Monday, September 17, 2018

The Mysterious Case of the Missing District Reps-- UFT Exec Board Sept. 17, 2018

We are late because there was a contract negotiation meeting. Howard Schoor welcomes us at 6:13.

Minutes— approved

Staff director—LeRoy Barr
—-Welcomes us back, thanks negotiating committee. Thanks for good turnout Labor Day Parade. After parade event was successful. CL meeting Thursday 20th. Announcement of vacancies, for EB, today. CL training 10/13-14. Making Strides walk 10/14, Central Park. Next EB Sept. 24. DA 10/17.

Howard Schoor thanks Norm Scott for coming to Labor Day parade. Norm says he came for barbecue.

Jeff Sorkin, Welfare Fund,
on paid parental leave. 776 people have applied as of Friday, 446 approved. Wants to process checks as of Wednesday.

Q—Why weren’t some accepted?
A—not rejected yet. Just waiting on process.

Arthur Goldstein—There was a story in the Post the other day about a failed administrator accused of grade-fixing here. She moved to Baldwin, where she harassed young women about their clothes and posted names and allegations against suspended students, in violation of federal regulations. She was just hired back by the city as an assistant principal.

I’ve seen teachers have a-fib attacks after meeting with supervisors. I saw one teacher have a heart attack outside an administrative office. A friend of mine complained his supervisor promised him a bad rating, and died ten days later.

Sometimes people really want to “get out of the classroom.” One way to do that is to go into supervision. Sometimes people who don’t like classrooms tend not to respect teachers that much. This is a huge issue, and people write me about it all the time.

Perhaps the mayor is okay with hiring failed administrators who change grades, humiliate students, and violate federal regulations that managed to survive Betsy DeVos. Maybe the chancellor’s on board with that too. We should ask them.

Meanwhile, what can we do to cast a spotlight on abusive administrators? How can we make it as inconvenient as possible for them to behave like this? Maybe you'd like to think about this for a while. I don't need an answer right now.

Schoor—We have reached out to schools who came here. Would they speak to reporters? They did not want to. We’re always available, but aggrieved members have to come forward. We met with teachers who went public with a lawsuit but wouldn’t take other actions. We are always available and looking for best way forward.

Jonathan Halabi—How many discontinuances over summer? Which schools have highest turnover rates?

—Mike Sill not here. Will get info.

KJ Ahluwalia—Summers are getting warmer. Kids were fainting while taking Regents exams in summer school. What are we doing? We hear excuses.

Schoor—President will speak to that.

President’s Report—Mike Mulgrew
—Hot schools—don’t think they’ll be done by 2020. We have to incentivize. Principal and custodian always have AC. SCA has process where they can move electrical jobs up earlier. We need to turn up pressure on them.

Negotiating committee proceeding. Proud of work done over summer.

Not sure number of agency fee payers, from 2000 down to around 400. Next challenge is process for new members, who are no longer members until we speak with them. We did new member engagement over summer. We had names and phone numbers. By first week we signed 2500 of 4000 members. Will probably be another 900 new teachers in next few weeks.

Chancellor having bus issues. Some change in DOE central. Trying to inform them job is to help school system, not just grant employment.

Two UFT officers are retiring. Stayed through Janus. Thanks for the guidance, courage, and diligence—Carmen Alvarez and Mel Aaronson going to work with retiree chapter. We will need names of people who wish to run by Monday.

Alvarez—loves union, thanks for opportunity to support members and young people they serve. UFT allowed me to make a difference. Believes new contract will be game changer. Opportunity for you to create magic in schools. Thanks us.

—Thanks us.

—Knows officers for a long time. Thanks Mel and Carmen for years of service. We know a lot about the school system, we will have continuity and institutional memory they don’t at DOE.

Reports from Districts

Karen Alford—Labor Day Parade—first time we did BBQ. Great attendance. Was great to have members socializing, was great to see all those connections, people having such a good time. Nice contrast to Janus. Good to start on a high note.

D. Brown—June 24th, pride march, over 300 members, Thanks LeRoy Barr and others.

Pat Crispino—20 year old student passed away in school. Thanks those who stayed at school to help members. Mark Divet was teacher of class where it happened. Tried to revive student but could not. Mom was very thankful to those who tried to save him. Schools are family and community. Will be GoFundMe page for family.

Michael Friedman—Lost a member, Maria Romano, payroll secretary who was very helpful. Worked through cancer, came in daily until she couldn’t, passed on June 16th. Moment of silence.

Retiree chapter news—forming new section in Mid-Hudson. Has 1000 members in area. Recruiting in NJ, PA, and FL.

Shelvy Abrams—organized para chapter in 68. Needs support in 50th year as member of UFT. Reach out to paras that we are reaching a milestone. Proud to organize and represent 29,000 members.

Schoor—We ran against DC37 for bargaining rights, and won.

Serbia Silva—Annual welcome back to district, over 50 reps. Chancellor came, students played amazing song and chancellor sang with them. CLs wore Labor Day Parade shirts. Chancellor thanked union, was great event. Thanks UFT.

District 20, welcoming new members. Had meet and greet. Had over 50 people, newest hires. Had pension people, certification, and will do maternity and parental leave workshops.

Legislative Report—Paul Egan—Giants and Jets lost, Eagles at top of division. Chelsea 5 and 0.

Elections last week. Tish James won, will likely win election. IDC got annihilated. We didn’t endorse any by Marisol A., who was good on Janus. Robert Jackson has always been friend of union and he will win. Changes nothing unless GOP loses control. Simka Felder will likely win. We may overturn Marty Golden. Will be our main focus. Only other is Andrew Lanza, and he will likely win. We will ask Brooklyn to help us get vote out. There are enough UFT members to win all these races if we get out to vote, but we don’t. Primary turned out only 25%. If we get good turnout, we will win. Let’s make it happen.

Retirees don’t have to be union members or COPE contributors, but retirees will have contributed over 1 million this year. If they can do that, we can get another million.

Schoor—Marty Golden voted to do away with layoff clause, and we assembled 400 people in front of his office. Says he’s a charter school guy.

Jonathan Halabi I have a question as to process. This summer the HS representatives urged that NYSUT endorse the challengers to the IDC in the NY State Senate. We know that the UFT does not make statewide endorsements, but makes suggestions in Albany. So we asked to speak to the UFT RECOMMENDATIONS, and since we did not get a response until the Friday before the conference, we asked to at least know what the UFT recommendations would be – but the response was: “the starting point for the races you mention is open, meaning the discussion will not start with the incumbent but will result in a neutral start to the conversation.”

And then I heard from Albany, and I could have been misinformed, but this is what I heard: that the UFTers in Albany worked lock-step to block an endorsement of Alessandra Biaggi. Who, by the way, I saw plenty of UFTers working for, and, who also by the way, won, and we are now thankfully free of Jeff Klein.

But my question is not to argue who was right and who was wrong. I want to ask about process. The UFT makes recommendations to NYSUT, and at least sometimes those recommendations carry the day. Shouldn’t these recommendations be subject to membership, DA, or Exec Board approval?

Schoor—We don’t carry the day. We have about one third of NYSUT. Locals and area also discuss every single candidate. We make a recommendation that goes to NYSUT board that makes final recommendation.

Paul Egan—84 Board of Directors and we have about 20. These are state ones. Congressional go through AFT and NEA. We’ve interviewed all candidates. Starts at borough level. If people want to be part of process they can contact PAC.

It isn’t always black and white. We have to be careful as to what other things are in play. Politics is not simply one thing. If Klein got in and we were with Biaggi all things he was good with us on could blow up. Statewide feeling that we were going to not endorse IDC. Some people have great relationships with local senators. We have many others in NYC we can go to. Everyone in state has a vote. Not just us.

Schoor—NYSUT endorsed no GOP senators, and only one in IDC.

Egan—She had hopped back and forth but was lead sponsor in helping us with Janus.

