Friday, February 23, 2018

The Gun Show Loophole Has to Go

I haven't read or heard a whole lot about the gun show loophole. This is important, because without closing it, there is nothing that will keep anyone from getting a gun. You might read about, for example, how terrible Chicago is, how they have the toughest gun laws, and how no law will keep it safe. But most of the guns in Chicago don't come from Chicago.

Now sure, it might be a minor inconvenience to leave your city when you need a gun. But if you're set on having one, you'll do it. NYC has pretty tough gun laws too. However, I drive in and out of New York City every working day of my life. If I want to buy a gun in Floral Park, it's a ten-minute drive. And if I don't like the New York State gun laws, I can always drive to a gun show in another state, like Vermont, and get whatever I want.

People who tell you gun laws don't work are right, in a way. The Florida legislators wouldn't even discuss an assault weapon ban, but declared pornography dangerous. They evidently want to protect their young people from pornography but not assault weapons. I'm not entirely sure why they feel that way. After all, it's 2018, and most people I know, outside of professional DJs, don't even own a pornograph any more.

Assault weapon supporters, though, have a good point when they say an assault weapon ban in Florida might not have much effect. Floridians could always take a road trip to, say, Kentucky, and buy one over there. If you're a lunatic set on killing a lot of people, you're probably willing to spend a few hours in your car to get the necessary tools.

So here's the thing--President Trump and the other people who take money from the GOP are outrageous hypocrites if they say regulation doesn't work. This is because they are now under so much pressure that they're proposing regulations. The only major issue is the regulation they're proposing won't work. I wouldn't be surprised if they had sat around, decided to enact regulation that wouldn't work. That way, when it didn't work, they could say, "See? We tried it your way, but it didn't work."

In this, they remind me of no one more than Bloomberg's DOE. I distinctly recall going to an out-of-building PD and hearing about a new program. I don't remember anymore what it was, but I remember thinking it was plainly ridiculous. I objected to the presenter, and his defense was, "Well, we had to do something."  I also remember my response. I said, "We don't need you to do just anything. We need you to do something that works." The DOE hack had no response for that.

Trump is proposing better background checks, but as long as the gun show loophole is open, anyone can get whatever they want without one. I don't believe mental illness makes people violent, and I read somewhere that only 3% of those who suffer from it are violent. Nonetheless, people who suffer from mental illness ought not to have access to military weapons. You might find that discriminatory, but it's not. No one but the military ought to have military weapons.

The game the NRA and the politicians owned by it is playing is saying that those who suffer from mental illness ought not to have access to any firearms at all. Maybe they're right, but what they're really saying is those who don't suffer from mental illness ought to have access to assault weapons. That way, they sell more assault weapons. And frankly, the NRA is not just a group of gun owners. It's a lobby for gun manufacturers.

What's more important, gun sales, or our safety, and the safety of our children? That's a pretty easy answer for me. In America, in 2018, we need to ban the sale of assault weapons, buy back as many as we can from existing owners, and arrange for fewer guns out there. The notion of arming teachers does precisely the opposite, and every other proposal Trump is now talking up serves only to maintain the status quo while feigning action.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Trump Doesn't Hear You--He Wants You to Carry a Gun and Leave Him Alone

Trump needed a cheat sheet for his listening session yesterday. Take a look at number five, which says, "I hear you." It's kind of remarkable that anyone needs a reminder to acknowledge hearing the people he's there to listen to, but that's what you have there.

It's not a big secret that Trump is considering enabling the arming of teachers. Back when Trump was running against Hillary, he denied having taken this position. But now that he's painted into a corner, NRA seems to have decided he needs to appear to be taking action.

So now, let's arm 20% of the teachers in any given school building, he says. It's not a big secret that this has neither been tried nor worked anywhere either. But it will sell more guns rather than fewer, and that's good enough for NRA. There are readily available examples of massive gun bans working, and that's not what NRA wants. After all, they paid over 30 million dollars for this President. It's like NRA people sat around in a room somewhere, asking, "How can we pretend to solve the problem and sell more guns in the process?" A WIN-WIN!

In Australia, in 1996, they decided they'd had enough of gun violence. They bought back a bunch of guns, made military weapons unavailable to the public, and they haven't had another incident since. A UK school massacre led to a gun ban there. They banned semi-automatic weapons and made gun registration mandatory. In the United States, it's pretty well known that kids who can't buy beer can buy guns.

Trump doesn't want to deal with that. He has that 30 million dollars from the NRA, and for that, there is no way he will go for a ban on military weapons. There is no way he will move to end the gun show loophole. Until he does both, pretty much anyone can buy pretty much anything. I'm gonna go out on a limb and assume that NRA gave the OK for him to oppose bump stocks. Maybe, there's some possibility he'll demand age limits. But even if he does, there are always the gun shows.

As for teachers packing, I'm a teacher. My job, believe it or not, is incredibly complicated. I have dozens of teenagers in front of me, each and every one is different, and each and every one needs to be treated differently. I can talk this way to that one, but I have to talk that way to this one. I can argue with this one, because she'll argue back, but not with that one, because he will melt away, disappear, and I'll never see him again. If you're a teacher, you know what I mean.


If you're Donald Trump, you think the classroom will be a safer place with a gun in it. You think that teachers have nothing else to do, and will instantly transform into Vin Diesel and hop into action when killers come in. Evidently, when the criminal enters the classroom with an AR-15, the teacher will pull out a handgun and subdue him. If I were a killer, I'd make it a point to enter the classroom and shoot the teacher first, just in case. I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to come to that conclusion.

But what if I manage to get my gun out in time? What if I miss? What if I miss and hit one of the kids? What if I miss, hit one of the kids, and the gunman puts down seven or twelve more while I deal with my shock? What if I'm in the middle of a really great lesson and don't want to interrupt it by shooting at the gunman? And what if I have a nervous breakdown, and rather than scream at the kid who made me mad, shoot him dead? Maybe I'm tired of calling his parents.

I don't think I'd do anything like that, but who knows? Cops aren't perfect. They make mistakes, and being cops is their job. It's not my job. I don't even want to be dean. Why do I want to deal every single day with the most problematic students in the building? Sorry, but it's all I can do to deal with the problematic students in my classes. Other people want to be deans. Should they be armed? I think not.

Marco Rubio, on CNN last night, wondered how a SWAT team would know that a teacher with a gun was a good guy. I don't much trust Rubio, but that's a very good question.  Rubio looked like he was fighting for his life, ready to say whatever necessary to make up for taking that three million bucks from the NRA. Maybe they allow him liberties to save his ass. Who knows?

Regardless, here's what Trump's game is--he will obfuscate. All this talk about teachers having guns is absolute nonsense. Here's what Trump says:

"A gun-free zone to a maniac, because they're all cowards, a gun-free zone is 'let's go in and attack,'" he said. "I really believe if these cowards knew that the school was well-guarded from the standpoint of pretty much having professionals with great training, I think they wouldn't go into the schools to start with, it would pretty much solve your problem."

Now Trump may know a little bit about cowardice, what with his five draft deferments. Still, the fact is a lot of people who shoot up schools do so because they are desperately depressed. They aren't worried about getting shot. They're fine with that. Sometimes they shoot themselves, having taken down a bunch of people with them. Trump's point, like most of what he says, is absolute nonsense. But NRA allows it because it won't fly where people aren't insane, and where they are, more guns would be sold.

Still, it's something. And that's all he needs. He can say he's tried to do something. Then he can blame the bleeding hearts for not accepting his idiotic ideas. But we know what works. We need fewer, not more guns. We need fewer,  not more military weapons. They should be banned, no civilians should have them, and manufacturers who sell them to civilians should be imprisoned.

