Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Great Uncoupling

We have a Blue Senate in NY State, for real this time. Most of the IDC, the fake Democrats, have been toppled and are yesterday's news. I'm particularly happy to see the back of Tony Avella, who presented himself as a bold progressive and sold out to caucus with the Republicans. I worked with UFT to get him elected and he stabbed us in the back. Not only that, but after losing the Democratic nomination he ran as an independent, heedless of the risk a Republican would take the seat. I hope he has to get a real job now, but I suppose the people to whom he sold out have something for him somewhere.

I'm most excited about the possibility we can enable universal health care in our state. The Assembly has passed it four years in a row, and we'll see whether the new Senate follows suit. Not a lot of people know that this was how Canada got universal health care--system by system, province by province. Perhaps our unions and employers could be in charge of supplemental coverage rather than basic coverage. For example, my brother-in-law in Quebec gets free prescriptions and free medical insurance when he travels outside his province as benefits from his union.

What UFT will talk about, and what is much more certain, is a law releasing us from being rated on the basis of test scores. There is a soon to expire moratorium affecting English and math tests, but that doesn't affect high school teachers. I guess the state agreed that those tests were crap but wasn't ready to acknowledge that others were as well.

Actually I'm unfamiliar with a whole lot of state tests, so it's possible some are not crap. I know that the one I'm rated on, the NYSESLAT, is total crap. Right now it's so easy that students who can barely utter sentences in English test out of ESL. For me and my colleagues, that hasn't hurt. We look like geniuses. But we can't depend on that. Right now the Regents need to prove that their system of providing little or no direct English instruction is helping English Language Learners. That's why the test is so easy and meaningless. But that could change.

In fact, we have years of history to suggest change is inevitable. A decade or so ago, it was important to establish that Michael Bloomberg's reforminess was successful. After all, the man had bought Gracie Mansion fair and square, and went so far as to buy a change in the law voters had twice affirmed so he could do so a third time. So naturally, the tests had to be dumbed down to emphasize his educational genius. After all, how could anyone with all that money be wrong?

I distinctly recall Diane Ravitch comparing the NY State tests to the NAEP exams, and saying the tests were definitely rigged. She was written off as a crank, because again, how could Bloomberg be wrong if he had all that money? A year later, the press came around and it was a revelation. They were shocked, shocked, that the test results were not valid.

Then came Common Core, and it was time to get tough and show everyone how stupid we really were. Reformy John King announced that a very low percentage of students were prepared, and waddya know? That very same percentage flunked the test. Now it's pretty well established that when students do well, it's because Michael Bloomberg is a genius, and when they do badly, it's because teachers suck and parents are irresponsible, what with all their opting out and insisting on a voice in how their children are educated.

The only real constant here is that the tests are rigged. And while it's nice that the NYSESLAT makes my colleagues and me look good, there's a very high probability the Regents could rig the test some other way. Then we would look bad and get terrible ratings. So I support the movement to uncouple tests from teacher ratings. Sometimes, believe it or not, it is the students themselves who determine whether or not they pass tests. I have firsthand knowledge of this. The first time I studied geometry, or perhaps the second, I spent the entire semester looking at the girl who sat to my right, while the teacher blathered on about triangles. For all I know, she was the best teacher in the world, but I didn't care about triangles then and I don't much care about them now either.

Some people say that this isn't enough, and that we should junk the entire evaluation law. Those people are right. The law is grounded in a determination to fire teachers, and Andrew Cuomo has said so ad infinitum. In fact he famously called it "baloney" when too few teachers for his taste were rated ineffective. Cuomo justified this by citing the test scores.

So it's a good step to uncouple test scores from teacher ratings. It's not as good as junking the entire system. But at least we're moving in the right direction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Big Ask

At the DA last week, Mulgrew spoke to the evaluation process. He said that it wasn't enough to get fewer observations, and that we had to improve what happens. He's said that both UFT and DOE agree that the current process is meaningless. The UFT position is we somehow have to find a constructive process.

Even as he says that, the DOE resists placing two observations in place now because they've planned out APPR to work the way it works now. It's evidently too much trouble for them to change the number. They're all set to do it this way, so how could they possibly do it any other way? That's precisely the sort of attitude that makes meaningful evaluation such a remote ideal.

And if that isn't enough, the city is rife with terrible administrators. I don't know how many times I've written that people who need to escape the classroom are the worst teachers, and consequently the worst administrators. In my school, none of the administrators teach anymore. They're too busy doing Important Stuff. The fact that they don't consider teaching to be Important Stuff speaks volumes about priorities.

Admittedly, one of the reasons so few of them teach nowadays is the insane evaluation system. My AP supervises 42 teachers. Let's say some are rated highly effective and take three. That still means 150 observations, 150 written reports, and 150 meetings with teachers to discuss them. That's not to mention 42 initial meetings, or any non-evaluative observations she may see fit to do.

Let's say you have another type of administrator, the kind that doesn't bother with non-evaluative observations, because why bother helping anyone? There are quite a few of those floating around. Let's say your administrator is super pissed off about having to do the required amount of observations, because why did he bother getting out of the classroom at 30 if he had to do All This Work?

Let's say you work for one of the scores of administrators I see profiled in the tabloids, who show up late, don't show up at all, falsify observations, have sex with other APs on their desks, and give interminable lectures on the perfidy of teachers at the drop of a hat. Let's say your administrator writes up things that didn't actually happen during your observation because the voices in his head contradicted what was happening right in front of his face. Or perhaps he overindulged the alcohol the previous evening, couldn't focus during the lesson, and just made stuff up. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of administrators?

I've been fortunate to largely have supervisors who are Not Insane, even though I've mostly taught in trailers and glorified closets. A great many of my brothers and sisters have had terrible, outrageous supervision. To make evaluation meaningful, I'm supposing someone would have to outfit Boy Wonder supervisors with souls, not precisely an easy task.

Another possibility would be to hire competent supervisors. There are some of them around. Every good supervisor I've seen or known has been a longtime teacher. People who teach for two years and then leave the classroom are unlikely to know what's going on with career teachers, let alone have the capacity to offer worthwhile advice. Nonetheless, Bloomberg's Leadership Academy made a career out of spitting out instant supervisors. They did this very much like Dunkin Donuts pushes out chocolate glazed, except Leadership Academy made absolutely sure every one of their supervisors tasted like crap.

It's a lofty and worthwhile goal to instill trust and a helpful atmosphere between administration and teachers. It's also a gargantuan task. I'm glad I'm not in charge.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Thank You Regents, for Tying My Hands and Hurting My Kids

The geniuses in Albany have their think tanks. One of the big ideas they've been brandishing has been that the only reason we teach standalone English is to prep students for so-called core classes. I guess they are social studies, math, and science, or ELA, you know, but not English language. That's why, in Regents world, we just take newcomers and make them read To Kill a Mockingbird. Because who has time for beginner stuff anyway?

In case that's not clear enough for you, imagine stepping off a plane in China and being told you were going to read The Great Chinese Novel. You know, that's The Great American Novel, but the Chinese version. That's challenging, because it won't be To Kill a Mockingbird. And here's the thing--even if it were, how the hell would you read it in Chinese? And even if you read it in English, how would you discuss it in class? How would you even know what the teacher was talking about?

In NY State, high school newcomers get one year of 40-minute classes in English. After that, they don't have to get anything. They just plop them in chairs, sit an ESL teacher in the back, and newcomers study math, biology, history, and whatever else the school sees fit to give them. Maybe the ESL teacher will sit in the back for one of those, and that's good enough for the geniuses in Albany.

Here's what they will tell you--they will tell you the system is a success because more students are passing the NYSESLAT, which supposedly places students by their ability. I didn't really grasp the absurdity of that assertion until this year. For most of the last ten years I've taught beginners. I noticed last year that the beginners seemed consistently lower, and that there were fewer of them. This year there were so few of them that we have only one class, so I'm also teaching an advanced class.

I'm teaching a novel in my advanced class. That's what I used to do when I taught advanced classes in the past. Things are different now. It's become clear to me that I have students who can't handle it, and some of them have tested fit for native-level English. Not only that, but I'm reading college entrance letters from them and they are abysmal. These students, who have tested out of ESL, do not know fundamental English grammar or usage. They cannot use simple present or past tense properly. They don't know how to link verbs. They most certainly don't know how to identify or tell an interesting story, but I can't get near that until I get them to write comprehensibly.

That's fine and dandy with the Regents, who sit around their offices and dream up rules for everyone else to follow. The really good thing about it is that even if they fail abysmally, all they need to do is change a cut score here or there and they're geniuses. They've managed to make everyone test out of ESL even if they barely know any English at all! No one's ever been able to do that before!

As for us, the lowly teachers on the ground, we have to give the tests we're given, and if we don't like it, too bad for us. Now here's the thing--though we may appear as geniuses for making them advance on the largely meaningless NYSESLAT exam, we still have to get them to pass the Regents ELA exam. If we have enough of them taking that exam, it's mandatory we be rated on that.

