Saturday, December 16, 2017

CSA to Principals--Do Any Damn Thing You Want

The ICE blog covered this last week, comparing the CSA and UFT reactions to a memo that came from the office of Debbie Poulos, Director of UFT Contract Empowerment Dept. You may see things on this blog now and then which are critical of UFT leadership, but the fact that such a department even exists is a step in the right direction. I don't know whether we had it before Debbie ran it, but I'd certainly never heard of it before.

I've been chapter leader for nine years and I've seen how rules can be selectively enforced. If someone likes you, you can get away with outrageous infractions. If not, well, you get a letter to file on the flimsiest of evidence. The people with the LIFs may then discuss the outrageous infractions of fellow members, and it becomes common knowledge what they got away with. Rules? Judging from the memo, they don't apply to CSA.

And for a long time, it was tough to fight back. I will tell you that at least two references on that paperwork complaint form came from my school. I'll also assure you that, while some things did not make precedent, others are common sense. They say that common sense is the least common of all the senses, so I'm not altogether surprised to find CSA making blatant misstatements. Maybe they consult with DOE legal, which in my experience, appears to issue opinions about the UFT Contract without the benefit of having bothered to read it.

There are some good things happening at 52 Broadway and Debbie Poulos is most definitely one of them. Sometimes you hear gloom and doom from leadership, but it doesn't come from her office. We have real problems, and her office is in the business of working out real solutions. If that isn't possible, there are paperwork complaints. CSA is going to lose a whole lot more of them if chapter leaders are willing to make them.

Sadly, there are a whole lot of schools with no union presence. Everyone does teacher teams every day for C6, and if you don't like it, go work somewhere that follows the Contract. Principal's rating depends on teacher teams and nothing else matters. There are schools where chapter leader is like a hot potato, a job no one wants but someone gets tagged with. That's understandable in a hostile environment, and sadly there are many such environments here in Fun City. It's eye-opening to go to Executive Board and hear tale after tale of abusive principals. That's disturbing, and taking them one at a time as we do, we make exceedingly slow progress.

On the other hand, in my neck of the woods I see a distinct improvement at Queens UFT. Grievances I filed often used to fall into a black hole somewhere out on Queens Boulevard. In our school, for example (and for years), people with sixth classes were also saddled with C6 assignments. People complained endlessly about them, and UFT sources told me that was the way it was. Around September 2016, I actually read Circular 6R and found that was not the case. It says, right there in black and white, that teachers who take sixth classes are relieved from C6 duty. (It also says that establishing sixth classes requires concurrence from the chapter.)

It was tough to find someone who would grieve. A lot of people are afraid to file grievances. Aside from that, a lot of people with sixth classes felt they were risking their positions by complaining. I searched high and low, and found a bold soul to make the complaint. We were denied at Step 1 and we waited. Then we waited some more. Four months later, I started to make a stink about it and it finally made it to Step 2. At that point, the member decided going to Manhattan for the day wouldn't be any fun. I offered to go along. I offered to pay the fare and buy lunch. But the member failed to discern the fun in any of it.

I'm an ESL teacher. I'm offered an extra class every year. I never take it, even though the money would be great. (I honestly have no idea how I manage to meet the responsibilities of my current job, let alone an extra one.) So I couldn't grieve. Instead I filed the complaint and spoke with Debbie Poulos. In our multi-session school, we have an SBO to enable three days of C6, one of OPW, and one of teacher teams. Teacher teams entail paperwork, particularly on days you present. Because of Circular 6R, we were able to maintain this was inappropriate, since the members with six classes ought not to have a C6 assignment at all. We won this complaint, which was significant because neighboring schools had also been ignoring C6 rules, and for years. I'm hard-pressed to see, despite the CSA bluster, how your school wouldn't win it as well.

As for Queens UFT, grievances no longer disappear. I now get emails asking what happened to this or that one, asking me to check or follow up. This is a vast improvement over the black hole thing. A particular grievance that I'm certain would've descended into oblivion last year was brought to Step Two just last week.

CSA can crow all it likes, but I won't go down without a fight and I'm now getting very good support from both central and borough offices. It's sad that CSA has taken a practice that ought to be merely adversarial and ascended it to outright belligerence. In an ideal world, we'd all know the rules and admit it when we screwed up. Alas, in the immortal words of Tony Soprano, fahgeddaboudit.

It's funny sometimes dealing with rules. Quite often, members argue that this is wrong or that is right. I have to explain that right and wrong are not what wins grievances. We need to look for specific violations. Sometimes administrators argue right and wrong with me. Why do we have that rule? Wouldn't this one be fairer? Oddly, I only hear this when they're losing arguments about the rules.

There are rules they don't like. There are rules we don't like. There are rules neither side likes, e.g. four minimum observations even for teachers who do fine with only two. Some people say rules are what separates us from the animals (Please don't take this as a slur against animals. Though I love them, I don't always emulate their behavior.)

It's kind of a shame when CSA decides to side openly with the animals. It's kind of our job as teachers to foster humanity and cooperation. But hey, they aren't teachers anymore, and we all have to do what we all have to do.
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