Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Putting Students First by Firing 251 People Who Help Them

That's what they're planning to do in Yonkers. They're having a budget crunch, and this is how they're choosing to deal with it. It's important to note that this comes after years of Governor Cuomo's edict that school budgets shall not be raised over 2% except under extraordinary circumstance.

Any time they want to go over 2%, they need to get the budget passed by a super majority. Not precisely democracy. if you ask me. Of course, Governor Andrew Cuomo never does.

Why, exactly, does Yonkers have this issue?

In the case of both the school and municipal budgets, the deficits are primarily due to rising employee wages, benefits and health care.

How inconvenient, to have to compensate people for their work. What a burden it is to offer health care to people who work for the government. Why are these people so greedy? Why do they demand enough money to be able to have decent places to live? Over at Walmart, they pay people diddly-squat, and teach them how to apply for food stamps and other government aid? Why can't the government do that too? Wouldn't it save money?

Well actually, no it would not. Though it's federal rather than local, government pays for those benefits too. And with Trump in charge, all those benefits have targets on their backs. Why can't people just pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Hey, do you even know what a bootstrap is? And if you did, do you think pulling one would help you make a living? What if you pulled both of them? Me, I'm not seeing it.

So how can we solve this issue? Why don't we ask the community to break the 2% cap, and push for a super majority vote? Wouldn't that be better than depriving the children, the ones we put first, of people whose job it is to support them in school?

On Thursday, Mayor Mike Spano said he wouldn't support breaking the state tax cap unless unions agree to wage or benefits concessions.

"I wouldn't entertain one without the other," Spano said.


So evidently,  if public employees agree to do more work for less pay, the Mayor will ask for more money to support them. If I were Mayor Spano, I'd call in E4E and get them to give pizza parties, explaining to employees that giving more work for less pay is the way we put children first. By telling the public how worthless we are, and how little we think of ourselves, we'll show that we put the children's needs before our own. Except for our own children, the ones we won't be able to feed or clothe, but hey, you can't have everything.

On the other hand, if we're putting children first, do we want to bring them up in a system where they can't make a living? Do we want teaching to become a job that requires two or three other jobs just to make ends meet? That's what it is in Oklahoma and West Virginia, and we've all seen how that's working out. Do we want to move toward wildcat statewide teacher strikes in NY State?

Judging by Mike Spano's words, I'd have to say yes. On the other hand, union leaders have a different vision:

"Stop thinking that you're going to do this on labor's back," said Louis Picani, the Teamsters Local 456 president at a City Council public hearing Tuesday. "It's not going to happen."

Picani warned that city residents would see a repeat of a 2010 budget crisis and layoffs that led to uncollected garbage on the streets.

Frank Marino, vice-president of the Yonkers Uniform Fire Officers Association, said laying off public workers to close deficits will lead to an unsafe, unsanitary and poorly educated city.

"Taking away services that people rely upon is wrong," Marino said at Tuesday's City Council budget hearing. "Blaming fairly negotiated contracts that included many concessions for financial mismanagement is wrong

You probably wouldn't be hearing that if you lived in Wisconsin, or one of the other right-to-work states. In Wisconsin, for example, they've not only hobbled union, but they've also killed collective bargaining (except for police, because someone has to protect the governor's mansion when the public comes bearing torches and pitchforks).

Were Janus to be successful, you wouldn't be hearing it anywhere. Make no mistake, if the Koch Brothers succeed in hobbling us by allowing freeloaders, they will certainly target collective bargaining. They'd very much like to erase the last century or two and move us back to feudalism. Despite Cuomo's recent happy talk and ostensible support, his 2% cap directly contributes to this cause.

There's an apocryphal Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." These are the interesting times. The Koch Brothers will flood the airwaves with ads saying keep your money, don't give it to that stupid union. That way you'll have a little money in the short run. In the long run, of course, there will be far fewer people like me willing to go to the wall for you and defend your rights.

Blanche DuBois always depended on the kindness of strangers. Personally, I'd rather depend on a hundred thousand educators who stand with me. Otherwise, we're at the mercy of hacks like Mayor Mike Spano.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Executive Session w/ Mariachi Chancellor

I will have no report from the Executive Board tonight because we are going into Executive Session. This means no outsiders are allowed. We have strict security procedures. You have to go through an ocular ID and take batpoles down to the sub-basement at 52 Broadway. (Actually I have no idea what it really entails, because I've never been in Executive Session.)

I've been doing Executive Baord for two years, and I've never heard of Executive Session. I know that the last meetings of each year were closed to visitors, but my understanding was that these were basically dinners rather than meetings, so I didn't even go. Personally, my favorite thing to do at the end of a school day is go home and walk my dog. I suppose I once held more lofty ambition, but that's where I am now.

Perhaps Executive Meetings are for hazing and I'll finally learn the secret initiation ritual. There could be masks. Maybe there's a secret handshake and a decoder ring. Hard to say. Nonetheless, I've gotten by without it for almost two years, so I'm not sure it will make a difference. 

Actually, there's a much more likely reason for the Executive Session. In fact, we're going to meet the chancellor. It will be worth it to me if I get to ask him a question. I have one in mind. He was at my school a few weeks ago for his "listening tour," but I had an Executive Board meeting that night and could not stay. From everything I heard, he did a lot of talking but no listening at all. He took no questions from the audience. He took them instead from a few aides who either culled them from the crowd or made them up. Who knows?

We do know that Mayor de Blasio took over the city government over four years ago. We know that a whole lot of Bloomberg appointees are still hanging around Tweed, flaunting their particular brand of anti-union, anti-teacher ideological fanaticism. For me, this was a huge disappointment. I supported de Blasio against UFT''s first candidate, what's-his-name, the guy that told the Daily News editorial board that the city couldn't afford to give teachers the same raise it gave NYPD and FDNY. Understandably, he was mad that UFT didn't support him against Bloomberg Mach 3. But the fact that he stabbed us in the back after we stabbed him in the back did not suggest strong character or conviction to me, at least.

UFT tried very hard to get me to work for what's-his-name. In retrospect, perhaps what's-his-name was going to do the right thing by us and we would've gotten a contract that didn't cause us to wait until 2020 for money we earned in 2009. Maybe my friend who's jumping to a Long Island district next year would have all her retro pay. It's hard to say. I have this thing about trust--once you violate my trust I never trust you again. What's-his-name, in my view, was not to be trusted.

In any case, tonight I expect to get to ask a question of the chancellor. I kind of wish it were public, but I don't make the rules. In fact I had a blog I was going to put out about this chancellor a few days ago, but I'm holding it back until I know a little more. Maybe tonight I'll learn something.

What would you ask the Chancellor? Now let's be fair. He's not actually responsible for the state law that mandates all the nonsense in evaluations, and almost everything you've experienced has not been under his supervision. He wasn't the one who kept all of Bloomberg's people on at the DOE well past their sell-by date. It wasn't him who hired your Boy Wonder supervisor.

Honestly, until the man has actually done something, it's hard to say much about him. He certainly sings and plays better than any of his predecessors. I'll tell you something--the violin is a real challenge. Basic mastery of it is a lot harder than guitar. When you first pick it up, it's like your strangling a cat. People you live with toss you out of your apartment and you can hardly blame them. You know what you sound like. Of course, when you can finally make music with something like that it's a thing of beauty.

So without piling on for things over which he's had no control, what would you ask? If you come up with a better question than the one I have, I'll use it. Alas I won't be able to write about this top-secret session. But most things get out eventually, one way or another.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Teachers Strikes Are a Moral Imperative

Diane Ravitch wrote about how Bill Bennett, Reagan's former Secretary of Education and part-time degenerate gambler, opposes teacher strikes. Bennett gets on his high horse and rationalizes this on moral grounds:

When coal miners strike they lay down their equipment. When teachers strike, they lay down their students’ minds.

First of all, I'd expect children's minds to be active if their teachers walked out. Wouldn't they wonder why it happened? If I were a kid and my teachers went on strike, I'd probably jump with joy for the time off. But I'd also wonder why they did it. This is a teaching moment, and I'd certainly teach my children why their teachers went out.

Let's go with Bennett's other misconceptions. There have been numerous instances of teachers striking for not only their working conditions, but also student learning conditions. In places like Detroit and Chicago, schools have been left behind not by teachers, but by governments thoroughly indifferent to the children they're paid to serve. Sure, teachers could hang out in rat-infested crumbling buildings and let the kids know they're okay with it. On the other hand, they can let communities know that there are certain things we ought not to stand for.