I haven't actually examined the English Regents exam in ten years. I've had my hands full teaching beginners. It's funny, because what the kids in my advanced classes desperately need is what I teach in my beginning classes. I'm not at all sure I'll have the time, though, because I'll be busy teaching them how to pass the ELA Regents exam.

Now anyone who's studied language acquisition will tell you that newcomers have language needs that are totally distinct from those of native speakers. We would tell you that newcomers ought to be taught differently, and eased into academics. We would tell you that comprehensible input is key to all progress or lack thereof. Fortunately, the Regents don't know jack squat about language acquisition, so they're unencumbered by any such quaint notions.

Me. I'll be prepping these kids to pass a test. I could be teaching them English instead. In the long run, that would be much more meaningful to me, and much more valuable to them, It's what I love to do, and it's what I do best. But hey, they can't graduate if they don't pass this test, and my junk science rating will plummet if they don't do well on this test.

As for those college essays, I'll help clean them up as best I can. My priority, though, will have to be getting them ready for that Regents exam. College can wait, and it probably will. My kids will need to take remedial courses, courses I could teach them for free, and it will cost them thousands of dollars to take them for no credit in community colleges.

What utter nonsense.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly November 7, 2018 Puppies and Politics

4:27 Michael Mulgrew calls for moment of silence for victims of recent atrocities.

Mulgrew--We were trying to accomplish two things on election day—work with retirees, get check and balance to block Betsy De Vos. Then was NY State Senate—both done.

Tries not to watch too much TV or social media. Jeff Sessions resigned today—we know it wasn’t planned because President wanted to change media cycle. Will be non-stop rollercoaster in news, we need plans and strategies. We now have the Congress of the US, which is a big deal strategically and a lot of hard work. NY flipped 3, as did NJ.

Florida is tough. We have to keep working on it. Our AFT colleagues work hard but need our help. Only line of offense cannot be retiree chapter. Very important and pivotal state. UFT retirees can’t do all the work.

Today would be very different without Congress. Would be charters and vouchers. Flipped 17 governors including 2 of the worst. Kim Kolhass in tears at 3 AM when Walker lost. Her coalition pushed him out.

Every referendum for funding last night passed. Anti public school referendum in Arizona went down in flames. Nationally, we still have work to do, for pro public school, pro worker agenda. Afterward we will deal with other policies.

In NY State will be 39 Dems 23 GOP, better than expected. Lots of hard work. Reason is COPE dollars and many volunteers. LI and Hudson Valley we have major numbers. We are coordinating with local teachers and NYSUT. Seeing major impact.

NYT asked what this means for charters. I said what do you think? They gave millions every cycle to GOP, we didn’t want them to be our enemies but we have no choice.

Teacher evaluation—last year bill passed in Assembly. GOP held it hostage for 100 charters in NYC and increased funding. Assembly said no, as did we. All of these things are now in play, as well as progressive agenda for NY State.

In this election we wanted to move a progressive agenda, and NY State sent that message last night. Everyone said they would do it but we led the way. Thanks all who helped.

Though one person hasn’t conceded, that’s the cherry on top. To Brooklyn, they all said UFT was only trying to make GOP spend money, but couldn’t win. We never believed that. We understood because Golden wouldn’t support evaluation bill, or speed cameras, and supported charters and vouchers, we went to tenant association. He wasn’t nice to them either. Together we took him out. Will not have that seat anymore. Thanks Ellen Driesen.

Lots of teachers absent today, were up till midnight in Brooklyn. We did it together. Much better than two years ago. This place was in bad shape. We took it one step at a time. First issue was major ed. cut from feds. We stopped that. We protected NY State. We solidified NY State as pro worker pro public ed. Good work last two years, but we still have work to do. We didn’t panic.

In the end we focused as a union, that’s how we make a difference in society. We did that as we faced Constitutional Convention, Janus, we passed paid parental leave and an early contract.

87% of members voted to ratify. Thanks those who held elections in schools and sent 90,000 votes in. Blessing because contract is early. We have time to prepare to implement. We usually don’t get this. Will try to take advantage.

Speaking to chancellor, will form three committees.

Eval—not just about number two. There is a lot. Negotiating position is eval. is useless or punitive. DOE agreed it was busy work and not meaningful. If we want it meaningful, we need to take responsibility. Some members like it meaningless. We have to own it to make it meaningful. Imagine how many more teachers we could keep, who would prosper, if it were meaningful.

We have cycles. Will be two a year, September to January. Would like cycle two on February 1st. We will have to have training for that. Imagine one day, you’re in auditorium, admin is sitting with you, discussing true purpose of eval, and what process would make it meaningful. How can we be more effective, how can they better help people?

10 hands agree in hall of hundreds.

Can you imagine principal sitting through this? DOE has tech issues. Their system is a dinosaur. First we need to work out other parts.

Bronx plan
—not just Bronx. We will begin work on it. We are looking for high collaboration indexes, staff feels it’s good school but faces challenges. Schools don’t do this unless UFT agrees. Chancellor agrees, doesn’t want to waste time. Wants schools that will work in teams and make a difference. High collaboration numbers, 3x more likely to effect student achievement.

Operational—Everyone has to get right in schools. This is the tool you need. CLs need to make sure this is working to fix whatever big issues are going wrong.

Teacher Union Day—1500 attendees, award winners, thanks all.

Asks who is at second DA. Thanks new attendees.

Karen Alford—would like to make motion. As owner of new puppy, moves we be allowed to bring puppies to DA as comfort dogs. As many of us take MTA, we have stressful commutes. If we drive we have parking. By this time we are stressed out. With puppies, anxiety levels would go down.

Point of order—You’re taking motions during President’s report?

Mulgrew—We are just demonstrating. Karen doesn’t actually have a puppy. If chair recognizes, you give name and support.

Janella Hinds—wants to amend. Would like us to bring puppies and kittens. Important for those of us who love cats. Asks for support.

Richard Mantel
—Calls question.

Mulgrew—should call all questions before house, because that was just the amendment. Some people don’t get to speak. Would ask if someone wants to speak against or for. I get emails. We didn’t debate enough. You’re a tyrant. Body decides.

Asks in favor.

Body rejects cats.

Mulgrew—-can see headline—UFT hates cats.

Body rejects dogs too. Your correspondent is shocked.

Mulgrew—I get complaints debate is too short and too long. This is what UFT debate is like. Hope you come back. Did not see puppies and kittens going down.

Asks delegates to sign up for text messages.

Jonathan Halab
i wants to see Rachel. Is she real? Mulgrew says she’s upstairs texting.

Mulgrew—UFT is there for children, and we are doing a drive for a thanksgiving celebration to give winter coats. We are taking money and new winter apparel.

Richard Mantel—We will pick them up from you at borough offices. We have 200 students in temporary housing, we give them meals, activities, and clothes that fit. We deliver leftovers to shelters. Kids are very appreciative.

Janella Hinds—World AIDS Day Dec. 1st, we have a poster contest. HS students can create artwork. Please get it back to us by November 15. We also are collecting for WIN, Women in Need. We support HS students too. Give them time away from shelter. On way out, please whatever you can donate.

Mulgrew—If you will volunteer, please do. Coalition for homeless has much work.

Karen Alford—Wants to coordinate holiday party for 200 children, please collect toys for them for December DA. They get to see Santa, be kids, have fun. We also give to shelters.

Mulgrew—Super Saturday, December 1st, for new teacher program. Day of wellness. How are new teachers doing so far? (I hear multiple vulgarities.) We’ve all been through it. Nice to have a day like this. Please get new teachers here. It’s getting to be that time.

Last, holds up poster on history of UFT. Asks to bring back to schools. Let DR know if you need them. While colleagues are losing, we continue to gain. These are things that improve education. Today is an historic day. November 7 is 58th anniversary of first UFT strike. That was because we wanted to become first teacher union to have collective bargaining.

Now some people are having it taken away. Asks founders to stand. Much applause.

LeRoy Barr—Wishes happy anniversary. Celebrating 100% attendance for delegates. 2019 HS Awards, 5th year, Friday April 12. Nominations due by Dec. 14. Next DA Dec. 12.


Q—New contract, has retaliation language—what should we be doing if we have that happening to prove that?

A—First, don’t file case until right is active. Grievance Dept. will make guidelines, will work with DOE. Some are 30 days after ratification—we want this there. Document it now, but don’t file until we have right.
Q—Mentioned we only had one snow day, Why so few?

A—Where holidays fall—contract says we report Tuesday after Labor Day, and school ends June 28. We love diversity, recognize it, so slowly we added more holidays. Now we have complete agreement that we cannot add any more holidays, unless we come earlier or work less. I want St. Patrick’s Day, but it is what it is. There is model where we have no snow days, once every seven years. Anyone want to give up a holiday? City always asks us to give up February break. I say no, and what’s it worth? We paid for that years ago, and that’s the end of it.