Schoor—Special order of business—

Vanessa Preston—Selection process on selection of UFT District Reps—urges flexibility that DRs may be interviewed or appointed from out of district if they’ve been CLs, DRs, on Exec Board, or UFT officers.

In response to requests from CLs. Would allow committee to consider CLs from other districts. Not enough qualified candidates have stepped up over last few years.

Marie Callo—Supports. What better way to have more choice? Says CLs have requested this.

?—Also in support because we didn’t have a lot of qualified candidates. We need more people to step up. Committee can hear them out.

Jonathan HalabiI rise in opposition to this resolution. 
District Reps should be responsible to the Chapter Leaders they serve. In the past Chapter Leaders elected their District Reps – now that’s real accountability. 
Not only does this resolution not restore this basic piece of control to the chapter leaders – it allows DRs from outside the district, it allows a retiree to become DR.

DRs should be accountable to all the CLs in their district, not just those on the committee. That’s fundamental, you should be accountable to those you serve. 

If we wanted to increase the pool, why require chapter leaders to come from the school they serve? If we wanted to increase the pool, why require executive board members to come from the UFT?

Motion passes.

We are adjourned.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Bad Leaders and What We Should Fear

I get a lot of complaints from all over. Sometimes I forward them to people I think can help. Sometimes these people get help. Other times, they ask me not to tell anyone. It's hard to help someone when they don't want anyone but me to know their issue. If it were in my building, maybe I could do something. Maybe not.

A lot of chapter leaders will tell you this is the number one issue--"I have this problem. It's the worst problem on earth. But I don't want to file a grievance. And when YOU complain about it, make sure MY name doesn't come up." Sometimes I can pull that off. Sometimes I can't. It depends a lot on the situation.

I once had a discussion with such a member. I can't file a grievance, he said. I asked him why he thought, then, that I could. Why is it I can do this but you can't? Because you're you, he told me. I can't argue with that. I'm me. I'm not sure, though, how that makes me special or unique. I'm not sure what any administrator could have done to that teacher that couldn't be done to me.

I know several teachers from several schools that complain endlessly to me about the awful things their principals do. I don't doubt what they say at all. Their principals are vindictive. They go after anyone who contradicts them. They impose things that violate the contract.

There are remedies for at least some of these things. Blatant violations in observations result in APPR complaints. You need to make them within five days of knowledge. Here's a list of things that have been successful. There have been successful APPR complaints in my building. Sometimes supervisors will think twice before doing things twice if they don't work once.

If principals won't honor the contract, you can file grievances. Grievances are a huge pain in the ass, because the process seems to go on forever. The first place they go is the principal, who likely as not made the violation personally. Some principals will read the contract, understand it, and honor it. Some will reject everything out of hand, and go right to step two. Others will call the clown car that is Bloomberg's DOE legal department. I recently met someone who used to work for that department. This person told me few if any of the lawyers there have even read the contract.

Legal tells principals they can do anything they like. Then you go to step two, where the DOE hacks reject absolutely everything no matter what. I've listened to some of them who knew the principal was wrong, but ruled with the principal anyway. That's their job, evidently, and after they do it these things are literally rubber stamped with the chancellor's name. I understand member frustration at this, particularly because last year I went to maybe ten step two hearings.

The next step is arbitration, and this year I'll go to ten or more arbitration hearings. Of course if contractual violations mount up the way they did last year, that will also be another ten step two hearings. That's not to mention the class size hearings I go to twice a year. I'm up for whatever. Not everyone is.

People sometimes tell me their chapter leaders say, "I can't take sides." That's absurd. I always take sides. I side with the member, and I side with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If your chapter leader doesn't take sides, you need a new chapter leader. You could say, though, that it's risky to be chapter leader with a vindictive principal. It certainly is. But someone needs to step up.

Here's the thing--if you say it's too dangerous to be chapter leader, if you say it's too dangerous to file a grievance, if you say it's too dangerous to enforce the contract, you are right. You have given up and there is no contract. The contract exists only as far as it can be enforced. If you don't enforce it, for whatever reason, it's meaningless.

The first semester I taught I had four preps. I had no idea that was a violation. My UFT chapter leader approached me in the bathroom. " wanna join the union?" Why not, I thought, and filled out the card. One day my AP asked me if I wanted to teach ESL. "What's ESL?" I asked. The next day I had five preps, and one was ESL.

We all need help. We all need people to look after us. Sometimes, though, we need to get up on our hind legs and speak. The more of us who do it, the better. The principal can go after me if I stand up, that's true. It's true for you too. If all of us stand up, it'll likely take a lot of the principal's time to go after everyone.

You can also come to Executive Board and be heard. Sometimes that helps. Sometimes it doesn't. You don't really have guarantees of what will happen. You can blame me for that if you like. You can blame Mulgrew if you like. I always try to help. I do not always win.

Here's one thing I can guarantee, though. If you have an abusive principal who routinely violates the contract, and you do nothing about it, tomorrow you will have that very same abusive principal. And the days, weeks, months and years after that, you'll have the same. In fact, things can get worse. Why shouldn't an abusive principal be emboldened after seeing no one will stand against her?

Sometimes people wait until they're painted into a corner to act. This is what's happening in several red states where the teachers have risen up. I don't think it's a good idea to wait until we're backed into a corner with nowhere else to go. But, as a colleague told me, I'm me. Not everyone is.

It's my job to be me, so I do it. It's your job to be you, and it might be your job to organize your colleagues to help fight that terrible principal. Alternatively, you could wait for someone else to do it. If that's your choice, I have to advise you to sit while you wait. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen next year, or it could never happen.

The only person you can really control is yourself.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Another Day, Another Scandal-Plagued Principal in Fun City

One of the great things about being a principal is that no matter what you do, NYC wants you. You read about these principals who do awful things, harass staff, and nothing happens to them until the city's on the hook for almost a million bucks in payoffs. Can you imagine what Campbell Brown, or whoever the reformies are using this week, would be ranting about if this were a teacher?

Nonetheless, principals can do pretty much whatever. Evidently, the only consequence is being sent to twiddle your thumbs over at Tweed. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Of course, not every principal is reassigned. I regularly hear tales of abuse, incompetence, cruelty and various mixtures up to all of the above.

The former principal of Automotive High School did not fare so well at that particular gig. Evidently, she had failing Regents scores changed to passing. She drove teachers from their jobs, and most didn't return anyway when they did the big rehiring thing they do in those "renewal" schools. It's funny how the city will determine a school is failing, blame the teachers, and let the principal stay on. Maybe they figure principals have nothing to do with progress or lack thereof. Maybe they don't want to pay them to shuffle papers in Tweed. Or maybe they have rabbis who look after them and make sure nothing bad happens.

This particular principal moved on to greener pastures. She scored a gig in Baldwin, Long Island, making 169K a year. While there, she zeroed in on crucial issues, like girls wearing short skirts or visible bra straps. She contended such clothing was "distracting to male staff members." I'm reminded of those religious guys who won't sit next to women on planes because it's evidently too much for them to restrain their animal urges.

Perhaps short skirts are distracting. On the other hand, this year I'm sitting in half a classroom, and that's even more distracting. I'd be perfectly happy to have every one of my female students wear short skirts if I could get a real classroom. Maybe there's something wrong with me, but it would be a lot easier for me to ignore their clothing than the fact that I can't give a test without having everyone and anyone cheat as much as they want. I have other colleagues working in trailers with no AC. I'll bet you they'd be OK with girls dressing how they wish if they could have it. In fact, you could argue that the students wearing the scantiest clothing are the brightest, given those conditions.

This principal also saw fit to name suspended students, along with their alleged infractions, in a newsletter she sent out. I find that remarkable. Full disclosure--I am not the most diplomatic person around. Nonetheless, I've been writing this blog since 2005 and the most I've ever revealed the names of my students, good, bad or indifferent, has been never. I'd argue that's common sense, and that even if it's the least common of all the senses, you have to follow it. In case that's not enough, it's also in violation of federal regulations.

The Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, strictly prohibits the disclosure of student records, including disciplinary decisions, except to those directly involved with the student’s education, said Joel Reidenberg, director of the Center on Law and Information Policy at Fordham University.

So what do you do with a principal like that? If you're Mayor Bill de Blasio, or Chancellor Richard Carranza, or whichever of their operatives makes such decisions, you hire her back, but this time as an assistant principal. I don't actually know who made this decision. I can tell you with 100% certainty that neither of the principals I've worked with as chapter leader would have hired a person with a record like this.

The only bright spot here is that she makes less money than teachers at the top of the salary scale. I'm gonna go ahead and say that will be cold comfort to the poor souls who will have to work for her. Maybe she'll be on her best behavior, but who even wants to find out what that's like?

I'm sure if I did half of what this principal did I'd be sitting at a 3020a hearing, wondering whether or not I'd have a job next month.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Geniuses in Albany 1--ELLs 0

Yesterday I was sitting in an office trying to catch up. I was doing pretty well for a while. In fact, I planned to go ahead and expand my planning a few days into the future. Then a guidance counselor walked in with a young newcomer. She was looking for a translator since the newcomer could not hold a conversation in English.

We learned that this young woman had aced the test designed to measure her English. No ESL classes for her. The fact that she could not hold a conversation in English was neither here nor there. Go to that English class with a bunch of American-born native English speakers and do whatever they're doing. After all, speaking is not that important. We only do it maybe 20 or 30 times more frequently than we write. In the hallowed halls where the geniuses from Albany work they do much more writing. After all, it takes a lot to sit on your ass all day shooting memos to your subordinates.

My AP was not around. I had no idea where she was. I decided to take her to the principal. I wanted him to see the sort of kid Albany thought needed no help with English. Unfortunately his door was closed and he was doing Important Principal Stuff. You can never talk with principals when they're doing that, of course, so I turned elsewhere. Then I remembered the Top Secret place where I find my AP when she doesn't wish to be found. It's good to be the chapter leader. You learn everyone's deep dark secrets.

Once again I dragged the kid and her guidance counselor up the stairs. I have to give the counselor credit for allowing me to drag her all over the building. Not everyone is as patient as she is. I know I'm not. But she also knew there was something seriously wrong with this placement, and wanted to fix it. I was dispatched to find the girl's composition.

We looked at it, and evidently it used advanced constructions. I did not much like it myself, but what do I know? If the geniuses in Albany say writing one semi-coherent paragraph means you no longer need help with a language you've been trying to master for only a week, that should be good enough for anyone. "Where are we gonna place her?" asked my boss. She rattled off a bunch of course codes. I had no idea what they meant.

"I'll take her," I said.

So today, this newcomer will be in my advanced class. One of the questions I asked her, through a translator, was whether she had ever read a book in English. The answer was no. This further confounded me. How the hell can the geniuses from Albany think someone who's never read a book in English would feel at home in a high school English class?

We will remedy that in my class. While I was interrupted, I was warming up to write a lesson on chapter one of The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, a beautiful book about a young woman coming into herself in Botswana. The thing I really love about this book is that it conveys a lot of complex ideas in relatively simple language. I think this young woman may hate me for a while, like all the students in that class, but will end up very proud she was able to get through an entire novel in English. At least I hope so.

I asked her why she didn't like her English class.

"Accountable talk," she said. "What is accountable talk?"

I'm not really sure. I see signs up saying, "I agree/ disagree with this because..." and other conversation prompts. Evidently it has something to do with giving reasons for things you say. I'm not at all sure that's trending in the United States these days, what with President Trump saying any goshdarn thing that comes into his brain, whether it makes sense or not.

"Don't worry," I told her. "In my class, we will never talk about accountable talk."

I figure if I need to know why a student says something, I can just ask. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

When Will We Have a President Who Doesn't Hate Us?

It's kind of remarkable, in this day and age, to read that we're actually spending less to support those of our students most in need. NYC alone is receiving 140 million less. How on earth do your rationalize that? I guess you could say that throwing money at schools is a mistake. Better to throw it at wars, I suppose, or on bombs. Those bombs don't grow on trees.

In 2006, when the decline began, GW Bush was President. GW was a terrible education president, president over a whole lot of nonsense based on test scores. The factor of poverty was ignored, because after all, Bill Gates decided to ignore it, and he has all that money. Instead, we allowed Gates to throw a little of his money into seed projects, and then a whole lot of communities, including NYC, were left to throw a ton of good money after bad. You know, we had all those school closings and the small schools that later closed themselves.

This was so trendy that our new best friend Andrew Cuomo came out demanding the death penalty for schools. This was remarkable in that his father, who from all indications was not insane, was famous for his opposition to the death penalty. (If you're a registered Democrat, you can register your dissatisfaction with our reptile governor by voting for Cynthia Nixon today. First thing, before I go to work, that's what I'm gonna do. NYC Educator further endorses Jumaane Williams and Zephyr Teachout.)

Of course, after GW Bush took up his new career of not being President, Barack Obama came in and continued GW's awful policies. Who can forget his execrable education secretary, Arne Duncan, telling the world that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans? Imagine that. A natural disaster. Almost two thousand dead. Over half the residents of New Orleans left. Unions were broken, public schools were closed, and the entire city was given to privatizers. That was good enough for Arne Duncan.

Now we've got Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos. If you can even imagine this, DeVos is less qualified than Duncan. Why? Because Duncan actually held a few jobs before getting this one. DeVos believes in everything Duncan does, plus vouchers. Vouchers have been rejected by voters all over the country. That is why reformies are going with charters. They are, however, just another means to break public schools. That's why Betsy loves them.

In other news, Betsy hates union. She's shocked that she was unable to unilaterally impose a collective bargaining agreement. Of course, as someone who's never held a job before, perhaps she doesn't even know what a union is. After all, she was born rich, married richer, and has never had to bother with working, let alone working people. Who the hell do they think they are saying no to her, after she's bought some of the finest GOP politicians she could pay for?

DeVos is upset because she lost a suit to protect predatory student lenders. In fact, she's so angry, she's ignoring a judge's order to negotiate before making agreements, and is doing any goshdarn thing she feels like.  Because hey, what's the point of being rich if you can't do any goshdarn thing you feel like? She's unilaterally telling working people they can no longer telecommute. Hey, if Betsy DeVos has to show up to the office every now and again, you lowlifes who do this for salary rather than power can show up every last goshdarn minute.

And doing union business when you're actually at the workplace? Forget it. Let's make that as inconvenient as possible. DeVos would just as soon see us making minimum wage with no benefits whatsoever. Duncan was no better. He did more to actively break union than Betsy ever did. Now Arne's all over Twitter expressing outrage about Trump and the NRA. Just because he may have crawled out of someone else's pocket doesn't make him any less of a crook.

We are in crisis. We need to elect people who will help us. Cuomo wants to help us this week, but that's only because he's running against Donald Trump rather than his actual opponents. If corporate Democrats take over, expect him to become his lovable old self and trash us as an education monopoly.

It's very hard for me to understand how working people can vote for people, Democrat or Republican, who doesn't support them. I guess the easy thing would be to blame the teachers.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How Do We Recruit Teachers of Color?

That's the question posed in this NY Times piece. There is a whole lot about how students respond better when their teachers look like them. Where are all those teachers of color, and why are so many teachers women? It won't do for me to just go to work tomorrow and ask my colleagues why they're women. Doubtless it has something to do with biology.

Actually teaching is traditionally a profession dominated by women, as is nursing. There really are not a whole lot of professions like that. There's no really easy way to say this, but we live in a sexist society, have done for years, and with Donald Trump President, I don't see that changing any time soon. There's a reason why our pay lags behind other professions, and there's a reason why a whole lot of states can't be bothered to pay us.