Oklahoma teachers, faced with a $6,000 pay raise, had other demands:

"This package doesn't overcome shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It's not enough," Priest said. "We must continue to push for more annual funding for our schools to reduce class size and restore more of the 28% of funds they cut from education over the last decade." 

Certainly class sizes benefit not only teachers, but also children and communities. If teachers cared solely about compensation there'd be no need for them to bring this up. I recall the Chicago teacher strike being not solely about money, but also about learning conditions. Who will advocate for learning conditions if not us? Rahm Emannuel? Joel Klein? Michelle Rhee?

I don't recall any of these reformies trying to get lower class sizes. In fact, uber-reformy Michael Bloomberg advocated for firing half of working teachers and establishing classes of 70. I know some super teachers, but I don't know anyone who could handle 70-student classes very well. In NYC, classes of 34 are already tough to deal with.

In the United States in 2018, over half of our states are "right to work," which means it's optional for people to pay union dues. (Oddly, none of the politicians who push this nonsense seem to think taxes should be optional.) Some "right to work" states have outlawed collective bargaining. I'm not sure exactly what they expect teachers to do when they can't earn a living. I'm also not sure why the people we present as role models for our children should be expected to clean stables or deliver papers before they teach, nor am I sure why they should have to work at the car wash or Applebee's after.

Most importantly, and I've made this point before, it behooves us to leave this world a little better for our children. And in case it isn't clear, students are our children. If we leave them a world of crap jobs with no future or possibility for enjoying life, we haven't precisely delivered.

I don't see New York going the way of those other states, and I'm glad we aren't up against a wall like a lot of our brothers and sisters. But neither are things peachy keen. We need to work to improve teaching and learning conditions, which are largely one and the same. We can't slide into complacency and we can't settle for nonsense like this Janus case. The clear and only aim is to strip us of our voice and leave us just like Oklahoma and West Virginia, among many others.

That's the way the United States is moving right now, and it's on us to grind this movement to a halt. It's a large burden, but it's all ours.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly May 16th--We Offer Lessons for Janus and de Blasio

President’s Report—Michael Mulgrew

Mulgrew asks moment of silence for Queens music teacher Keith Johnson.

Says this is last DA before Janus decision. Compares Sandy to Maria, brings St-Thomas-St.John Federation of Teachers president up.

She thanks us for prayers. Says things on islands depend whether or not your home is intact. If you have no roof, not so well. 13 schools housed in 8 buildings. St Croix—13 in 5 buildings, triple sessions, quadruple in on high school. Cannot wait for end of this school year.

In state of limbo waiting for modular schools. Goal to avoid double sessions. Modular schools ordered only last week. Infrastructure not in place. Promised for August, but not much confidence. Students have adjusted, moving forward, please send prayers, supplies, donations. Loves to see solidarity. We stand with you. What we do together affects all our children.

Mulgrew—We will continue to send more support. Forced them to open schools so teachers could watch water dry. Want to extend school year even though teachers were there. Same garbage everywhere with these idiots.

Federal—Secretary of Ed. came to our city. No bears met her. She had proposed 2 billion in cuts, stopped majority. Some things got through. Non public schools can use title one with outside vendors. We have to watch her. First year not so good, but has a lot of money and influence. Have to remember she wants, in the end, to get rid of us. Would love us with no union or fight back.

Wisconsin now walking out as state cuts funding for public ed. State after state, no raises 10 years, benefits slashed and schools don’t have basic supplies or many, exploding class sizes. That is their goal for all of us. States saying we have nothing to lose. What else can they do to us? We will continue to work with those states. Big picture is using them to show real blueprint for ed—weak union, no collective bargaining, no funding, and then blame teachers and privatize. AFT pushing to get this narrative out.

State—Attorney General—now temporary, will be that way until general election. Appointment process, but legislature will not do it. We have to change our plans for November. Most expensive statewide race will be AG in NY. AG office has sued sitting President at same rate as CA, but because the Trump Corporation is in NY, have sued them too. GOP will want the seat that controls the cases. We will only support those who support our profession, workers’ rights, and NY State.  We will go after congressional seats that oppose these things. Didn’t expect big AG campaign. Will readjust.

180 days issue going back and forth. OK in NYC. Important to know what’s going on in schools, and prefer not to ask principals. Big debate at SED, say no state counts passing time, actually only three that don’t.

NYSUT RA was in Buffalo. Asks if they had a nice time. Seems to be growing solidarity across state. Everyone knows Janus. Bill passed that no one will mandate testing for evaluation. Governor supports. Assembly passed it. Comes down to Senate. NYSUT doing good job with this, wants nothing tied to it. About misuse of test scores.

Consultation Committee with new chancellor. Says he’s very nice guy. You can be a really nice guy, but taking over that office is another issue. They want to know if we have to renegotiate. Law says we have a year. If moratorium lapses and we don’t have law, all teachers 50% standardized test scores. We have to take people out if they don’t vote for this. Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter. In NYC evaluation is toxic because it isn’t being used properly, and it’s getting worse. Members are observed day after they speak up about something, and admin who do that should be fired. Basis of law is about supporting work of people in classrooms. If professional admin perverts and twists it to lord over and beat people, they shouldn’t be allowed near children.

We don’t want to do anything about evaluation until we understand that this needs to stop. Some people are left alone, Some schools do this the right way, and every one of us wants to work in these schools, really talking about craft of education. Then, we have really bad people. Observation and evaluation should not be a benign activity. We should be in secure environment evaluation ourselves and letting others look at it.

Chancellor agreed if that’s what’s going on it’s no good.

Real possibility Janus released on Monday. It’s coming. Important we have great spring conference on Saturday. Please get people here. First big public speaking event for chancellor.

What if mayor comes with parental leave issue? He’s not doing so good. He’s mad because I called him gender-biased, said if he could get pregnant it would be solved. Mayor needs to own up. He also said we just make up sexual harassment complaints. Generally policies good, but we can tell him to stop the nonsense.

Paid parental leave coming along, city council helpful. We did fed, state, and now doing city budget. NY State has increased 4.3 billion last three years. We don’t see it in our schools. City says it’s in salaries but it isn’t. Council likes that we use money as intended when they give it to us. Makes difference in communities. We have several former teachers in council. Isn’t it time we baseline Teachers Choice?

Shanker awards last night. Children very thankful. NYC teacher union donates 1 million dollars a year. Harmon and Mulgrew got thank you letter from student, close to retirement, who said 40 years ago Shanker scholarship changed his life. $250 a year isn’t a lot now, but he used it then to feed family. Now a chief physicist at NASA.

Janus—All working hard. Don’t know what more we can do but will think of it. One to one conversations important. Door knocking has been great. Next piece membership teams.

We don’t want to fall into position of having nothing left to lose. We need to lead fight to show what unionism needs to be. Agency fee numbers lowest ever, under 1%. We have to have these conversations. When people have correct info, they make good decisions. We flipped vote on Constitutional Convention.

We will have to find every new hire and explain to them what union it is and why they should be part of it. We make sure someone watches after them, ask for raises, make workers part of political process. Won’t let them take away our rights and abilities. Will be shocked if it hasn’t come down by June 13th. Our destiny is in our hands. We are ready. We will give members facts, face to face.

Staff Director’s Report—Leroy Barr—Saturday was 5K run. May 11, UFT provider awards ceremony. Jun 2, first Denny Drumm scholarship brunch UFT central. Tuesday June 12 counselor recognition. Next DA June 13th.

Questions


Q—Last month, said legislation would mitigate Janus. What can we tell members?

A—One section about communication between employer and employee clarified. We have cooperation. Lots of things union does outside of collective bargaining. In state law that is gray area and open for litigation. Law now is definitive anything outside of collective bargaining not for non-members. Mistake to withhold all service. Right now we have exclusivity. In other states they will have five or six unions repping same group, some financed by Koch Brothers. Charge less and give fewer services. Many services have nothing to do with CBA. In disciplinary process, we go further than contract. We no longer have to supply attorneys for non-members. NY State now has strongest union rights laws because of that.

Q—Lab specialist CL—hearing that CLs are not permitted to attend step two with members.

A—They have a right. We will straighten this out. Maybe new chancellor will end this.
Tell borough office. System is crazy. Superintendents tell people to do anything. This is a right. Permission not required.

Q—Recently we had contentious CL election, got heated. Was divide. Now with Janus, I’m concerned about uneasiness. How do I bring them together.