Q—Last week was violent altercation, colleague tried to help. What is role of CL in incidents?

A—First, were all safety plan procedures followed? CL can’t do job alone. We have safety liaisons. We’ve gotten along with DOE on safety. You break up fights to stop students from being harmed. Someone needs to know rules. Many times rules not followed.

Jeff Povalitus—You need to report incidents to union. OORS system not transparent. We don’t get that. We have our own mechanism at uft.org. Someone will follow up.

Q—Follow up on OORs—you said CLs would have access. Can you elaborate?

A—Will be available, perhaps with redactions. 48 hours before safety meeting, you will get copy of OORS info so you can prepare.

Q—Parking permits—some of them will soon expire.

A—Get info to Howard Schoor. hschoor@uft.org.

Q—Can instructional coaches meet with staff?

A—Depends. You have your preps. Protect the prep. It’s yours. Professional periods, school may have SBO, talk to district rep.


LeRoy Barr—for this month. Asks if you have copy. Res to support racial and economic justice, support various groups that support social justice. (Reads too fast for me)


Res. UFT stands with OT PT chapter and supports their struggle for fair contract


OT PT chapter member—motion for next month—Moves UFT emails members they stand with OT PT chapter against anti union forces. Our chapter members don’t have similar salary to teachers, city said no to all demands. Want to stay strong.


Res 1 Janella Hinds—Motivates condemnation of Kavanaugh hearing—Hard to say Me Too for shame and ridicule, Dr. Ford passed through all of that fear and recalled sexual assault at 15. Nominee responded with partisan anger, prez ridiculed her. As K-12 educators we can contribute toward positive atmosphere. We must create respectful and safe environment. Need it from politicians too. Asks for support.

Antonio Jacobs
—point of information—looking at resolution wants to know if there was collaboration with office of equity and access.

Mulgrew—Yes there has.


Mel Aaronson—I was involved in the strike. Michael talked about it so I will not repeat what he said. Teachers had no right to go to employer and ask for improvements. We wanted to have rights similar to other unions. We wanted to have discussion—collective bargaining. We had a new organization. UFT was only a few months old. We were led by first president of UFT, Charles Cogen. We all have to thank him. They told him no. He came to members and said this is so important that we should strike for it. Thousands of members agreed. We went out on strike November 7th.

Discussions went on, and at end of second day, recommendation was—we have agreement for collective bargaining if teachers of NYC vote for it. Was accepted by members. Thousands risked their jobs. Less than a week ago, we agreed to contract which included many of our demands. Please recognize first strike and its heroes, leadership and membership.

Barbara Silverman
—Feels connected. Was HS senior. Dr. Gold stayed at door speaking to colleague. Said she can’t strike on Monday. I’m going on strike. Wife is going out. Do not know if I will have a job on Monday. Said he apologized. Should not have said that, and you cannot tell anyone. You have to come. We have to be missed.

Monday when I showed up I watched teachers walk around. It was snowing. They were out there and back on Wednesday. Felt I was part of it. 5 years later I became a UFT member.

OT/ PT chapter member—Rises in support. Our collective bargaining group voted no. While our brothers and sisters will reap benefits, we will not. I sympathize with colleagues who said no, but it was city who said no, just as they did to Charlie. Urges you support resolution and us.

Dave Pecoraro—calls question

Passes unanimously

Rich Mantel
—Marriott largest owner and operator of hotels in world. Pays many workers garbage. In 7 cities on strike because pay, benefits lousy, and eliminating jobs. We need to support them. My sister works for them and is paid crap. We need to support this resolution and these workers. Please vote in favor.

Dave Pecoraro—Adds resolved—Urge fellow unionists in professional sports not to cross picket line. Yankees crossed picket line in Boston and deserved everything they got.


Resolution as amended passes

Mulgrew—Not going to get all res. done.

Motion to extend for 15 minutes—


Mulgrew thanks us for donation $3500.

Raffle 5:58 

Monday, November 05, 2018

UFT Executive Board November 6, 2018--He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken Not Responsible for Toxic Hate

6 PM—Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us.


President coming, not here.

Staff director coming, not here.

Reports from districts

Rashad Brown—November 7 after DA—happy hour with pride committee at Suspenders around corner

Tom Murphy—RTC—NY—Active calling for Tish James, working on NJ congressional districts. hoping to flip three districts, hopeful for Menendez. Phone banking, bus trips for canvassing, In FL, for governor and Senate candidates. Active for Stacy Abrams in GA. Luncheon Nov. 20.

Serbia Silva—Were three tragedies in one school, but staff is appreciative of union support.

LeRoy Barr—Thanks for turnout, 1400 at Teacher Union Day. Congratulations to honorees, don’t forget to vote yes on prop 1. DA on November 7th, actual strike day, hoping to commemorate it, celebrating 100% attendance, Next EB November 19.

Michael Mulgrew—Thanks everyone for Teacher Union Day, award winners, thanks staff. Tomorrow is huge day. Working hard all over, Lots of phone banking. Don’t take it for granted. Thousands of colleagues working in two different states. This is a great thing we can do, due to dedication of retirees. Amazing what they’ve been doing. Will see what happens tomorrow, looking at Congress Senate and NY Senate.

NYSUT working with us. Keeping the eye on the prize and being as strategic as possible. Not all about President, all about us getting our work done. Making sure we can get out vote. We need to focus on work now. Many of these will come down to small number of votes. Our hard work can turn NY Senate seats.

Contract ratified by 87%. Count finished Sunday morning. Got all ballots counted. Meeting tomorrow with chancellor. Trying to finalize timeline. Operational things about collaborative workplace. Retaliation and harassment language, Bronx plan chancellor wants.

More to evaluation than just number 2. Goal is to try and come up with agreement to change culture of school system around evaluation. Will require planning and training. No final agreement, but will meet tomorrow. Hopes to have news at DA. Thanks everyone, let’s keep fingers crossed and have good night tomorrow.


Arthur Goldstein—I think I’m speaking for tens of thousands of teachers here. We’ve just passed a contract for teachers that features fewer observations. I believe the large margin of victory has a lot to do with that.

I also recall hearing that a few of the DOE’s favorite parts of this contract will be placed into effect before next year. Cooperation is a two way street.

Since the DOE agrees fewer observations are necessary, and since we also agree that fewer observations are necessary, we should enact fewer observations immediately. It’s early November, and there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Can we work toward this? If you need help I volunteer.

Schoor—We’ll put you in charge of that committee.

Goldstein--Thank you Howard. Let me write that down.

Jonathan Halabi—I hope anti harassment is up for early enactment. My school is in leased site, like several others. We have a standard operating procedure issue—principal cannot discard things. We have broken things everywhere. It can’t just be us. What’s the resource for the union.

Schoor—We will contact DOE on your behalf.

Serbia Silva—Health and Safety facility—there is dropbox for principal in portal to request dumpster.

Halabi—Can we get divisional turnout contract numbers?

Schoor—We will, last election was 77%, this is up. Norm was with us on Friday.

Norm Scott—Great lunch

Schoor—We waited, but they didn’t start counting until Saturday. Happy we stayed and counted all ballots. Same amount of votes but higher yes vote by 10%.

—Would like to hear about how we support OT and PT.

Schoor—We will work with them and meet with each chapter. Optimistic about turning it around. That is strength of union that individual chapters vote. May be a risk but gives voice to chapters. We surveyed functional chapters and met with them. Met with DOE and them on several conditions. Got what we could, were no givebacks. Approval numbers showed this.

Kate Martin—Are we setting something up to make sure paras aren’t being suspended without pay? With some shady things that happen, will we keep track of any sudden spikes in that or retaliatory pieces that may occur?

Ellen Procida—We’re well aware of possibilities. Have been in discussions to prevent and monitor them.

Schoor—Answer is yes, and we are also watching those out on suspension.

Martin—Should we give CLs a heads up?

Schoor—We can do that. 

Legislative report—Paul Egan
—Eagles neither won nor lost, but Washington did. More importantly Chelsea won.

There are also politics going on. Please get out and vote. People have won by very small margins. Your vote matters. Get everyone out, all your family members and kids. Things are looking good. Anna Kaplan in Nassau will be close, but if absentee ballots are indicative, she will do well. Will be close. James Goren looking good. But don’t sit at home. Anything can change if you don’t show up. In 22nd it will rain. If young people turn out, 8,000 new voters, Golden will lose. if we win this, it’s all over for GOP. Brooks is necessary hold, in tight race but may squeak it out. If all goes right, could be four pickups. Could be five. Opportunities elsewhere.

Resolution to support striking Marriott workers—

Janella Hinds—Supports. Many of us have spent time in hotels. None of the work can happen without those who assure space is clean, safe, food served. Marriott refuses to bargain in good faith with 7,000 workers. Important we stand together.

