Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Airing of Grievances

Under article 22 of the contract, you are entitled to file grievances. I went over twenty years without doing so, but then I became chapter leader. Since then, not only have I filed more grievances than anyone else in the building, but I've also helped a whole lot of other people to do so.

A lot of my members ask me what filing a grievance means. In case you're wondering too, I'll tell you. The first step, conveniently labeled Step One, is when you bring your issue to the principal. You or your chapter leader will make a case for your grievance. Then, the principal will rule.

Depending on who your principal is, your chance to prevail here is limited. Some principals may perceive error. Others may feel they know everything and are absolutely never wrong. In case it's the latter, you're pretty sure to lose at this step. Should the principal decide that two plus two does not, in fact, equal four, your journey has just begun.

Once the principal denies your Step One, if he or she even deigns to bother, what with rules being for the little people and all, your grievance then goes to the borough office. (If you get no ruling, you can file yet another grievance under Article 22 for failure to rule, which is the principal's job.)There is some sort of grievance committee there. They will decide whether or not to bring your grievance to Step Two. Step Two means you, and possibly your chapter leader, are gonna spend a day in lovely downtown Manhattan.

You'll go there, and face a hearing officer who represents the DOE. There will be a DOE lawyer there, likely from the ethics-shmethics org that calls itself "legal." They will make outlandish, perhaps improvised, arguments about why your principal doesn't need to follow the Collective Bargaining Agreement in this case. The hearing officer will listen. Alas, your chances of prevailing here are not so good. I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume the person working for the DOE was not selected for relentless opposition of DOE positions. And so it goes.

I think they get six weeks to rule. Maybe I'm cynical here, but I wonder why they need it. After all, if you get three months within occurrence to write something up, and if the thing happened three years ago, it should be pretty clear it's untimely. Perhaps your administration is saying it happened only two years ago, and is therefore OK. Who knows? Anyway, someone's  always gonna maintain the below language is ambiguous:

Article 21, A, 1

…an incident which has not been reduced to writing within three months of its occurrence, exclusive of the summer vacation period, may not later be added to the file.

It's pretty clear to me, but over at "legal" it's a complete mystery.  What could it possibly mean? Maybe we should assemble a team of lawyers to figure it out. Regular UFT members might think maybe if you're accused of tossing a cheeseburger at someone ten weeks ago, it means the principal can't put a letter in your file today over it. On the other hand, "legal" could contend they need a team of lawyers go to work and examine what the word "the" means. After all, that's why they exist!

Step Three is with an arbitrator, who hopefully has reached the lofty state of awareness I refer to as Not Insane. That's where your Step Two goes if the DOE person rules, you know, for the people who give him his paycheck. The great minds over at "legal" fought the good fight to have special ed. teachers work SESIS on their own time for nothing. Though the city ruled in its own favor, this eventually cost millions of dollars in losses to affected teachers. Arbitrators deemed us not to be indentured servants after all. I'm not sure whether the UFT reps cited Article 20, Matters Not Covered, and then used the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, but I would have. 

Grievances are a vital tool. No one should treat working UFT members with the contempt and disrespect that "legal" makes its stock in trade. With all my reservations about leadership, I absolutely vote union when Janus comes. Just one decision from the purposefully illiterate jugglers at "legal" could cost you what would've been your dues, the dues of your brothers and sisters, and more.

We need to work toward making our union better, as opposed to a fond memory.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Rules Is Rules

Yesterday we sat for an hour and listened to a lecture about conflicts of interest. Evidently you can’t take money to tutor your students. You aren’t allowed to accept gifts of over $50. I could’ve sworn Klein made it 5, but my memory fails me.

We learned you need a waiver for conflict of interest to work in Macy’s. Also you need one if you wish to work in St, John’s or any private school as an adjunct. (I guess the thousands of DOE employees who already do it are up for discipline). You don’t need one for working at a CUNY or SUNY school. There’s some reason why, but I didn’t understand it. However, you don’t need a waiver to go to a soup kitchen and feed the homeless. Things like that are fine she said.

Several people got up and said I do this or that, and the woman said she would talk to them afterward. One (not me) mentioned working for the UFT. For the record, I’ve been paid by UFT to give PD, so if anyone wants to come after me for my unspeakable criminal activities, feel free. I’ll post all summonses and accounts right here. I’m always looking for a new blog.

A member got up and said these regulations violated his rights, and perhaps the US Constitution. He said maybe there should be a law suit about this. This provoked applause. The woman said he was absolutely wrong. Someone already had brought this to court, and of course that person lost. There are rules. Everyone must follow the rules. It doesn’t matter whether or not we like the rules. Rules is rules.

I was curious about the concept of rules is rules, so I broke a longstanding resolution to never ask questions at meetings.

I’m fascinated by the concept of rules being rules, I said. It’s really interesting that everyone has to follow rules. I’m really curious about the notion that we may or may not like rules, but we have to follow them anyway.

I asked whether that line of thought applied to the UFT Contract. Does the Collective Bargaining Agreement apply only to UFT members. or do DOE employees have to follow it too?

The woman said she didn’t understand what I meant, so I explained it again. Do the terms of our Contract apply to us only? Do administrators have to follow them too? Do they have to follow the terms of the Contract even if, for example, they don’t agree with them?

Later, though, she talked about 3020a proceedings and due process. Or they could fine you $25,000 or more if you left early to go to your second job. Evidently, she is well-informed about rules that apply consequences to teachers. Go figure.

In any case, the woman couldn’t understand the question. Why was I asking this question? She was there to speak about conflicts of interest and this didn’t apply to that. An administrator kindly informed me that the woman was not a contract lawyer.

That got me thinking about DOE contract lawyers I’ve met. I’ve met a great variety of them, mostly at oversized class hearings. I will sit down at a table, across from them and say, “There are 44 oversized classes.”

One of the DOE lawyers, I recall distinctly, said, “There are zero oversized classes.”

So I guess I’m not qualified to understand the fine points and  subtleties of being a DOE contract lawyer. I mean, I read the contract and it says 34 is the class size limit. When I see a class of 38, I say to myself, “That class is oversized.” Of course, I haven’t been to law school so it’s hard for me to understand how 38 ls less than 35. Now I don’t generally like to brag, but I’m a high school graduate, and I distinctly remember stuff like 38>34.

There were, of course, some very interesting ethical questions. It’s unethical, evidently, to practice nepotism. So you can’t hire your daughter to do some job in your organization, especially if she’s totally unqualified.

I guess rules is rules, but only for little people like us. All day long people kept asking me, "Do I need a waiver to do this?" (This being a family blog, I won't go into detail on some of the gestures that accompanied this question.)

We followed this up with a suicide prevention workshop. An exiting teacher commented, “We should’ve done suicide prevention first. That meeting took so long I almost killed myself.”

Monday, January 29, 2018


I've been chapter leader for almost nine years. I've worked under two principals. Whenever there's a problem, they call "legal." I'm not sure who exactly is in "legal." Nonetheless, every single time UFT disagrees with legal, without exception, "legal" is wrong. I always wonder how their conversations go.

Principal: Is it okay if I place a letter in the file of a UFT member for something that happened six months ago?

Legal: Yes sure, that's no problem.

Principal: The chapter leader says if it happened over three months ago then it's a violation of contract.

Legal: No, what it means is you can place it in the file within three months of knowledge.

Principal: Yeah, you told me that last time. But the chapter leader showed language from the contract, and it specifically said from three months of occurrence.

Legal: Yes they might use that word. But what it means is three months of knowledge of occurrence. That's one of those fine distinctions chapter leaders never understand. It isn't written, but it's implied. Anyway, who are you gonna believe, him or me?

Principal: I don't know. It sounds pretty clear to me.

Legal: Well, you never know. An arbitrator might rule either way. Why not just go with it and hope for the best?

Principal: Isn't that kind of a waste of time?

Legal: Only if you lose. But you don't have to. Lots of arbitrators come from legal and may or may not understand English. If you're not sure, why don't you just change the date on the letter?

Principal: Can I do that?

Legal: Sure. You're the principal. You can do anything you want!

Principal: I don't know. It actually happened six months ago.

Legal: Take a deep breath. It happened whenever you say it happened. If you say it happened two months ago, then it did. Just focus.

Principal: I don't know. I have witness statements and they're all dated.

Legal: Don't you have any white out?

Principal: White out?

Legal: Sure. Take the white out, cover the dates, and then write over them.