We know what works. We also know what doesn't work, and that's pretty much whatever comes out of Donald Trump's mouth, all of which is bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guns in Schools

The knee-jerk reaction to the Florida shooting, among jerks both with and without knees, was that we need more guns in schools. While we're on the subject of jerks, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos thinks we need to have a robust conversation about them.

Now Betsy DeVos is all about using schools to make her rich friends even richer. I don't imagine there are a whole lot of gun manufacturers moonlighting as cabdrivers, so why not help them out?

DeVos had previously not made a big issue over the right to bear arms, focusing more on the threat of armed bears. But hey, whatever pulls money out of the pockets of working people and relocates it to those of people who least need it is good with DeVos and all her fellow Trumpies.

The public argument goes like this--the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Like those who make such arguments, I've watched a lot of television. I have observed that good guys with guns tend to do better than bad guys with guns. This is true from 1950s westerns right up to the present day. Here's the thing, though--while as a teacher I consider myself one of the good guys, I haven't got the remotest notion what to do with a gun. And even if I were trained how to use it, I have no idea how I'd react to a bad guy with a gun.

Here's another fact--the fewer guns we have, the fewer people will be shot with them. Trump talks a big ball game about guns, at times even suggesting that "second amendment people" might take down Hillary Clinton. But when it comes his time to address the NRA, guns are not allowed. The Secret Service are expert in protecting the President, and they determined the best way to do so was to remove guns from the equation altogether.

If that's the way to keep people safe, our kids ought to be kept safe in precisely the same manner. Where there are no guns, there is no one getting shot, not intentionally, not by accident, not at all. My home has no guns, and no gun accidents either. My house does have a dog, and we do have dog accidents now and then. Sometimes he pees on the floor and I clean it up. Sometimes I accidentally kick him if I don't see him. I pet him and apologize and he seems to understand. But no one goes to the hospital or dies.

President Ronald Reagan was shot in 1981. He was surrounded by good guys with guns. In fact, as Secret Service, they were the best trained good guys with guns in the world. It certainly could have been worse, but even so it was unacceptable. Teachers can be taught about gun use, but we won't be the best trained good guys in the world, and hey, things on TV don't always reflect reality. Once the bad guys shoot the good guy with a gun, it's open season on said good guy's students.

As if that weren't enough, there was an armed guard at the Florida high school where 17 people were murdered. The guard never saw the shooter. Here's how we deal with this--we stop selling assault weapons to Americans. These weapons should be the exclusive province of the military, and the people who offer them to others are criminals, whether or not the law says so.

In Australia, they found a way to deal with mass shootings. They bought back a bunch of guns and made them unavailable. While that won't be perfect, it will at least curb the rampant availability of such weapons. We also need to close the gun show loophole that pretty much renders all state regulations moot.

If I have to insure my car for liability, you damn well ought to have to insure your gun for the same. It's nice that Trump, who took 30 million dollars from the NRA, is now paying lip service to this issue. But we need a lot more than that. Bringing guns into classrooms is one of the very stupidest notions I've ever heard in my life.

Related: Newt Gingrich states arming teachers is only long-term solution.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

And a Child Shall Lead Them

I'm floored by the sheer volume of reports I get about the Florida school killings. At every moment there's another report, another angle. Some are just beyond the pale, For example, the Washington Post just reported that the Trumpies see it as a reprieve from all the negative press they're receiving. Can you imagine how bad things must be that a mass murder looks good to them?

Naturally, you get the bought-and-paid-for GOP Senators offering thoughts and prayers, and saying that now is not the time to talk about fewer mass murders. And Trump, who took $30 million from NRA, doesn't talk about stopping assault rifle sales until we figure out what the hell is going on, because that kind of talk is reserved for Muslims.

90% of Americans support expanded background checks for guns. NRA, flush with cash, buys its way around us. Walter Mosley has a great piece in the Nation about how it's commonplace to buy your way around democracy, and how $2000 bought him political access unavailable to most of us. Yet GOP flunkies like Paul Ryan say the same thing time and time again. Let's not rush into things before we have the facts, Let's not have a knee jerk reaction. And time and time again, we do nothing.

But then you see Emma Gonzalez speak, and you know she and her classmates can't be ignored. They were there. They're not accepting thoughts and prayers, or the nonsense that passes for caring. And they cannot and will not go away quietly.

And indeed there is truth to that, as our ostensible leader, Donald J. Trump, is all over the place frantically blaming everyone but himself. You know, it's the FBI's fault. They're so focused on whether or not Russia swayed our election that they missed this. And most importantly, it's not his fault. If children were murdered it isn't his fault. If Russia bought the election it isn't his fault.

He blames Schiff, Clinton, Obama, the FBI, life, the universe, and everyone and everything but himself, at one point putting forth the juvenile, "wasn't I a great candidate?" question. You know, I'm frequently in our department office when the supervisor is out. Kids come in, having been booted by their teachers. I ask, "Why are you here?" They say, "I don't know." I ask, "What did you do?" They say, "Nothing. The teacher is crazy." After a little digging, things generally appear a little more complicated.

Make no mistake, the President of the United States is that child, crying that he didn't do anything and that nothing is his fault. And Emma Gonzalez is the voice of truth. Her voice is so powerful that even bought-and-paid-for Donald Trump is now paying lip service to actually doing something.

But Emma and her classmates will not be bought off with trinkets, and they aren't going away. Nor is the FBI. Nor is Mueller. The kid in the office isn't getting away clean, and neither is the juvenile at the White House.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Test Prep or Participation? Teachers or Silly Putty?

Every day I read another story about where education is headed. Today it looks like they're moving toward play-based education for young children in Boston. I'm good with that. It makes sense to me to let children explore, rather than trying to transform them into efficient, test-taking automatons. Children need chances to be children, or they'll grow up into Donald Trumps, having temper tantrums on Twitter.

On the other hand, we face incredible pressure to have kids pass tests, and it starts early. While NY State has temporarily relieved teachers of grades 4-8 from consequences of flawed test scores, the rest of us are regularly touched by them. It's problematic because we have no idea where they're going, ever. Even assuming the tests are reasonable or fair this year, which they probably aren't, we have no idea where they are headed.

A few years back, Diane Ravitch compared NY State tests to national NAEP tests and determined them to be flawed. She was roundly criticized as alarmist by the reformies. But a year later, the NY Times and others began to agree with her, and it was clear the tests were dumbed down. And what had the press concluded before this revelation? That Bloomberg was a genius, of course.

Shortly thereafter Bill Gates said, "Let there be Common Core," and there was Common Core, and it was Good, according to Reformy John King. Reformy John declared that only around a quarter of students would pass, and it was so. And the papers, rather than walking back the Bloomberg genius theory, cried that the teachers all suck and must be fired.

And thus we ended up with this system, under which test scores determine whether or not we get to keep our jobs. Sometimes it works in our favor. In a school like mine, where scores are generally good, it helps more than it hurts. Other schools are not so lucky.

And even as we have this veritable Sword of Damocles over our heads, we're told we have to follow the Danielson rubric, and that participation is key. It's funny because I personally want my kids to participate as much as possible. I'm trying to get them to learn basic English, and I can't conceive of any way to do this effectively without, you know, using it. I want them to speak as much as possible.

On the other hand, they're taking a test called NYSESLAT, and my results are somehow tied to it. I've administered this test, and sat in front of bewildered newcomers grilling them over the fine points of Hammurabi's Code. I have no idea what this test is designed to measure, but my best guess is it's looking at how Common Corey the kids are. I don't spend a single minute trying to make students Common Corey, so I don't think I'm helping them with this test.

On the other hand, over at Moskowitz Academies they don't even take the kids I serve. If there are ESL students in Eva's place, they didn't just arrive last week with no knowledge of English. Eva can test prep them to death, or as near as the law allows, and squeeze better scores out of children. She can dump those who don't pass muster back into the public schools, and replace them with no one. And then we read that she has the Secret Sauce and we all suck.

