it's very nice that she takes a group of seven or eight kids to a museum somewhere and discusses fine art with them. I'd be delighted to do that. Of course, it's not quite as easy for a lowly teacher like me to get away with a small group to a place like that. To portray that as typical in NYC is absurd.
More likely you're in some sweltering classroom with 34 kids, trying desperately to keep them alert and stay alert yourself. In fact, that's where I found myself this September, except I had 40 kids rather than 34. Our AC was replaced, in fact, and our class was reduced to contractual limits, but there are still 42 oversized classes in my school, at last count, and new kids are coming in each and every day.
It's nice that Fariña can bring a few kids to a museum. That's great for those kids. But in terms of big picture, NYC still has the largest class sizes in the state of New York, and they haven't been changed in fifty years. Also, just about everyplace is air-conditioned now except New York City schools. Principals ought not to have to take to funding campaigns for basic necessities, and if anyone at Tweed thinks this represents putting children first, second, or anyplace but last, they need to have their heads examined, and not by a DOE doctor either.
Views expressed herein are solely those of the author or authors, and do not reflect views of my employers, the United Federation of Teachers, the MORE Caucus or any other union caucus.
Stories herein containing unnamed or invented characters are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.