Tom Murphy—Spoke with head of hotel workers, said he would rather have us in than out—How would it affect us in Brooklyn?

Hinds—No one on strike in NY.

Passes unanimously

Resolution to unite with orgs against toxic political atmosphere

Anthony Harmon—Some people are guilty but all of us are responsible We need to stand in solidarity with orgs speaking out. Please support as is.

Jonathan Halabi—Glad it came forward. Offers amendment.

UFT stands…against toxic political atmosphere—substitute hate speech including provocative rhetoric of President Trump which has contributed to the toxic political atmosphere…

—We have responsibility to stand against this but also to name those responsible, including hate monger in chief. We know where it comes from.

Stuart Kaplan—I understand where you’re coming from, but rising against it. Not first time these things have happened. Happened before and after Trump. Don’’t want to give him the attention. Want to educate one another this talk is unacceptable. Don’t want to say he’s the cause of it. He’s not. People have spread this talk before.

Question called.

Vote on Amendment


Main motion


We are adjourned 6:45

Sunday, November 04, 2018

UFT Contract Overwhelmingly Passes

This has been a pretty strange trip for me, but I went the way I had to go. I was part of negotiating the teacher contract and fewer observations mean less stress. As someone who actually works in a classroom every day, and as someone who represents a whole lot of others who do the same, I can tell you less stress is something we've needed more than money for some time now.

I'm pretty surprised at some of the criticism of this contract. I understood why, in the past, there were things to complain about. I understand why there are still things to complain about. This notwithstanding, I do not follow how we are supposed to move the contract back twenty years, and also get a higher raise, at no cost to anyone.

Most everything is negotiable, I suppose. I also suppose we could get rid of some of the onerous factors of the 2005 contract if we really wanted to. One way would be to forgo money. We'll take a smaller raise if you do this. Personally, I would've been more than willing to forgo a raise if we could've lowered class size. I was in the minority on that in the Contract Committee, though, and I'm certain I'd be in the minority of rank and file as well. In fact, I'm not at all convinced rank and file would vote to forgo a raise for any reason whatsoever.

Sure, we could go on strike. We'd appear a whole lot differently to the public, though, than teachers in West Virginia who need to choose between doctor visits and gas for their cars. I don't see a whole lot of public sympathy for teachers striking in NYC in 2018. In fact, I don't imagine rank and file would vote that up either. 

The 05 contract was an abomination. It was a huge tactical error and it set the path for a lot of what's wrong now. The givebacks were a mistake, and they weren't worth the money. On the other hand, if I'm in the DOE and you want to take them back, I will offer them out for a price. You want to get rid of the ATR? I want to give you less money. You want to grieve file letters? I want to give you even less money.

It's easy to tear things down. I revel in tearing things down when they merit it. The current agreement, I keep saying, is not a panacea. I don't expect every problem to go away. I don't expect it to solve every issue in every corner of New York City. What I see in it is a serious improvement in working conditions for a very large percentage of my brother and sister teachers. I see a long overdue improvement in status for those who work as paraprofessionals.

No, I don't expect the contract to cure every ill in this huge unwieldy system. It's funny that critics demand we not only do that, but also get more money. It's funny that none recall exactly what we had to do to break the pattern, which, again, we did back in 05. Current critics seem to want us to break the pattern, have no givebacks, and also take back all the givebacks they (and I) complained about in the past.

Now I'm not Michael Mulgrew, and I'm not part of leadership. If I were, my thoughts would be something like this--I will never make these people happy, no matter what I do. They demand everything, and they offer nothing in return. Why should I make concessions to them when everything I concede will be rejected as not enough?

Speaking for myself, I was part of the UFT Executive Board that pushed for parental leave. I thought winning it was a great victory. Members in my building were jubilant. Those of us who wouldn't be able to take advantage were very happy for those of us who would. From the opposition, I read pages of nitpicking and invidious arguments. I certainly understand there are pros and cons of various ways of doing this. My understanding is that UFT wanted to achieve fully paid leave and that's why we went this way.

I see a 100% chance that if we'd gone with the state model of partially paid leave, the same critics who lambast the current program would be screaming that it isn't fully paid. They'd be demanding that UFT achieve something fully paid. You could certainly make that argument if that's what you're determined to do.

Speaking for myself again, I was part of the UFT Contract Committee. I did indeed push for two things--a reduction in class sizes, and fewer observations for teachers. I did my best in the class size committee. I went with prepared arguments, and it was easy to improvise others when questioned. When the DOE asked me how I'd pay for lower class sizes, I told them I'd put all the ATR teachers to work. They said well, we can't place a teacher from Brooklyn in Queens. I told them if I were an ATR from Brooklyn, I'd leap at the opportunity to work at Francis Lewis High School, and why don't they just ask? At that point, the same guy who asked me the question told me we were off topic and refused to take it further.

On the other hand, I happen to know that Michael Mulgrew personally pushed for two observations. I saw him tell the DOE that was what we wanted. In the end we won this, something I've read a million times on blogs that we needed, and something people have told me to my face they wanted for years. We now have fewer observations for a huge number of working teachers. I believe this affects the overwhelming majority of tenured teachers.

Of course, that's not enough. People who didn't come in summer days to work on the Contract Committee say it isn't enough. I now know I did my level best and it isn't good enough. I now know that whatever improvements we make in the future won't be good enough either. Those people who never show up to Exec. Board, who couldn't be bothered with the Contract Committee have a very clear idea of what we should be doing, and that is whatever they want, whenever they want, and however they want. We should get all that and give up nothing.

I would be for that, actually. But I'm also for what works on this particular astral plane. History says we beat the pattern via givebacks. I don't want to do givebacks anymore. I want to move in the direction this contract propels us, and I want to find other ways to improve our working conditions. That's my priority.

That's what I will continue to work for.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Don't Forget to Vote

We're at a turning point in America, and I'd argue here in NY State as well. We've mostly rid ourselves of the fake Democrats who caucused with the GOP in the State Senate, and we have a great opportunity to turn the Senate blue on Tuesday. This is very significant because each year our Assembly votes to pass universal health care for New Yorkers, but it lingers and dies in the Senate.

There are so many levels on which this is important. I've taken this issue to heart ever since I was in college. The father of a person I worked with went broke paying his wife's medical bills. He had to sell his house to settle. He moved into the basement of his son's house, and one Christmas Eve he blew his brains out with a gun. I learned that other countries covered people for medical bills, and that people in those places didn't go bankrupt over catastrophic medical emergencies.

About ten or twelve years ago I had a job playing with a bluegrass band in Pennsylvania. We played in this really cool old theater, and they sent us out to lunch in a nearby restaurant. I won't say the name of the band we opened for, and most readers probably won't recognize it anyway, but I will say that there were four people in the band and the only one who wasn't obese was the banjo player. I remember we sat together, and I remember we both ordered Ruben sandwiches.

Even more clearly, I remember that was a Sunday, and a few days later I heard that banjo player had died. He'd had chest pains but didn't want to pay the thousands of dollars it would've cost him to go to the ER. Of course that was a terrible decision. I can tell you for sure, though, that playing the banjo is not the optimal route to making a good living in America these days, or probably ever.

I don't know if New York can muster the heart to do this. I know it was tried in deep blue California and Democrats somehow blocked it. I'm not confident Andrew Cuomo, a shoo-in for reelection, will get behind it. It's possible, though. Cuomo is trying to rework himself into Bernie Sanders Lite, and has to act like he cares about stuff like health care and working people. This could be a good time for this.

If New York can make this happen, perhaps California will follow. And if we do this, it's possible that people in red states will tire of having no insurance. This, in fact, is how Canada got guaranteed health care for all its citizens. They don't have a national health care system, but rather each province has its own.

This would be a benefit to union workers as well. Why do we need to negotiate health care? Why do we need to worry about co-pays, and this plan or that? If there were a basic health care guaranteed to all who lived here, maybe we could negotiate on extras or something. My brother-in-law in Quebec is in a union, and all his prescriptions are paid for. He also receives insurance whenever he comes to vist us in America as a union benefit.

It's time for the pendulum to swing back toward us. The uber-rich have been having a great party with the ethics-shmethics president. While he pretends to be a conservative, it's time for us to make Cuomo not only pretend to be a liberal, but also to act on it. This may be our moment.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Noisy Girl

She used to sit with her friends and never, ever listen. Not only that, but her friends never, ever listened either. This was problematic, so I had to move her seat. This was pretty helpful to her friends.

In our half room, we have these tables of four. On the positive side, groupwork is kind of automatic. On the minus side, with this group, if I had a real classroom, I'd move them into rows so they could focus a little better.

Actually I don't love placing kids in rows. Give me half a chance and I'll place students in half a circle. I actually like it when they communicate. But it's got to be directed somehow. If I want chaos, I can always go to New Jersey. I don't usually do that, though, unless someone pays me.