Principal: Are you kidding?

Legal: Sir, if I had any vestige of a sense of humor I wouldn't be working here. Now make sure you use the same color pen that was on the paper. Those UFT reps notice things like ink color. Bastards.

Principal: Isn't that unethical?

Legal: What are you, one of those bleeding hearts? Maybe you aren't cut out for this line of work. It's us against them, you know.

Principal: Us against who?

Legal: Us against whoever. As long as they're doing those things they do, it's on us to stop them from doing them. Anyway, the teachers won't respect you unless you put letters in their file all the time. It teaches them respect. It keeps them honest.

Principal: Is it honest to white out and change the dates?

Legal: Whose side are you on anyway? Do you want me to go into Carmen's office and have her come out there? She'll hop in the limo, come out to your place, and It's a Beautiful Day you right across your lip. I've seen her do it before.

Principal: Are you threatening me?

Legal: I don't know. If I threaten you, will you do what I tell you to do?

Principal: Probably not.

Legal: Then no, I'm not threatening you.

Principal: Are you just making this stuff up?

Legal: What if I am? What's the difference? Just keep throwing things at the wall and see how many stick. You know, throw them in the well and see if they make a splash. Run them up the flagpole and see who salutes.

Principal: Really?

Legal: Hey, you called me. If you don't want my advice, call someone else.

Principal: OK. Thank you for your guidance.

Legal: That's what I get paid for. Any other questions before I go?

Principal: Just one. Why do you do this?

Legal: There are a lot of reasons, but I have to tell you, it sure beats working.

Friday, January 26, 2018

NY State Takes a Double-Bladed Knife to ELLs

There's some regulation, somewhere, that calls for an extra parent-teacher conference for ELLs. I teach them, so I go. Last night we had the conference in the library. It was not well-attended. Right now I'm sitting in the ESL office with a colleague and neither of us saw any parents. (I did get a lot of reading done, though. I'm very fond of an app called BookBub that offers all the eBooks on sale, and my laptop and phone are now full of trashy novels for when things slow down.)

Our AP bought us all falafel, which was pretty cool. The school bought wraps for the parents. Evidently it's OK to spend DOE money on parents but not teachers. Who would've thunk it? Our conference ran from 5:30 to 8. Around 7:30 it became evident that the parents were not going to eat the wraps so we all chipped in and saved them from the trash.

It's actually a great idea to have additional communication with parents, though it didn't work out that way for my colleague or me. If parents came, I'd have told them how their kids were doing. I'd rather have told them that the state is cheating their kids. I just placed a piece about it in El Diario, but if you'd rather see an English version, you can read it here.

For reasons I cannot fathom, New York State has taken a machete and cut ELLs in two ways. First, they've pretty much gutted direct instruction in English. A rank newcomer may have as few as one period a day of ESL, whereas two years ago she'd have gotten three. Once she reaches a higher level, she could have nothing, literally, in the way of direct English instruction. To my mind, nothing is less than sufficient instruction in something as fundamental as language.

One rationale I've heard for this is that learning the language is not, in itself, learning a subject. That is, of course, ridiculous. If Spanish is a subject, how on earth could English not be? And if you don't learn the language, all the time spent learning the difference between enzymes and hormones, or pretty much any subject matter, is wasted utterly. Now NY State suggests that either a dual-certified teacher or a subject teacher and ESL teacher can teach both English and the subject matter at the same time.

That's absurd. If it takes an English speaker forty minutes to learn about those enzymes, the ELL, already at a tremendous disadvantage, now has to learn the material plus English, by magic, at the same time. I've got decades of experience and many tricks up my sleeve, but that's a feat I could not pull off. Imagine the 25-year-old science teacher who've taken the magical 12 credits to get dual certification trying to pull it off. Even if you enlisted David Copperfield and his magic, he's in trouble this week and couldn't do it either.

I've been writing and talking this for about two years now, and Aixa Rodriguez and I were even on TV talking about it. It's hard, though, to get traction for this. A big problem is that parents of newcomers are often fearful to step up. In these times of Trump and his inane wall, and unconscionable deportations, even fewer of them than usual will speak. I'm very proud to advocate for ELLs and their families, and I live in hope of a legislature and President that are Not Insane.

On Wednesday night, Evelyn de Jesus called a meeting with our ELL committee, NYSUT, and several of the Regents, including Betty Rosa. They seemed open to our suggestions. Hopefully they'll give back our ELLs at least some of what they desperately need. To hook kids on English, it's all about comprehensible input. Once they learn they can learn, they're happy. It's my job to meet beginners and show them that. It's a little easier on me because I'm already dually certified, and my students can get ELA credits for my class.

Still, thousands of my colleagues are sitting around English classroom trying to figure how the hell to make newcomers understand To Kill a Mockingbird. I don't envy them. My best advice to teachers trying to do the impossible would be ask the kids to read it in their first languages. While that certainly won't teach them English, it might give them a tip here and there as to what on earth was going on in their classes.

I once took a class in Spanish at Queens College, and the teacher had us read La Muerte de Artemio Cruz. It was way beyond us, and the teacher should have known. I read it in English, barely understood it, but was able to discuss it in Spanish during the class. Only two other students did that, and we all got As. Alas, many of my high school kids are not yet that crafty, and some have deficiencies in their first languages. I'll support them any way I can.

Meanwhile, I'll keep writing and speaking, and hoping someone in power to change things is listening.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

That Zany Madcap Danielson Rubric

People send me observation reports all the time. I get notes and scans via email, and I see them in my building. No one likes adverse ratings, of course. Sometimes I see behavior described that merits adverse ratings. Other times I shake my head at the wonder of it all. There are remedies to ridiculous observation reports, prime being an APPR complaint. You may also file a grievance, and a reasonable supervisor will pull an observation that's flawed.

I had that happen once. A supervisor stayed only 13 minutes and the member happened to check his watch and record it. He was about to retire and didn't care one way or another about the observation. But I leaned on him a little, we wrote a grievance, and the supervisor, to her credit, said, "You're right. I wasn't paying close enough attention." She then pulled the observation. In general, though, you could face disappointment if your policy is relying on the reasonable nature of supervisors.

Other times, supervisors tell members that their good observations were all flawed, and that the people who wrote them didn't know what they were doing. Then they present them with their own take on a proper observation report. Why? You have to read and observe. The most curious observation report I've seen lately contained the following language:

Your co-teacher told you to use a certain method, and you failed to do so.

While it's great when you can agree with your co-teacher, you are not subordinate to her. Ideally, you should negotiate and find common ground. Of course, when administrators utilize the traditional "eeny-meenie-miney-moe" methodology to pair co-teachers, it doesn't always work out. But even if, by some streak of luck, they achieved a perfect pairing, teachers are not subordinate to other teachers, not now, and not ever.

You used a method that you admitted wasn't 100% effective.

Call me guilty and lock me up. I use methods that are not 100% effective every day. I think about 80% of my students pass. I haven't actually calculated, but a former principal, who looked at this stuff, let me know that. This implies, I guess, that my methods are only 80% effective. However, if you removed the students who failed, I'm sure I could have hit 100. (Works for charters.)

The real problem with that statement is that no method I've ever heard of is 100% effective. If I knew of one, I'd put it in a can, sell it, and become fabulously wealthy. I'd buy a car that I didn't need to push to work. I'd change all my plumbing to hot, cold, and Bordeaux. I'd be like Danielson, I guess, making all kinds of money from my fabulous ideas. Perhaps, like Danielson, I'd get all holier than thou and criticize the method I took the money for.

You failed to have students hold up right hands when they understood and left when they didn't. Instead, you walked around and looked at the students' work.

This, to me, is a real head-scratcher. We hear a lot of talk about formative assessment. You can't just give them a test. You have to know what they know. (This doesn't apply to principals, of course. The whole progressive discipline thing doesn't apply to them, so they just put a letter in your file if you look at someone sideways.) But I was a 15-year-old boy once, and I distinctly recall the prime focus of my existence being 15-year-old girls. No way would I have raised my hand and admitted in front of those girls that I didn't understand geometry, biology, or indeed anything. I'm not sure when I realized the best thing to do when I made mistakes was to instantly admit it, but it wasn't when I was a teenager.