I used to go to MORE meetings, usually with a bunch of white people, and someone would get up and ask why there aren't any teachers of color. I don't know what to say to that. My work entails representing working teachers, not recruiting new ones. I'm not going door to door and asking people why they don't go into teaching. I hear quite a bit from teachers who say they don't want their children to go into it and be observed by Boy Wonder until they are sick to their stomachs. I understand that. I can imagine some arbitrator at Gold Street sentencing a teacher to Death by Danielson.

Honestly, who needs that? Who needs to be vilified in the press on a daily basis? Who needs to hear that the job we do is terrible, that we're failing the students, and that the only solution is to leave our public schools in the hands of white billionaires like Betsy DeVos, Bill Gates, and the Walton family, none of whom would send their kids to public schools on a bet? I have an idea. Maybe we should put the school systems in the hands of people of color, you know, people whose kids attend our schools. Or maybe we should make the gazillionaires, if they care so much, send their kids to public schools.

The Times does place this little tidbit way at the end of the article:

More qualified people would stay in the profession if the jobs had better pay, benefits and support. Nonwhite teachers in schools with poor resources are at particular risk of burning out.

Like most of the piece,  this seems to apply to everyone, not just people of color. I question why white teachers with poor resources would be inclined to hang around. I can tell you plenty do not. I fail to see why only teachers of color want better pay, benefits and support. I want better pay, benefits and support, and I'd very much like to meet the person who doesn't.

Non-teachers think this job is a walk in the park, you just get up in front of the class, make the kids do some homework and take tests, and go home.  Here's a fact the Times writer may not know--New York City has the highest class sizes in the state. The more kids you face, the less time you have to address their issues. If you can't or don't address their issues, your chances of being a successful teacher plummet. There are few things more soul-crushing than losing control of a class. I'd argue that would be awful for just about anyone.

Here's another thing the Times may not know. We have a society that provides crap jobs and little opportunity for a lot of our people. This places families in crisis. If you need money, you can't always put work off four years so you can go to college. In fact, you often can't handle the tuition, despite Andrew Cuomo's brilliant plan to cover 3.5% of those who attend state or city colleges., Maybe if we created more real opportunities, as opposed to talking points for our relentlessly ambitious governor, more people of color would take advantage. In fact, maybe if our governor funded our schools to the tune of the C4E law, there could be better pay, benefits and support for teachers.

Maybe that would do it. I haven't got a magic bullet, but I respectfully suggest that people who want a better or more diverse teaching force might refrain from treating us like crap. Let me further suggest that this begin at the Times Editorial Board, most of whom wouldn't know a good teacher if one were beating them over the head. In many respects, I couldn't blame that teacher at all.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Corporal Punisment in Georgia--I Wouldn't Treat My Dog Like This

Of course I love my dog, so I don't hit him, ever. If he doesn't come when I ask him, he won't get a treat. He's very fond of treats. I may say, "No," and ignore him for a while. He doesn't like that very much. While I work at training him, he's not a machine with an on/ off switch and he doesn't always listen to me.

For example, when I ordered him to come yesterday, he knew it meant another trip out in the rain with the red raincoat he abhors. He sat like a statue. I picked him up, put the raincoat on him, and dragged him out. I didn't hit him. Even if I'd wanted to hit him, I had to respect his position. Outside, it was just as terrible as he imagined it would be.

In Georgia, though, The Georgia School of Innovation and the Classics has decided to reinstate paddling, which I understand is legal in 20 states. I'm kind of surprised it's legal anywhere, but a country that has made Donald Trump president is constantly full of surprises. (Of course it's a charter school, but I can't be sure whether they consider beating children to be "innovation" or "classic.")

I always think any teacher that hit my kid would be one dead teacher. I would likely not go out and kill the person, but I would use every legal measure at my disposal to make that teacher regret doing that. As far as I know paddling is illegal in NY State, and I'd have no reservations about seeing teacher who hit children fired.

I always think teaching is about somehow persuading kids that we have something to offer that they can actually use. It's pretty clear to me that English, which I teach, is useful to everyone in the United States each and every day. I think I have things easy in that regard. I can honestly say I use everything I teach virtually all the time. It's tougher to sell kids on other things.

For example, I have an advanced class right now. I expect to have them read a few novels, and I expect some percentage of them never to have done so. I'm gonna have to come up with a better rationale than, "If you don't read this book, I will hit you." I'm gonna have to find ways that the books I choose relate to their lives. I'm therefore going to have to choose books carefully. I'm sure teachers of other disciplines have their own ways.

Hitting kids, though, means you've run out of ideas. It's just the last thing you can possibly do. If that's the only trick you have left, I'd suggest you have few tricks indeed. To their marginal credit, the school is offering parents opt-out letters. You can have your kid suspended for five days rather than brutalized by the lunatics who run the school.

Given that choice, I'd rather have my kid suspended. Of course, a better choice would be to remove lunatics from running schools. That's a widespread issue that fails to merit sufficient attention anywhere, Every New York City teacher I know can attest to seeing lunatics in charge of departments, if not entire schools. Thus, you get ideas like these.

We are teachers. It is our job to very quickly assess situations and very quickly seek solutions. Thankfully, they don't always have to work. But we always have to try, The thing about hitting kids is it's just like hitting dogs. It makes them fearful and angry and it spills out some other way. You teach a kid (or a dog) violence and you beget violence elsewhere.

I wouldn't hit my kid, so I wouldn't hit yours either. I would quit rather than hit a kid. When I get very angry at students, I don't scream or yell or hit. I become very quiet and think of the best thing I can do to make this behavior highly inconvenient. Sometimes that's a tough job, because students can be very smart. You have to think very carefully when dealing with students who are very smart. You have to think things through further than they do. It's not easy.

When you hit kids, you've run out of ideas. You've given up on reason. And if you've given up on reason, why on earth would you want to be a teacher? Do you want to foster cynicism and violence? If that's your goal, there are probably better jobs. I'm thinking reality TV, but I'm sure you can come up with something.

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Quest to Become an Administrator

One morning I walked into a department office and found three teachers. One was at a computer. Another was at a desk, eating a sandwich. A third was standing on a table. I found that a little odd. The person on the table, though, was not particularly happy. This was evident. I asked what the problem was.

"There's a MOUSE in the corner there. This office is INFESTED."

That didn't sound good at all. I said there was a custodial form that was available in the office downstairs. Fill it out, make a copy, and if nothing happened I'd bring it up in committee with the principal.

"I can't do that," the teacher said. Evidently, this teacher was in this committee, that committee, and some other committee as well. I didn't really understand why that was relevant. I mean, I'm on more committees than that person is, and I complain all the time.

So why are people on all these committees? Is it because they love the school and want to pitch in? I mean, that's what Danielson would say. It's not enough that you go to the meetings you're required to be at. You should go to some other meeting, or PD, or something. That would be viable evidence of your enthusiasm. It would not, of course, suggest that you only did it because you were trying to up your rating, and I must be deeply cynical to even imagine such a thing. No, being there is absolute proof you love being there.

On the other hand, you might argue that a concern for health and sanitary conditions shows you care as well. I could argue that dragging UFT in every year to inspect the trailers, so that the inevitable mold can be remediated, ought to get me Danielson points. I might argue that grieving the conditions in a room full of diesel fumes from the custodial workshop next door ought to get me Danielson points. I might argue that grieving the windowless rooms until some sort of adequate ventilation system was established should earn points as well.

Yet none of the above gets me credit. If I want credit I have to sit through some PD about why kids shouldn't be late to class. After all, how will I ever learn that kids shouldn't be late to class unless I sit through a PD about it? And how will I learn how to stop kids from being late unless I sit through a PD and have someone tell me about it? There is absolutely zero possibility I will work out that, or any other issue, in my feeble mind and come up with a solution.

And yet this other teacher, despite being on all those committees, could not write a report about a mouse in the office. A few months later, we were given a directive by the principal to document every instance of classroom participation. This was the result of some memo written by some random genius at Tweed saying we had to use a rubric or something, and that our memory of what happened in class was insufficient to document participation.