So it's tough to determine, in a passive-aggressive system like ours, which way to go. Do we test prep and appease the MOSL score, or have the kids participate so as to get better observations? And that, of course, does not even consider the very real possibility of your supervisor being delusional, psychopathic, or on a personal vendetta against working teachers.

There's a saying, "You can't please them all." And it's true. You can't emphasize student participation and expect it will test-prep. And you can't test-prep and expect students to be enthusiastic about your class. I've done both, and I know what I prefer.

But that doesn't mitigate the fact that today's teachers are routinely expected, ridiculously, to be all things to all people. That's more than I can do.

How do you deal with these conflicting demands?

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Does Catastrophic Insurance Protect You or Is It a Practice in Catastrophe?

I signed up for the catastrophic medical insurance offered by NYSUT, not expecting a catastrophe, but you never know. I never thought the insurance itself would be catastrophic, but I should've thought things through. After all, I used NYSUT auto insurance for many years, and it wasn't until I bought a car in 2014 that I learned I was paying almost double what Allstate charges.

I asked the company, Mercer Consumer, for payroll deduction so I wouldn't have to send them checks all the time. If I recall correctly, there was some kind of discount associated with that. A few weeks ago, I got a note that I needed to send a payment or my account would be canceled. I figured that was nonsense since I asked for payroll deduction, so I tossed the letter.

The other day, however, I got an email from UFT saying the first payment must be by check. That surprised me since the packet stated no such thing. I'd have written a check immediately if only I still had the bill. The email instructed me to call Mercer, which I did,

I was encouraged to hear, in their recording, they had a devoted line to the NYSUT insurance. Their message said if you signed up for payroll deduction to ignore the bill. I decided to wait on the line to make sure, but the message said it would be 39 minutes to speak to a human. I declined. They probably told me my call was important to them, but I always figure if my calls are important to you, you'll, you know, answer them.

A friend in the office told me they had deducted from his check, and I went and found they had not deducted from mine. This grieved me deeply. I therefore called UFT Welfare Fund. I sat on hold while I waited to speak to an operator. I told the operator I wanted to speak to someone about it, and she put me on hold again. I entered my social security number and got placed on hold yet again.

I spoke to a woman at the Welfare Fund who told me I should call Mercer. I asked her why, then, I had gotten an email from Geof Sorkin, UFT Welfare Fund Executive Director. Naturally, she put me on hold again to check this out. When she came back, she told me that I would have to call Mercer. T

Unfortunately, I have this job and stuff, and my ability to sit 39 minutes and wait for Mercer is sorely limited. Sometimes I have to, you know, teach classes, and for some reason my principal frowns on leaving my speaker phone on so I can complete personal calls during class time. Also, at meetings, people seem to find that disrespectful.

I looked up Mercer online and found an email address:

I described my issue and left my NYSUT ID, which I have on a card in my wallet. If you're having the same problem, give them a holler. An autobot wrote back, saying I'd have a response in two days. Well, it beats staying on hold for 39 minutes.

On the other hand, I have a week off coming up. I suppose I could devote one day to sitting around and waiting for Mercer to respond to my call. Too bad they didn't just deduct it from my check. After all, I sent them a signed authorization.

You know, this is the only non-third-world country I know of where you need catastrophic medical insurance. It's also the only such country I know of where there is such a thing as Fox News and millions who watch it. That's probably how the Koch Brothers and their pals are able to disenfranchise so many voters that we now have Donald Trump as President.

I'll keep working to get the insurance I'm willing to pay for. Hopefully, we'll all keep working to render it obsolete.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

APPR and the Zombie Teacher Apocolypse

There's a lot of talk about evaluation systems being revamped, because that, evidently, is what you do with teacher evaluation systems, and you do it almost every year. NYSUT has declared it's time. It's odd, to me, that this is necessary because every new iteration is represented as the Bestest Thing Ever, not only by the state, but also by UFT President Michael Mulgrew.

I remember when we fought to have all 22 components of Danielson counted, even though Bloomberg wanted only seven, and it was a Great Victory. I remember when we reduced it to eight, and that too was a Great Victory. I remember the Great Victory when we were able to use artifacts, and the other Great Victory when they were eliminated.

Mulgrew just told the Executive Board that we were not going back to total control by principals. It's funny, because when junk science opponents (like me and Diane Ravitch) object to said junk science, we're told that we support 100% principal control. That's a double logical fallacy. First, it's a strawman, because I've never heard an APPR opponent say any such thing, nor have I said it myself. Second, it's a black and white fallacy, suggesting that if you don't support junk science, the only alternative is total control for principals.

Another bad argument came up at the DA the other day. A chapter leader got up and declared that the junk science saved her rating. I believe that. I've seen junk science raise ratings in my building. In fact, I was very happy to see negative ratings raised by junk science in my building. Nonetheless, there's a world outside of my building, and in that world, teachers rated well by supervisors have seen ratings tumble because of junk science.

APPR proponents will argue, correctly, that this can be mitigated by the matrix. But if you're rated developing by your supervisor, and your test grades get ineffective, the system say you are ineffective. I know people who've fallen under that category, and these people, under new supervisors in new schools, managed to blossom in both supervisor rating and junk science.

Personally, I don't believe the nonsense about earth having been invaded by a plague of zombie bad teachers. I mean, in any large group there will be outliers both high and low. But every time I've heard about the need for new teacher evaluations, it's been accompanied by talk of getting rid of the bad teachers.

It's funny to me, at least, because I regularly encounter far more examples of bad administration than bad teaching. You have some supervisor who hates you and everything you stand for, and therefore you need to watch every word you say to everyone, because if they hear even a hint of something they can write a letter about, they blow it into World War III.

There are certainly ways to improve our system. The first would be to reduce minimum observations to two, unless perhaps you need more support or request more guidance. Most important, though, is this nonsense about having the burden of proof on the teachers to prove they are not incompetent. How do you prove a negative? And isn't it fundamentally un-American to be guilty until proven innocent?

Nattering nabobs of negativity will argue that it's not so bad because all you're losing is your job, as opposed to your life and liberty. I'd argue that losing your income and health care these days could certainly lead to loss of life, as it does for thousands of Americans annually. I'm for removing authority from principals, particularly crazy ones. But I'd mitigate it with something better than a straight crapshoot.

Also, while it's not all that trendy, I'd like to see the issue of insane administrators addressed. Were that to happen, we might not need to rely on convoluted and virtually incomprehensible test scores. If the administrators are so bad that throwing the dice and hoping for the best is an improvement over their judgment, we're ignoring the elephant in the room. Unless you have furniture suitable for elephants, this is something we can't ignore.

Monday, February 12, 2018

UFT Executive Board February 12--42 Minutes and I Miss Five

6:05—I arrive late as an adult ed. teacher is complaining about lack of support from union on superintendent Rosemarie Mills. Asks that leadership respond to a list of questions. Calls for removal of Mills and asks union to stand with her members and chapter leader of adult ed. Asks for experienced superintendent and administrators.

Howard Schoor—Says they will have a consultation on March 12th. Says they will respond.

Carlos Oliveri—Says teachers won a grant for a renovated gym. Says it shows activism of teachers and helps morale.


President’s Report

Michael Mulgrew—6:14 Got lots of feedback about Wisconsin President. Delegates understood what we are facing. Fulfilled education goal.

Regents meeting today. Will be surveying teachers about APPR. Survey looks less than professional. SED sent it out and Regents didn’t know. SED says they will do listening tours on APPR next year. Says we will engage, will not go back to principal being completely in charge.

How do we make sure our DOE will engage in the right way? Regents say they will educate folks on standards, but school districts will have to train and develop curriculum. Have done more in last three years than Bloomberg did in 12. Problem is they shelve it and make it optional. We recommend there should be menus of approved curriculums they may choose, or schools may submit their own for approval.