A—Booze. No, not really. As someone who never had an uncontested CL election I was through it. You have to have meeting right away, bring staff together. We broke school into subject areas. I let departments pick reps. Do it through actions and find time for people to socialize.

Q—Many members antsy about new tax plan. Haven’t seen effects yet. We know in NY we will get slammed. Governor offered protection. How can we help and prepare.

A—Different provisions in state budget to move money from things that can’t be deducted. Tax package attacked us and ten other states. Is a donation process, and process on how you can use piece of payroll tax, which is still deductible. I’m not an accountant. We might want to use accountants who deal with teachers and specialize. We will develop that.

Q—SS department had PD options out of building, but many had costs attached. Teachers told they wouldn’t be reimbursed. What are their options?

A—I would’ve tried to have conversation and negotiate something.

Motions

Peter Lamphere—Moves to resolve on gubernatorial election. Primary next month.

Mulgrew—September

Lamphere—Says we should have input into decisions. Need to examine closely. Asks for poll, interviews for Democratic candidates and Green Party candidate.

Point of order—Rich Mantel—Says motion out of order. NYSUT makes gubernatorial endorsements.

Mulgrew—All state endorsements by NYSUT in August unless NYSUT frees up locals. Under current rules UFT does not endorse. Resolution is out of order. In terms of process, there are many people who do this work.

Point of information—Lamphere
—Is it possible to make a recommendation to our delegates to NYSUT?

Mulgrew—As duly elected delegates they are free to do what they want to do.

Tim Myer—Possibility of making CTLE hours in two parts. Are now too long.

Mulgrew—Good idea, but this is motion period.

Special order of business


Resolution to support poor people’s campaign—Anthony Harmon
—Speaks in favor. Campaign led by Rev. Wm. Barber, friend of UFT, much momentum around country. 50th anniversary MLK assassination. NYSUT passed similar, asks endorsement.

Passes unanimously


Resolution to End Sexual Harassment

Janella Hinds
—Every employee should feel safe. Discrimination disrupts work. Comments, all forms disruptive to safe work spaces. Attacks victim’s confidence. Security threatened. We stand for respect, safety, security. We ask for full, fair and complete investigations.

Arthur Goldstein--As an ESL teacher, as a human, I’m deeply offended by stereotype. It’s the product of ignorance and never valid.

That’s why I’m so disappointed Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken stereotype to a whole new level, claiming that 98% of UFT sexual harassment victims suffer from a “hyper-complaint dynamic,” whatever on earth that may be. Mayor de Blasio seems to feel that the threshold for dealing with sexual harassment is reached only when the city pays out $830,000 over an administrator we’ve known about for years now. In our workplaces, in the schools our children attend, if there’s anything that cries for zero tolerance, it’s sexual harassment.

I know people who’ve been victimized, some very close to me. The very last thing victims need is to be publicly humiliated by the supposedly progressive mayor of New York City. It’s particularly egregious when his information comes from the blithering incompetents  at OEO, who as far as I know, have never encountered a deadline they could meet. It’s even worse if it comes from the 30 dollar an hour thugs at DOE legal, many of whom can’t comprehend the most unequivocal language in our Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’d be humiliated to discover any of them had gone through my beginning ESL class.

We are educators Let’s teach the mayor no, you don’t get to stereotype teachers. Let’s teach the mayor no, you don’t get to stereotype victims of sexual harassment.. Let’s teach the mayor what a terrible idea it is to take advice from fanatical ideologues left over from the Bloomberg administration. Let’s teach the mayor the United Federation of Teachers stands up for our own.

Let's vote yes for this resolution and show unequivocal support for those among us who most need it.

Passes unanimously

We are adjourned.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

On Formative Assessment

It's funny to see administrators hyping formative assessment. Of course it's a great idea to give students low-risk environments in which to demonstrate mastery of material, or to encourage improvement. I've always marveled that we give these big tests as semester's end, frequently don't even return them, and then tell students, "There you're a 78," or whatever. What does that even mean? What did they miss? What can they do about it?

Our goal, as I understand it, is to support student achievement and improvement. And just by the way, we're supposed to be something like role models. We're supposed to show them that they have potential in this game of life, that your boyfriend dumping you, or your last math test, or losing your cell phone is not, in fact, the end of your life, and that there are more things than you can imagine awaiting you when you finish high school.

Yet all too frequently administrators decide there is only one form of formative assessment, only one way to do it and that any variation from said way is Ineffective. You didn't use an exit slip? You suck. You didn't have them raise right hands for comprehension and left hand for befuddlement? You suck. You didn't hold up green cards for understanding, red cards for lack thereof, and yellow cards for I don't know whether or not I understand? You also suck.

When you have an administrator who Knows Everything and Must Be Obeyed, your options are limited. Oddly, whenever I have students doing work in class, I circulate and look at said work. I can tell whether students understand based on what they do. Call me cynical, but what they say is not entirely relevant to me. I'm not actually suggesting they're liars. Rather, they're teenagers, enveloped in the most insecure and stressful stage of their lives, and the likelihood of their raising their hand to admit they don't follow is not sufficiently high for me to depend on.

Nonetheless, the administrators do not practice what they preach. If it's important to do formative assessment, if formative assessment is in fact an integral part of learning, then it follows that those tasked with making us improve as teachers must practice it. I've seen very few administrators do so, and in fact the ones who demand that everything be done One Way are among the biggest hypocrites there are.

These are the same people who will observe you on a half day when there are 30-minute periods. They don't have any issue with the fact that only eight of your students show up. They vilify you for the fact that 26 students stayed home. That's your fault for insufficiently motivating them. Of course this is a full evaluation, and of course it will count against you, because that supervisor isn't gonna come back and do it again when your actual class is there and you are actually doing your job.

Formative observation is for the Little People, specifically you, and since your supervisor knows everything, it's assumed you do as well. If you don't, well, you suck and are therefore ineffective. That will be reflected on your observation report, of course.

How are you supposed to know what Does Not Suck? That's a tough question. Given that your supervisor, who officially knows everything, has never, ever been evaluated via the Danielson rubric, you can't expect him to demonstrate a model lesson. That's just one reason why he never comes into your classroom to do that. That's probably why his classroom isn't open as a model for us all to observe. In fact, that might be why he doesn't teach at all. Teaching is also for the Little People. It's your job to teach, and his job to tell you why you suck.

In fairness, he may have hundreds of observations to perform and write up each year. Most people don't write very quickly and he could be overwhelmed. If he were actually fair, I'd feel sorry for him. Nonetheless, if he were actually fair, his time would be better spent supporting teachers than running around endlessly rating them.

The argument that supervisors can be vindictive lunatics and therefore should be doing 200 observations a week to keep them busy is not necessarily a bad one. There are issues, though. First, if they're vindictive lunatics they ought to be placed in mental health facilities rather than public schools. Second, if they aren't, they'd be better off doing two observations a year, as required by current law, unless teachers need further support.

It would be nice if observations were used to support teaching rather than bash teachers over the head. In fact, it would likely benefit communities to have teachers who felt supported rather than terrorized. Maybe we'll be able to convey that to people in positions to decide. Here's NYC Educator's hot tip of the day to to UFT leadership--cut mandatory observations to two and it will be a whole lot easier to sign members post-Janus.

Monday, May 14, 2018

We Are Trained to Blame Teachers

That's a pretty depressing thought, isn't it? But you don't know when you're being trained. That's NYC Educator mascot Toby on the left. I have been training him for months. For example, every now and then, no matter where we are, I ask him to sit, and I might give him a treat when I do that.

Right there Toby sat of his own volition, and he's waiting for me to give him a treat. Someone pointed out to me that this meant he was training me. I wouldn't have even noticed that.

The public at large seems to think teachers are a bunch of lazy loafers, doing nothing all year and then taking summers and holidays besides. They begrudge us health benefits and sick days, vilify us for having pensions, insult us relentlessly, and try to suppress our voices. We weather it all and sort of take it for granted.

Why don't other Americans simply demand what we have? There's a joke about two Russian farmers. One says of the other, "He has a cow and I don't. I want his cow to die." It's unfortunate so many Americans see things that way. Why don't they want their own cows instead? Maybe Fox News says they'll have scores of cows if only we get rid of all this socialism. Having a cow, alas, is not everything.

In New York City I can't count how many teachers I've met who've faced dismissal because the principal woke up one morning and decided this one's got to go. I've seen people facing dismissal because a superintendent arbitrarily decided the person had too many continuances. The fact that no one at this teacher's last school was granted tenure, ever, did not factor into that superintendent's thought process.