"How can I do that?" the teacher asked. "There is no way I can do that and also teach."

That, in fact, was my thought exactly. I told the teacher not to worry, and that I was doing something about it. What I did was file a paperwork complaint. We argued, basically, that this was extra paperwork we were never before required to do. This was ironic, because at the moment I was experimenting with a program called classroom dojo or something. I was, in fact, recording participation in real time. However, I was only able to do that because I had a co-teacher. When I was leading the class I'd hand over my laptop to the co-teacher and she'd record.

We won that paperwork complaint. The Tweed genius was overruled by someone above his pay grade, and teachers were allowed to record participation via memory. It's kind of remarkable how little some Tweedies know about what goes on in actual classrooms. If I don't know who participates, and who doesn't, it probably means I haven't been attending my own class. Or maybe I was asleep and not paying attention. Despite what I read in the local papers, I don't know a whole lot of teachers who sleep in their own classes.

Anyway, the teacher who would not report the mouse has moved on and is now an assistant principal. A cynic might question why this teacher was on all those committees, or why this person wouldn't report the mice that were clearly very usetting. So here's the question--was this teacher on all these committees to acquire the professional enrichment deemed so important by Charlotte Danielson? Or was this teacher, in fact, only doing this as a stepping stone to become an administrator?

Also, as an administrator, will this person report future mice in the new office? Or will this person ignore them? I can only suppose it will depend on whether reporting the mice or not will help this person to become principal. Do you want this person to become your principal?

Or is this person your principal already?

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Nope. They Begin With Great Teachers.

This is the CSA float from the Labor Day Parade. Here's a fact--the Labor Day Parade began with UFT. There is no doubt in my mind that we have more to do with great schools than administrators.

Don't get me wrong--there are great administrators. There are administrators for whom I have nothing but respect. This notwithstanding, I've seen quite a few who are cruel, who are small-minded, and who are extraordinarily vindictive. Sometimes their schools and departments are saved by teachers, parents, or students. Sometimes not.

Being an administrative leader is a huge job, and it's a job I would not want. Some administrators are good at some things, but not others. An administrator for whom I had great respect selected some of the best administrators I've ever seen. Alas, he also selected some of the worst. It's like there's no rhyme or reason. At least one of the terrible administrators he selected was reputed to be a good teacher. It's hard for me to imagine this person being a good teacher. To me, a good teacher has a quick mind, or is thoughtful, and this person most certainly was neither. I have students who'd think circles around this guy. (I love these students, but they are a lot of work.)

Teachers are busy around the clock. When I come in ridiculously early each morning, there are dozens of colleagues who've come in even more ridiculously early. I see social studies teachers huddled in a bookroom working on computers. All day long they're in that closet, prepping their classes. I don't think I spend as much time as they do, but I'm there early in the hopes I can get my work done before anyone finds me. I always find some way to finish, even if I can't explain just how.

And just for the record, we are brothers and sisters, we are union, and we also support one another. I get texts and emails all day long about more things than I can tell you. The first two days were real scorchers. The trailers were diabolical. I kept telling people to call the office and move the kids to the auditorium. No, I don't care if you're covering binomials. I don't even know what binomials are and it hasn't fundamentally affected my lifestyle.

Last week I helped a teacher in the trailer not only get a functional lock on the outside door, but also get a lock on the bathroom door so her students would no longer get locked inside. I helped five teachers file grievances. I helped a pregnant colleague get her entire program on one floor. I signed up every agency fee payer and every new teacher for our union.

I hear a lot about how the union sucks. The union makes bad endorsements. True.  The 2005 contract was an irredeemable piece of crap that we still pay for every single day. Also true. Nonetheless, the same union just negotiated six weeks of paid parental leave. Could it have been better? Of course. Is it a great step forward? Absolutely.

There are things we can do to make our union better. I know because I'm doing them. I became chapter leader of my school.  I ran for several union positions, and finally won one. I worked very hard to make that happen, and it was pretty much miraculous. This is what happens when we work together.

There are a lot of things going on in the UFT, all the time. You don't see them every day, but I do. During the Labor Day Parade, while I was marching, I was texting a union leader about an issue a member was having. This leader reached out to that member right at that moment. Here's the thing--we are the UFT. We are as active, or not, as we choose to be.

We need to take care of one another. We aren't going to win every battle. We aren't going to get rid of every crazy supervisor, because believe me, if they managed to find jobs in my school, they are an epidemic. But if we are not afraid, we can fight. If we are not afraid, we can win. We are role models. We owe it to our students to do what's right. We owe it to our students to make our jobs better. We owe it to our students to leave this job one they can aspire to.

Two of my former ELLs are now teachers in my building. I'm very proud of them. It's on us to improve our working conditions, and I'm reminded of this every time I look at these young women. It's on us to stand strong. It's on us to make change and to avoid letting grass grow beneath our feet. It's on us to create a better environment for our students and children. It's on us to make this job better for those who follow us.

I'll say just one more thing--CSA may think they're the leaders, but whither we go, they go too. Maybe more CSA members should support and help us. We will fight the bastards who gave us Janus, and we will win. If we didn't, CSA would most certainly be washed into the ocean right along with us, and when we faced draconian salary cuts and health fees, like they did in who knows how many union-hostile red states, they'd face them right along with us.

We lead. Where we lead to is up to us.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Mandatory Sexual Harassment Training--Highly Effective, or Just High?

A lot of members in my building were upset by an email saying there was mandatory sexual harassment training. However, it turns out it isn't sexual harassment training at all, but rather sexual harassment prevention training. So if, for example, you don't know anything about sexual harassment, you need not study it beforehand.

Here's what I saw when I tried to connect to it:

I had planned to take the thing and report back. But seeing that message, I decided the hell with it. Who knows what evil lurks in the DOE website? And who wants to find out firsthand? Not me.

This notwithstanding, it's a tough message to understand, and a lot of members asked me about it. I've put out feelers to the UFT about what "mandatory" really means. As far as I can tell, if you don't take the course, you will not receive the certificate that says you took the course. Thus, there will be one more piece of paper you'll never be able to hang on your wall. As far as I can tell, there is no other consequence, but you never know what Tweed will do. They don't think like us, you know.

Some of my colleagues are telling me I got the warning because I don't have a DOE laptop, but I don't know. I was on the DOE wifi when I saw it. I suppose I could wrestle my colleagues over one of the hard-wired computers in the office. Some of them look stronger than me, though. And who knows if they have martial arts training or whatever? In fact I carry this little laptop precisely so I won't need to do that. (I also carry it to utilize tech in my classroom, but none of the tech in my classroom works.  The DOE can't be bothered with that, let alone providing a classroom bigger than a closet.)

Let's forget about all the idiotic obstacles the DOE is throwing in my path for a moment. It doesn't take very much to dissuade me from doing things I don't really want to do. Nonetheless, what if I really needed it? Let's say Harvey Weinstein is my co-teacher. Does anyone really believe that a 45-minute online whatever is gonna turn him around?

The New York City Department of Education does, evidently. If only Harvey had sat for this webinar, or whatever the hell it is, none of this would've happened, or it would at least have come to a dead stop. This is kind of remarkable. People spend years in therapy to deal with their issues, but the DOE can write 45 minutes of something and cure them instantly. They are Highly Effective, simply because they are the sole arbiters of what is and is not Highly Effective.

Next on their list of Activities Designed to Save the World is diversity training. Once that happens, that teacher who stands up in the teacher cafe to sing Deutchland Uber Alles will never do it again. Those people who hate those other people will stop. Who cares if they've been mindless bigots since they were children? Once the DOE gets to show them a PowerPoint, prejudice and racism will be a thing of the past.