We have less insistence on curriculum maps—when these are used it means school has no curriculum. Says we base plans on curriculum we are given. We have to engage DOE. We have to allow members to understand new standards. Was input from NYC teachers. DOE has to develop proper materials.

Membership teams in place, work has started in pilot schools, will ramp up. Difficult in our large system, but we are doing well. Door knocking moving well.

CTE awards Thursday—US President has something about it in infrastructure.

Wishes us a great week off, will get very interesting when we get back. 6:23 Mulgrew leaves

LeRoy Barr—speaks of film series, going on now. 2/24—Working people’s day of action at Foley Square. Janella will be there. Herstory—March 25 Shanker Hall brunch. Next EB 2/21/

Schoor—Survey of CLs said 200 schools had no curriculum. DOE would not provide database of schools that had them, and still refuses. Would help them administer system to see what works. They decline.


Mike SchirtzerMORE—school not Title One, but high teacher salary, have owed money in past years. UFT very responsive, working hard for us, but we now have no money for per diem or per session. DOE took 150K from us this year to pay debts. Is this happening in other schools?

Schoor—Any borough reps know of this?
(No response)

Schoor—I will check on this tomorrow.

Jonathan HalabiNew Action—Speaks of IS 224. Papers say teachers prevented from teaching during Black History Month. Looks like member called 311. Can we ask that members address this with union?

Schoor—Teachers are doing curriculum writing, have none for Black History Month. Curriculum cooperation might help with this.

Mary ?—Many complaints and grievances. She has come to union, is chapter leader.

Report from Districts

Amy Arundell—Update on fights MS 53 and PS/ MS 42—tomorrow is hearing for 42, last week for 53. Rich Mantel gave speech, called this Bloombergian. Bill de Blasio now mayor, and as public advocate spoke against this sort of thing. Meeting in Rockaway tomorrow, asks for support in ending this closure.

M. Web Geddes—Visiting nurse service just concluded negotiations, thanks Anne Goldman, Michael Mulgrew for on time contract. Maintained pensions without divisiveness between senior and junior members. Larger health contribution from employers, and salary raise achieved.

Ellen Driesen—Tom Brown came to District 20, gave overview of pension, will come back on Valentine’s Day.

Legislative Report—Paul Egan—Now interested in curling. Watched two hours yesterday. Chelsea won 3-0 today. Says he told us so. Eagles Super Bowl champions. Will be happy for next year. Expects three year streak.

Committee of 100 beginning of March, March 19 is Lobby Day.

NYSUT endorses—Harvey Epstein, Manhattan, Queens, Espinal, Bronx, Louis Sepulveda. April 24.

Personnel report—Mike Sill—ATR numbers, never totally clear, about 800 according to conversations with DOE. Are more filling vacancies. Sabbatical memo out, approved, applications open Valentine’s Day, deadline mid March. When doing taxes include in lump sum. W-2’s smooth, dupes available online.

Jonathan Halabi—ATRs just teachers?

Sill—Yes. We can do counselors next time.

Schoor—Last pay stub will have YTD number for union dues. Salary reps available at borough offices.

We are adjourned 6:42

Saturday, February 10, 2018

February 7th DA Takeaway--No First Amendment Rights Necessary in Democracy, Unity Caucus Style

I went to the DA, not expecting much. I was wondering whether a few resolutions would come up or pass. I got a little more than I bargained for. After an unremarkable address from the President, the President of the Wisconsin Teacher Association, Kim Kohlhass, came up.

I have to tell you, I found her remarkable and inspirational. She's fighting an uphill battle against a rigged system. Wisconsin teachers are being screwed beyond belief and she shows courage at every step. Their hands are tied but they keep on fighting. This is the sort of spirit that spells leadership.

They will have to work to change the legislation that's left them scrambling for relevance. And work they do, running sympathetic souls to take back the legislature, currently stacked with mostly reps from the Koch Brothers. Of course the most prominent Koch pawn is Scott Walker himself, elected to do their bidding pretty much no matter what.

I don't know anything about what union was like in Wisconsin before Walker stripped them of their right to collective bargaining. I know quite a bit about what UFT leadership was like before Janus raised its head. Right now they're scrambling to do door knocking, but for decades earlier they didn't give a golly gosh darn about contacting individual members. They're doing meet the VP events now, but I never heard of such a thing before.

Much as I oppose Janus, it's kind of a wake up call for entrenched union leadership. People need reasons to pay, and it's on leadership to provide them. Of course, this is a pretty extreme way to make leadership reach out. Organizing ought to be an ongoing activity regardless. Perhaps if it were, more than 25% of us would bother to vote in union elections.

I was thinking about writing a paragraph in my weekly to members about this remarkable woman. Instead, I ended up copying and pasting one UFT sent me. All the inspiration I'd felt personally ended up in the toilet when Mulgrew began to speak about how we face the press. In fact it was this blog that alerted at least one journalist to the BLM debate.

Now when I call it a debate, I'm already stretching the truth. Here's what happened--Dermot Myrie introduced a resolution to support Black Lives Matter. Unity's LeRoy Barr urged people to vote against it, and every single loyalty oath signer voted as told. A debate, to my mind, is an open exchange of ideas during which people may or may not be persuaded to change their minds. That's not remotely what we have at the DA or Executive Board. What we have, frankly, is a controlling bloc that has promised to vote as they are told, whether or not it's in the best interests of members.

Considering that, let's look at what Mulgrew said. Essentially, when presented with the issue of the press discovering we failed to support Black Lives Matter, there was no reflection or examination of this position. The issue, evidently, was how we could keep the press from finding out what we do. Mulgrew suggested that the DA could make rules and preclude it. He said we are a democracy.

We are a democracy very much in the sense the United States is a democracy. You know, Hillary gets more votes and Trump becomes President. Voters are disenfranchised and have no voice. They're blocked because some guy in prison in another state has a similar last name, or they're unable to come up with an acceptable ID, or whatever. In our case, the majority of voters have signed an oath to vote as they are told, and high schools have no representation whatsoever on NEA, NYSUT, AFT, or worst of all, Adcom.

Adcom is the UFT officers, the ones who make all the actual decisions about what will come to Executive Board and the Delegate Assembly. In truth, they make all decisions about what comes to a vote and what passes. They have an army of loyalty oath signers who stand to lose perks and jobs if they don't vote as told. Hence they vote against two observations a year, stronger class size regulations, or dumping test scores from our evaluation system.

The test scores thing is particularly egregious because NYSUT has just demanded that locals be returned the ability to set their own evaluation systems. James Eterno spoke to that and asked that someone rated under Advance respond. To their credit, rather than have Howard Schoor come to the microphone yet again and tell James to go to hell, a real live chapter leader got up and said her rating was saved by the test scores and it was therefore a good thing.

I absolutely believe that chapter leader, and I'm certain she's not the only one saved by test scores. In fact, our school does well with test scores, and I know people who've gotten upward bumps via scores. However, not all schools are like ours. I know someone from another school who was rated ineffective based on test scores. While I realize that's now mitigated somewhat by the matrix, it's still junk science, and it's still a crapshoot. Our jobs ought not to hinge on a system dependent on (a.) insane administrators and (b.) dumb luck.

But let's get to the crux of what Mulgrew suggested. He's saying let's make rules against reporting what we do. The issue, evidently, is not that UFT voted against supporting Black Lives Matter, but that people found out about it. So let's stop reporting what we do. Oddly, I thought reporting what they do was a good thing. I see fewer cases of members being openly ridiculed and abused at the DA since I began reporting on it.

Frankly, it's absurd to think you can make statements in front of hundreds of people and keep them secret. I have union meetings, but I never say anything I wouldn't want the principal to hear. I'm not completely stupid (or at least I hope not). So what are they going to do? Forbid people to report on the DA? Will they expel me for doing so? I'd love to see that. Go ahead, Adcom. Go ahead, patronage-motivated loyalty oath signers (after Adcom decides for you, of course). Make my day. I'm perpetually looking for new things to write about, and I'll wear it as a medal of honor.