Meanwhile, if you aren't watching a crazy administrator up close and personal, you read story after story about them and their abuses. A case in point is this one, from 2016, telling of a principal who's cost the city over half a million in lawsuits. Well guess what? It looks like it takes damages of $830,000 and counting before New York City sees fit to reassign an administrator.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has come under scrutiny recently for the handling of sexual harassment cases across city agencies, especially at the Department of Education. The city has admitted that it has no consistent system to track sexual harassment complaints against employees, making it difficult to analyze the total number of complaints as well as how employees in substantiated cases were disciplined.

That's kind of remarkable, particularly since the mayor decided that 98% of sexual harassment complaints from teachers were nonsense, and this there was some sort of hyper-complaint dynamic, whatever that may be. What's worse is he based this assessment on nonsense he heard from the idiots on city agencies, the ones who never met a deadline they could meet, and never read a contract clause they could understand.

I have no idea why there's so little accountability for administrators. I've repeatedly seen UFT members raked over the coals for nothing of significance while supervisors, who did things much worse, faced no consequence whatsoever. If it weren't for the fact that I would hate the job and be terrible at it, I'd aspire to be a supervisor. Who wouldn't want a job in which you could blame anyone for anything, judge people on a rubric you'd never experienced and never would, have zero requirement for demonstrating how said rubric would work? Well not me. But I know people who do.

Despite stories of the sexual harassment and malfeasance, I don't think we'll be seeing principals stereotyped anytime soon. There just aren't enough of them to make it worthwhile. There are reasons we are under assault. A big one is the fact that we're one of the last strongholds of unionism in these United States. The Koch Brothers don't love seeing regular people with adequate health care, defined pensions, and political clout. That's why they've propped up Janus to weaken us.

I'd argue that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that some people, given even a little power, need to lord it over everyone they possibly can. That's why there are so many flawed administrators in our flawed system. Too bad they haven't figured out that we're in this together. If our enemies shut down the teachers, the administrators won't fare well either.

Nonetheless, every working teachers knows or knows of that Administrator from Hell. And no matter how much we read about them, the general story is all about how teachers suck.

When and how are we gonna change that narrative?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

MORE and the Mission from God, Part II

I wrote a few years ago about how it was tough to come to grips with MORE. It was composed of several groups, and there were varying viewpoints coming together, I thought, to form a united opposition. That seemed like a great idea to me. There were people I admired, like James Eterno, who were part of it. Norm Scott is simply a force of nature, and he was instrumental in its creation.

It's been a learning experience for me, too, because I've always thought of myself as leftist and progressive. James would tell me he felt like a right-wing conservative at some MORE meetings. This was hard for me to understand, because I've always known James as a union activist, and he's forever been my role model as chapter leader. He knows the UFT Contract better than anyone I know, without exception, and has instant recall of what seems to be every clause, every comma and semicolon. He's been an enormous help as I've tried to navigate the borderline impossible task of leading a large chapter. (And no, I'm not complaining. I love this work.)

Yet when I went to MORE meetings, sometimes I understood why James felt like George W. at the Democratic Convention. I think my first experience with MORE was when they united with Long Island union activists. They were looking for someone to stand for Executive Vice President of NYSUT and I stepped up. For the first time, I went to a MORE meeting.

Much to my surprise, there was a great deal of debate about whether or not MORE would put people up in the NYSUT elections. Some people said you get corrupted if you win. I suppose that's frequently true. Yet for me, the drive to win was pretty strong. For me, if we weren't running to win we might as well stay home and blog, or read, or catch up on The Flash, or whatever. It was hard for me to understand why that discussion was necessary.

Of course we didn't win, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I got to meet great people within MORE, like Mike Schirtzer, and I'm still working with him today. I got to meet amazing activists, most notably Beth Dimino and Brian St. Pierre, who taught me what it was like to be union outside of New York City.Who were all those people standing around and advocating for ideas worthy of Diane Ravitch? How could they have been so close to me all this time without my knowledge?

I've had a few low points in MORE, too. I'm at a complete loss when I'm sitting around a group of white people and the question is how we can attract more educators of color. This has happened to me more than once. I sit there and think, well, if that's what our goal was, why didn't we just call them up or ask them to come? And if what we're doing is so great for them, why aren't they here?

A few years ago, I agreed to run with MORE for the UFT Executive Board. I was thrilled beyond belief when New Action offered to ally with us. I said, yes, let's do it, without a doubt. But there was some debate in MORE. Will this compromise us? Well, maybe it would. After all, you've already warned us that winning could corrupt people. But oh my gosh I really wanted to win. For me, there was simply no other reason to be opposition.

I agreed to run, and was told I could pursue issues as I saw fit, but that I'd agree to support priorities of MORE. That sounded fair. I thought the only difference between me and those who were more ideological would be that I'd have a stronger focus on member issues. The first clue I got that I may have been mistaken was last school year, when I brought up a class size resolution.

I went to a MORE meeting and some guy stood up and complained that I hadn't run the class size resolution through steering. At the time I had no idea who or what steering was or why I might seek their approval. More importantly, I had no clue why fighting for reasonable class size was even debatable. Every teacher knows the difference between classes of 25 and 34. Every teacher knows that for every student they add, every other student gets less of your attention. (I'll likely have more to say about MORE steering later.)

Now MORE has effectively expelled my brother Mike Schirtzer. A few members secretly distributed some sort of manifesto stating the only work that was important was circulating their contract demands, or something of that nature. They also seem to wish to move NYC into being more like West Virginia, which is untenable and preposterous on multiple levels. They circulated this thing without showing it to their Executive Board members or anyone with an eye on teacher issues, and I'm sorely disappointed in every individual who signed it under those conditions. I got one person to withdraw his signature.

I'm willing to talk with almost anyone. My mission varies from that of MORE in that I want to win better working conditions for my brother and sister teachers, and that I want to do it in a way that will succeed. I don't care what this or that socialist organization considers a priority, and I don't care about putting up a noble fight just to fall on my ass.

Social justice is a priority for a lot of people in MORE and of course I support social justice. In fact, I believe when we embrace education issues we are demanding social justice not only for ourselves, but also for the children and communities we serve. Class size is social justice. Fighting crazy administrators is social justice. Family leave is social justice. Non-punitive evaluation is social justice. Protecting the ATR is social justice.

I've had it with failure. I've had it with sitting around and pondering issues about which I know little or nothing. We are powerful when we stand together. When we get into our little cliques and plot against one another we go nowhere.

MORE should know better.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

What Are We Leaving the Next Generation?

I'm getting much less demanding in my old age. The way I judge whether a day is good or not is often how often I get to walk the dog. If I work my school day, I walk him three times. That's a very good day. Alas, I'm frequently working nights. Unlike my smarter friends, I don't generally get paid. And by the time I get home, the dog has walked with my wife already, doggone it.

Last night we went to a training about what to say to retain union members. It was a good night because I made it back for the evening walk. But even then, there was irony in the air. (There was a fish store down the block, so it could have been something else, but I digress.)

We were told that we were becoming organizers. It's a good idea, to organize. Surely we'd be in better shape if we'd begun years ago, but now is the time. Hindsight is 20/20, and I guess I can't blame UFT leadership too much for not anticipating Trump's outlandish victory. Few people did.

We saw a sample conversation. A teacher is upset because she is always being observed. There's the AP, there's the principal, there are both of them, and they're always coming in. What can we do about it? Well, we have to stand together as a union. I actually believe that. On the other hand, I've been to a whole lot of meetings where I've been told the observations aren't so bad after all. What's the big deal? So they come in four times? So what? (It's kind of odd to see the same people telling us to organize against such things.)

The thing is, it doesn't really feel like that. A friend was telling me she knows someone who just got back from years of maternity leave. She walked in to a whole new world. Every moment she wonders whether this is the day the AP is gonna drop in and see her at her very worst. She preps and preps and it never ends. She goes home exhausted and terrified.

This is where a lot of us are. Even those of us with perfectly helpful APs live under a cloud. It's not rational, but that's how it feels. The system was created with the intent of finding and firing bad teachers, they told us, and they therefore made us all targets. Even though very few of us actually get fired, the feeling we're living under a microscope is palpable. When we asked at Executive Board for fewer observations, we faced strong objections. I think, though, at least for those who do well under that state minimum, that this would take the edge off.