When you walk around and look at work, it isn't a binary true-false, yes-no process. You can see what each student is doing and cater advice to this particular student at this particular time. Not only that, but if you actually know the kids, you have an idea of how to speak with them effectively as individuals. You can tell them if they have problems with capitalization. You can ask them to explain an idea. You can tell them you can't read their handwriting, and that if they don't correct it they'll grow up to have terrible handwriting like me, their teacher. The number of things you can observe and comments you can offer is, in fact, infinite. It's absurd to compare a binary yes/ no process with one that observes, considers, and focuses on the here and now.

Here's the thing--I'm not at all sure whether or not statements like those, absurd though they are, are grounds for an APPR complaint. I once observed video of a lesson that disproved multiple areas of what the supervisor wrote. In the end, though, that observation was tossed because the rater failed to rate observable areas. Saying that two students raised their hands when the video showed 15 was not argued. Nor was claiming to have seen things that demonstrably did not occur.

If absurd assertions on the part of supervisors are not grievable, that's a flaw in our system. Maybe I'll address that in the 300-member negotiating committee. Fair warning, though--when 293 people vote me down I won't be able to tell you about it. Meetings are Top Secret.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

So You Wanna Condemn the UFT?

Hey, I understand. The union sucks. You had a grievance, and you lost. You had a problem, and no one helped. You called the borough office, and no one called you back. I'm sure you're telling the truth, because all of these things, and many more, have happened to me personally.

You're finished with the union. You have no use for it. You don't even consider yourself part of it, so you say, "Where was the UFT?" Still, there are a few issues I have. Issue one is that you are the UFT, I am the UFT, and all our brother and sister teachers are the UFT. When I ran for Executive Vice President of NYSUT and spoke all over the state, Beth Dimino told me to make the distinction of saying leadership did this or that.

The thing is, though, that UFT does a lot of good things too. We fight illegal, frivolous and capricious letters in your file. We expose Boy Wonders. We get you representation when the miserable, lying SCI reps demand you spill the beans about your brothers, your sisters, or likely as not, yourself. We sit and figure out how you can fight back, and we support your fight every step of the way. I've done all those things.

Maybe your chapter leaders suck. Maybe they took the jobs because no one else wanted to. Now here's the thing--if your chapter leader sucks and only took the job because no one else wanted to, that means you didn't want the job either. So why is that? Is it too much work? Do you feel it's an unacceptable risk to be at odds with the principal? (I mean, it's certainly not the kind of thing that's gonna earn you a raise and a promotion.)

Well, if you feel that way, it's likely those chapter leaders feel the same way. If they suck, that's certainly a good part of why. So you can curse Mulgrew, call him names, blame him for your crappy chapter leader, and whatever. But it's on us too--what have you done to improve the union? Did you even vote? Because three out of four members couldn't be bothered. Did you run around asking others to vote?

In our school, we ran a campaign to collect votes. We bought the best chocolate chip cookies on God's green earth, and gave one to each and every person who handed us a sealed ballot. That's probably why I'm on the UFT Executive Board right now.  That's two nights a month I meet, in addition to the DA, a Queens meeting, and various ELL committee meetings I attend. That's not to mention being chapter leader of the largest school in Queens and writing this blog. (I have no idea how I find time to do any of those things.)

So ask yourself this: If the UFT sucks, what can we do to make it better? If your chapter leader sucks, run for the post yourself. If that's not your cup of tea, you can run for delegate, which is a lot less demanding. That will get you an invite to the UFT Delegate Assembly, where you can wave your hand around and hope that Mulgrew calls on you. Ask your chapter leader if you can be on the consultation committee, which should meet with the principal on a monthly basis.

If the only thing you've ever done is complain, you might want to reconsider your position. They say there are two problems with the UFT--membership and leadership. The first, we can start working on immediately.

I'd give a pass if you're an ATR. Honestly, I don't know how you do that. I'd be very unhappy as an ATR. One way I'm able to remain an activist is by being a classroom teacher. There's kind of a balance between frequently unpleasant things I see and deal with as chapter leader and the clearly good work I'm called to do for kids who really need me to do it. Were I floating around week to week and school to school I'm not sure how I'd handle it. I know people who do, though.

You wouldn't know it from the tone of what blogger Chaz writes, but he's evolved a very Zen mode of viewing his job. He sort of revels in the absurdity of his situation. I once watched him run a workshop on it. If I were running UFT, I'd hire him to do that at borough offices. It's kind of amazing that leadership doesn't see fit to find an ATR to run ATR workshops (let alone grant them representation).

But it's on us to let them know. It's on us to vote against people we oppose. And I'm gonna tell you one more thing--UFT doesn't win each and every fight. I'm really sorry if you lost yours. I've lost grievances to moron arbitrators who evinced no ability to understand English (though it clearly appeared to be their first language). I've fought to enforce class sizes, already the highest in the state, only to have $1400-a-day arbitrators tell me oversized classes are fine as long as teachers get one C6 period free per week.

In fact, I've brought class size resolutions to the UFT Executive Board only to be told that this was the province of the sacred cow called the 300 member negotiating committee. Here's the thing--I'm on that committee. I was not able to attend the first meeting because I had a prior commitment. Even if I had gone I still wouldn't be able to tell you what happened because there's some sort of confidentiality oath.

I can tell you, though, that with 300 people or more, there's very little hope for making any headway when you're a lowly teacher who thinks class size matters. Most of the 300 will have signed the loyalty oath and are bound to do whatever they're told no matter what. Once someone in leadership says it's a bad idea to have real class size regs, 98% of the committee members will march off the cliff following that leader like so many lemmings.

But I'll go to those meetings, and I'll continue to advocate against the hypocrites who claim to place, "Children First, Always" for class size enforcement. I will do my part. I could use help, though, and that entails you doing your part. If we all do our part, it will be harder for leadership and/ or management to debate things that aren't debatable. It will be harder for leadership to defend our 50-year-old ineffectual class size regulation (among other things).

It's on you and me to make leadership sweat. They're reading this, they'll read your comments, and they'll feel your actions. But it's on no one but us to act. If we don't act, we just enable. If we give up, we all lose, and we'll have no mechanism whatsoever to address the inequities and outrages in this system.

Come to an Executive Board meeting, say hello, and help yourself to a crappy sandwich your dues paid for. Next meeting is February 7th at 6 PM. If you want to, you can sign up and let leadership know exactly what you think.

Monday, January 22, 2018

UFT Executive Board January 22, 2018

6 PM—Howard Schoor welcomes us.

Speaker Sarah Shapiro has not yet arrived.


President’s Report—Mulgrew is not here 6:03

Staff Director’s Report—LeRoy Barr
—2/15 CTE awards, CL training pt 3. 3/3 and 4, Para lunch 3/10, counselor conference 3/10—next EB 2/12


Mike SchirtzerMORE—Wadleigh Secondary School, supported by community, CEC, against closing. CEC wrote Fariña. What are we doing to support school?

Dwayne Clark—Proposal is to eliminate Middle School for low register. UFT trying to fight back and not have it closed. Was meeting. Spoke of strategies. Will go to PEP. Elected officials involved. Goal is to get staff as well as parents, CEC active and aggressive, don’t like targeting. Didn’t like middle schools having only ones and twos, stacked deck. Tried adding 3 and 4s recently. Lots of underlying activism, targeting superintendent. Lack of support provided, will look at renewal plan. Was no continuity. We have other things in mind.

Greg Lundahl—long history, very vocal in community, Anthony Klug helped. Battle has been successful in past when we’ve gotten community toggle

Arthur GoldsteinMORE—Some people here know that my school and others are now giving midterms during this week, which is Regents week. Some schools are holding classes while they’re doing that, and while all English teachers are out of the building grading. It seems like Queens principals are having contests over how many things they can make their teachers juggle at one time.

Not too long ago, we graded our own Regents papers and the city didn’t need to pull our teachers out of the building or pay for who knows how many hours of per session. Then Merryl Tisch decided we must all be a bunch of crooks and forbade us from grading our own students on standardized tests.

I can understand why they might suspect dishonesty. The state lowers standards and declares Michael Bloomberg a genius, then raises them and says all the teachers must be incompetent.

A bright light, for me, was when Janella proposed we move grading back into our own schools. An even better move would be to remove the ban on us grading our own students. I’d argue that if we were not fit to grade our own students then none of us should ever been hired.

So my questions are whether we’ve made any progress toward placing grading in home schools, and also whether we might move to make the geniuses in Albany reconsider a regulation that stereotypes us as a bunch of crooks. Just because they are, it doesn’t follow that we are.