And then there was that Unity pamphlet, the one I found on a seat on the way out. Here's a comment my friend Harris Lirtzman left on Facebook:

Arthur: the least of it is that you were called "a liar." You were, in equal parts, called a "traitor," a "collaborator-quisling," "un-American" and other associated McCarthyite adjectives, "stupid," "incompetent" and, worst of the worst for a union so closely connected with the City's teacher evaluation system, "ineffective." You will shortly be given a "UFT member improvement plan."You are, of course, none of these. You have been, however, HUAC-ed in the way that people were HUAC-ed in the 1940s and 1950s. An unworthy and deeply sad and, ultimately, pointless exercise by our own union.

He said it better than I could have. I merely saw parallels to Trump, who just suggested that Democrats who didn't applaud for him were treasonous. Like the Unity Caucus, Trump thinks everything he does is wonderful, and any criticism of him or his actions is "fake news." I work pretty hard as chapter leader, and I'm working pretty hard to keep the largest school in Queens in the union column post-Janus.

I won't be bought off and I won't be shut up, but that doesn't jibe with their idea of democracy. All I can say is I'm relieved not to have been their social studies teacher.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Francis Lewis High School in Red for Public Ed.

 A few days ago, a young social studies teacher instructed me that we were all to wear our new UFT shirts today. How could I say no? Our school was a sea of red. Here's guidance.
 Here are my pals from ESL
 This is a bunch of us in the cafeteria. We're one of the last high schools with a teacher cafe. You can see Dean Fonzie in the center giving the thumbs up.
 Here's another photo from the cafe
 Here's our social studies department.
The math teachers came out in large numbers, because they're the only people in the building who understand large numbers.

And here's our world language department, along with some friends.

 Brothers in arms....
And sisters in arms.

And more sisters in more arms.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

UFT Unity, Publicly Humiliated, Goes Straight to Lies and Character Assassination

I was going to react to the entire DA (and I will), but I found this missive on a seat, and I can't resist. Of course, like every propaganda pamphlet, it starts by telling how wonderful those responsible, the Unity Caucus in this case, happen to be. This is not hard for them, since they generally take credit for everything positive and responsibility for nothing negative.

I love that they boast of "fair funding for our schools" first, since the so-called Fair Student Funding is nothing of the sort, with schools getting only a percentage of what they're promised. It's also a huge discouraging factor for hiring experienced teachers, and likely is the reason for many being stuck in the ATR.

I'm also fond of the "equity, access and opportunity for all students" because UFT Unity has done absolutely nothing to lower class sizes in over half a century. They boast of sacrifices they made to place class size in the contract and fail to mention that most of them were toddlers or not even born when this monumental sacrifice was made.

The main thrust of this handout, though, is "We respect honest dialogue BUT..." I had a Shakespeare teacher in college who told us, "Whenever anyone says "but," you may disregard everything that preceded it. I share that with my students sometimes. When your girlfriend tells you she really loves you but, it's probably time to look for a new girlfriend. She's marrying your best friend, or taking a world cruise with some guy she just met, or something, but she's gone for sure.

Unity doesn't actually say "but." Instead, they say "yet," which means "but."

Yet within the Union's ranks, there are some in other caucuses seeking to capitalize on these differences for the purpose of advancing their political agenda above the decision of the Delegate Assembly.

That's what you call a strawman. In fact, I didn't write what happened to advance my political agenda. I wrote what happened because I paint what I see. I revealed that UFT had voted down the BLM resolution, gave their rationale, and offered my take in it. Unity can't see it that way, and the anonymous genius who writes for them goes on:

That is why recent actions by some of the "not so loyal" opposition are especially disturbing.

So, based on an outright fabrication in the form of a strawman, they are especially disturbed. I guess if I were to make stuff up and force myself to believe it, I'd be especially disturbed as well.

By enabling the press with misinformation, they embolden those whose goal it is to see our Union, and the entire labor movement, go up in flames.

So now, according to the great mind who wrote this, I am a liar. Of course, there are no examples. There is no evidence whatsoever for this. Here are the facts--a resolution to support Black Lives Matter was offered. At the urging of a Unity representative, it was defeated. A journalist read about it, and decided to write about it.

I defy any member of Unity Caucus to provide me with evidence that I lied. Absent such evidence, it is they who lied.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly February 7th, 2018--How Can We Cherish, Protect and Express Union Voice? Then, How Can We Shut It the Hell Up?

4:30 Mulgrew calls us to order.

Reminds us we have one snow day remaining.

One year anniversary of Betsy DeVos. Mulgrew calls up person in bear costume to wish her happy anniversary. Says bear would make better policy. Debate ensues as to whether or not pandas are bears.

National—February 26, when we return from break, will be officially Janus arguments. Only assembly permit approved has been for pro-Janus supporters. For Groundhog Day, Devos said private schools good, public schools bad, and ran back into her hole.

Next week is Public School Proud week. We have friends from Puerto Rico this week. We have done a lot to help families and friends there. Two days ago, governor of PR spoke of new vision, which entails charters and vouchers. None of this is done by itself. All planned activities. straight out of NOLA playbook. Pushed back in Houston. ALEC and little groups push these policies.

Secretary General Puerto Rican Teachers Association here, thanks her for putting up fight.

State—testified before committee—we need influx of revenue at state level. Proposed multi-millionaire tax, or clawing back Federal tax breaks for super-rich. Nothing on charters happening now. Believe there will be something about space for charters in NYC. Will have to move quickly.

Next year’s budget will have huge hold because of federal tax package. Could be significant cuts if we don’t deal with it. We were only local to not have layoffs in recession. People happy with few extra bucks in paychecks. They don’t understand what cut will mean to them until they file taxes next year.

NY State no. 1 donor state in country. Pay more for other states’ services than anyone else. Next year, NYS residents will pay additional 14 billion dollars to pay for billionaires and services for other states. Something has to be done to get value of expiring tax write-offs. Could be 10 billion deficit and significant cuts in ed. Done purposefully. When they defund, and schools do badly, they will blame us, union, and demand privatization.

March 19 Lobby Day.

Chancellor search—New criteria—anyone who won Broad prize ought to be off list.

Brooklyn Collegiate fought back closing, still more to do, including 42.

Won third lawsuit against KIPP.

Seeing toxic federal effects toward workers. Makes conversations difficult. Industries don’t care whether people can make ends meet. We were prepared with Visiting Nurse Services. Were able to enlighten leadership to understand it was in their best interest to take care of people who make their company what it is.

Negotiating Committee—March 1st.

Bad folks always have a plan. Very strategic about what they do. Fliers being mailed to people saying you don’t need union. Koch brothers spending 400 million to influence education. Expects it used in NYC. Plan is take unions out of political process. People say we shouldn’t be political, but what can we accomplish without being political?

Millions of dollars spent against pols who say public money if for public ed. No one tells private billionaires what to do with their money. We have to convince and educate membership. Many people, non-activists, don’t even want to listen to news anymore. Bad people count on our apathy. Will try to convince people to make decisions against own interests.

Many across country depend on what we do in this local. Wants to suspend rules to have back and forth with union leader from Wisconsin.

President Wisconsin Teacher Association—Kim Kohas

Happy to be in presence of NY teachers. Thanks from every teacher in Wisconsin. Says our support is a reason she can still be here today.

We have been able to restructure and change nature of union. Seven years ago I was very happy 3rd grade teacher. Felt respected, adequately compensated, had 15 kids in classroom. Loved going home every night to family.