There is the argument that doing endless observations keeps APs and principals occupied and therefore unable to cause other trouble, but I've found that to be untrue. I think I've spent ten days this year down at Gold Street and elsewhere fighting contract violations and seeing arbitrators. When I go there I see a whole lot of other people there too, so it isn't only my school where APs and principals find time to tie people up in grievances and such.

I'd actually like to see APs and principals work to support teachers, and offer suggestions that don't look like threats against one's person, against one's job, or against one's hopes and dreams. The thing is, not all people have that in them. We are asked to encourage the children we serve, and I certainly try and do that. I don't lurk around them and shout AHA! You missed a QUESTION MARK and you are INEFFECTIVE!  I'll admit that sometimes certain kids make me feel like saying things like that, but despite my extraordinarily big mouth I do not.

Still, that's about the level of constructive criticism a lot of teachers get from Danielson. I've seen reports that say you didn't have the kids raise their right hands when they understood, and their left hands when they didn't. I read this stuff and marvel that anyone could believe this is the only way to do things. In that same report, the supervisor criticized the teacher for walking around and looking at student work. Personally, I find that method much more reliable than the former. The same supervisor then criticized the teacher for using a method that was not 100% effective. Man, if I knew a method that was 100% effective, I'd write it up and get rich.

Oddly, the supervisor who wrote that nonsense is far from the worst I've encountered. And actually, this is the problem. Until and unless we find a way to deal with the lunatics tasked with leading us, from the Bloomberg leftovers at Tweed on down to the Leadership Academy Borg Collective, no rubric on earth will save us from their delusions.

I am absolutely convinced, though, that we are far better off with a viable union than without. I will continue to work to improve the union, to awaken the leadership, and to make conditions better for those of us on the ground. We owe that to our children, to their children, and to the people who will take our jobs when we leave.

It's on us to leave this place a little bit better than we found it. I don't plan to leave the next generation with no union, to drive them into what all the red state striking teachers have been facing. With all their raises, and all our issues, we're still better off than they are. We need to make things even better.

Otherwise, how can I look that little boy in the photo in the eye and say I'm doing my best?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Executive Board Takeaway May 7, 2018

I'm a little shocked that this body can work together, but this week showed me that it's possible. When you are 7 people pitted against 95, it's not precisely a walk in the park. I've been doing this twice a month for two years now, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to become cynical about it. But this was an odd week.

About a week ago I was walking my dog in the park, and I called Janella Hinds. I should've been tipped off that the week was going to be odd when she picked up the phone and said, "This is Janella." I mean, who expects a VP to answer her own phone? I suggested we write a resolution against the mayor's awful ideas about sexual harassment victims being a bunch of whiners. I was shocked, particularly in this "Me too" era, that the mayor would get up on his hind legs and utter such blatant stupidity. So was Janella, but she wasn't sure if a resolution was the way to go. I told her I didn't care which way we went, but we ought to make a statement.

A few days later she said let's write a resolution. This was the second time I was involved writing a resolution with Janella. Both times, I wrote a draft, and she sent it back to me much improved within ten minutes. This is pretty hard for me to admit, because I'm a little vain of my writing, and I've had long and enduring fights with editors. But there's no argument to be made when the words come back better.

Now here's the thing with UFT--I have no idea what the process is once someone like Janella submits something. But I was very sad when they cleaned up my semi-gratuitous swipes at investigators. Janella had left them in, but the UFT editing department, whoever they may be, appears to value diplomacy. They made them a bit nicer than I did.

Still, I was happy with the final wording of the resolution.

Robert Levine, who appeared in lieu of Mulgrew, actually touched on the incompetence of OEO. He said they have six months to issue a ruling, that they could exceed it in exceptional circumstances, but that they always exceeded it. This, to me, says everything you need to know about the Bloomberg leftovers who populate de Blasio's DOE. They are wildly incompetent and utterly indifferent to rules. And make no mistake, these boobs are the ones who advise principals. That explains a lot.

I was reminded of a now-retired member in my school was up on charges for a thing he was alleged to have said. It was years ago and I don't even remember what it was. I do remember that we were brought into the principal's office, that I noted the untimely nature of this complaint, and that I told the then-principal that a letter in file was not possible. The principal came back with something called a "Non-file letter." I advised the member that this letter, for the purposes of the school, did not even exist and ought not to be acknowledged.

OEO then put this member through 3020a, which resulted in a six-month suspension without pay or benefits. This was a pretty harsh result for something in which OEO clearly screwed up. Of course, they always screw up, but nonetheless I was quite surprised they could pull that off. Levine tells me, now, that it was improper, but the hearing was in the hands of NYSUT lawyers. I can only hope they didn't miss anything, but it was years ago.

This week represented a sea change, for me at least. The last resolution I brought was about class sizes. Howard Schoor said he'd be happy to meet about it but never answered my requests for a meeting. I gave up on meeting and brought the resolution. Some Unity guy got up and hacked the guts out of it by removing all references to class size. Although it passed, it was very hard for me to understand how a class size resolution with no actual target could be effective.

This was a much better process. Though not much of my original language survived, we condemned the mayor's ridiculous statement about a "hyper-complaint dynamic," stated his proposal for 11 additional investigators was woefully insufficient, and demanded the mayor provide full and fair investigations. I may have been more direct in language, but certainly asked for all of the above. The words are different, but the demands remain.

As far as language goes, Kate Martin, the newest of New Action, found some sentences that didn't make sense. We were all surprised she was a math teacher as opposed to an English teacher. She said to me, "Look at all the English teachers around me who didn't catch this when I did." Being one of them, I decided not to comment. 

This was an example of us working together, a model I hope. This was an example of teachers having a real voice in union, an example I'd like replicated on a regular basis. The resolution we passed is below, in its entirety. I'm afraid I haven't got the exact edits Kate made, so the last resolved is a little rough. Still, the idea is there.


Resolution to Support the Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the NYC Department of Education



Whereas, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has defined sexual harassment in its guidelines as: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment”; and



Whereas, sexual harassment is absolutely unacceptable and harmful to school communities; and



Whereas, many in our society are speaking out about the negative effects of workplace sexual harassment and calling for the creation of workplaces that are safe for all employees, regardless of gender expression, age, appearance, or other indicators; and



Whereas, 471 complaints of sexual harassment were filed by employees of the NYC Department of Education between 2013 and 2017 with only seven substantiated; and



Whereas,  before expressing support for the New York City Council’s Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, Mayor Bill de Blasio unfairly attributed 98 percent of sexual harassment complaints to a “hyper-complaint dynamic,” and



Whereas, by mandating training on appropriate workplace behavior and requiring reporting of incidents of sexual harassment in city agencies, this legislation will  all workers feel safe in their workplaces across our city; and



Whereas, the United Federation of Teachers strongly supports vigorous, just and timely investigations of cases involving sexual harassment, and



Whereas, based on previous investigations, we have reason to question the fairness, speed, comprehensiveness of investigations; be it therefore;



Resolved, that the United Federation of Teachers finds the mayor’s proposal for 11 city investigators to be woefully insufficient, and be it further;



Resolved, that the United Federation of Teachers demands a full and fair investigation of every allegation of sexual harassment, and be it further; 



Resolved, that the United Federation of Teachers demands all such investigations be expeditiously by unbiased and independent parties at the city’s expense.

Monday, May 07, 2018

UFT Executive Board, May 7, 2018--We Condemn Mayor de Blasio's Crass Stereotype of Sexual Harassment Victims

6 PM Howard Schoor, secretary, welcomes us.

No speakers

Minutes—approved.

Mulgrew is not here.

Robert Levine—Brooklyn rep, handles most OEO cases citywide. OEO is empowered by chancellor’s reg a-830. Numbers in papers don’t match ours. 16-17—280 interviews in Bklyn office. This year, 200 so far. On track to do the same.

UFT represents all sides in cases, subjects, witnesses, and complainants. 190 subjects, 73 witnesses, 17 complainants this year. Union believes every witness is potential subject. Complainants don’t always seek union reps.

OEO handles harassment and discrimination—Discrimination 60%, 50% of whole are student based claims of discrimination. Others are sexual harassment cases, 40% of total, mostly student based. Employee cases 10%, not a frivolous number.

We have issues with OEO, biggest is timeliness. Violate timeliness on almost every single case. There is 90 day rule for them to complete, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. All seem to do that. There is six month rule. Any investigation must be completed within six months, Problematic with suspensions of paraprofessionals. These cases being moved along but still problematic. 11 new investigators insufficient.

