Wednesday, October 04, 2017

In 2017

I was at a meeting the other day where an administrator told me, “In 2017, we don’t do things like that.” The particulars of that discussion aren't  important. The fact is a lot of things have changed. I’m not the same teacher I was 20 years ago. I’m sensitive to what goes on around me and I evolve as necessary. I love using computers, for example, and ever since I was kicked out of the trailers I’ve been able to use them in my classroom.

Here’s the thing—I walked out of the meeting about what 2017 was like and directly into a classroom that was diabolical. The AC, which was fixed the previous day, no longer worked. I’m in the middle of a project. I’m working up to taking my classes to see Wicked on Broadway, courtesy of TDF. I therefore have to show my kids The Wizard of Oz and at least try to make them understand it. Try making anyone understand anything in a hundred degree humid room.

You’d think in 2017 you’d have air conditioning. I mean, how does anyone muster the audacity to lecture teachers on the way children should be treated and then dump them into hellish environments? If some kid got offended because I told him to sit down without the requisite happy smile and I therefore get a letter in my file, why don’t the assistant principal, the principal, the chancellor and the mayor get them when kids have to sit through lessons in rooms unfit for man or beast? And as if that isn’t enough, they challenge and lecture the girl who comes in a halter top with cutoffs split up to her belt loops. Given climate conditions, she’s the smartest person in the room. Instead of sending her home, they should make her valedictorian.

In 2017 we should know that teacher voice is a thing. It’s got various meanings and implications, but to me, teacher voice is how you choose to approach your job. It’s entirely possible that you do that in a completely different manner than I do. But that doesn’t suggest either of us is better or worse. Yet in 2017 we have a checklist. Teacher did or didn’t do this, that or the other thing. Therefore teacher is highly effective or teacher sucks. I’m sorry, but a competent administrator could write up a lesson and explain what is good and what could be improved, and do it without a cookie-cutter checklist. A competent administrator used to be a teacher, and has his or her own teacher voice. Maybe that voice could help other teachers.

Here’s the thing, though—In 2017, and you might want to sit down before you hear this, but in 2017 not all supervisors are competent. Some are small-minded and power obsessed. Some think they are smarter than they actually are. Some think there’s only one way to do things and can’t conceive that things could be done any other way. You have to use the green card and the red card to see if students understand. If you don’t, you suck and I’ll rate you ineffective. I knew a supervisor who thought that. Maybe, if administrators aren't capable of broader thinking, they should should be working at Burger King, where the mission is more clear-cut.

In fact, I knew a supervisor who had a member so on edge that every time he saw him, he had an a-fib episode. The following year, another member in the same department had a heart attack in the hall. That, of course, didn’t stop the supervisor from walking in her classroom on a half day when only eight students were in attendance, and giving her an awful writeup. The year after that he topped himself once again when a member he threatened to rate ineffective went home and died prematurely.

In the UF of T in 2017, there are seven elected members of the High School Executive Board. We are all from the opposition caucus. The Vice President is from the dominant caucus because in 2017 high school teachers are not allowed to select their own VP. And at the last Executive Board meeting, they changed the rules so that we have to place any resolutions on the tables 30 minutes before the meeting. That’s problematic because it’s anti-democratic. But there are other issues here.

In 2017, I’d be surprised if even a single Unity Executive Board member did not hold some paid position at UFT. At the very least they’re all delegates, voting at conventions where, in 2017, high school teachers have no democratically elected representation whatsoever. It’s a little different for us. In 2017, I travel from my non-air-conditioned classroom in Queens to 52 Broadway, and my fellow members come in from boroughs across the city.

Unlike the union leaders, we don’t have secretaries to run off copies. We don’t have people to run to the room and hand out stuff. As a matter of fact, in 2017, I’m not even sure whether we’re allowed to go up and enter the room thirty minutes before the meeting starts. Unity now says if we submit in advance, they'll print things up for us and distribute them. Here's the thing--given they outnumber us, and given they have voted everything we've presented down with the exception of one (which they cut to the bone), they're effectively asking that we give them advance notice of everything we do. In an already rigged system, that's an unfair advantage they neither need nor merit.

Regarding advance notice, they do nothing of the sort for us. They have the numbers to pass whatever, and our input is neither sought nor welcome. In fact we support virtually all they present, because we are not contrary for the sake of being so. They sprang the anti-democratic resolution on us without warning. Maybe they thought, given the time constraints, that like them, we wouldn't be able to respond. They were wrong.

It's easy to give a sincere response. It's harder to rationalize doing the wrong thing. If Unity can't think of appropriate ways to respond to resolutions that unequivocally support teachers and students, resolutions about class size and abusive administrators, in 2017, time is not the issue.
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