When Scott Walker proposed legislation, Act 10, took away collective bargaining rights. Required us to pay into pension and health, 6K cut first year. Collective bar. rights took away class size, calendar, ability to organize class, ability to grieve, arbitration, seniority, salary structure, and you could only negotiate for cost of inflation. We were at will employees, get contract for year or non-renewal. Non-renewal did not require rationale.

Lost prep time, 45 minutes added to work day, Mandatory management meetings. Ended 2 minutes before class. Added 3 PD days. No additional compensation. District made cuts too, had to find money to balance budget. Change insurance to 6K deductible. Lost 11K per year in first two years.

If sub didn’t show up, additional 30 kids in classroom. Was difficult for us to do work. No time to set up science labs.

Changed laws for worker compensation, got rid of civil services, tried to change pensions. Proposed 5% of all public schools fail annually and become charters. Eventually would be no public schools.

Vouchers statewide. 90% were previously in public schools, They now receive more funding than public.

Within 2 years, one third retired. Many went to work in Wisconsin. Students lost relationships. No longer can go back to last year’s teacher. Many new faces. No trusting faces to turn to.

To deal with shortage, they lowered standards. You can get an online teaching license with 15 months of coursework. On Black Friday, it went on sale.

Coordinated attack. Taken hits and lost good professionals. How do you take back power, and how do you win?

We accomplish a lot at local level. Train friends and members to run for office, in Senate and Assembly. Takes lots of time and energy. Our unions are stronger and we have better relationships with members. But how do you define win with no rights?

Teacher I asked to join us couldn’t afford to pay for her sub. Portenville hired bully administrators, harassed them, gave unacceptable duties. After first year, 50% left school building. Parents noticed and we met. Told 200 parents why teachers were leaving. Named bully. Parents showed up at school board meeting. Board president didn’t want to talk to them. Said teachers hadn’t filed complaint. Wouldn’t take group concern, only individual.

Did massive anti-bullying campaign at workplace. Named reason why teachers left. Second board meeting were 300 parents. Board member said we need to talk about issue. President told him you will never speak publicly again. We ran two parents and took out President. Supe resigned day after election, In January, they accepted principal’s resignation.

Huge win for employees. They previously had no union identity. No president. We have no identified one with great vision for this local. We now have stewards trained to speak with members. We also have a committee to recruit school board members. Local now has identity, value, and ability to change workplace.

These are hard things that are happening over years but we have amazing stories and amazing spirit. All members defend public ed. on a daily basis.

This is a coordinated attack. They want to hit us and hit us. But we are here for a reason, as professionals, and our union gives us the voice to do that job. I thank you for your involvement.

Our footsteps will be left behind, not in sand, but in concrete, and they are for our students.


Keep hearing about apathy. Wisconsin was one of strongest union states when this happened. Was a plan. Walker was just last piece in process. For years, they placed people in state legislature, supported by money by people who hate us.

Took years of damage, but Kim’s vision, that she could figure this out, shows we have more passion and vision. She never thought it could happen to them. Always thought it would be someone else.


Q—Is this on video so we can see? Can we show it to staff?

Mulgrew—She went on three visits and we made a tape. We have a tape.

Q—What was contract like before?

A—was 55 pages long, now fits on post-it. We can only negotiate inflation. Lots of work, but fun when you win.

Q—What happened to your pension?

A—We had many retirees. Started collecting sooner than anticipated. Despite lower salaries, pension fund is fine. Legislation trying to change formula. Contribution now 50% for us.

Q—Disconcerting this happened in Wisconsin. Walker came from Milwaukee. Maybe his history should’ve alerted teachers statewide. Maybe missed opportunity to stop him. Any advice for us?

A—I don’t think Walker ran on this platform, but had anti-worker history. He is a puppet for larger cause. Someone was coming in. GOP has control of house, senate, supreme court.

George Altomare—How much help did you get from neighboring labor movement? Support helped us build UFT. Once we made it, we helped others to make it as well.

A—I can tell you clearly, if we were not affiliated with AFT, we would not be here. Gave us human and financial resources, I’m a 3rd grade teacher, I work with crayons, why am I at capital? You talk to your members and you keep your local strong. You keep relationships and trust. That is how this movement will continue. Without it, we will fall apart. When I go home I am totally reenergized by your spirit.

Q—How do we get newer members to rejoin and keep them active?

A—Listen to them. Talk to them about what they value. My local 87 years old went through 10 strikes. I had great working conditions and didn’t know why. I would’ve shared with union members and asked for support. Find out what makes their day difficult and what union can do to make day better.

Q—What was public opinion in Wisconsin when they took away rights? Has it changed?

A—Teachers go to school, are well educated, were well compensated. In Wisconsin public educators were seen as elites. Were not treated well. Had parents pass out pacifiers to teachers because they saw them as babies. Had no sympathy. Early on, we said we will contribute to pensions and health to keep contract. People said I don’t have it so I don’t want you to. Now we have a country of that. It has become socially acceptable to be mean. Not OK.

Q—Can you talk about being an at-will employee.?

A—means you can be let go at any time. At year’s end you get contract or non-renewal. You then have eight weeks to work anyway. Makes it difficult for you to advocate for students. Saw teacher fired for publicly disagreeing with employer.

Q—How can we help you as far as phone banking?

A—Phone bank your members. Keep local strong. Attacks are everywhere.

Mulgrew thanks her to standing ovation.

Staff Director’s Report—LeRoy Barr

First Black History Month film last Tuesday, next Feb 12, story of Nina Simone, last Feb. 28 4:30 to 7. Great discussion afterward.

Working people’s day of action Saturday 2/24. March 3 middle school conference, Para luncheon March 10. Counselor’s conference March 10. Early childhood conference March 17.
Woman’s history month brunch March 25th.

Next DA March 21st.


Q—Totally moved by Wisconsin story. Took notes. Will tell members keep your local strong. Question about parents and community, divided and pitted against us, and how it was impossible to advocate—Last month we had an internal debate over a divisive issue. Right now it’s important we don’t do the work for Koch brothers. How can we keep internal debates and half truths from being brought to press? How can we keep union strong with Janus?

A—A union is a democracy. We set our own rules. This delegation sets rules. We voted against videotaping and recording. We’re not in secret but it’s our discussion. I understand and will protect anyone’s right to free speech. This is where it gets tough. Democracy means we get a vote and we make a decision. Some people believe democracy is when you agree with me only. That’s the US.

This is up to you as a body. Most people don’t know about these flyers being mailed. People have a right to say what they wish outside of this body. Would hope people are reflective Some things will only be used by our enemies. That’s a fact. They will constantly try to get us to debate with each other rather than plan and strategize. I don’t think anyone is maliciously trying to do anything but it is the decision of this body.

We made negotiation committee confidential. We would lose if our secrets got out. In terms of debate inside this body, rules are set by us. I understand. I’ve been dealing with issue. We’ll deal with it. I’m proud of all we do, and all positions we’ve taken. We’ve taken difficult stances and we won’t shy away from that. Our track record says no, you are wrong.

Op-ed done the other day, I answered it. Said we’re proud to stand up for city’s children and nothing stops us from being proud of people who dedicate lives to professions. We will be attacked by our enemies. We believe in sanctity of this body. If you want to do something about it that’s up to you.

People don’t understand that what they’re doing, in the end, could be putting their own personal agendas above those of the union.

Q—PS/ MS 42—Talk about congestion pricing. How can we help members driving through these zones?

A—MTA a mess. Idea can’t affect people we rep, I told people in Albany. You might have to go through midtown for work. Shouldn’t have bearing on people who serve children. That’s my position.

Q—We are trying to activate members, was walking people to subway, with many educators. One conversation not so positive, with ATR. Felt her union rep was in pocket of principal. Sounded struggling. Told her go to 52. Felt she didn’t have grasp of rights. For unconnected members, is there something in place to help?