Obviously, like sexual harassment, bigotry is an issue. And obviously, we should address it. I'd venture, though, that these are issues that ought to be addressed on a much larger scale. This is particularly important when the President of the United States sees good people "on both sides" when one side is nazis. It's particularly important when our president is a self indulgent juvenile who thinks women are placed on earth for his amusement. It's particularly important when our government is so rampantly xenophobic it separates children from their parents, who are likely as not fleeing for their lives. It's particularly important when racist galoots from coast to coast feel empowered to spout their vitriol everywhere in the name of Making America Great Again.

I may be cynical, but I don't see how spending 45 minutes with the great minds who fight to keep class sizes above contractual limits is going to reverse negative attitudes. I don't hate people for their skin color, sex, nationality, or religion. Ask me what I think, though, when I say, "There are 57 oversized classes at Francis Lewis High School," and the lawyer across the table responds, "There are zero."

Ask me privately, please. For all I know, my students may be reading this blog.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Teacher's Diary--Class Day One

It's kind of nerve-racking meeting classes for the first time. First and foremost, you never know anyone's name. Our ELLs are largely Asian, and some of the names are very tough for me. My pronunciation is better than it once was, but it's never gonna be anything to brag about. I've called kids by the wrong names for months sometimes before they corrected me.

Yesterday, in my first class, I did diagnostic essays. This class is supposed to be the highest level ESL class there is. Yet I found students who would clearly benefit from what I teach in my beginning English classes. I found really fundamental errors, like failure to capitalize anything, utter ignorance of tense use, and writing I am with an apostrophe between the two full words. It's pretty clear to me that the students I used to get in beginning levels are now simply in higher levels.

Now it's nice that the students are in higher levels, I suppose. It certainly makes me look good, if I happened to teach those kids. However, for all but three in that group, I did not. That's not really the point. The actual point is to make NY State look good. We have this insane thing about giving way less ESL instruction. I'm not exactly sure what made the state go this way. I have theories.

My first is that there has always been a shortage of ESL teachers. That's why I've frequently been offered the chance to teach and extra class, in a shortage area, and make an extra 12K or so per year. I've said no each and every time because I have no idea how I even do what I already do, let alone teach an extra class. Fortunately, a whole lot of my colleagues have worked this out better than I have.

So you move all the kids up a level or two, cut a good half of the actual ESL classes, and maybe there will be no shortage. Hopefully you'll have so few kids studying English you won't need any ESL teachers at all. They'll simply acquire English by pure magic. You could write a book--How to Learn a Language Without Studying at All. Or not. It doesn't really matter whether you learn the language as long as you pass this test. And since NY State not only designs the test, but also creates the cut scores, the test can say any damn thing they wish it to.

It's sad, really. My beginner classes are now almost exclusively rank beginners, which is kind of sad. These kids would benefit from being challenged more by their peers. Of course, I'm not a genius from Albany. I'm just a lowly teacher so what do I know about teaching? If I knew anything about teaching, I'd be sitting on my ass in some Albany building telling all the working teachers what to do.

Meanwhile, I'm losing the perpetual battle of man vs. machine. For years, I was in the trailers, No one ever put tech out there. Last I was there, there was some ancient windows laptop chained to the wall. When I taught The Cask of Amontillado, I told the students the guy was just like the laptop. I think I showed a video from it on Chinese New Year, when only four kids showed up.

I was later promoted into the building, where I had a dead Smartboard. Though I dutifully hung my coat on it each and every day, I never could talk my AP into giving me credit for innovative use of technology. Then, something even worse happened, They pulled out the thing and replaced it with something that actually worked.. This grieved me deeply. I actually had to learn how to use the thing.

So now that I've done that, I'm in a new room with tech that is absolutely non-functional. I have a student who visits me who's a computer genius. He pointed to a box on the wall and said, "You see that thing? That thing needs to be replaced." As if that's not enough, the teacher who precedes me pointed out the lockbox the computer is in. It has no handle anymore, and it's impossible to open.

What bothers me most is I've become someone I used to ridicule. I found it hilarious when young teachers would freak out because the tech was unavailable. What am I gonna do without my PowerPoint? Actually I don't say that. I say what am I gonna do without my Keynote, which is completely different.

That's the ticket. I wish you all a great day two.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

First Day Back

People kept asking me yesterday how my summer was. I had to tell the truth. I woke up in the morning and it was finished. I cried for 90 minutes but it still didn't come back. Perhaps that was not the optimal approach, but that doesn't necessarily mean I won't give it another try.

There were the usual disasters, things that no one ever thought would happen that happened anyway. No one really knows what to do about those things, so I won't go into detail. Those things seem to happen everywhere anyway.

There were two former agency fee payers in my building, and I signed up both of them. I signed up every new teacher I met. It was easy and they were happy. I was fortunate enough to get some time with teachers new to the school and new to the system. They had a lot of questions this year. I was encouraged. There have been years when there were no questions whatsoever. The then-principal told me they were so great they knew everything already. Personally, I've been doing this for 34 years and I don't know everything, I figure as soon as I think I know everything, I probably know less than I did when I realized I didn't.

I wrote a long Keynote presentation for when I met with staff. In case you don't know, Keynote is the Mac version of PowerPoint, I like it better than PowerPoint. However, the display in our auditorium has some strange connection that isn't HDMI or anything I've ever noticed before. I ended up looking at my presentation on my laptop and sharing it with staff via my mouth. That's okay. It just goes to show you that the machines break down but the people go on without them.

I do know people who agonize over having the computers go down. I'm bordering on that, having made up this presentation with all cool transitions and stuff, but what are you gonna do? I mean, just because I might sit and cry upon realizing that summer is gone is no reason to sit and cry in front of the entire staff. Some would say that's not leadership. Yet how many of us wish we had a supervisor who would just sit and cry rather than telling us how it's bad that students come late, and they shouldn't come late, and then they get all high and mighty and start telling us that we shouldn't come late either. That's your Boy Wonder supervisor for you, and he's probably late every day.

I only had three reorganization grievances, and I was pretty proud until I got to Queens UFT for a meeting, where other chapter leaders were boasting they didn't have any. Who the hell do they think they are having big fun while I'm struggling to write grievances? This is yet another tech issue, in fact.  No one sent in the election form for our school. Though I got it filled out last week, I still haven't got access to the chapter leader section at the UFT website. And why should I? We're only the biggest school in Queens. I don't need any stinking resources.

I got to see my two crappy rooms yesterday, and was given the choice of consolidating into one crappy room. I chose the crappy room with tables rather than chairs. That way, my students can all sit around and have little conversations about how crappy the room is. I can teach them adjectives.

The room is:

a. small
b. diminutive
c. inadequate
d. miserable
e. all of the above

I see a test coming. It will be a test to see how long I can go without complaining about the room. This will be a very tough test for me. I only began complaining yesterday, and I haven't stopped yet. What do we have, 180 days in the year? That's 178 more opportunities. You have to grab life and take it where you need it to go. I am, therefore I complain.

I wish all of you a great school day. I hope you get to do something fun. I know I will, even if it entails complaining. It's one of the things I do best.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

The Crappiest Rooms in the Building

It's discouraging to wake up and learn that's what you have. But alas, I checked my program online before and that's what I have. It's funny, because I literally spent years working in the trailers specifically to preclude this. The first time I got dumped into the trailers it was because someone complained louder than I did, I think, so my class and I got bounced. That was before I found my voice.

I was pretty upset. At that time, I was in a room that had a whiteboard. No, not some electronic thing, but rather a blackboard that was covered with white tape stuff. You could use dry erase markers on it. For the first time ever, my handwriting was borderline legible. I mean, the kids still laughed at it, but I found it a lot easier to manipulate. It was a miracle, and I was lucky. My luck lasted less than a month, though.

It was a tough change being placed in the trailers. First of all, they were all the way in back of the building. On cold days, you got cold, on wet days you got wet, and so on and so forth. Sometimes you'd open a trailer to find a sheet of ice on the floor. Sometimes someone would leave the AC at 50, all night, and every desk in the room would be covered in some kind of AC mist. (I'm not sure why so few people understand how thermostats work.) Sometimes a rail would fall off a stairway, and you'd see something that resembled a medieval weapon lying on the ground.