So I moved the girl again. Now she sits with a boy who doesn't speak her first language. I've got her using English all the time. I am a genius. Well, perhaps not. Now, she talks to me. All the time. It doesn't matter what's going on. She has a question. She has a problem. She needs to do something, and she needs to do it right now.

I ask her to go to the board and she doesn't want to. It's not convenient right now. I tell her lots of things are not convenient, and she knows instantly I'm threatening to call her house. She's a quick learner. Only that's really not what I want her to learn.

I'm her English teacher, and I want her to learn English. She will, of course, with my help or without it. She's very verbal, and she will talk to anyone and everyone. People like her are the best language learners there are. Only her grades are kind of meh. 74 on this, 72 on that. The thing is, if she would focus, a little bit, it would be 95, 100, whatever. No one's smarter than she is. She just doesn't know it.

I could tell her, I guess, but I'm not sure that would help. She might interpret that to mean she merits even more of my attention. The problem is right now she's demanding 100% of it. This is inconvenient for me because I have over 20 other students. She hasn't noticed that, or maybe, doesn't deem it important. After all, attention needs to be paid, by me, right now, and every minute after that, just because.

It's pretty hard to find a compromise here. Okay. You want all of my attention. How about we make a deal? I will give you maybe 5 percent and you will allow me to deal with the other students in the room the rest of the time. No? 6 percent? That's my final offer, and it's really more than I ought to be offering.

I know there is a way to deal here. I know there is a solution. I just don't know what it is yet. Maybe tomorrow I'll go in and nail some tables and chairs to the ceiling. If she refuses to sit in them, I'll try sitting in them myself. That would certainly get everyone else's attention.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

41 Kids in Half a Room

I'm on a quest to make the least commercial music on earth, so I'm writing songs about my work as a teacher. My latest tune is called 41 Kids and you can listen to it here. I've taught classes of 50 or more several times. In fact, when I first arrived at Francis Lewis High School, one of my classes was at 53. We had a coordinator who told me she would get me materials. She didn't, and blamed a paraprofessional for not copying them. Fortunately, I didn't know or trust her, so I brought my own.

I taught music for one semester at John F. Kennedy High School. It was my second semester of teaching. I was sent there by a secretary who was going to send me somewhere else. At the time, I'd heard Kennedy was better. She decided to be nice and sent me there at my request. But when I got there, they didn't need an English teacher.

"What can you teach?" asked the APO.

Social studies?" I figured it was mostly words, and if I read ahead of the kids I'd be okay.

"No we don't need a social studies teacher. Anything else?"

"How about music?" I asked.

"Yes we need a music teacher," he said. "Go down to the first floor and talk to the AP."

I remember this AP. He was very different from the one I'd just had, who was so uptight I thought if anyone touched her she would break. He gave me a stern lecture about how I was not to mess with the schoolgirls. I wondered if that had anything to do with the opening.

I gave him my best promise that I wouldn't mess with the schoolgirls.

"OK then," he said. "Fake it till you make it."

I proceeded to do just that. He gave me two guitar classes and three music survey classes. The music survey classes were pretty tough. That was because there were 50 kids in a class, and in fact there still are. In our school, admin has simply done away with them. That's because this was where you'd get stuck to pick up a music credit if you weren't really interested in music.

I taught a lot about jazz, which made my class different from that of the other person teaching it. She taught all about classical music. While I don't think any of the students liked any of the classes, I got word that they hated my class less than they hated hers. I was honored, of course.

No one should teach teenagers in classes of 50, anywhere. Actually, 34 is pushing it pretty hard. I've lived through every part of this song, though not at the same time. Once again, it's right here.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Kinky Boots, the Rubber Room, and Me

I belong to a TDF sponsored program that sends my students to the theater each year. It took me years of applying, writing, and begging, but I'm really glad I was finally able to get in.

For the last two years, we've seen Wicked, which I love. There's a lot of work involved in taking ELLs to Wicked. First of all, it's based on The Wizard of Oz, and none of them have even heard of it. So I had to show them the whole film, explain it, and then give them enough background on Wicked that they could follow it.

Kinky Boots is easier in one way. They don't need a whole lot of background to understand this particular story. However, it entails a whole lot of cross-dressing, which I'm concerned will bring up a whole lot of prejudice. A lot of students from other countries have quite conservative backgrounds. It's too bad because I'm sure they, like everyone, have their share of various orientations. Who knows how many of them are hiding?

That's not my business as much as teaching tolerance. TDF expects me to give two lessons related to the show, and I guess that will be my goal. I can give them a brief idea of the plot, but I need them to focus on what's happening and somehow preclude their being judgmental. I also have to do this in such a way that keep me out of the rubber room. The show itself is not graphic or anything. A friend suggested it's very PG, and I agree with that.

All my students are victims of prejudice, what with Orange Man in the White House, even if he says some may be good people. He trashes Mexicans, he trashes Muslims, he laments about shithole countries, even as his supporters send bombs to his opponents, march as Nazis and who knows what else. I'm going to try to make them understand prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination.

I will first focus on how there are people who hate us, every one of us, for our nationality, our religion, our color, our gender, or whatever. I'll then introduce the idea of people with various sexual orientations and hope they will see it's no different. It's tough because I sometimes hear a stray comment, where one boy makes fun of another, saying something like, "You have a boyfriend."

A student surprised me the other day. Mma Ramotswe, the lady detective in the book The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, is always saying awful things about men. Men are always running after women, she says, and there are always women in bars willing to go with these men. Doesn't that make women just as bad as she says the men are, I asked?

The student said yes, women are always making problems. That's why he was going to marry a man. I was pretty surprised that the students failed to react to that. Maybe homophobia is dead in that room. I don't know. On the other hand, they boy who said that made a pretty huge generalization about women. I'd rather see people go for pure cynicism and think that no one whatsoever is any good. Then there's no discrimination.

I'm a little concerned, but I think I can do a good job. Maybe I can teach students something other than schoolwork for a change. If you haven't seen the play, you really should. It's life-affirming and funny. I didn't love the soundtrack when I just listened to it, but after seeing the show I really like it a lot. I've seen it available on TDF.

If anyone has any teaching tips, I'm open.

Monday, October 29, 2018

UFT Executive Board October 29th--Contract Voting Results Will Be Released Sunday

6 PM  Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us.

No speakers


President is not here.

David Kazansky—Last week has been horrific and violent, from pipe bombs to president’s opponent, to two innicents shot in Kentucky, to Tree of Life Synagogue. Asks for moment of silence.

Staff Director’s Report—LeRoy Barr—Sunday is Teacher Union Day. Carmen Alvarez receiving Charles Cogen Award. Asks for votes on November 6. Ballots important. Upcoming resolution on a ballot proposition. Contract voting in progress. Wants ballots by Wednesday. Count on Friday. Bronx Parent Conference coming. DA Nov. 7th. Next Exec Board Nov. 5th.


Mike Schirtzer—Were also verbal attacks by Pres. against migrants, Muslims, Central Americans—DOE has respect for all policy—Can we push chancellor and DOE to make sure they push this policy, perhaps backpack it, considering what’s going on?

Schoor—We will work on that.

Arthur Goldstein—When I was a little boy, we went to the World’s Fair in Queens. They had push button phones and they were amazing. I’ll bet in 1970, when they were installed in UFT offices, they were incredible.

I’m particularly concerned about this because we need to turn our State Senate blue. You probably know that the legislature has passed universal health care for our state each of the last few years, only to have it drop dead in the Senate. We’ve resolved to support universal health care.

In Canada, that’s how they did it. They enacted health care province by province. If we take the first step in New York, maybe California will follow, and someone in Kentucky will wonder why they don’t have it. What would it take to bring our calling centers into the twenty-first century?

Jonathan Halab
i—Thanks for speaking about Louisville and Pittsburgh. Hopes to make a more general statement or resolution.

—Mulgrew had press statement.

—Sentiment is important to put forward. I’m member of UFT Caucus. I support contract, but I’ve heard people voting no have had difficulty putting literature in boxes. Want to make sure, before elections, that DRs get copy of Baserman decision. Says people within school may put teacher caucus material in boxes at any time.

—We have that policy, and last election Mr. Barr took care of it. We will continue.

KJ Ahluwalia—ATR numbers this year compared to last? How do we stand in terms of class violations?

Schoor—UFT paper says class size is down.

Mike Sill—Didn’t bring last year’s number. These are pre-October 15th numbers, Were 800 last year, but now is 874. Expect it will be lower soon.

Schoor—New contract talks about ATRs, and placement, if passed, will begin in September

Michael Mulgrew—Says this week is Teacher Union Day. Would like to celebrate school communities, 100% union and others. This is an election week for us. Tom Murphy isn’t here, but we are becoming more active outside, and are working in NC, NJ, FL. Keep plugging away, please thank them. It’s tough out there. FL Governor race is ugly. We are on front lines. Since Sunday is Teacher Union Day—should we hold election results to Sunday for Teacher Union Day? If we do that, observers must sign confidentiality.

