Sunday, July 22, 2018

Another Day, Another DOE Fail

This one, oddly, had a pretty short shelf life in NYC. Evidently, if the DOE has not invested enough time to give a principal tenure, they will actually let one go simply because he presided over two stabbings and a murder, likely as not caused by one of his policies. Oh, and there was that grade-fixing scandal in which a kid handed in a stick figure rather than actual work.

This guy, in fact, was not set to simply be a principal. He was going to supervise or assess other principals. Did they meet the standard? Did they preside over more than one murder? Less than two stabbings? Did they demand two or more stick figures for makeup coursework? Or is stuff like that relevant enough to make the checklist? Or is there a DOE checklist already that may or may not contain that stuff?

Sometimes when I write about stories like these, I have to stress things that reporters wouldn't, to point out the ridiculousness, or elaborate on things that the story only implies. Not this time, though:

Despite the fact that a simple online search yields a number of stories about his past controversies, Richardson told The Post that a team of DOE interviewers never asked him about them.
“Those specifics did not come up,” Richardson said.
Apparently, the DOE decided to run its own Google search after The Post asked about his hiring.


That sounds like sarcasm, doesn't it? I mean, if you were hiring someone for a position that entailed supervising principals, wouldn't you do a cursory check? Wouldn't you be curious as to why someone would leave the DOE for a higher-paying position, then come back five years later seeking a lower-paying one?

Of course you would. But the New York City Department of Education, the one that makes decisions that affect your workplace each and every day, doesn't find that a productive use of its time. What on earth do they discuss at interviews? Do they talk about how many ineffective ratings they're willing to give? Do they ask whether they're willing to violate the UFT Contract with impunity? Do they ask them whether or not they're willing to listen to "legal" rather than read basic English?

Here's what I know to be true--the DOE is a morass of ineptitude. They hire lawyers who can't or don't read the UFT Contract, and they back them up with hearing officers for whom logic is a second language. I don't deal much with Tweed but it's hard for me to imagine that Bloomberg didn't stack it up with equally inept and incurious martinets who aren't worth half their bloated salaries. This recent bout of incompetence ought to get tongues wagging, but it won't.

Despite the fact that there are stories enough for Sue Edelman to humiliate Mayor Bill de Blasio on an almost weekly basis, and despite the fact that each one represents a dozen we've yet to hear, the mayor does absolutely nothing to clean up the mess left him by Michael Bloomberg. I hope the new chancellor reads these stories and does something about them, but his top-level shakeup does not indicate to me a readiness to clean house.

Of course, I can always be wrong, and this time I certainly hope I am.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Working Class Traitor Makes Good

Mark Janus, who lent his name to the anti-union lawsuit to screw American working people, has scored a really cool gig with a right-wing think tank. This should be a lesson to us all. It really pays to be the first one to sell out your brothers and sisters nationwide. You collect your union-negotiated retirement benefits, get some cool job sitting around an office somewhere, and you don't really have to do anything ever again. Was this a deal he made in advance? I don't see why not.

So Janus has really paid off for Janus. It's only the rest of us who will suffer. You see, if you actually study history, you find that Americans do better when they are unionized, not occasionally, not sometimes, but always. You find that unionized workers make more money than non-unionized workers, and you find that non-unionized workers make more money too when union flourishes.

You will also find that union has been rolled back since Reagan was President. This is part of a concerted anti-union program in the United States and it's sorely reduced the number of unionized workers. Now when government boasts of job creation it's often as not jobs that pay minimum wage and come without health insurance or any benefits whatsoever. In fact, many crappy fast food jobs make you sign disclaimers that you won't jump ship for other crappy fast food jobs. This removes the possibility of the competition that Republicans argue will improve the economy.

We are a selfish country, and we choose to be that way even when we are screwing ourselves. We have a national news network that caters to the needs of the uber-rich. It's somehow managed to persuade a great swath of the country that they too might be uber-rich one of these days, and that they therefore must support rules that expand the rights of the uber-rich.

Of course, that's not the only way you manipulate the public. You manage them through racism and xenophobia. You make them terrified of Muslims. You make a big thing out of not allowing them entrance to the United States, unless they come from countries with which you do business, in which case they're fine. You then ignore all terrorist acts committed by white people, because if you demonize white people there goes your base. How are we gonna Make America Great Again if we contend the characters on Leave It to Beaver were terrorists?

It isn't easy to get people to act against their self-interest. Fox couldn't exist, for example, if American hadn't done away with The Fairness Doctrine, which required broadcasters to present both sides of an issue, rather than simply spout right-wing propaganda. But we're way down that road now, and it will take a sea change to turn back.

Janus contended he had to leave his First Amendment rights at the door when he went to work. In reality, unions have separate political funds. I contribute to one. Even though I sometimes disagree with UFT endorsements, I want union to be able to fight things like the Constitutional Convention. Now that we're in an actual existential crisis, I want union to be able to fight even more.

What Janus contended was that union itself was inherently political. Thus, the Americans who wanted to fight for more work for less pay were never well-represented when they were compelled to pay union dues. It's kind of ironic that Janus, as soon as the Koch Brothers finished using him so they could keep money they'd otherwise have to give working people, gave him a gig for less work and more pay.