Janella Hinds—Should not have both education and assessment moving. Conversations in process. Believe it would be more economically sound to keep teachers in school. Will talk with state to see about this.

Jonathan HalabiNew Action—What role are we taking in chancellor’s search? Are we engaging? Are they listening?

Schoor—President has been involved. Will ask when he comes.

6:15—Mulgrew arrives

Having conversations—slim pickings for chancellor—not offering names, but telling them where to look and what we want. Need someone who wants meaningful collaboration. Middle management is problematic. no quality insurance. We want a teacher. Mayor agrees.

Lists are amusing. Post and Times almost identical. Half list fired by current admin. Most names pushed grads of Broad Academy. We are not fans.

Mayor has clear plan and policies. Based on research so they don’t write about that. They have to follow mayor’s benchmarks. Mayor puts ten year plans forth. Does not seem to be time line. Could take months. If we get right person, fine, but middle management out of control. Probably not looking internally.

Thanks everyone who participated in Women’s March.

Shows Know Your Benefits poster, Know Your Rights poster.

New doorknocking class. Believes they will knock on everyone’s door by end of school year. We only need to get facts to members. Welfare fund alone over 1700 in pocket. In Wisconsin, teachers had to pay 10K each in one year to keep pension and benefits. Posters part of it, believe we will have membership team in every workplace. Targeting places with little union presence.

Board of Regents—addressing hours v. report days. We need a revenue package—changing tax structure in NY State very important. We donate 48 billion a year. What feds did requires 14 billion more from NY State, to give corporations and millionaires tax breaks. We are largest donor state. Members need to understand.

770 million dollar increases in education—need GOP Senate to vote for revenue package. Need to ask Wall St. to give back to NY.

6:25 Mulgrew leaves.

Reports from districts

Janella Hinds—Extends gratitude to all who came to Women’s March, amazing experience, hundreds of thousands. Thanks those who set up for UFT. Had folks all over city standing together, advocating for voices of women. People in office will know we stand together. Proud to walk with you.

Rosemarie Thompson—Jan. 26, Pride committee hosting workshop. Please spread word.

Schoor—Can we ask Regents be scored at home schools?

Paul Egan—We can. We have Mark Treyger, we can ask him about that issue.

Chelsea won 4-0. Eagles flying high, no idea what else he is talking about, but Eagles will win Super Bowl.
Politics—March—Albany for Black and Puerto Rican Caucus, Lobby Day, all pols will be in town because it’s Monday. Need people signed up. Can get on bus anywhere. Paid for by COPE. COPE contributors get first preference.

Schoor—Eagles have never won.

Egan—Lost to Patriots 2005. Revenge will be sweet. More people hate Patriots than Eagles.

LeRoy Barr—March 19 and 26 we have meetings. Lobby Day 19th. Need to move it, but 5th is Committee of 100, 12th open school district 75. Will be March 12.

NYC Teacher Retirement Board re-election. David Kazansky up.

Tom Brown—Rises in support of resolution to renominate David Kazansky. His insight and knowledge have allowed him to be excellent teacher trustee. Deborah Penny and Brown give him whole hearted support.

Passes unanimously.

Jonathan HalabiNew Action—Can somebody speak as to the work they do?

Brown—We need to make sure our TRS funds earn the most amount of money at the least risk possible to pay benefits people truly deserve.

Schoor—Taking money out of smoking stocks?

Brown—Not sure—looking at carbon footprint, examining steps going forward. Mayor and Controller recommend we divest from fossil fuels. We need to protect funds to pay most benefits possible. If investment meets that criteria, not reason not to comply. Our main interest is to the fund. People always ask us to divest from things. We make sure fund is adequate to pay benefits. We want to make sure same benefits will be there for us. Easy to speak into bullhorn and say let’s divest. We will first hire companies and consulting firms to see impact. Negative impact unacceptable.

NYSUT RA Resolution

LeRoy Barr
—Brings resolutions for consideration.

Oppose property tax cap—affects locals throughout state, limits money for districts. Eliminate supermajority. Need funds to run systems.

Support US immigrants, DACA, etc.

Support aid to hurricane and wildfire victims—

Resolution on Janus—

Health care for all—

Register eligible HS students to vote—

Safety with automatic refills—some errors created for people

Worker’s Comp Rate Review—
Moves all.

Mike SchirtzerMORE—Moves to separate immigration res. to amend.

Schoor asks for debate on individuals, pulls number two, res. in question.

Nancy Miller—In 2014 leg. passed for safe patient handling, got lower rate for Worker’s Comp., asking NYSUT to publish rates.

Vote on 7—

Passes unanimously.

Schirtzer—On May 13, 2017, ICE tried to enter school to arrest fourth grader. Safety officers did not let them in.


Whereas—On May 13, 2017, ICE attempted to enter a NYC public school,


Resolved—NYSUT strongly opposes the practice of ICE entering any public school and/ or removing any students.

Schirtzer—Obama had policy of not entering public buildings. This is direct affront to us.

No one speaks against.

Passes unanimously.

Passes as amended.

Janella Hinds—Supports I AM 2018—Was about striking sanitation workers, Memphis Tennessee—Commemorates MLK, humanity and dignity of working people. We will not let it die, will fight and march together.

Asks for support.

Passes unanimously.

Resolution to support Global Tech and remove superintendent

Mike SchirtzerMORE—Was brought to us by fellow HS members, brothers and sisters from CPE1 in house tonight. Supt. has moved forward with merger, violated rights of E. Harlem community, did not consult, led to multiple violations of student rights. Teachers and admin has said they are being terrorized. Came to PEP. Trying to rally by not approving principal in C30 process. History of abuse. Here at home, we need to do something, and take care of principals, APs, and supes. Chance for union to take direct action and call for removal of supe who doesn’t play by rules, harms students.

Serbia Silva—DR—moves to table—

Schoor—tabling takes majority, not debatable, might want to talk about issues.

Silva—Went to school about joint programming—120 students, 7 vacancies, students suffering with no special ed. teachers. We decided, looked at joint programming. Multiple meetings. November 28, met with entire building and DOE. Had excess list. Not one staff member in that meeting objected, said if this is good for students, we’re good with this. No one raised a concern. Met staff again in December. People who spoke were not current members. I will attend PEP. Moves to table. Will go back to school.

Schoor—consolidating school with 120 students. We are in favor. CSA opposes because they will lose members. We are in favor because of what it does to budgets. Supe does not have power to make decision, is from DOE. We can look into problems with supe. Thinks there is better way to do it. May or may not be true. We can oppose, not this way.

—Tabling means until next EB, at which point it won’t matter. Would like large UFT presence at PEP. Current teachers may not wish to speak against supe.

Schoor—We will be there, as per resolved. We will bring up with chancellor. Can vote if you wish.

Schirtzer—Let’s pull back and try to work out something.

Schoor—We will look at this district.

We are adjourned. 7:09

Sunday, January 21, 2018

DA Takeaway January 2018--Do Black Lives Matter?

There were several striking aspects of the DA last Wednesday. First, Mulgrew said we didn't need to pass a resolution to attend the Women's March. Later, Janella Hinds proposed a resolution to do just that, but it never got voted on. Evidently, the march was quite successful without our resolution, so I'm glad about that.

Mulgrew spoke of Cuomo somehow finding a workaround for the punitive Trump tax plan. There is skepticism on that, and it may be all talk, but as a NY State taxpayer I certainly hope they figure something out. It's hard to trust Cuomo, who appears to have no moral center, who first ran on a platform of going after unions and now paints himself as our BFF. Cuomo clearly harbors ambitions to be President. Ideals and principles, for him, are simply things to be manipulated so as to broaden his prospects. If the wind changes, his friendship will wither and die.

There were three city council members present, two of whom are former UFT. They made a great show of sympathy and friendship. That's great to see. They boasted of boosting Teacher's Choice. Teacher's Choice is fine, but $250 a year is not a game-changer. Like many city teachers, I'm still waiting for tens of thousands of dollars I earned eight years ago. And we're looking at a new round of pattern bargaining that doesn't look all that promising. This concerns me more than $250 this year.

Hopefully these legislators will wield their influence and persuade the mayor to hire a Chancellor who is Not Insane. For me, that's the defining quality of a good administrator. Alas, the higher they rise, the less chance we find that quality. And indications are de Blasio is looking for a Chancellor to follow in Carmen "It's a beautiful day" Fariña's footsteps. Alas, I don't see a whole lot of sunlight between her positions and those of her old boss, Michael Bloomberg.