Since I've been chapter leader, I've been bringing UFT health inspectors every year. They come, they find mold, and the DOE does a big song and dance about removing it. The thing is, the geniuses who installed them there placed them on the lowest point on our campus, so there is always water under the trailers. They remove the mold, and it grows back as sure as the sun rises.

Despite all my complaints about the trailers, they're a whole lot better than the crappy half classrooms in our building. It's funny, because there's all that Danielson talk about students being in groups, yet they'll squeeze 30 desks into a space that can barely fit twenty and let the rest of the kids stand, or sit on a windowsill, or take the teacher desk or whatever. Then they come in and complain that the kids aren't in groups.

We also had several rooms that ended up shaped like bowling lanes. I taught in all of them, too. A former principal converted them into computer labs, so that there's a wall of computers on each side of the room. In an overcrowded school like ours, though, a lot of teachers get assigned regular classes in the computer labs. Sometimes when teachers get bad ratings, Boy Wonder supervisors will assign the poorly rated teachers to the computer labs and observe them only in that room.

It's funny though. If I were a supervisor, and if I thought you were a terrible teacher, I'd put you in the very best room in the building. I would figure that, if I were making a case against you, that this would make me look like much less of an asshole. I'd also hope that perhaps this would help you. I'd hope to see something better, because I would get no pleasure out of giving a teacher a bad rating. I get no pleasure in giving students bad grades, so why would that make me happy?

Of course I'm not a supervisor. I've never been drawn to that. However, I am UFT chapter leader of our school. It's a pretty big job. I'm not complaining. I chose this job, and I'm finding in my old age that I am drawn to impossible jobs. I thrive on them.

I was in the trailers for maybe twelve years. I probably got a lot of mileage complaining about them. The rooms I'm in now are worse. When the geniuses from the DOE get up on their high horses about how they love our children, and put them first, I'll ask why they dump them in places like these. It's particularly galling that they do this to ELLs.  It's kind of like what I said about placing troubled teachers in bad rooms. If the students are already hindered by not knowing English, why do you further hurt them by putting them in crap classrooms?

If you run into the mayor or chancellor, ask them. I know if I see them I will.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Happy Labor Day

You remember labor, don't you? That's us, the people who work for a living. Alas, it's traumatic to be a teacher on a day like this. Here we are, having established a rhythm of not working, and we have to re-establish a whole new one. It seems unnatural. For me, it's all about lifestyle. I've gotten into this luxurious habit of sleeping until 6:30 AM. That's gonna change tomorrow.

I haven't used an alarm clock in years, but tomorrow I may have to. As of June I was in the habit of waking ridiculously early, maybe 4 AM. It was the only way I could ever get anything done. I'd usually get to work at least an hour early, which was the only way I could actually do any schoolwork. Even so, people as crazy as I am would come just as early, and sometimes they'd have issues. The thing about us crazy people is we almost always have issues.

I half expect the orange president to get up and declare there is no Labor Day, but rather a corporation day. After all, in our economy, it's corporations that get all the breaks. The GOP tax plan was a huge giveaway to corporations, some of which were already paying nothing or less. Corporations have rights, like they're individuals, and are free to buy politicians like Scott Walker, who target us and make it virtually impossible for us to get ahead.

Of course, things are changing.  Suddenly there's life in the labor movement, and people in some states are getting real traction.

In Missouri, a statewide movement put a referendum on a state right-to-work law on the Primary Day ballot. Not only did voters overwhelmingly overturn the law, but the referendum drew more votes than were cast in the party primaries. Missouri’s unions and labor organizations such as Jobs With Justice led the fight, but in a state where only about 9 percent of the work force is represented by a union, labor had to mobilize plenty of nonunion workers to reject the right to work law. The coalition relied heavily on black and Latino voters, almost certainly benefiting from organizing efforts in the wake of the 2014 Ferguson uprising. 

That's remarkable. It gives me hope on this Labor Day. Of course, that affected only private unions. Public unions have been targeted under Janus, and we don't get a vote on it. Scumbag Janus was bankrolled by corporate interests who don't give a damn about us, and now has a cozy gig at some think tank as a reward. It's a good thing, too, because his former co-workers don't particularly adore him. They threw him a going-away party, but didn't invite him because he's not a union member.

Not only did we not get a vote on Janus, but we didn't even elect the people who pushed it. Consider how many on SCOTUS were appointed by GW and Trump, neither of whom won the popular vote. It's not a huge logical leap to say that the judges they pick are not representative of We, the People. Even as Orange Man's people go down, even as he's an unindicted co-conspirator, even has he withholds 100,000 pages of documents about his SCOTUS pick, his thugs in the Senate are planning to push this through, again bypassing the filibuster with a simple majority.

Even if we dump these scumbags from the Congress and Senate, it will be a long time dealing with the lifetime SCOTUS appointments, probably generations. I'm sorry to be such a bummer on your last day before going back.

I wish you a happy Labor Day anyway. Remember to check your programs very carefully. If you have four preps, if you're in four classrooms, if you got nothing you requested, if you got no C6 you requested, file a grievance. You have only 48 hours to do so. Speak now or forever hold your crappy program. Okay, not forever. But a whole school year with a crappy program is a long time.

Thanks to Harris

Friday, August 31, 2018

The Albany Way

There's a famous quote from Sean Connery's character in The Untouchables when he's schooling young Eliot Ness. He explains the Chicago Way.

He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. 

They don't mess around in Chicago. In Albany, messing around seems to be the number one activity. I mean, Diane Ravitch looks at the amazing test scores, compares them to NAEP, and says that's impossible. The papers declare Ravitch must be out of her mind. The grades went up because of Michael Bloomberg's reforminess, he's a genius, and any damn fool could see that. Otherwise, why would he have all that money?

A year later there's a big scandal. Oh my gosh the tests were dumbed down. It's a disaster. How could this happen? A little later, Reformy John King declares that 70% of the people who take the tests are going to fail, because we aren't Common Corey enough. Then the tests go to Albany, they set the cut scores, and waddya know? 70% failed. I'm pretty sure Arne Duncan looked at the results and declared that white soccer moms had kids who weren't so smart, or something equally stupid at that time.

I'm thinking about this because one of the ways Albany rationalizes the miserable CR Part 154 that robs newcomers of English instruction is by saying more of them pass the test. They're talking about the NYSESLAT test, which is supposed to determine English ability but actually does nothing of the sort. Every year all our kids take the test, and we don't get the results until maybe October.

Can you imagine programming hundreds of kids for classes, only to find out in October that the geniuses in Albany want to send them elsewhere? Every school in the state has to do that, and those of us with large ELL populations really have a hard time with it. That's not to mention, of course, that kids who've been sitting in a classroom for months, studying, taking tests, making friends, are suddenly moved around, likely as not for no good reason at all.

Here's the thing, though--Albany manipulates the scores to say whatever they wish them to. It's not even a secret. We can't give grades to the papers, even the ones we ourselves corrected, because Albany sets the cut scores to say any damn thing they wish. Why are students doing better on the test? Is it because less English instruction causes more English learning? Is that the most absurd question you've seen today? I hope so.

I teach these kids, and have done for years. Here's something I notice as a beginning level teacher--my students know less English than they ever did. Why? Because getting into a higher level is easier, or course. I tend to get really rank beginners now, rather than students who know a little English and need a little push. I also tend to get fewer students. Three years ago there was no space in my classes. Lately there's quite a bit.

Why do you think Meryl Tisch, in her infinite wisdom, declared that teachers could no longer grade state tests of our own students? Tisch assumed because she's a crook, we must all be crooks too. The thing about dishonest people is they tend to expect others to share their dishonesty. I don't do like Tisch does. If I give a test, it actually says how many points you get for each answer. If students don't get the proper credit, they can come and scream at me so I change it.

