Thursday, May 10, 2018

What Are We Leaving the Next Generation?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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