Bad principals continue to be empowered and supported. Look at CPE1, where parents and teachers had to raise a very public ruckus to remove a vindictive and small-minded principal. Had that not happened, both the UFT chapter leader and delegate would have faced charges. Look at the abysmal choice of principal at Townsend Harris. Fortunately the students rose up, did their homework, and avoided that. Of course there are other ongoing horror stories. It's sad that administrators see war with working teachers as the way to do their jobs or get ahead, and pathetic we have city leaders who will enable it or look the other way.

And now we come to the so-called "splinter issue" of Black Lives Matter. Before we address that, let's look at the issue with which LeRoy Barr compared it, the Vietnam War. Evidently, years ago, we failed to take a stand against it. I'm not sure exactly why failing to take a stand against what we now know to have been an unmitigated disaster serves as a role model. And were that not enough, according to David Selden's The Teacher Rebellion, Albert Shanker expelled Unity Caucus members for opposing the war, so it seems to me we supported it.

We now know, unequivocally, that Shanker was wrong, and that the Unity Caucus position was just as spectacularly wrong. So it's beyond curious that we'd use that as a premise for a current position. It's also kind of hard to reconcile that Unity Caucus claims not to oppose this resolution, but asks us to vote it down nonetheless. Perhaps we're once again trying to court the Trump voters, as we were when we passed a toothless and preposterous resolution attributing outrageous acts of racism to "the Presidential Election" rather than President Donald Trump.

I have bad news for UFT leadership. A whole lot of Trump voters are not anxious to pay union dues. I met one at 52 Broadway who asked me how he could stop paying dues. Dancing around Trump's name or failing to take a clear ethical stand will not win him over. He just wants to keep the money. Furthermore, weasel positions tend to alienate people who embrace progressive positions, and I'm one of those people. Hillary took us for granted and it's pathetic Unity Caucus can't discern the painfully obvious lesson in that.

Bottom line--it's disgraceful that we have to debate, on any level, whether black lives matter.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Small School UFT Meeting

Hi, I'm Becky, and I'm the UFT Chapter Leader, The principal said we had to have one, and that I had to be it. So let's get down to it.

First order of business is the lesson plans. Now the principal says she really likes Miss Whitman's lesson plan format. Can we please write lesson plans like that, because I'm the one who's gonna have to talk to the principal about it if we don't. I really don't want anyone to get in trouble, because if you do, then I will have to go with you to the meeting with the principal. She says anytime anyone gets in trouble that I have to go and meet with her and you. Please don't make me spend my free periods at meetings.

I'm telling you right now that if you get in trouble for this, the principal will know that I instructed you to follow that lesson plan format. Let's please try to have them prepared at least one week in advance in case the principal wants to see them, and please keep an extra copy in case she walks in.

Next, let's talk about extra hours. They are strictly voluntary, of course, but when you signed up to work here you knew that they were going to ask us to do these hours. Many of them come with pay, but you know how it is.

The principal doesn't want anyone absent on Mondays or Fridays so please plan accordingly. If you have a family emergency you're just gonna have to make it during the week. Anyone who is absent on a Monday or Friday can expect a meeting with the principal, and possibly a letter in file. Please don't make me sit at the meeting, because you'll just get the letter, and there will be nothing I can do about it. I can't take sides.

The principal was very clear when she gave me this job that she didn't like grievances. If you want to file one go look it up on the website or something. Excuse my French, but I'm not putting my butt on the line just because you want to complain about some thing that happened. You can sit and read the contract and complain about this or that, but that's not how we do it here.

There's no such thing as a minimum passing rate, but the principal would like to see as many students passing as possible. That means at least 80%. So make sure, whatever you do, that you have 80% passing. Anyone who doesn't will be meeting with the principal, and again, I'd have to go with you. I don't want to do that so please let's make sure it doesn't happen. If I were you I'd try to pass 85 to 90% just to be safe. If too many students fail the principal will have to do extra observations to see what's wrong, and I won't represent you when you discuss observation reports.

Now just remember, some people will get into trouble, unfortunately, and there's nothing I can do about it. I will go with you to the meetings, because the principal says I have to, but please remember I cannot take sides. You can certainly explain your side if you think it's a good idea, but it probably isn't. The best way is to just do whatever the principal says.

Any questions? No? OK. Hope the rest of the year goes OK. If it doesn't, it's not my fault.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Dear NYC Educator:

I'm a nursing mom and I work as a dean. It's a tough job, sometimes, because I'm always moving. I get really, really thirsty. My doctor says I have to stay hydrated at all times. So I carry this big water bottle everywhere I go. I drink water almost constantly.

My principal has become very upset that I carry the water bottle. I got called into his office, got a lecture on how deans should not be drinking (water) on the job, and a counseling memo warning me to cease and desist. I was told that if I wanted to drink water, I'd have to conceal the bottle as I walked.

What I did was buy a bag that the bottle would fit into. It's a really good size--a perfect fit. The spout comes right out of the top of the bag. Whenever I need water, I just open the cap and there it is. I don't really understand why my drinking water needs to be such a deep dark secret, but it seemed a pretty good solution. For a few weeks I was happy.

But then I started to get The Looks. Mostly I get them from kids, but sometimes I see adults pointing at me too. At first I didn't understand it at all. I'm drinking water. Where's the controversy in that? So last week, when two boys pointed at me, I walked over to them. I told them I needed to ask a question. They took their hats off. That was kind of cool, but it wasn't the question I wanted to ask.

I asked why so many people were pointing at me, and they cracked up laughing.

"Miss, you really don't know?" asked one.

"No I really do not. Please tell me."

The kid asked me what I was drinking. I told him it was water. He asked why I was hiding it and I told him the principal told me to.

"Get OUT!" said the kid. I just looked at him.

He told me I looked like a drunk, like a wino or something. He said people who drink out of bags do it because they're hiding something. They don't want the cops or other people to know they're drinking on the street.

So now I'm a wino, even though I don't drink at all (except water). This is not really the image I want to project. I mean, it won't change my life or anything, but I hate it that kids think I'm drinking on the job. It's the kind of thing that makes me want to drink on the job. I won't, but you know what I mean.

Is there anything in the contract, or in any agreement stating that deans are not allowed to drink water unless they do so surreptitiously? Because this doesn't make any sense to me at all.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly January 17, 2018--Black Lives May or May Not Matter--Let's Not Go Out on a Limb

4:33 Mulgrew tells us to settle down. I’m eating popcorn with Mike Schirtzer.

Moment of silence for Doris Escaros, chapter leader from Queens.

Mulgrew, optimistic, welcomes us to February DA. Corrects himself, thanks us for not demanding a snow day today. Says we have one snow day left.

Federal—Things get crazier even when you think it isn’t possible. We knew there would be nothing but problems about profession, ability to have strong union, or for basic rights. We need to focus on state level. We need to solidify work in city. Not enough time to discuss federal craziness.

Union needs to remain focused on strategic priorities, or we’re setting ourselves up for loss. Our allies understand we are there for them. We support their issues. We must remain focused, and be there for allies who depend on us.

Says many people pressuring for resolutions, hitting streets, etc. But we must first prepare for Janus. This is about taking rights, benefits, and ability to advocate away from us.

EPA, Dept. of Labor devastated, and we hear about stupid tweets. We have to make it about our ability to advocate, push people, defend ed., community, and people we serve.

Asks delegation, as we move into firing line, to remain focused. Must be prudent on what we move on. We don’t need resolutions to go to Women’s March. We will be there. But must remain focus. If we fail, then all our causes will fail because we will not be there to help. UFT is largest most powerful union in USA.

State—Governor rolled out budget. Good things about public ed. Got large applause when he said NY State would protect union and workers. Proud NY State spends more on ed. than other states. Says we have educated him, are highly effective.

Budget proposal—two year process—have to meet minimums from last year—1.5% increase in education. Came in with 3% increase instead. He’s signaling he doesn’t know if he can get much further. Also, health care 3%. Important for students and communities we serve. We will not get involved in fights with health care workers, will have mutual support.

More important is idea of restructuring taxes in NY State. We will get a huge budget cut next year. Governor has taken lead and said in this. Federal tax plan specifically goes after 12 states, donor states, including us. We pay for services, 48 billion more than we get back. Being used in states that got tax break.