Moved and seconded.

Kate Martin—concerned because members of DA worry over lack of transparency. May alienate people, think they’re holding something, and it might be a bad look.

Arthur Goldstein— I would like to know as soon as possible.

Delores Sozuponi—Thinks celebrating on teacher union day by releasing then is better.

Question called.

Ayes have it, will be released Sunday.

Mulgrew—Still negotiating with DOE about timeline implementations. Major issues are operational committee and para due process. Last week para was suspended without pay due to allegation. Hope to conclude by Friday. Having early contract not norm. Will put out info after contract vote.

Thanks people on campaigns. Very big deal to win Senate. Have to get law changed on test scores being part of evaluation. Don’t want to extend moratorium, want law changed. Need to say NY cannot mandate test scores in teacher evaluation. Thanks everyone doing political work.

Schoor—thanks Executive Board for maintaining confidentiality during Contract Committee. DOE may not be able to, but we can.

Reports from Districts—

Sterling Roberson
—Reports on CTE HS fair Saturday at Westinghouse HS. Many teachers and schools came out. 500 teachers and students, thousands of parents, despite rain. Thanks all.

Paul Egan—Eagles and Chelsea won, ruined by Red Sox winning series.

There are a number of races in the Senate, only one in city we may flip is Marty Golden. We have done a lot of work there. Thanks those working on campaign. Polls are mixed. Brand new voters may be key. Doing phone banks. Working with outside people. Have 73 in district alone. Higher turnout with younger voters, we win. 6,000 members in district.

Have shots in other parts of state—Goren may take Marcelino seat. Bill Larkin’s been in seat for long time, and he was getting democratic vote. Good will doesn’t transfer to current candidate. Looks like another pickup.

Anna Kaplan/ Elaine Phillips is tossup. Turnout could change things. Few of our Suffolk members vote, but we could be up 4 to 6. John Brooks is at risk, but is doing better. Upstate seats also in play.

November 6th is Election Day. Vote to flip Senate.

—Flanagan says NYSUT is evil. COPE money going to our candidates.

Resolution condemning Kavanaugh Confirmation Process

LeRoy Barr—Not about fact that process took place—about what happened during process. Was a sham. Fact that there was an attack on assault survivor is outrageous. We believe survivors. Important we write this and condemn process, and disbelieving survivors. Asks you vote for this.

Kate Martin—Corrects typo in second whereas.

Schoor—Editorial change, done.

Passes unanimously.

Resolution to celebrate 58th anniversary of first UFT strike

George Altamari
—This is a holy recommendation to all those in UFT, in labor, all those who want greater freedom, greater justice. Would’ve been failure without organization, dedication of those who came with merger. Was momentum Action through Unity and Teachers Guild. Were stuck at 1000 members. Together, we had 3,000 out of 50,000 and we had chutzpah to merge. Went into Spring term, Mayor Wagner gave in, and we called off a strike in 1960.

We had time to analyze what we did. When we prepped for first strike we had courage to be tested, but didn’t have a system to turn 3K members into majority of 50K teachers. Used Delaney Cards. District reps were originally chairs, unpaid. We gave them special Delaney cards. Entered with six promises, including right to collective bargaining. Had no lunch period, needed doctor notes to be sick. No class size regs.

When we didn’t get six promises, we voted for merger, for strike. Picked day before Kennedy’s election. We knew we would be fired, but we would see if Democratic Party would help. Law said you lose job and any chance of getting it back. Had 3K of 50K and tackled giants. Relied on those who organized school by school. You could see with Delaney cards who was picketing what.

We hoped to hear from Democratic Party. We didn’t. We were paying half for medicine. We had to strike even though we were fired, and we were. We decided no strike is ever lost, and went on to win.

Passes unanimously.

NYC Charter Amendment proposals

Paul Egan—NYC charters have three pieces on back of ballot. One is three are on back of ballot. Want to encourage members to vote. Recommend first proposal we vote yes. Would reduce amount any one person or organization can give, give voice to small donors and working people.

Passes unanimously

We are adjourned 6:55.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Get Us Two Observations, UFT!

You sing 'em the blues
And then they ask for a happy tune
And when you start to smile they'll say gimme dat rhythm and blues
And when you give 'em dat rhythm and blues they'll simply smile and say
We didn't want to hear you play
We didn't like you any way...

~Ray Davies

I keep hearing that lyric. It reminds me a lot about the number of observations. People everywhere said there were too many observations. I agreed. People feel like they have the Spanish Inquisition marching through their classrooms.

My members complained about it. Even the ones who had supervisors who were Not Insane were on edge until they were over with in May or June. It was unholy and unhealthy. Worse, perhaps, it was stupid. It was a remnant from Reformy John King's original plan. Reformy John said six observations, but only four if you'd take a formal. I think CSA pushed back on that a little.

On the blogs I'd see complaints about it. If you don't get us two observations, UFT, we're gonna opt out of the union. I took that seriously, mostly because it was ridiculous that we were sitting through so many observations for no good reason. I stupidly thought that maybe if we actually won the two observations some of those people might be happy.

I was wrong, of course. We won two observations and people said, hey, why isn't there a maximum on observations? Why didn't you get rid of Danielson? How come we can't roll back time and make things the way they were in 1996? How come we have to still come to work even if we don't feel like it?

The one I really like is how come we didn't reduce class size. I know why we didn't reduce class size. It's because the DOE doesn't give a flying crap about class size. They told me so to my face, after I told them what it was like to teach a class of 50, and yes I have done that. With an oversized class, you get an "action plan" to give you one period of C6 off a week. I told them I needed help right there in the classroom, and the only thing I could do with those 45 minutes was seek therapy for the stress inherent in teaching 50 teenagers. These people who claim to put Children First, Always, only care as long as it doesn't cost any money. They didn't even offer to sell it to us, at least not while I was there, and I honestly don't think it should be teachers paying for something every kid needs anyhow.

I see people jumping up and down about the class size issue. Some of these very same people, when I brought an elaborate class size resolution to the Executive Board, were in my face about it. How dare I bring that up without consulting them first? Who the hell did I think I was. Here's who I thought I was--I thought I was one person bringing something to almost a hundred other people who didn't really want to hear it, and who would not receive it well. I did it anyway because I thought it was the right thing to do.

Now these same people who wanted to know who the hell I thought I was are the champions of class size. How could we possibly present a contract that doesn't win this? In fairness, a lot of these people spent absolutely no time whatsoever attending Executive Board meetings. Not only that, but they didn't bother with the Contract Committee either. Who but they would know better exactly how and what should be done, since they spent not one minute trying to make anything happen?

Those of us serving on Executive Board also fought for parental leave. You have probably heard that UFT members now get six weeks of fully paid parental leave. Once we got it, it was why didn't you get family leave? Why didn't you get the state program? That union's deal is better than our deal, because they got x while we got y. Oh my gosh, if we take the six weeks fully paid parental leave, we may have to work an extra six weeks before we retire! What an unspeakable horror, to have to teach for six weeks.

I'm absolutely certain if we had taken the state program, there would be other objections. Why isn't if fully paid? How come it's this many weeks? Why isn't it that many weeks?

And when you give 'em dat rhythm and blues they'll simply smile and say
We didn't want to hear you play
We didn't like you any way
It's very hard to please the people every single time
But look a little on the sunny side...

For me, the sunny side is this--I don't have to protest absolutely everything. I don't have to insist that because one particular group takes a position, I oppose it. I don't have to insist that because another particular group takes a position I support it either.

I'm chapter leader of a very large school. I have a job, and that job is representing these members. This contract makes most of them pretty happy, and they will vote for it overwhelmingly. In fact, I predict the entire city votes for this overwhelmingly. And yes, the 2005 contract sucked the big one, but that doesn't mean I will absolutely never support another contract.

The new agreement isn't perfect. I didn't get everything I wanted. But the nature of agreements is not that you get everything you want. We have moved forward, though. I want us to move further forward, and I will work to make that happen. I will work with anyone I trust, anyone I think has good intentions.

Honestly, though, we are teachers. Times change, and I change with them. If we aren't willing to change, if we aren't willing to learn, I'm not sure exactly how we are role models for our students and children. I am always looking for ways to get things done. If I find new ways that work I'm glad. The way to get fewer observations, by the way, is is to pass this contract. The way to make members ridiculously happy is to offer them a tremendous step forward in parental leave.

Standing around and screaming this sucks, you suck, and everything sucks, to me, is not a political stance. Refusing to associate with anyone who isn't social justicey enough is absurd. It's also as intolerant as a lot of groups that merit our abhorrence, and more to the point, not the optimal way to make things happen

I don't know about you, but I'm a little busy for that stuff.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Turn and Talk

It's a busy week for me. Not only are we running an election, and not only am I busy correcting misinformation I find all over the net, but I actually have to teach every now and then. Sometimes even more. Okay, I have to teach every day. They pay me to do this stuff, you know.