Of course you can't scream at the geniuses in Albany. For one thing, you'd have to drive there. For another, who knows where your test even is? And even if they found it, the score is whatever they say it is. In fact, you won't find it, you'll never see it, and you'll never know exactly why you got that score, be it good, bad, or whatever. There is absolutely no way you will learn anything from a state test, and that's just fine with the geniuses in Albany.

That's the Albany Way.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Oklahoma Shows We Are Powerful When We Stand Together

NY Magazine ran an amazing article about how Oklahoma teachers stood together and made GOP tools pay for their indifference to education, the voters and their children. This is what happens when working people come together, ignore the blaring noise of those who feel life's purpose is to enrich billionaires, and vote the bastards out. This story is full of wonderfully crafted paragraphs:

Tess Teague mocked the ignorance of protesters who were demanding tax hikes on fracking companies — in a Snapchat video that made heavy use of animal filters. Sooner voters just gave Teague a lot more time to spend with her social media accounts.

I'm really happy to see teachers engaging in such effective collective action. Sadly, the impetus for it was things getting simply so awful that no one could tolerate the job anymore. Pay was so low teachers could not make ends meet. The Republican pigs saw education as a place to cut so as to support their caprices and megadonors.

Here in New York, things are not nearly so bad. I have a friend in a school district just over the Queens line, and he told me top salary over there was within a thousand dollars of NYC. That is not actually a result of our gaining wonderful amazing raises, but rather Cuomo's two-percent tax cap, which has seriously slowed teacher raises in the rest of the state.

Yet we are fractured, with the majority likely wallowing in indifference. No, there hasn't been a mass exodus from union, but neither has there been a massive, focused and well-financed campaign to destroy us. Make no mistake, it's coming. Fred Klonsky posted the photo above on Facebook yesterday. and refers to it as "a waste of stamps."I certainly hope he's right.

There is no doubt whatsoever that our union has become complacent and sleepy after decades of guaranteed dues. Our focus on organizing has been sloppy, indifferent, and bordered on non-existent for decades. It's a new thing to have to reach out and listen. There is a bright side, of course. I don't think we'll see another 2005-style contract, ever. Leadership will have to think very carefully before tossing a giveback-laden piece of crap to us and claiming it scrapes the skies.

On the other hand, after decades of self-congratulatory action, painting absolutely everything as a great victory no matter what, they're going to have to be just a little more introspective. No more can they say Bloomberg wanted 8 pieces of Danielson, but we got 22 so it's a victory, then turn around and say we reduced it to 7 and that's a victory too. No longer can union reps tell aggrieved members they still have a job and therefore everything's okay. No longer can we support pols who hate us and everything we stand for and tell members that's as good as it gets. Old habits die hard.

For my part, I see what the Koch Brothers and the Walmart family want, and they can't have it. They want to tear us apart so we'll have no collective strength. They will succeed with some of us. Some people just see an opportunity to keep a little money and will go with that. I'd argue those people are not socially responsible enough to be teachers. Others will think of past grievances, decide the union sucks, and go that way. I've had people argue to me that their chapter leader sucks, and therefore they shouldn't have to pay. To me, if your chapter leader sucks, you run to replace him, or at least find someone else who will.

I'm irked by people who say the UFT sucks. If that's true, then we suck. In fact, when only 25% of us vote in leadership elections, we kind of suck big time. What kind of role models are we when we don't even give a crap who leads us? So there are a few scenarios here. One is that we allow the corporate giants to get us to leave en masse, watch the collapse of our union, watch our working conditions and pay deteriorate until we are at a point as low as Oklahoma. Then we rise from the ashes like a phoenix, run the corporate bastards from office, and step by step win our way back.

Here's the thing, though. That's not gonna happen. I see the anger of teachers at other places on the net. I don't believe those teachers have the numbers, let alone the voice to become something. I also don't believe the bastards who send this crap will succeed in crippling us. I think leadership is feeling the pressure and needs to continue doing so.

Standing together is a big ask, but we need to find a way to do it. It would be a lot more productive to do from where we are now, rather than wait until we're swirling the drainpipe.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Reforminess Doesn't Work, and Wishful Thinking Isn't Much Better

I'm kind of disappointed to see stories like these anywhere, but reformy Chalkbeat linked to it this morning, so I read it. This piece contends that Chancellor Carranza is "fixated on race." That's a pretty strong way to put it. "Fixated" suggests near-obsession, as opposed to concerned. The implication of the story is that the chancellor cares only about race and doesn't give a golly gosh darn about school quality.

Because "college and career ready" is a thing, the writer goes to it, and suggests that "420 of the city’s 525 high schools" had failed to prep half their students. That's an interesting statistic for a number of reasons. The first that comes to my mind is the relative size of high schools. My school has 4600 students, and does well, while another might have 200 and do poorly, and I mean by any standard.

"College and career ready" is some bizarre formula about getting 75% on this state exam and something else on another. Studies show teacher grades are a better indicator of future student performance, and we're seeing this come up as the test for schools like Stuyvesant is all over the news. The writer has still harsher words for the union and the mayor:

Because no single shortcoming dominates here, no quick fix is possible. Neither de Blasio, who is in charge of the system, nor the de facto commander of the classrooms, United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew, seems to care much.

I haven't been particularly happy with the DOE, ever, and I've been disappointed more than usual lately. My reasons have nothing to do with those of this writer, though. I do not, for one moment, believe de Blasio doesn't care about public schools. And while Mulgrew may be many things, he's far from the "de facto commander" of the classrooms. I'm the de facto commander of my classroom, and if you aren't the same with yours, well, maybe you work for Eva Moskowitz. The statement blames Mulgrew, but implies those of us who do the work every day don't care much either, perhaps at Mulgrew's urging. That's not only insulting--it's also ridiculous.

The writer acknowledges poverty in the piece, to his credit, but kind of dismisses efforts to deal with it. The writer suggests we need to improve standards across the board, and suggests that efforts to integrate schools will somehow distract from it. However, the writer offers no plan to accomplish this. There are a whole lot of active plans in place to do this, the most prominent of which is charter schools. As we watch Eva graduate 20% of the kids who began with her, and hire her 19-year-old non-college graduated son to teach at Moskowitz Academy, she fails to impress.

Reformies never want to address root causes of student failure, the most glaring of which is poverty. This is particularly ironic in NYC, the most liberal area of the state. Even as Andrew Cuomo runs ridiculous ads about how he will protect health care, he enabled the IDC, which has blocked universal health care for years. Cuomo runs commercials about his free college plan, but it actually funds fewer than 4% of our college students, and rejects 70% of those who apply.

The fact is a lot of our students don't get decent health care. A lot of our students are not proficient in English. In fact, none of my students are, and the state is actively exploring programs to give them even less instruction. This writer, who probably knows nothing of the state's idiotic plans, rails against a plan that would find seats for ELLs and homeless children. But hey, they have to sit somewhere.

It's pretty easy to sit in an air-conditioned office somewhere and imply we have to get tough with kids so they have more grit and rigor, or whatever buzz words are in vogue this week. It's a lot tougher to look at root causes and try to address them. This is something we're doing at no level whatsoever. Bill Gates likes to talk about schools in Finland and say we suck next to them. He's right, you know.

The reason Finland does better than we do, though, is not because they turned all their schools into no excuses Moskowitz Academies. It's because they, as a country, decided to address poverty. They also decided that all their kids would go to public schools. Over in Finland, rich people don't pay to keep their children away from kids like yours and mine. If Mayor Bloomberg had to send his kids to public schools he wouldn't have turned them into a reformy lab experiment.

I'd argue it isn't Mayor de Blasio, Michael Mulgrew, you or me who is responsible for student failure in schools. Unless, of course, you hold us responsible for electing people like Cuomo, Bloomberg, Trump, Obama and countless others who waste our time with nonsensical reforminess rather than actually helping the children of America.