Now we are punished for not supporting candidates who passed that tax bill. Will cost NY 14 billion additional next year. Governor trying to give us deductions back. Will probably be used to give governor and corporations tax breaks.

NY State will create tax credit for charitable funds. 10K limit for state, local taxes, and mortgagee. Other piece is payroll tax, still deductible. We may lower income tax and increase payroll tax to use as a deduction.

Feds will call It outrageous. NY is acting like a corporation. Sad we’ve gotten to the point we even have to look at this, but if not, we will be hurt—individually, and our schools will hurt too.. We will work with governor to not allow fed scheme to hurt us.

Governor now gets student of the month, star on refrigerator, we must keep him there.
City—We are in agreement, except on middle management. We have sympathetic city council. Our visitors, Council Speaker Cory Johnson. Second most powerful position now held by chapter leader, Danny Dromm—also other CL Mark Treyger.

Johnson—Running speaker’s race was difficult. But there was someone who would call, ask if things were OK—Michael Mulgrew, thanks him for leadership. Thanks Paul Egan, Brigit Ryan, Anne Goldman and Dermot Smyth. Says thank you to UFT for being strong, progressive union that serves children every single day, through good times and bad. Members of this union show up every single day with a mission of service. No one becomes a teacher to get rich. You do it to make a difference, to improve lives of young people. It’s one of the highest callings. I was always a friend of this union. I stand shoulder to shoulder with you.

Dromm—Good to be back, for third and final term, as finance chair. Everyone in this room can do what we’ve done. Hope you are thinking about that. Thanks Mulgrew, calls him tough, strong, says he has created change. I was CL or delegate, sitting here, lived through Bloomberg and Klein, much better place. We now have great leadership. I came out as openly gay teacher, and people here supported me. Cory came out at 16. We speak out for voiceless. We want to change teachers thinking they are voiceless.

Politics is related to education—look at us, three of us, making change, with leadership of union. We will stand strong. Teaching is not a business, or business model—we need to push back.

Treyger—Says it’s good to be home. UFT was first and only union that stood with us in 2013, and we won. Proud product of public schools. I was a teacher and delegate. Started as paraprofessional. Made the journey. Was previously chairman of Hurricane Sandy recovery committee. Would ask tough questions. Mayor said I get fiery. Comes from Michael Mulgrew and my depth of knowledge DOK chart. I asked them critical thinking questions.

If you or your chapters ever had any doubt about power and potential of COPE, take a good look at this stage right now. Thanks to Mulgrew, to political directors, to leadership at UFT, to Brooklyn, we have the education dream team here. Speaker Johnson forgot one thing, that he and Dromm made sure we increased teachers’ choice. Had your backs. Message here is correct. Change begins at home. Must start from bottom.

I remember visitors with clipboards, quality reviews, etc. Now it’s our turn. Now we have the clipboard and I’m gonna ask questions of DOE. Where do we stand on reducing class size, paid leave, empowering children with IEPs and ELLs, making sure we have adequate wiring and AC, and on actually respecting educators?

Great to see friends at parades, but when it comes time for budget decisions you know where your friends are. We will always have your back in solidarity.

Mulgrew—Says we did this.

Lobby Day March 19th. Registration started today. May be someone other than CL.

Saturday, will rally 72 and Broadway, 11 AM.

Parental leave—started with social media, many emails, please keep doing that. Have to get there. All pols wonder about cuts. Important to do now.

Thanks schools fighting back against closings. Some schools make no sense. We need transparency. Keep telling them there are failures in leadership. They wait years, say we’re right, and close schools. We want to avoid that.

Can’t they find good principals?

Negotiating committee met. Signed confidentiality committee. Largest in history.

Membership teams—There is no way everyone in this room can talk to every member. Important we tell people what Janus means. Wisconsin union prez will be here to tell us what’s happened. Worse than I thought. Benefits, pay and rights at stake.

We need to have a real conversation about facts. Let us know if you don’t have a team, and we will help.

Asks how much you get from Welfare Fund. Average $1740.

What happens the year you need it, if you don’t have a plan? We have this because of our union. Ask your staff—do you think the city gives us the welfare fund? They don’t. We negotiate for what we can get, and then fight with many companies to make sure they don’t rip off members. Members need to understand.

Without this, we’ll pay thousands for pharmaceuticals.  We will have more door knocking. Face to face at worksite is pivotal.

Every time there’s a snow day, email is full of people who have to report. If they aren’t on school table of organization, they have to go to work. People need to know this is condition of employment. Stupid if they’re open for no reason. We have to negotiate this.

Next DA February 7th, in 3 weeks. This is national Public School Proud week. We will have coordinated activities. Suggests bear costume for Betsy DeVos. We do best job, because we take them all and educate them all. Let DeVos come here. Suggests we invite her. She can come see what we do every day. Ends 5:27.

LeRoy Barr—Speaks of Women’s March, invites us. Feb. 6, 12, 27 Black History Month film series. CTE Awards, Feb. 15. CL Training Pt. 3—March 3, 4. March 10—Para luncheon, also 14 annual school counselors conference. Early childhood 3/17. Next DA 2/7.


Q—Hearing Regents wants school year based on hours rather than days. What is our position?

A—Problem for almost every state system. Right now, you get credit when children are in partially. We are in discussion, with Regents and NYSUT. Do not believe it will work. Should be changed. Some PROSE schools have shifted schedules. Would be aversely affected. Would have to change calendar. We like it as is.

Q—How can we get repped on negotiation committee?

A—Adult ed. is already on.

Q—MOSL—we have students who have to take “Sandy Fast.” Principal has too high expectations—from 4 to 27. Some kids out for 7 months. Where do numbers come from?

A—Problematic when we look at challenging students. Someone will see you right now, who reps us at state level. She was able to help self-contained teachers.

Q—Class sizes—we have support from city council—How can we add over utilization to class size concern. Says his school at 187% (mine is higher). Says some are over 200%. How do we address this?

A—Most class size grievances settled, we win most. Some areas so overcrowded. This was failure of planning on behalf of city. They’ll rush to build schools where overcrowded now. By the time they do this, others will be overcrowded. System doesn’t work, no one has changed it. Hopeful that one of these folks you saw on stage today understands issues. We have finance and ed. chairs now. Never had this opportunity before. Ridiculous we don’t require developers to add school seats. Hudson Yards will have at least 10K students. City building only 210 seats. In five years west side will be direly overcrowded. No one talking of building schools there.

Must change our whole process. We have a census, need better transfer plan too. Real problem, working with city council.

Q—What is protocol for UFT members who have issues with one another.

A—Recommends CL not try to mediate. Used LEOC or peer mediation in his school. No easy answer. We will send people to help. We have counselors.


Janella Hinds—In support of Women’s March.  Asks we vote on it this month.


Safe and Supportive Schools—next month.

Mike Lowe—Encourages support—lays out problems and solutions. Suspension of students of color—leads to higher incarceration. De Blasio mandates reduced suspensions. Not real solution. Wants training for teachers. Have been pilots. 3 districts pushing non-punitive actions.


Dermot Myrie—Resolution for Black Lives Matter Week—MLK says silence is a betrayal—this res. says UFT should participate with grassroots orgs Feb. 5-9. As we defend public ed., can we address equity for communities we serve. 60% students of color. Affects us all. BLM is not anti-law enforcement. Family members are police, DAs, correction officers. Asks that we support this action. Could be asset to Public School Proud. Could move cultural awareness. Urges endorsement.

LeRoy Barr—Speaks against. Not against movement, or saying we are unaware of racism. Passed numerous res. on these issues. Moved agenda on these issues. Worked with numerous groups pushing diversity. Did that work. Says father was cop. Spoke of this at AFT. Knows what it’s like to be child of police officer.

Said community policing was most important thing he did. Mom was teacher. Grew up in city, was stopped by cops.

I’m politically active in different groups. However, this is the UNITED Federation of Teachers. This is splinter issue, is divisive. With Janus on horizon, does UFT need to be engaged in activity that will split the membership. If you support this, other bodies will help you. You can do this work.

Many years ago, Vietnam War was splinter issue. UFT said, we’re not going to politically engage in that. Would take us away from main issues. Membership must be aware of attacks coming in next three months. We need to stay focused to stay largest and most powerful union.

Not speaking against issue, asking you vote down.

Point of order—To extend meeting.

Mulgrew will ask in 90 seconds.


Time not extended.