I'm teaching an advanced class for the first time in ten years. It's not like I haven't done this before. I used to love doing it. I got a real thrill out of introducing newcomers to novels. I would do so until someone else would request the class and then I'd get bounced somewhere else. I was pretty much up for whatever. Since I've been chapter leader, though, I've been teaching the beginners. I really like doing that.

Then the geniuses in Albany did some messing around with the NYSESLAT placement exam. You see, after the introduced Part 154, they needed to prove it was working. So now everyone gets promoted to a higher level. The beginners now are really beginners. No more false beginners. Actually, a whole lot of students in my advanced class would benefit greatly from attending my beginner class. But the test says otherwise.

I've been teaching The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, which I really love. It's been getting mixed reviews from my students, though. On a recent test, I gave a five point question asking what they thought about it. Basically, they could write anything and get credit. One kid wrote something like the book is so boring he couldn't be bothered reading it. I took off five points for that one.

I've been trying to initiate book discussions. The participation wasn't strong enough for my taste. I had a handful of kids who wanted to answer every question and a whole lot of kids who didn't want to do anything, ever. Today, I tried saying something I never said before.

"Do your other teachers tell you to turn and talk?"


"Okay, Turn and talk to a partner. On a scale of one to five, with one being nothing and five being super horrible, how bad is it to steal a car?"

One of the characters in the book had done that, and his wife felt terrible guilt about it. I got much more participation than usual this time. My students gave opinions from one to five. I asked the guy who said five why he did.

"Well, there could be a pregnant woman in the car, and she could be on her way to the hospital."

I never would have thought of that. I'd kind of taken turn and talk as a cliche. I think one of the commenters on this blog called himself that. But I used it a few more times, and it really expanded the participation. I was much happier leaving that book discussion than the others I'd tried to lead.

I do more directed activities with the beginners. Can you swim? Ask him/ her/ me?
Can you dance?
Can you eat 50 hot dogs?

One kid said yes to that yesterday. I hope I'm not around when he does it. That too might be something to turn and talk about.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my op-ed on the tentative UFT contract right now at City Limits.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Why I Support the 2018 UFT Contract

A version of this appears on Diane Ravitch's blog. I may be prejudiced because I was part of the contract committee. I was intent of winning fewer observations, and I was on the evaluation committee, at least for a little while. 

As far as that goes, I was pretty happy with what we worked  out.

I have opposed several UFT contracts. The 2005 contract created the Absent Teacher Reserve, which dropped many of my brothers and sisters into a limbo from which there frequently seems no escape. The last one made us wait until 2020 to get money FDNY and NYPD had back in 2010. Our new tentative contract is not perfect, but also has some significant gains.

On the Contract Committee, we sat as big shots from the DOE told us they were not remotely interested in improving class sizes for NYC’s 1.1 million schoolchildren. I told them what it was like to teach a class of 50 plus. I told them when teachers had oversized classes, their remedy was often to give us one day off from tutoring. Where we needed help, though, was right there in the classroom. I told them the best we could do was use that period to seek therapy to deal with our 50 kids. Via new streamlined processes, this contract should at least shorten the time kids and teachers spend in oversized classes. A similar process has proven very effective with excessive paperwork.

A significant win for teachers is fewer observations. Members have been complaining to me about the frequency of observations ever since the new law came into effect. We all feel the Sword of Damocles hanging above our heads. I don’t really know why I do, because I’m fortunate enough to have a supervisor who’s Not Insane. I think, though, if we want to maintain her ability to stay Not Insane, we have to stop making her write up 200 observations a year.

Of course, this will not resolve the issue of crazy supervisors, something city teachers have been grappling with for decades. While the city plans to institute a screening process for teachers (and we’ll see what that entails) future negotiations need to focus on the issue of self-serving, self-important, foaming-at-the-mouth leaders, likely as not brainwashed by Joel Klein’s toxic Leadership Academy. This contract, at least, will create more work for supervisors who use their positions to exercise personal vendettas.

People who can’t hack teaching don’t want to be responsible for 34 kids at a time. They rise up and become the worst supervisors. They may be lazy, and they may be angry that they have to actually do observations these days rather than simply declaring teachers unsatisfactory. In fact, one principal got caught falsifying observations so as to avoid the effort altogether. Supervisors like that will now have to do additional observations if they rate teachers poorly. They may now think twice now that it can cut into their Me Time. Also, we’ve got new language to deal with supervisory retaliation.

Our new agreement gives long needed due process to paraprofessionals. I’ve seen three paraprofessionals summarily suspended by principals. One of them was able to recoup lost pay via a grievance I helped her file. Another said goodbye to me, and ten days later had a stroke. I received a call in my classroom saying one of her relatives needed to know whether or not to place her in an ambulance, since her health insurance had been discontinued. I was at a rare loss for words. The secretary on the other end of the phone wasn’t, and told the relative yes, of course, put her in the ambulance, The paraprofessional died later that day.

To me, it’s remarkable that paraprofessionals, who spend all day helping the neediest of our students, are not considered pedagogues and therefore ineligible to win tenure. Our new agreement will grant them due process rights they sorely need. No longer will principals be able to suspend them without pay indefinitely based on allegations. There will be rules for when they can be suspended, there will be time limits, and there will be a process, rather than, “Hey you, get lost, and don’t come back until I feel like having you back.” Paraprofessionals deserve more than what we’ve won for them, but this, at long last, is a start.

I’ve read arguments that we should strike, like we’ve seen in red states. We are very different from teachers in red states, who’ve been under “right to work” forever, and for whom collective bargaining may be prohibited. We aren’t making 30K a year and getting food stamps to make ends meet. We haven’t gone a decade without a raise. We aren’t paying an extra 5K more each year for health insurance. In fact, unlike much NY State, we aren’t paying health premiums at all. With our last two contracts, and with no health premiums, our pay is approaching that of some Long Island districts (without the doctorate some of them need), something I’ve not seen in my three plus decades as a teacher.

I’ve read a lot of critiques about the money. We extended our contract last year to enable parental leave for UFT members. The same critics who complained about how that diluted raises from the last contract are now attaching it to this one, making it look like the contract begins months before it actually does. That’s disingenuous. (Now don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of money, and I’d like to have more. I’m writing this on a MacBook that’s partially held together with Scotch Tape.)

Some people are saying the raises don't keep up with inflation. This may or may not be true, depending on which index you use. I know very well, though, that we are getting the pattern established by DC37. I also know exactly how we beat the pattern, which we did in 2005. We do that via givebacks. I’ve already mentioned the ATR. 2005 also brought us extended time. We could agree to more extra time, higher class sizes, or more extra classes, and the city would probably pay us for that. I can assure you that every person I know who opposes this contract would be up in arms about them, as would I. Right now we can’t afford to give back anything.

Concessions about the ATR were the worst thing about the 2014 contract. Thankfully, they expired and were not renewed. The second worst thing, as I recall, was having to wait ten years for money we’d earned. We could’ve had an on-time contract if only leadership agreed to sell out the ATR. UFT hung tough and refused. I don’t like waiting for money, but agreeing to allow ATR members to lose their jobs after a certain amount of time would’ve been a disaster. Any crazy principal could target any activist teacher, and we could’ve been fired at will.

I’d very much have liked to see class size reduced. I’d still like to see class size reduced, and I will work toward that. I also have no idea why we support mayoral control. (I don’t even know why de Blasio wants it, now that the state has hobbled his ability to stop Eva, forcing him to pay her rent.)

Nonetheless, this contract represents significant improvements for us. Chapter leaders, all of whom are sick of the grueling grievance procedure, will now have alternate means to quickly resolve issues involving class size, safety, curriculum, PD, supplies, and workload. Those of us who represented high schools on the UFT Executive Board pushed for fewer observations as per state law, and we were able to work with leadership to achieve it. Those of us on the UFT Contract Committee agreed that we wanted to improve the lot of 30,000 paraprofessionals, and we were able to move in that direction.

I support this contract, and I will encourage my colleagues to do so as well. This is the best contract we’ve seen in decades. It will pass by an overwhelming margin.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Teachers, ELLs, and What the NY State Board of Regents Hath Wrought

Yesterday I gave two PD sessions at 52 Broadway. The title of my workshop was The Affective Filter and How to Avoid it. I probably should have changed it to something more sexy because it was not all that well attended. I think the morning session had 10 participants and the afternoon had only six.

The workshop focused on the theories of Dr. Stephen Krashen, who's all about comprehensible input. Krashen says, and I agree, that the only way people acquire language is to actively use it, via input that's workable and comprehensible. Krashen says that input ought to be at, or a little above, the student level. He also says that when things get too difficult, veritable walls go up.

Part of my PD involved giving a paper that was virtually impossible to understand. Participants certainly responded as expected. They hated every minute they had to read this thing. I offered them an annotated version, which helped them to understand it. I offered another paper that explained what the first paper was about. Finally, I broke it down into far simpler ideas via a Keynote presentation.