Of course, hypocrites will do things like that. They'll take more money for themselves while screwing everyone else. And now every American in a union will be able to follow in Janus's footsteps. They can withhold their union dues while making saps like me cover their expenses. The only problem is, in the long run, they won't benefit like Janus did. The less power union has, the worse working conditions will become for most Americans, Most Americans will actually lose more than the relative drop in the bucket represented by union dues.

And make no mistake, that's why billionaire Bruce Rainer started the lawsuit, that's why he set up a stooge named Janus, and that's why the Koch Brothers and Walmart bankrolled it. They want a Fox News-watching, self-screwing country of ignoramuses.

Don't forget to vote.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Alternate Build for a Teacher

I'm a big fan of Curmudgucation, and I've decided to echo its most recent post, How to Build a Teacher. I started teaching in New York City in 1984, and for me it was more of a happy accident than a plan. Like blogger Peter Greene, my undergraduate major was English, not education. Our similarities end there.

I did not plan to be a teacher. I was a working musician, and had a few opportunities to play in Europe, once with the daughter of someone famous(!). When I got back the second time, I couldn't find work anywhere. I had no place to live. The only thing I had was this big old Mercury, and my driver's license had expired. Back then New York City was heavily invested in intergalactic searches for teachers, and I responded to a subway ad I saw on the way back from the DMV in Jamaica.

I went to Court Street and took a writing test. Once they were satisfied I knew a little English, they made me an English teacher. I had no idea what I was doing. On my ninth teaching day, I was observed. My AP wrote that I had no idea what I was doing. I pointed out to her that I'd told her that when she hired me. She then explained to me in great detail about how she made meatballs for her parents.

I transferred to another school, where I taught music for one semester and English for two. At this school, they had broken the English department in two, and I taught in the skills department. This was because no one could seem to get along with my AP, who wore a three-piece tweed suit in any kind of weather, and wrote long, incomprehensible observation reports. A colleague read my first three-page observation and told me the AP liked me. This was because if he didn't like you he tended to write things you could understand.

I enrolled in an MA English program at Queens College, thinking I would do this for a living. But the day I showed up in September I learned I no longer had a job. It was a good thing I'd had the foresight to not yet pay Queens College. I decided I'd had enough of crossing bridges to the Bronx, put on a suit, and walked into every department of every high school in Queens until someone was crazy enough to hire me. The person who did that ran the ESL department in Newtown, and I really loved teaching ESL. Alas, they dropped me at the end of the semester.

I joined the world's worst Irish wedding band. We had an accordion player who played bass on his accordion, and a drummer. They were never exactly in sync somehow. We had a singer who fancied himself Kenny Rogers, popular at the time, and therefore he purchased a $99 white polyester suit at Alexander's and grew a beard to look the part. Alas he couldn't sing in tune. People loved us anyway. He was born in the Bronx, but would show a picture of some home in Mayo and claim to have been born there. He would start a rebel song, "for our boys," turn to the band and say, "Screw 'em all."

This paid my way through an MA in Applied Linguistics. My MA was very good. I learned a whole lot about language structure, language acquisition, and a whole lot of things that the NY Regents, for example, haven't got a clue about. For some reason they didn't offer the last course I needed to complete my MA, and the department head suggested I student teach instead. I said I couldn't because I already had a job by then, but he said that was fine, I could be observed at the job.

My AP was officially my mentor, and won herself a free course at Queens College. The people in my class clued me in that they guy who'd observe us was not, in fact, our teacher. However, it was very important to him that you show a picture, introduce five vocabulary words, and ask three questions. Or something. I did the lesson exactly as requested and the guy thought I was a genius.

One thing that Greene mentioned is key--teaching courses ought to be taught by people who really teach the levels we will. Being a college professor is not the same thing. I recall taking a required education course when I started in the Bronx. The professor suggested we should assemble all our resources and assemble a class library. I didn't have any resources at the time, and I felt lucky to have chalk on the days I did.

She also took me aside and told me that I ought not to teach high school. I'd be better off pursuing a doctorate and teaching college. She wasn't the only professor who told me that either. There's something off-putting about people who train high school teachers but think teaching high school is a dead end. I'd argue we're needed a whole lot more than college professors, and that our jobs are actually more important. We might actually help students make it to college.

I'm really glad to have stumbled onto teaching, and I'm particularly glad I was dropped into ESL. I love teaching students from all over the world. They are really interesting and often have the most amazing stories. I haven't got as many conclusions as Greene did, except to say that this is my story, and I'm sticking to it.

What's your story?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Who Needs English?

Not newcomers to the United States, evidently. Here are a couple of ads for teachers in NYC:

Benjamin Franklin High School for Finance Information Technology is seeking teachers in the following license areas:
- ESL (dual certified with any other subject)
- Special Education (to co-teach in a Social Studies class)
Please send resumes to Dr. Carla Theodorou,  ctheodorou@schools.nyc.gov

Midwood High School is seeking teachers in the following license areas:

- ESL (dual certified with any other subject)

- Special Education (


dual certified with any other subject)

Please send resumes to Michael MDonnell at mmcdonn2@schools.nyc.gov


ESL teachers need not apply unless they have some other niche they can fill. This is the inevitable result of the latest iteration of CR Part 154. NY State has determined that direct English instruction only exists to prepare students for core subjects. Evidently, it's not their problem if newcomers can't communicate.