Arthur Goldstein--I know a member who get suspended for six months after OEO ruled against him, even though they took well over six months to accuse him. Are they allowed to do that?

Levine--No, that is a violation, should be a grievance.

Staff Director LeRoy Barr—Last Friday there was an assaulted nurse. 40 or 50 UFT at sentencing hearing, person received 2 to 4 years for that crime. Saturday was 5K run thanks Rich Mantel for organizing. First book event at PS 15, gave 40K books. This Thursday better speech and hearing celebration, 5-7 here. May 11, awards for guidance, next week, Shanker ceremonies, give away 1 mil each year. DA May 16, conference 19, EB May 21, chancellor will be here. June 12, UFT school counselors recognition ceremony.

Schoor—Press conference at city hall for parental leave, 10 members of city council there. When these people become candidates, we interview them. If we support them and they win, they never forget. You can see this when they come out for us. We must continue political action. Pres. testified for City Council on parental leave, was fired up. City council people said this is right, not benefit.

Questions

Arthur Goldstein—This year the DOE has decreed that annualization is out. Thus, if I think a student failing in January might pull it out before June I can no longer have her grade reversed at the end of the year. I’ve seen a lot of outrageous credit recovery schemes but annualization is not one of them. This is allowing a student’s teacher to give that student a second chance. If indeed the student has mastered the material by June, why should she have to go to summer school, night school, or even another year of school to catch up?

I realize this came down via Carmen Fariña, and that unlike her I lack the ability to tell that it’s a beautiful day simply because Macy’s is open. Nonetheless, I am the teacher of my students, and with all due respect I believe I’m a better judge of their progress than Ms. Fariña, who never once bothered even setting foot in my school.

Is there any mechanism for us to negotiate moving this option back into the hands of teachers, where it belongs, and if not, could we create one? We have a new chancellor, it’s entirely possible he is not insane, and perhaps this is an opportunity for us.

Janella Hinds—We are engaging in conversation about all of this, about different ways we can deal with this. We will bring responses.

Schoor--Please send a link or get papers to document this.

Ashraya Gupta—What is format for chancellor’s visit?

Schoor—We don’t know yet. Sometimes we go into executive session, members only.

KJ Ahluwalia—Chancellor has made integration a priority. Has union taken a stand?

Janella Hinds—reps UFT on committee representing DOE, educators, and students. We talk about integration and how to ensure all our students have needs met. Still working in sub committees. UFT committed to equity across barod.

Jonathan Halabi
—Thinks me too movement caught us by surprise, not that we condoned that behavior. These things are far more pervasive and now we see them better. Part of city hasn’t understood they need to rethink. We ourselves need to look at how we handle our own in our own house. Have we checked or updated our own procedures?

Schoor—We do have it, People responsible not here. Will get report.

Halabi—Can we look at policy again?

Schoor—Yes. I will ask for a report.

David Kazansky
—began anti harassment and anti discrimination training. Were on this before new things came to light.

Schoor
—77% teachers female. We are concerned.

Reports from districts

Anthony Harmon—First book even—serviced over 700 teachers, 500 parents. Thanks people from Queens office. Also an immigration clinic in Bronx. Over 100 people to begin a path to citizenship. Also first of three part series on parent leadership. 80 parents from across city participating.

Pat Crispino—Thanks Betty Zohar for assisting with programs. Lost at PEP, but organization was amazing. Will be future leaders. HS in Bronx organized very well. Lost but in long run really won. People will do amazing things.

Karen Allford—City Council breakfast, thanked them for being part of our program, showed that we put their dollars to great use. Showcased, Dial a Teacher, Brave, Teachers Choice and other programs.

Rosemarie Thompson
—Flyer for save the day June 12 at Brooklyn UFT. Asks that counselors who are union activists are nominated.

Camille Edie
, District 16 rep, was D16 diversity summit to address growing issues, like gentrification and charter schools. Well attended, thanks Anthony Harmon. Students gave play on diversity. Not just about race, crosses many different lines.

Rich Mantel
—JHS VP—200 runners at 5K, raised 8K. Good weather, was perfect. This Thursday we are hosting anti-bullying contest for MS students. Will report on 21st. NY Jets involved. Tony Richardson is keynote.

Rashad Brown—co chair of LGBTQ committee. sponsoring scholarship. Encourage seniors to apply. Rosemarie Thompson, It wil bee June 2 12-3

Janella Hinds—School closing fight this year Wadliegh HS—Jewel of NYC crown up for truncation, but phenomenal organization stopped it. Community and UFT worked together. Chancellor Carranza went to see them and sang with their mariachi band. Thanks educators and UFT.

George Altomare—great committee of SS teachers want more in service younger members. Can keep doing good things but we have to get in service and younger people. Wine and cheese reception May 11 from 4-6.

Paul Egan not here—two resolutions.


In support of poor people’s campaign—Anthony Harmon—Led by Dr. Barber. Important to remember Dr. King, who did it in 60s. Similar resolution at NYSUT. Asks we endorse.

Passes.


Resolution for Eradication of Sexual Harassment.



Janella Hinds—I
mportant for this city and DOE to show respect for any victims of harassment and unfair treatment. Heard de Blasio brush it off, Heard city council speak in favor of safe space. We are shifting and must engage in conversations.

Kate Martin—words missing—Have to fix sentences. (There is some discussion over whether Kate is an English teacher, but it turns out she's a math teacher.)

Arthur Goldstein—I was shocked that Mayor De Blasio could stand up in front of God and everybody and declare that 98% of teacher sexual harassment complaints are frivolous. I worked for this man. I contributed to his campaign and sat through the freezing cold at his first inauguration.

If you’re a friend of teachers, you don’t stereotype us as whiners. Most teachers are women, and I often think that’s why people like those on the Post editorial board feel so comfortable degrading us. I have a hard time differentiating those who stereotype teachers from garden variety bigots. It’s far more egregious when it’s directed at victims of sexual harassment, who certainly have enough on their minds without being gratuitously ridiculed.

If you are a UFT chapter leader, you know that the investigative agencies can never get anything done in time to follow their own rules, that they convict people on the flimsiest of evidence, and that they defend the city on equally ridiculous evidence. It it’s not them it’s the thirty dollar an hour minds on DOE legal, the ones who know next to nothing about the contract, who decided that 98% of us were cranks. Every single time I have had a dispute with legal, without exception, they have been wrong and UFT has been right. These are the people who fight me twice a year to keep class sizes over the limit, and they muster the audacity to claim they place children first, always. The people who really do that are the ones who wake up to serve these children each and every day, and that would be us.

I certainly hope this was a momentary aberration, and that the mayor will come to his senses. If I were him, I’d not only follow the terms of this resolution to the letter, but I’d also go out of my way to grant a fair family leave policy for those of us who devote our lives toward serving the children of this city.

I urge you to vote for this resolution, and to tell Mayor de Blasio that we stand up for our own, particularly when they’re victimized like this.

Schoor—corrects sentences, asks for vote.

Passes

We are adjourned 6:48

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Carmen Kills Annualization

What's that, you ask? Annualization is the process, in high schools at least, of changing January grades to reflect June grades. We have two semesters, and students get one credit for each. In our school, if you give a grade of 55 in January, and a passing grade in June, the January grade converts to 65. The student gets credit for the entire year. I'm sure we're not the only school that does that.

This year, Carmen "It's a Beautiful Day" Fariña decided that this was no good and had to go. How horrible to grant a full year of credit to high school students simply because they were passing the class at the end of the year. It's an abomination, evidently. So next year we can't do that anymore.

I don't really know how this affects every discipline. For mine, if a student is proficient in June with the English level I taught, that student ought to get the full credit for the year. If that student can write, read, speak and understand at the same level as the other students, why not? I guess it could be different in an ELA class. I mean, what if the student had read Catcher in the Rye but not Ethan Frome? (I've read both and I'd have been happier to have read neither, so perhaps I'm a bad example.)

Maybe it's not fair to the students who do well in the beginning but screw up in the end. Or maybe it encourages students to ignore the first half and aim for the second. To me, we were doing the right thing. I mean, we always read about how this percentage of kids is ready for that, or how that percentage of kids is ready for this. And always, whatever percentage is ready for whatever, we're at fault because it should have been higher. Or lower. Or different.

But hey, I'm the teacher, and my judgment ought to count for something. Under this system, if I give a kid a 55, I'm saying I think the kid can pass for the year. I'm not issuing a guarantee, but I'm telling the world that it's possible. In fact, I might even tell the kid that. Don't they want us to encourage kids to improve? Isn't that kind of our job?