Sometimes, if you have to teach something that's very tough, you can break it down for your students. Other times it's far more difficult. Because of the very small class sizes, we had pretty extensive participation. I repeatedly heard stories for ESL teachers who were in five different classes with five different teachers.

This was seen differently by new teachers and a veteran. There was only one veteran participant, actually, and she taught elementary. She contrasted what she used to do, which was pulling out students, to the new push-in model. She said when she was alone with the students, she was able to support their use of English. She was able to have genuine interactions and help them build confidence. Now she was expected to push in to the classes of multiple teachers.

There was no time to plan with these teachers because there were so many of them, and also because she did not share free periods with them. She said she tried her best, but the limits of trying to make multiple children at multiple levels understand material that was utterly unsuited for them made her task impossible.

The issue of students at multiple levels being grouped together seemed to bedevil every participating teacher. They are ELLs, so let's dump them all in that class. This is probably made worse by the idiotic mandate that ELLs in the same class be no more than one year apart. Thus, you can't place a freshman in a class with a junior. How do you deal with that issue? Just dump all freshman with all sophomores, and dump all juniors with all seniors. Problem solved.

One teacher running around to five different classes told me that she was afraid to complain because she didn't have tenure. I told her to come and tell her story in the ELL focus group that meets monthly at UFT. Actually I told several of the teachers to do that. I would love to see them tell their stories to the whole group. What the NY State Regents have done to  ELLs with their mindless reworking of Part 154 is an abomination. Their notion that we offer direct English language instruction only so that our students can do better in core courses shows utter English of not only language acquisition, but also common sense.

The best language learners in the world are children. Unless Eva brainwashes them very early, children are not primarily concerned with taking tests. Kids want to share and talk and play. That's a quality, we hope as parents, that will linger into adulthood. Of course we want our kids to do well in school, but first and foremost we hope they're happy. It's beyond remarkable that the Regents have no interest in that.

On a side note, I met an occasional commenter to the blog. He introduced himself and we talked for a while. He said, "You talk just like you write." I've been told that before, actually. Ultimately, it sounds like a good thing. Still, there are thousands of ELLs in NYC that can neither talk nor write in English. When we dump them into native ELA classes and tell them, "Read to page 37 of To Kill a Mockingbird by Tuesday, we aren't doing them any favors.

I'm not sure what will rouse the tone-deaf, callous, ignorant, and self-satisfied Board of Regents, but I'm thinking torches and pitchforks might be a good start.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Vote Yes

 by Mike Schirtzer

Full Paid Parental Leave For Six Weeks-✔
Two Observations-✔
Strong Protections From Abusive Administrators-✔
Raises for Paras and Due Process-✔
Healthcare for Every UFT Member Without Paid Premiums-✔
Enforce Class Size Limits-✔

Educators and union workers around the country are under attack. The Supreme Court just ruled against unions. Members can receive all the benefits of being in a union without having to pay dues. Charter schools here in NYC have terrible conditions, where teachers work long hours, have horrible medical insurance, and hardly anyone stays around very long. That’s what life is like without unions. Our new contract strengthens our union and our rights.

Let’s face facts--compared to educators around the country, we in the UFT have it good. We still have workplace protections that most don't, we still have a contract, and we still get regular raises and healthcare without paid premiums. The raises of 2% in February 2019, then 2,5%, and 3 percent are fair. We could have had higher raises, but it would have been at the expense of our paraprofessionals. Instead, the negotiating committee decided to better compensate paraprofessionals with $1,200 after 5 years  and over $3,000 after 15 years.

We all sacrificed a little. Perhaps we all get a little bit lower raise,  but compare what 3% is for those of us making $60,000 or more with the same 3% raise paraprofessionals would receive for their $25,000 salary. The sacrifice is worth it to benefit our 30,000 brothers and sisters working as paras.

Don’t forget UFT members now have fully paid parental leave for moms, dads, adoptive parents and foster parents for 6 weeks. Many around the state only get half pay. That’s another victory we fought for and won.

The Federal Reserve bank says an acceptable rate of inflation is 1 to 1.5% and when this contract was being negotiated that’s what it was. It is not the fault of UFT or the city that the extreme right wing federal policies of drastically cutting taxes for the wealthy and large corporations, while raising tariffs on things working people like us use every day has caused  inflation that now exceeds our raises. We can vote in the upcoming elections for some rational politicians to get the inflation rate back down below 2%.
Finally paraprofessionals will get enhanced due process rights many of us have always had. With this contract, they can no longer be suspended without pay if an administrator makes a false accusation, as has happened in many schools. Paras are mostly women and many are women of color. The way they have been treated and their low wages are inexcusable. Thanks to our new contract this will change for the better.

We were elected to the Executive Board of the UFT to represent high schools. It’s the 100 member decision making body of the union. We pushed really hard for paid parental leave and for two observations. This is what our members wanted, and this is what we delivered. Members also wanted stronger language in the contract to protect against abusive administrators. The new contract has an anti-retaliation clause that states the work environment must be “free of harassment, intimidation, retaliation and discrimination” or it will result in a investigation and consequences for administrators that violate it. DOE fought very hard against this, because it gives us another level of protection and actually holds abusive principals and APs accountable. There are only two observations for effective and highly effective rated teachers with one that must be completed by the end of the fall term. Last year, throughout the city most observations were done in May, which made the process a complete joke.

You may have received a vote no flyer or seen posts online from a faction within the UFT that ran against UFT President Mulgrew in the last union election. I was one of the leaders of that  group. I became dismayed when they started a vote no plan against the contract and “preparations” for an unrealistic strike before they even saw the proposals. They did not join the contract negotiating committee, take part in the process, nor did they communicate with members of their own group that were on the negotiating committee. Go around your school and ask how many members want to sacrifice two days pay for every one day by going on strike. Ask how that beats inflation. Ask parents barely making ends meet, without paid vacations or pensions, without fully paid parental leave or time with their children how they’d feel seeing their kids with no place to go on weekdays. Ask parents with no pay for extra hours of work or weekends, no contract, no lunch breaks, and no due process if they'll support a no vote against this contract or better yet a strike. Imagine how they will react.

Class-size is out of control around the city. The legal limits are being violated year in and year out. Our students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors deserve better than oversized classes. The old process doesn't work. UFT fought hard and won new procedures to have these violations be sent directly to the superintendent and resolved quickly, rather than wait for the failed arbitration process. Schools that have oversized classes every year will now get special attention from the DOE and UFT, in order to ensure it stops happening. Let’s give the new process a chance before simply condemning it outright.

The contract is not perfect, but bargaining is give and take on both sides. We’ve met many educators from around the country at union conventions, grading sites, and professional developments that tell us they wish they had the union and contract protections that we have. Our union is under existential attack, and even under so we maintain our rights. Our union is listening to members, to us,  and fighting for what we want. This contract shows when we struggle together we win together.
       New salaries: Raises of 2%, 2.5% and 3% produce a three-year compound rate of 7.7 percent, above expert predictions of inflation of 6.2 percent (Federal Reserve Bank) and 6.8 percent (International Monetary Fund).
       At the end of the contract period, new teachers will earn $61,070; teachers with a master’s and 10 years of experience will earn $101,441; and the new top salary will be $128,657. The new contract raises are in addition to lump-sum payments negotiated as part of 2014 contract, including the payment this month and others payable in October of 2019 and 2020.
       More money for Paraprofessionals -receive raises of over $1,200 for 5 years service and another $1,200 for 15 years in addition to other 2%, 2.5% and 3% salary raises
       Paid parental leave: No changes to the paid parental leave agreement won in June.
       Health care: While a national survey (Kaiser Employer Survey, 2017) showed that U.S. employees pay an average of more than $5,700 per year for family health care coverage, UFT-represented employees — thanks to the citywide agreement reached earlier this year with all municipal unions — continue to have access to premium-free health care coverage.
The proposed contract breaks new ground in workplace improvements and the voice it gives educators:
       Reduces the number of principal observations for the vast majority of educators.
       Creates a faster process to resolve class size overages earlier in the school year. For schools that are do not reach quick resolutions, arbitrators will have the authority to impose a remedy. No more ridiculous “action plans” from Tweed.
       Provides additional compensation for paraprofessionals and gives them much greater due process rights.
       Creates a way for chapter leaders to fight for improvements in safety, curriculum, workload, space and other working conditions.
       Protects UFT-represented employees from retaliation and harassment by administrators for highlighting school problems. If not resolved, an independent arbitrator will now make the final determination.
       ATR assignments will now be made at the beginning of the school year rather than after Oct. 15. An ATR’s salary will no longer affect the average salary calculation of a school that hires the ATR.
Schirtzer is a social studies teacher at Leon M. Goldstein High School. He also serves as a member of UFT Executive Board, High School Division.