Res. 1—CHIP—children’s health program

Karen Allford speaks for, supplies free lunch, school based health centers, 8.9 million children enrolled. Helps poor and middle class. Ran out of money in September. Asks we urge funding.

Passes unanimously.

We are adjourned. 6:02

Why Are You Here?

What do you say when a student asks you that question? I mean, they pay you to come here. That's one reason. You might also speak of your zeal and dedication. You are here to help. You're on a mission. There is no place else you'd rather be. That can get a little flowery, and kids might not buy it.

Now if you want to be really difficult, you could say this--Let me answer that question in two parts:

As to the first part of your question--Why? Everyone asks why. For years, man has looked up to the heavens, and asked why. Some of the wisest people in our history have puzzled over this issue. There are those guys in India who sit cross legged and meditate. They say OMMMMM... until it ends, and no one knows exactly when that is.

Me, I'm just an English teacher. I can't tell you why.

As for the second part of your question, am I here? Well yes I am.

As it happens, yesterday I was supposed to give an exam. It was a midterm exam, or a midyear exam, or perhaps a final exam. I don't know, really. But it was definitely an exam. My department's exam day was yesterday. But I had a meeting, and I didn't want to leave it with a sub. My kids are mostly good, but I have no idea how they will act with a sub. (With me, they'll act like they do with me.)

The thing was, yesterday I had a meeting scheduled during class time. So I told them on Friday the exam was moved from Tuesday to Wednesday. They asked me why. Now I miss a lot of classes because I'm the chapter leader. I tried, one year, to tell my beginning ELLs that I was the chapter leader. They looked at me as though I'd just fallen from the sky.

The following year, and every year after that, I told them I have two jobs. First, I teach you English. Second, I go to stupid meetings. They asked why. I said because the principal asks me to, and he's, you know, the principal. They nodded their heads, and it seemed everything was fine. Except it wasn't.

My former principal liked to constantly walk the halls. He also liked to check the trailers. On this particular day, it was raining. I heard a knock, and opened the door. There, outside, was the principal, in his suit, with rain dripping from his hair. He walked in the classroom and looked around. A girl raised her hand.

"Mr. Principal?"


"Why do you make Mr. Goldstein go to stupid meetings?"

He looked at her for a moment.

"I thought they were IMPORTANT meetings!" he said. He then turned around, walked back into the pouring rain, and let the trailer door slam behind him.

Yesterday, a kid walked in five minutes late. That's unusual in my class.

"Why are you late?" I asked.

"Why are you here?" he asked.

"You told us you were going to a stupid meeting," said another student.

"So you're late because you thought I wouldn't be here?" I asked the boy.

"Of course," he said.

"Sorry, but the meeting was canceled so I'm here."

Yesterday I actually gave out the work I'd left for the sub. I figured it wouldn't be fair to give the test I had ready, since I'd told them it would be today. The sub stuff was pretty good review for the test, but was a little more boring than what I'd have picked for myself. You always wonder, when you leave sub stuff. Will the sub get it? If the sub gets it, will the sub do it? Will the kids tell the sub they did it already? Will the sub believe them?

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. But I thought the kid had a pretty fair excuse for his lateness. I count myself lucky he was the only one. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I Have No One to Thank but the UFT

So said a comment I read, complaining about something or other. I have deep and longstanding issues with UFT leadership. My primary issue is lack of representation. I'm a high school teacher, and my fellow high school teachers did me the great honor of electing me to represent them on the UFT Executive Board. I'm happy to do this. Of course, we're outnumbered 20 to 1 by people who've signed loyalty oaths, who show up and say nothing unless they're told to, and who vote on cue for however they're instructed.

However, that's not even the main problem. The main problem is we have zero representation on AdCom, which actually makes all the decisions which are invariably rubber stamped at the Executive Board, and later at the Delegate Assembly. We also pay dues to NYSUT, NEA, and AFT, where precisely zero people we chose represent us.

Now, in a way, the sentiment, "I have no one to thank but the UFT," is correct. After all, UFT set up the system that way, via leadership. And once that pesky Michael Shulman was no longer UFT Vice President for High Schools, leadership rigged the system so we'd no longer be able to choose our own VP. Doubtless this was approved by the rubber-stamp Executive Board and Delegate Assembly.

In another way, though, it's not correct at all. When I read statements like that, it sounds like the UFT is some sort of outside entity. Maybe it's a spaceship from Mars. Who knows? But that statement takes no ownership. I don't always agree with UFT President Michael Mulgrew, but once I saw him correct someone at the DA. The person said UFT did this or that. Mulgrew said, "You are UFT." That's absolutely right. That person is UFT, I'm UFT, and whoever made the title comment is UFT too.

A friend of mine said, "There are two problems with the UFT--the leadership and the membership." I'd argue that's wholly accurate. Hey, if you don't like Michael Mulgrew, vote against him. It's simple, isn't it? Yet in the last UFT election, three out of four members tossed their ballots into the trash. So really, if Mulgrew is this or that, whose fault is it?

It's our fault, of course. We all need to get off our butts and vote.

Now there are always other things we can do. For example, I've been writing this little blog since May 2005. I don't need permission of UFT leadership to write it. I don't need the mayor's permission either. They can shut me up at the Executive Board with inane points of order, but they can't shut me up here.

Nine years ago I became UFT chapter leader at my school. This is the kind of thing that teaches you humility. I mean, you're teaching for twenty years and you take on a new job about which you know nothing. Fortunately, after I do something once I kind of figure how to do it again. In learning to be chapter leader I've grown a relatively fresh appreciation for what it's like to be a new teacher. I certainly remember being overwhelmed with disasters I had no idea how to face, just like when I started teaching.

I write elsewhere, too. I've met and corresponded with a whole lot of journalists who actually do this for a living. (That's a pretty tough thing to do nowadays, with so much content online.) When I first started as chapter leader, I was able to get my school into the three major city papers one way or another. We were able to stave off the massive and unconscionable overcrowding they'd put us through for a while.

By the time circumstance reversed our good fortune, I was on the UFT Executive Board. When I brought up our issue, the very first time I spoke at the Executive Board, Ellie Engler set up a meeting with school construction and we were able to negotiate an annex to replace our crumbling trailers and airless converted closets. So while things are rough now, we have some form of relief in our future.

I'm just a teacher, like most of you reading this. I blame leadership for a whole lot of things, and I'm in their faces about it twice a month. Sure, some of them failed to send me a Christmas card last year. But if we're willing to go out on a limb and risk fewer Christmas cards, there are always things we can do.

We just have to think of what they are. Let's start by voting every chance we get, without exception, and build from there.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dr. King Saw Janus Coming

Today we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., assassinated in 1968. He's famous for his work in civil rights, but when he was assassinated he was supporting working people. He was protesting that black workers got partial pay on a day they were sent home while white workers got paid the whole day. But he knew what "right to work" was all about.

Almost half a century later, we're moving backward. Our lying, racist President labels countries of color "shitholes" and wonders why we don't get more people from Norway. Why Norway? Well, they're white over there. Why would someone from Norway come over here anyway? In Norway, they have cradle to grave health care. How many of them go bankrupt due to catastrophic medical emergency? As in most of the developed world, that number would be zero. How many of them can't afford college? Again, zero.

While few US citizens have pensions these days, Norway, rather than pump energy profits into private corporations, uses it to fund pensions. We teachers are very lucky to have defined pension benefits, and they are under assault by reformies who'd like us to use 401k funds and hope for the best. In fact, even the inventor of the 401k says it wasn't meant to replace pensions.

It's disgraceful that the President of the United States is so woefully ignorant that he regularly blurts out preposterous nonsense, and not only about Norway. Dr. Martin Luther King is likely as not rolling over in his grave. This is a man who literally gave his life for his ideals. Donald Trump has no problem rattling sabres over Kim Jung Un, another lunatic world leader, but took five deferments back when his fat ass was on the line. His feet were no good back then, but now that he's sitting around the White House watching three television screens and eating cheeseburgers before he goes to sleep, he's in perfect health.

I don't know how many states were "right to work" back when King made the above statement, but right now there are 28. After Janus, there will likely be 50. Mulgrew tells us that our new best bud, Andrew Cuomo, will work with us to circumvent Janus if possible. I'm not sure. The fact is Cuomo also enables the IDC, a bizarre arrangement under which Democrats help Republicans control the NY State Senate. Without them we might be looking at universal health care in NY State. With them, Cuomo might be able to say, "See, I tried to help, but I was blocked by those goshdarn senators."