This is a lot different from sitting the kid in front of a computer and having his smart girlfriend answer a bunch of questions so he can get credit. This is the teacher saying, in January, I think this kid might pull it out in June. And if the teacher doesn't believe that, the kid gets a 50, fails, and that's it. Of course I'm not Carmen Fariña. I haven't got the ability to determine it's a beautiful day simply because Macy's is open. I require further evidence, like, say, the weather report, or the capacity to drive home in fewer than four hours. But I digress.

There has been a lot of nonsense put in place to help students get credit. Ridiculous "blended learning," which entails having kids sit on computers rather than interact with humans or books, has been used to give students credit for, of all things, physical education. I'm not exactly sure how reading passages about basketball and answering a few questions is a substitute for playing basketball, but of course I'm not one of the great minds behind blended learning either.

Of course, neither am I a policy maker. I'm just a guy who spends each and every day in the classroom trying to teach. Oddly, I think that makes me the number one most qualified person to decide whether or not my students deserve credit for my course. I'm the one who issues assignments, I'm the one who assesses them, and I'm the one who observes student performance each and every day I go to work.

But Carmen Fariña, who sat in an office deciding just how beautiful the days were, was the Schools Chancellor. Who the hell am I to assess the students they hired me to assess when she has a better idea? So starting next year, your students and mine who've mastered the material we've taught will need to go to summer school, night school, or some credit recovery nonsense in order to graduate.

And make no mistake--because the city has limited the number of credit recovery courses students can take, fewer will graduate on time. Do you think anyone will blame Carmen Fariña or the incoming mariachi chancellor? Neither do it.

As always, working teachers will be stereotyped as having failed children. It's ironic, because a whole lot of us would be fine with simply passing those who've mastered the material. But why ask teachers what they want when there are so many people sitting around air-conditioned offices who are paid many times our salaries and are 100% certain they know better?

Adios, Carmen Fariña, and thanks a lot for saddling us with this legacy.

Friday, May 04, 2018

The Mad Pooper

Who would've thunk they'd wake up and read about a superintendent pooping daily on a school field? I mean, you'd take it in stride if they were figuratively pooping on working teachers. Sometimes you just think, "Well, that's their job." But this guy just went out and did it literally. You'd think, with an exalted title like that, the guy would have his own private bathroom with hot, cold, and bourbon. But evidently that wasn't enough.

I'm not a psychologist, so I can't name a syndrome or anything. But I do know this is an expression of contempt for his job and absolute disregard for norms. Full disclosure--I have disregard for certain norms, but I nonetheless refrain from pooping in not only school fields, but also in the offices of those who enforce said norms. Most educational leaders seem to refrain from pooping in public. (I have to admit I don't regularly inspect school fields, so who's to say?)

It kind of begs the question of why there are so many insane supervisors. How do such people get ahead? I have a simple theory, which cuts our way too, in that some of these people might go work for the union. There are those people who want to "get out of the classroom." This is an odd desire for a teacher, since the classroom is the beating heart of what we do.

Of course there are other reasons to go into administration. One might be you're trying to make ends meet and have trouble doing so on teacher pay. Another could be you simply think you could serve better in supervisory capacity. That's probably by far the better of those two reasons. Nonetheless, there are some good and fair-minded supervisors. I've worked for more than my share, and I'm blessed for that.

And then there are the ones who've gotten out of the classroom. To what avail? Someone who did not perform well as a teacher is likely to be a poor leader. How can someone who can't do your job well advise you how to do it? At best, they'll do it poorly. At worst, they'll blame everyone in the world for their lack of competence and judge you via the voices in their heads rather than the Danielson rubric.

This is a problem, and it's particularly egregious in New York City. I have no idea why negativity leads to promotion, but I will say that some of the worst supervisors I've ever seen excelled at being obsequious toward those who could advance their careers. Of course, the moment they found something better, they deserted the people who made said careers possible, and without so much as the remotest consideration for those they left.

This has come to appear an insurmountable problem. Just as Bill Gates abandoned addressing poverty so as to focus on teachers and how much we suck, we've determined to ignore the tsunami of petty, vicious, and insane administrators. Instead, we've added test scores. Michael Lillis observed that NYC administrators are so bad we're willing to have their ratings balanced by a crapshoot rather than allowing them to rate us. Make no mistake, if they weren't so rampantly and blitheringly incompetent, we'd trust them.

Alas, we can't do that, so we work around an insane system as best we can. While we don't have a whole lot of administrators pooping in school fields, I've seen Danielson ratings and letters to file full of figurative poop. It's frustrating to spend so much time shoveling it, but someone has to do it. A big problem is our grievance system. It could take a year or more to shovel a single pile of administrative poop.

On the brighter side, there are crazy people like me who are here for the long haul, and who will dump the poop where it belongs, no matter what, no matter how long it takes. And for the record, I've just been re-elected chapter leader.

As soon as I get home tonight, I'm gonna hose off my shovel.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Da Wonder of it All

I can't really tell you what I did yesterday, but I can guarantee you that, for most of the day at least, you would not have wanted to be me. After a long work day that began with conflict, and mostly carried on in that same tone, you have to really take note of what's important.

Every day I walk with the guy you see on the left. We walk up the streets, all the way around a waterfront park, and then we walk most of the Nautical Mile. Somehow, no matter how many awful arguments I've had, no matter what outrageous behavior I've witnessed, no matter what injustice I've endeavored to address, my pal Toby shows me what's really important.

This is the deck of a closed restaurant in Freeport. Toby and I have been walking around it most days lately. It's a shame, with such a great location, that no one can figure a way to keep it in business. Nonetheless, like many restaurants, it's a whole lot more canine-friendly when it's closed.

Aside from the canal, bright moments in my day included those in the classroom. A classroom is never a perfect place, except in the fevered imagination of Charlotte Danielson, but it's always a place for innovation. Even when students are a pain in the neck, there's always a way to deal. There's just that small matter of figuring out what it is.

Several of the boys in my class have been repeating things I say. That's not a bad thing in a language class. Often it's productive and natural. Some boys in my class have been ridiculing my pronunciation of Chinese names. I probably am awful, and I probably deserve it. But lately they've been loudly repeating when I call girls' names, and not strictly Chinese ones either. This really irritated the hell out of me, and I couldn't figure out exactly why.

I spoke to a guidance counselor yesterday, and she said that was bullying. I don't know why I didn't think of that. Making fun of people's names? She said she'd call them down. I'm sure she will. Later, when one of the boys called one of the girls' names I took him out into the hall, and I told him, "You will never repeat that girl's name again in my class." I said nothing else. I'm not really sure he understood exactly why. I guess the counselor will go into more detail. But I'm certain this will stop happening.

This morning, when Toby and I go out, I'll tell him the story. There's nothing Toby likes better than a good story, except chasing a ball, chasing a squirrel, chasing a bird, eating a dog biscuit, or going for a walk and allowing me to believe he's listening to my ridiculous stories. Man look at that thing on the street, in the grass, on the wall, on that lawn, in the water, over here, over there.

Toby and I begin and end every day with a long walk just to keep it all in perspective.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

On UFT and Militancy

I've been watching as "right to work" state teachers rise up all over the country. I'm thrilled about it, actually. It's beyond appropriate, and long overdue. If we don't exercise our voices, we may as well not have them. Meanwhile, last weekend a bunch of people gathered in Buffalo, ostensibly to represent NY State teachers, and NY City high schools had not one single elected representative. We are 19, 000 strong and we have no voice there. Nor have we got voice in NEA or AFT, yet we have the dubious privilege of paying dues to all of the above. UFT leadership does not wish to develop a militant union. They seem to prefer us quiet, compliant, and largely in the dark. I'll get back to that.

This notwithstanding, things are not nearly as bad here as they are in other states. Thus far, we aren't watching our salaries and pensions get cut year by year. We are not exactly backed up against a wall with nothing further to lose. If I get any choice in the matter, we won't be. I don't ever want to see us like that. Of course, there are powerful forces that wish to push us like that.

That's what Janus is all about. A lot of people tell me they won't pay dues when Janus passes. I tell them great, that will make the Koch Brothers very happy. After all, that's what they are paying for. For every dollar unions lose, they pop open another bottle of champagne. It's really hard for me to respect people who don't respect what I do, and I spend an awful lot of time with UFT work. Say what you will about Michael Mulgrew, but I'm just as UFT as he is.