A—Part of conversation we have to have at school level. Goes further than ATR. They wanted to make us at-will employees so they could fire the ATR. ATR works, though sometimes people make it sound otherwise. ATR pool at lowest number in almost ten years. City did all to try to fire them because principals didn’t like them. Needs to be understood.

Keep your local strong means keep your chapter strong. DOE only talks about how horrible we are, fighting with them over individual cases. Says we fight over bad employees. We say you hired bad employees to manage and that’s why we fight. Why aren’t we holding principals responsible? 140 schools have 20% annual turnover. City thinks we won ATR battle because they’re employed. We win when they’re all back to work.


For this month—Sterling Roberson—Resolution on wearing red February 14th to show Union Support.

James Eterno—Whereas NYSUT called for end of student test scores in evaluations, be it resolved UFT joins and returns eval. to local control.

We got a hint from Pallotta who said we should return eval. to local control. No more mandate for testing. Using student assessments to rate us is wrong approach. They argue few teachers are rated ineffective. Ratings don’t tell everything, but data doesn’t show fewer teachers facing dismissal. Said 366 tenured teachers 14, 391 15-16, In Bloomberg years average 271. If system were so great we’d face much lower rates of dismissal hearings. No one had burden of proof on them before. People rated D are getting charged. People leaving system at same or greater rates than before. My sister probationary, rated E, and discontinued. Members have had it with Danielson and being rated by assessments.

If we can start over, which we can because of new law, asks that someone who lived under Danielson respond.

Wendy Walker Wilson—I live under Advance, and I disagree. My student scores have saved my ratings. I’m a target as CL. I thank you because it has saved me. I hope this is voted down.

Voted down

Motion defeated. Mulgrew says he sat next to Pallotta and supported him. Most charges because of DOE legal.

Sterling Roberson—Asks we place resolution to wear red on top of agenda.


Roberson—Says we want support to wear red.


Motion to extend for election.


Valentine’s Day red resolution passes.

Tom Brown—Reso to nominate David Kazansky for re-election. Says he has whole-hearted support to protect and advance retirement interest.


We are adjourned   6:03

Related: UFT Unity, publicly humiliated, goes to lies and character assassination.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Is Anti-Bias Training the Solution in NYC Schools?

I read stories like these and shake my head. Teachers do things, and the answer is to train all the teachers. Once we all have anti-bias training there will be no more bias, evidently. I wonder if it's proven 100% effective by research, or if it's just some stuff someone made up. You never know. After all, our evaluation system, which they say is the bestest ever, has no research or practice to support it and yet here it is.

I don't believe in judging students by their national origin, sex, religion, color, language, or probably a whole long list of things I've failed to list. Nonetheless, I make mistakes just like anyone. I forget and mispronounce names, for example. Will anti-bias training cure my defects? Probably not. I don't even teach kids who are born here, and what makes me like or dislike people is what they do after I get to know them, not where or under what circumstances they were born.

The real question is, if you get a bigoted teacher, will training end it? Well, maybe. Or maybe not. Bigotry runs pretty deep, and is getting much more social acceptance since Donald Trump became President. You have a Nazi running for Congress in Illinois, for example. You have very public hate marches organized by groups who used to be a lot less prominent. You have a President of the United States who thinks Nazis and white supremacists are "very fine people."

But the problem, of course, must be the teachers. I mean, how are we gonna Make America Great Again when there are still teachers? And worse, teachers in unions. Of course President Trump's Supreme Court, the one they changed the rules to keep the balance of power stacked against working people, is gonna make sure those nasty unions have less power by instituting national right to shirk--I mean work laws.

And you'll pardon me if I point out that Fox News hypnotizes not only the President, but also all its viewers into a philosophy of America First, which generally means people of color last. Each day I read stories of ICE deporting working parents who've lived here most of their lives. Mexicans are criminals and racists, according to a man who used his bigotry to win the Presidency of the United States. We have to keep the Muslims out, he says, until we figure out what the hell is going on.

But hey, let's train the teachers. An hour during some Teacher Torture Tuesday and they'll all come around. Every one of them will stop watching Fox News and understand the Gospel as Told by Carmen FariƱa. Or somebody.

Listen, I'm all for anti-bias training. But it's going to be an uphill climb with a vile bigot as President of the United States, a national campaign to disenfranchise voters, a pair of self-serving billionaires determined to buy the next election, a fundamental disrespect for democracy, and a country that considers Fox News to be not only Fox, but also news.

I'll sit through the anti-bias training if they force me to. But they're most certainly barking up the wrong tree. The overwhelming majority of us are devoted to the children we serve, and more importantly, there's a much larger problem that needs to be addressed if we truly want to reach the exceptions that prove the rule.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Maria Yolanda

Sometimes I struggle all year to pronounce a Chinese name. They have, for example, a "u" sound that I've yet to master. I say the student's name and all his paisanos laugh out loud at my feeble attempts. Sometimes they try to teach me. I try to mimic their pronunciation, but it only provokes more hilarity as I fail over and over again.

Maybe I deserve it. Who knows? I've heard my name mangled by a variety of accents and I may have mimicked them here or there (though not in front of the students). Sometimes, though, I spend seven months trying to pronounce a particularly difficult name only to find that every one of the kid's teachers except me calls him, "John." I ask him if that's his name. He says, yes, that's his American name. I ask why he never told me, and he says I never asked.

It doesn't occur to me to ask whether students have alternate names. I'd be shocked to learn that all the other teachers did, so I wonder how exactly I managed to miss the memo. Did every single teacher other than me question every single student as to whether or not they have multiple names? Are they really all that much more careful than I am?

This brings me to one of my students this year. Since September, I've been calling her Maria. Why? Well, I get these attendance sheets every day, and all of them say her name is Maria. Whenever I call on Maria, she answers. So we had a pretty good thing going in terms of basic fundamental communication. Or at least I thought we did.

A few weeks ago we had a parent-teacher event for ELLs. The first night, when the school paid me big bucks to sit for hours, no one actually showed up. The next day, though, on my actual work hours, I got a few customers. I think there were three. The first was Maria.

Maria actually has two English teachers, me and a colleague who's fluent in Chinese. The majority of my students speak Chinese, so the majority of our parent interviews (most of them occur on the regular parent-teacher conference night) take place in Chinese. I'm always confused by translations. Sometimes the parent speaks for ten minutes, and the translator speaks for 30 seconds. Sometimes it's the reverse. But here was a Spanish speaker, I was gonna be the translator, and my translation was gonna be perfect.

So mom went on for a long time. Yolanda came from here. She did this and she likes that. I always talk to Yolanda about these things and I hope she does those things. Yolanda has a long history of doing this and that, here and there, and here's what I'm worried about...

She went on for a while. Now my student was sitting right there so I was pretty sure that this was her mom. Maybe she has a sister. Who knows? I politely waited for Mom to finish before I asked the question.

"Who's Yolanda?"

Mom looked at me as though I were an idiot. Then Maria said, "I'm Yolanda."

"I thought you were Maria."

"Well I am, but everyone calls me Yolanda."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"You never asked."

"Did you know her name was Yolanda?" I asked my colleague.

"Of course I did," she said.

So it's the end of January, the year's half over, and I don't even know my student's name. Not only that, but it wasn't even a difficult name. Had I known it, I could have pronounced it easily. I even know other people who have that name.

The next day I started to ask the students what her name was.

"Yolanda," they all said. Even the Chinese kids knew what her name was.

Last week I gave a quiz. I looked at the papers. One of them said, "Maria" on top of it. Not only that, but she got 100. (Sometimes she crosses herself before handing papers to me. Perhaps it works better than I'd suspected.)

She's a very nice girl, actually. I wouldn't imagine she'd do something like that to taunt me. But if that were her aim, she'd have been doing a great job.

Friday, February 02, 2018

To Cheat or Not to Cheat?