The first thing we need to do to get closer to MLK's vision is to dump the GOP Congress and Senate. If we attain a Democratic majority, it's possible Trump could change his positions. After all, he has no moral compass, no integrity, and cares only about winning. And yes, I know we're all tired of winning, but if the only way our child-man President can win is by doing the right thing, maybe he'll come around. Of course, we have to get rid of the President ASAP too, because he's a blithering lunatic.

The next thing we have to do is let Democrats know that, if they want our votes, they'll have to start representing Americans rather than corporations. Americans want universal health care. Americans want tuition free college. Americans want better wages. I always marvel at how many of us watch the garbage on Fox and buy ideas that ultimately hurt us. I always recall being in East Berlin, seeing Pravda sold everywhere, and seeing no one buy it. What did they know that we don't?

We need to honor the memory of Dr. King. To do that, we have to fight our racist, nazi-justifying President. We need to fight for better lives for all Americans. As teachers, we need to foster critical thinking. That's a tall order considering the national movement toward reforminess, nonsensical tests, and charters that specialize in Drudgery 101, 102, and onward ad infinitum.

We need to stand together and fight post-Janus. That's a tall order, particularly considering local union leadership that opposes democracy almost as much as Donald Trump does. But it's 2018, and I'm up for both fronts.

What about you?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Here's the Real Shithole

I remember the day after Election Day. I woke up, thinking, well, Hillary kind of sucks, but at least she isn't as bad as Trump. I came downstairs and turned on the news. I watched returns coming in. Hillary was up in this state, and Trump was up in that.

Then a graphic flashed across the screen. "Donald Trump elected President of the United States." It was as if a bad joke had sprouted wings and began to fly right there in my living room. How could this happen? How could an ignorant racist galoot like that ever become President of the United States?

I have to admit I was delighted watching him defeat the evil GOP bastards against whom he ran. Their positions are odious. They don't give a crap about working people. They smile to our faces and stab us in our backs. I deluded myself in believing a preposterous clown like Donald Trump could never win the White House. I mean, the crap about Obama being born in Kenya? Demanding the death penalty for innocent teenagers? The bigoted blather on Mexico? Pussy grabbing?

This guy was the total package. I remember watching Saturday Night Live when Kate McKinnon, portraying Hillary, was pictured dancing and drinking, not even contemplating the possibility of loss. I was sure that morning I'd turn on the TV and see she was President.

That day I dressed all in black. People asked me if I did that because Trump was President and I told them of course. That night there was a UFT Delegate Assembly. I forgot to go. I just drove home. It was the only one I missed last year. People told me it was different and that Mulgrew let people speak. I guess it was a good idea. After all, AFT had been an early endorser of Hillary. I never liked Hillary until Donald Trump became the alternative. Once that happened, she looked relatively good.

Now Donald Trump calls El Salvador and Haiti, and African nations shitholes. A while back he talked about them living in huts. I think Donald Trump has never been anywhere. I mean, he's traveled to cities, I suppose, and stayed in first class hotels where they pampered him like he's always pampered. They fed him his well done steaks with ketchup and fetched him the cheeseburgers he needs to power him up for watching cable news.

But this man is a disgrace from A to Z. He's a national embarrassment. I grew up hearing jokes about banana republics with crooked politics. Look at us. Trump got 3 million fewer votes than his opponent and he's President. He musters the audacity to act as though he has a mandate, even as his popularity swirls the bottom of the bowl.

No, Mr. President. My students do not come from shitholes. They come here looking for opportunity, looking for better lives. They come here to escape violence. And what do they get?

They get Donald Trump. Every day I wonder more and more why they come here at all, and every day Trump shows the world we're not a melting pot, but a festering heap of garbage.

Every time I see his face I feel ashamed to be an American.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Chalkbeat Says Good Morning, and Waiting for Superman is Mainstream

I admit I read Rise and Shine from Chalkbeat every morning. It's kind of a cheat sheet to find out what education stories I might want to see every day.  Also, they email it to me every morning around 7 AM, when I'm sitting with my computer in a department office. I was struck by the part of the intro yesterday, which read exactly like this:

Plus, a new study estimates the cost to district schools when students leave for charter schools. Finally, are you wondering what Oprah would bring to the table on education policy if she ran for president? Chalkbeat has you covered.

What's a district school? Had you ever heard of such a thing in your life before charters existed? I'd argue this is a term they invented. Use of this term legitimizes charter claims to be public schools, but in fact we know that charters are public schools only when they want public money. Eva Moskowitz waged a war with City Hall over having to sign an agreement over pre-K. Moskowitz doesn't do agreements. Whatever Eva wants, Eva gets.

Here's another thing--you may have read about how Eva's students pee their pants rather than interrupt their test prep. That's outrageous and abusive, I'd say. In fact, not only do I say it, but Chancellor's Regulation A-420, which doesn't apply in Eva World, prohibits the use of physical force. As a parent, if you forced my kid to sit and work until she peed her pants, I'd want you charged with that. If that didn't fit, I'd want you charged with negligence, abuse or both. I'm absolutely certain if I were to make kids pee their pants I'd be up on some sort of misconduct. Maybe at Moskowitz Academies you get a gold star, a raise, a promotion, or all of the above.

Who knows?

Then there's Oprah. Of course Chalkbeat lets you know all about her educational policies. Let's look at the headlines they run:

She understands racism and poverty in America — and how schools can make a difference.

Yes of course. The only thing is, racism and poverty have yet to be ended by schools. If they had been, Donald Trump would certainly not be President. And here's the thing--Oprah is a remarkable success story. Painting her as the rule rather than the exception is ridiculous. It's like determining that because Bill Gates didn't go to college, your kid doesn't need to either. And Gates, who Oprah admires, has steadfastly operated on the theory that poverty is too complicated, so we'd best ignore it.

Then there's the talk about Oprah's school. It's not precisely all roses, as abusesex scandals, and other things make you wonder whether you want this school in your neighborhood. And even if you did, how could you judge American education by schools in South Africa? I'm not an expert on South Africa, but if I were looking for a country that really addressed poverty, I'd look to Scandanavia. Sit while you wait for Chalkbeat to do that.

She has given to education initiatives that cross partisan divides

Well that's all nice and well, but anyone following education knows that there are very few partisan divides. The Democrats suck, and the Republicans suck a little bit more. Charter schools are not viewed as a panacea by people who follow education. Of course, these people get little representation by Democrats or Republicans. Here's the thing--they get none in Chalkbeat either, even though it portrays itself as non-partisan. Maybe Chalkbeat failed to notice that Hillary, representing Democrats, failed to support universal health care, a living wage, or college for all. Maybe they failed to notice that the majority of Americans support these policies, and that they had no representation from the Democrats or Republicans. Who knows? The only sure conclusion is that Chalkbeat deems reforminess universal.

They're wrong, of course.

She’s also aligned herself with heavyweights of the ‘education reform’ movement

It's ironic they use the word also here. After all, they just said she was bipartisan because she supports charter schools. Who can forget the show she devoted to reformy Waiting for Superman, with Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Geoffrey Canada, and whoever else was the reformy flavor of the month? Last I heard, Canada walked away from his charter school, Rhee was hawking fertilizer, and Gates was still hammering away, undeterred by his record of utter failure.

Maybe ignoring poverty and blaming teachers for all of society's ills isn't the way to go after all. It depends what's important to you. Do you want to actually help the children of the United States? Then you're gonna need a new approach. On the other hand, if your goal is enriching Betsy DeVos and her billionaire BFFs, just keep reading Chalkbeat and chugging along the way we are now.

If you're looking for well-thought-out local information, though, you might want to check out Diane  Ravitch or Gary Rubinstein. They don't assume charter schools are better than public schools, and they don't assume charter schools are public schools, because they aren't. They are private schools that take public money.

Of course, that's my opinion. The difference between this blog and Chalkbeat is that I'll freely admit this blog represents my point of view. I'm paid by no one to write this. Chalkbeat takes money from Gates and Walmart, just to name a couple. They claim to be unbiased but they present the reformy view as though it's the Gospel.

President Oprah is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard. Running a TV show is one of the worst qualifications for President I can think of. Of course, accepting reforminess as Gospel is just another. I wouldn't vote for Oprah on a bet. If she wants to do the country a service, she can take all that money she has, buy Fox News, and try to slow down the national plague of willful ignorance.

This notwithstanding, I won't be holding my breath.