Should Janus succeed in crippling UFT, we will be in precisely the position teachers in West Virginia, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and all the other "right to work" states find themselves, pretty much treading water before being flushed. I don't envision that happening here, but my magic 8-ball has not proven 100% reliable, so who knows?

People say that Janus is a referendum on leadership. Some people saying that are the same ones who brought the suit in the first place. Hey, I don't support UFT politics all the time. We supported some reprehensible homophobe for city council. We jumped way ahead of the curve and supported Hillary Clinton, which proved an unmitigated disaster. On the other hand, we also played a part in fighting back the Constitutional Convention. I deemed that a worthy cause and signed up a whole lot of people for COPE, for the first time since I became chapter leader.

A militant UFT is something I'd like to see, but it is utter anathema to current leadership. I know activist teachers. I confer with activist teachers. But when I go to UFT meetings I see people who barely object about anything happening to working teachers. Everything is wonderful. Everything is ideal. Every program we endorse is perfect, and anyone who dares to suggest otherwise is subject to scorn and ridicule. Otherwise, why would they ask that anyone who entertained the idea of serving the union sign a loyalty oath?

This isn't personal. I've gotten great support from UFT, and some members of the Unity Caucus are among the smartest and most competent people I know. Others are stuck in this ideological cloud, and can't even conceive of questioning anything. 22 Danielson components? Excellent. A great victory over Bloomberg, who wanted only eight. 7 Danielson components? Fabulous. Much better than the 22 we used to have, and a great victory for the union. UFT transfer plan? Wonderful. A great opportunity for members. ATR and total control for principals? Also excellent. Teachers guilty at 3020a before proven innocent? A fabulous opportunity for teachers to own the process, even as they lose their jobs.

Long term this is a failing strategy. Power comes from below and does not reside permanently at 52 Broadway. You'd think Janus would be a wake up call to leadership, but thus far I see no evidence of that. Instead, we've made a deal with Andrew Cuomo to withhold representation from people who don't pay for it. Short term that may work, but counting on Cuomo is risky at best.

I'm up for pushing union membership to my members. I've spent quite a bit of time assembling a team to do so. Nonetheless, I don't want to sell this via fear, and I'll be sorely disappointed if that's how we're asked to do so at our meeting next week. I don't want to simply tell people about services they forfeit by failing to join. I don't want to threaten people. I want to tell people we are brothers and sisters and we stand together. I want to tell people our power is in our numbers. I want people to know when we are together we are a force to be reckoned with.

This is something UFT members haven't thought about for altogether too long a time. We need a union of activists, and people who stand for something. Otherwise, we're just a bunch of people calling for a free pair of glasses every few years.

We can do better than that. As always, I hope leadership not only agrees, but also comes along with us. This will be a far better ride if we're the ones doing the driving.

Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Mayor de Blasio Jumps to Dark Side

I'm shocked to hear the mayor of New York City, a man who rose to prominence with a progressive agenda, offhandedly dismiss the bulk of sexual harassment complaints in the Department of Education. We now see over 100 complaints simply disappearing:

A veteran city educator who said officials botched her sexual harassment case is calling out Mayor de Blasio for shaming victims — and omitting dozens of sexual harassment complaints from recently published city statistics.

The educator, who asked to remain anonymous because she fears retaliation, said she was sickened to hear de Blasio say this week that the Education Department substantiated less than 2% of complaints because of a "hyper-complaint dynamic" in the city agency.

I've been to a whole lot of hearings with city reps, on very black and white issues. I've watched city reps actually suggest arguments to my principal when they were supposed to be judging an issue. I'm trying to determine exactly anyone would assume an agency that judges itself would do so fairly. I mean, UFT loses almost all Step Two Complaints. Are we just a bunch of whiners who complain about whatever?

Clearly the mayor would assume so. I mean, if he can make that assumption about people complaining of sexual harassment,  he must have even less regard for teachers who complain of untimely letters in file. People who've experienced sexual harassment have even stronger words for the mayor. In fact, courts have determined the city to be wrong;

"I'm certainly offended that Mayor de Blasio would say that," said the educator, who sued the city over her harassment by a supervisor and won a settlement.


"With a wife and daughter of his own, I was in shock," she added.

She called the city Education Department's investigation into her claims "a long, complicated, ugly process," that ultimately failed to bring her justice.


"No one would go through this if it were not true," she said. "It is a horrific experience. It upends your entire life."

I have to concur. Who on earth would want to not only go through this, but also relive it? It's nothing less than disgraceful that the mayor would simply assume city lawyers know best. I'm not even persuaded city lawyers have been through first grade, considering their perpetual inability to understand the UFT Collective Bargaining Agreement. Can you imagine people of that caliber making decisions about whether or not you were sexually harassed? It boggles the mind.

I'm not really disappointed in the city's lawyers, as anyone who's tangled with DOE "legal" knows they are a bunch of self-serving boobs with no interest whatsoever in the truth. But I expected better from this mayor. I worked for him and contributed to him, hoping he'd be the anti-Bloomberg. In any case, he's supposed to be where the buck stops here in NYC.

Instead, he stereotypes a whole group of educators. Unless he has personally investigated each and every one of these cases, he's got no business doing so. It's time for Mayor de Blasio to step up and start serving the truth, as opposed to the bloated, inept bureaucracy he inherited from Mayor Bloomberg.

Let's hope the bad publicity he gets from this is a wake-up call. Waking up is the sort of thing you're supposed to do before you go to work, or make pronouncements about large groups of people, but better late than never.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Yawn of the Year

When you read this, you have to really think about whether or not it was a good idea to give carte blanche to imperial principals. I mean, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so when you read one story after another about principals doing crazy things, you have to find a reason somewhere. This week's story is about a principal who suspended a school aide for five days for the offense of yawning loudly.

Exactly at which point is your yawn too loud? Did you yawn because your body asked you to or because the school environment was becoming tedious? Was it voluntary or involuntary? In practice, it makes no difference, because the principal has determined it was too loud and that's all there is. Therefore you are suspended for five days from your $12 and hour job as a school aide. Can't make the rent this month? Too bad. You yawned and there must be consequences.

Naturally the principal documented this occurrence. She heard it and she's the principal, so that ought to be good enough for anyone. It kind of sucks to have a contract that allows a five-day suspension for the offense of yawning. That wouldn't happen to a teacher. But a teacher could get a letter in file for yawning, if the principal felt like issuing one. A teacher could face 3020a charges for the offense of yawning repeatedly, though I'm not persuaded a sane arbitrator would sustain a firing for it. On the other hand, having faced many arbitrators, neither am I persuaded that all of them are sane.

I guess it must be nice to be able to do any damn thing you feel like. I have to be careful how I speak to children. Chancellor's Regulation A-421 says anything that tends to make them feel uncomfortable is a violation. So if I look at them the wrong way, or say, "Good morning," in a tone that's not quite proper, I could find myself sitting in the principal's office facing a letter to file. Maybe I'd even find myself in some office in Manhattan, answering questions from DOE Big Shots. Who knows?

But it's not just about what you say. In fact, it's not just about how your students hear it. There's more to it than that. Charlotte Danielson, who clearly knows everything, has decreed it's all about engagement. As GW Bush asked, "Is our children learning?" The evidence, according to Danielson, is that they're busy and engaged. When they're jumping up and down, posing questions of their own, and barely have need of you at all, you are highly effective.

A friend pointed out that, if the principal had been more engaging, the aide would probably not have needed to yawn. I think that's a point well-taken. After all, the principal is the instructional leader. The principal ought to be setting the standard for all. Does your principal give interactive PD sessions, or does she just drone on explaining things everyone already understands in excruciating detail? Either way, she's setting the tone for the entire school.

So when people commit outrageous acts, like yawning, it's entirely the fault of the principal. Any self-respecting principal would observe the yawn, make a mental note that she hadn't sufficiently engaged the staff, and immediately write a letter to be placed in her own file. To do anything less is the height of irresponsibility.

So next time you see an article about the perfidy of teachers, or about how all we care about is ourselves, or about how we need to do more work for less pay, do the only logical thing. Blame the principal. The buck stops there.

And maybe, just maybe, someone will get the message that administrators must take responsibility for what goes on in schools, rather than pointing fingers at teachers and $12-an-hour school aides. If I treated my students the way this principal treated that aide, I'd be up on charges, and rightly so.

What a disgrace that people get a certificate, and a job, and suddenly think they are wiser and better than everyone else, fit to pass judgment on the entire world over trivial nonsense.