I was a little disappointed to read about massive cheating at Stuyvesant.  There's a particularly disturbing quote in the story:

“It’s not academic dishonesty if you don’t get caught,” one said.

That makes it sound like it's a training ground for future Donald Trumps. For me, one is already too many. Another very curious statement is below:

A 15-year-old sophomore told the Post that students memorize the sequence of correct True/False answers on tests and share them with friends in later classes who have yet to take the tests.
I don't teach at Stuyvesant. In fact, my students are beginners, struggling with basic English. This notwithstanding, I never give True-False tests. Why would anyone be giving them at Stuyvesant? Basically you get the ones you know right, guess the best you can on others, and the rest is a crapshoot. In the end, what on earth do binary questions even measure?

Could teachers be making things easy so their kids could get high scores? Are there really true-false tests at Stuyvesant? Are the students just goofing around with the press by saying such ridiculous unattributed things? Who knows? I don't doubt, though, that in any pressure cooker environment cheating takes place. I'd also suspect that, since these are among the city's brightest kids, they'd know or devise the best ways to cheat. I'm generally unsympathetic to students who cheat.

But a tweet in response to the story got me thinking.

I regularly hear tales from my Chinese students of impossible homework demands. Some of my students say, "Homework is a mountain," in China. I believe them. I've had very smart, very nice kids who told me, "I just didn't do it. It was too much." I've met parents who moved their kids to America from Asia so they wouldn't have to experience the demands of ridiculously competitive systems.

I remember hating some of my daughter's teachers. I used to help her with her homework, and I used to read books she read so we could talk about them. Some of them were great. But I distinctly recall hating Catcher in the Rye even more than I did the first time I read it, when I was in high school. And if that weren't enough, one spring break some teacher gave her a very time-consuming project on it.

It wasn't enough to just write about it. She had to have artifacts. I can't remember what nonsense we came up with, but I remember scouring stores and asking friends for things. I mostly remember that teacher ruining both of our weeks off. The only redeeming quality of this inane project was that one suggestion was blogging using Holden's voice. Since the entire project appeared a complete waste of time, I wrote the blogs for her. Making fun of Holden was the only fun experience I ever had with that book.

I know a few math teachers from Stuyvesant. Neither of them would give work for the sake of giving work. I have no idea what else goes on. I'd argue, though, if they, or we, or anyone loaded kids down with work just for the sake of doing so, cheating might be an altogether appropriate response. I don't give a lot of homework. When I do, I don't expect that kids will spend more than ten or fifteen minutes, or maybe 30 maximum on it. It's not my job to make children miserable.

I check some homework for completion, but that only counts for 5% of the average. If my students cheat, they mostly cheat themselves. Students who can't complete my homework can't pass my tests, and if they copied to get the five points it would make little or no difference. When I collect and grade homework it's easy to catch copying. Most of my kids know not to do it.

I hope the students at Stuyvesant really belong there and don't need to cheat to get by. I also hope my colleagues, there and everywhere, don't just weigh students down with "gratuitous meaningless homework."

I know I don't. I'd hate myself for that.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

The Tenure Portfolio

I was with a young colleague yesterday and she was showing me all the stuff she had to do for her tenure packet. She had a list of accomplishments that went on for pages. I was kind of in awe. She was on the PD committee at school. I knew that because I'd invited her. I thought it would be good to get the viewpoint of a new teacher.

Watching her work was kind of bothering her because it was 2:50. That's when she and I are officially off the clock. I was very proud of myself because I was actually preparing to leave at the regular time. That's rare for me. I told her we have to leave, we have to leave right now, and that we owed it to ourselves not to wait another moment. Get out of here, she said, she needed to work on her portfolio. Besides, she had to coach the swimming team at five o'clock.

Who coaches a swimming team at five o'clock in a school that doesn't even have a pool? Why isn't this young woman out somewhere having a life? Even worse, in her free time she dances in the school shows, and practices to dance in the school shows. She's actually given PDs for our department, again recruited by me. (I have no idea how I ended up recruiting people to give PD. I myself had never given PD at any time until this very school year.)

I was looking at all her stuff. I'm teaching thirty years longer than she has and I haven't done a fraction of what she has. In fact, when I started teaching I didn't have the remotest notion what I was even doing. On the ninth day I taught, I was observed. The observer, my AP, wrote that I didn't seem to know what I was doing. "Of course I don't know what I'm doing," I said. "I told you I didn't know what I was doing when you hired me."

She didn't take that very well. I used to sit in her office and she would tell me stories about making meatballs. She also told me charming tales about a high school student who she was now living with. She had to be 15 years older than me. Why the hell was she living with a student, and worse, why did she think I needed to know about it? She would tell me how cute I was. It was bizarre. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. I had no interest in my AP beyond someone who could hopefully tell me what I was supposed to be doing, but that never happened either.

The only support I got was some required after-school class for new teachers, taught by a dean. The dean made it very clear that his dean gig was only a stepping stone. He was gonna be an assistant principal. Every Tuesday we'd learn all about what you needed to be an assistant principal, why assistant principals were important, and how the best route toward becoming an assistant principal was via being a dean. I wonder whether he ever became an assistant principal. If he did, he may be making teachers miserable even now.

I had four preps when I started teaching. That was until a few weeks in, when they took away the only prep I had two classes of. Then I had five preps. I would sit for hours after school and write lesson plans, which I really didn't know how to do. Every Friday I had to submit capsule lesson plans on a big grid sheet of the 25 lessons I was going to prepare the following week. It was harrowing. I considered taking a job working for Federal Express that paid slightly more money.

I was an English teacher then. I was friends with another English teacher, a young woman. One day she was subbing and I watched our principal make her cry in front of a class. It was very disturbing.

Soon thereafter, I made a big mistake. I waited for my AP to help me make grades because she told me she would help me make grades. The deadline for grading passed, and I was told to just make the damn grades. So I did. I was then persona non grata, as I learned when I wanted to teach a new book for one of my five classes. Since I had only managed to collect and return 20 copies of Ethan Frome, a book I had not selected (and did not like at all), I could only get 20 copies of Flowers for Algernon, which was the first book I got to choose. (In retrospect, I'm not so crazy about Flowers for Algernon either.)

A kid named Frankie, who kind of looked like John Travolta in Grease, told me don't worry Mister I can get you the books. Frankie was an interesting kid. One day, he brought in what looked like a switchblade, and showed it to me while there were very few of us in the classroom. I weighed my possibilities.

"Don't bring your toys to school," I told him.

He opened it to reveal a comb. I was relieved. I hoped not to show it, but who knows? I haven't got what you call a poker face. Frankie, good as his word, produced the extra books and I gave him an extra ten points on his report card. A deal's a deal.

Because I switched licenses, choosing to teach ESL and turning down the first English appointment I was offered, it probably took me six years to get tenure. Back then we didn't have tenure portfolios. If you made it through three years, acquired a real license as opposed to the temporary per-diem I started with, and were still breathing and working, it just kind of happened.

I'm kind of surprised it did, actually. My first semester I must have broken records for miserable attendance. I would take gigs playing guitar with local bands on weeknights and call out the next day. Back then I found playing guitar a lot more fun than teaching. As I said, I had no idea what I was doing.

The next year I got sent to Kennedy, where I taught music and had the first supervisor of my career who was Not Insane. It was amazing having a supervisor who actually supported and encouraged me, who answered questions. The only serious caution he gave me was, "Stay away from those girls." That was fine with me. I didn't take the job to meet girls anyway.

The thing is, if I'd had to make up a tenure portfolio back then, it would probably consist of tales of things I'd survived to get there. I lived through this Principal from Hell. I survived a crazy AP. I listened to a shallow self-serving moron talk about himself while he was being paid to help us. I bargained with students to steal books that were required for my class.

I have to tell you, my young colleague's portfolio looked a whole lot better than mine would have.