The Regents in NY State have so decreed, and that's the way it goes. It used to be important that we gave English language learners (ELLs) a whole lot of help so they could, you know, live. Now, living takes second place to testing. It used to be that ELLs who arrived with no English background would get three full periods of English instruction. Now, they can get as little as one.

Imagine going to China and getting 40 minutes a day to learn Chinese. The rest of the day you'll attend classes with native Chinese speakers. But don't worry. In two of those classes, you'll have a Chinese as a second language teacher to help you out. Or maybe you'll have a dual certified CSL/ science teacher. That should make all the difference, right?

If you're an administrator, especially in a small school, you have limited funds. Why would you bother to hire an ESL teacher simply because your ELLs are in desperate need of one? Instead, you could hire some 12-credit wonder who took a few courses and therefore places you in compliance. You could pretend that, during science class, the ELLs were magically learning English. Never mind that you gave native English speakers exactly the same time to learn. The state says ELLs can learn English and science in that same time, and since you're following the rules, that's good enough for the New York State Regents.

Now here's the thing. Both UFT and NYSUT say that newcomers need more instruction, not less. I've studied language acquisition and of course I agree. But you don't need to study language acquisition to know that it takes more time to learn a new language than to not learn one, do you?

If you went to China tomorrow, wouldn't you want a little extra help and guidance with the language? I know I would. I know, your grandfather came here and got no special treatment, no extra help, and he went on to do this and that. So did mine. My grandfather came over on a boat from Russia when he was 13. He became an electrician, opened a shop, bought a house in Brooklyn and raised a family.

Times are just a little tougher now. That house my grandfather bought will cost you a million dollars today. Pay is not what it once was, and most households now need two breadwinners. It's not impossible, of course, to come here, receive little or no help with English, and make it. Language learning is kind of an individual thing. Extroverts will acquire verbal language, for example, more quickly than introverts.

Language acquisition is also very much about affect. If you're happy here, you'll acquire language more rapidly. If your parents dragged you here kicking and screaming, you'll actively resist learning English. It's my job to help students get what they need no matter how they feel. For those who acquire verbal language quickly, I can help with their writing and reading. For those who resist, I can try to trick them into having fun somehow. Last year I taught a very small class and managed to reach kids who would not have done well in a standard ESL class, let alone an academic class pretending to offer English support.

In school, there is nothing more important for newcomers than learning English. My class provides the building blocks for absolutely everything else my students do. I tell them my class is the most important one they're taking. The things I teach are things they will use every day of their lives, things I use every day of my life, and things.

It's nothing short of a disgrace that the Regents continue to push this unproductive and short-sighted nonsense. They know little or nothing about language acquisition, they care little or nothing about the children I serve, and how they sleep at night is a complete mystery to me.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Junk Science In, Junk Science Out

One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye the milkman sings a song called If I Were a Rich Man. He fantasizes about what his life would be like if he had money. Tevye longs for respect, and wants people to come to him for advice. He imagines people coming from all over to seek it.

And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong,
When you're rich, they think you really know.

And there you have the essence of Bill Gates, who's hijacked American education with ideas that have no basis in practice or research. When Gates sent his people to my school, they were unable to explain to us what they were doing or why they were doing it. My guess? It didn't matter. Gates had already decided what he was going to do and twisted the "study" to support his conclusion.

Carol Burris, who's been critical of this from the start, writes about a new Gates-funded study that makes some predictable conclusions about the pipe-dream Gates imposed on the United States of America:

It concluded that the IP project did not improve either student achievement or the quality of teachers. In fact, it did more harm than good.

Of course, Burris and a whole lot of other principals were saying this well before the experiment began. And this is not an isolated Gates error either. His small-school initiative, the one that Bloomberg used to close schools en masse and effectively hobble union, has also failed, according to Gates himself. It kind of makes you wonder whether it's a good idea to turn our education system over to billionaires with time on their hands.

Some people certainly benefited from this program. For example, TNTP (The New Teacher Project), a creation of Michelle Rhee no less, scored a cool seven million bucks from Gates after it issued a study telling just how awful existing teacher evaluation was. They were placed in charged of hiring and firing in Shelby County, Tennessee. Pretty cool, huh? Since ordinary teachers suck, they used the instant ones from TFA:

This, according to the report, resulted in increased teacher turnover, since many TFAers only “intended to remain in teaching for only a few years.” The report found no evidence that the quality of the teachers recruited improved.

Hmmm...do those five-week wonders suck as badly as we do, or are there factors beyond teacher evaluation we should've examined? I mean, Gates, at the time, had pretty much determined the prime factor we needed to examine was just how much teachers suck. Gates decided to throw money at the ones he decided didn't suck so they'd move to districts in need of less sucky teachers.

Even with a cash incentive, teachers were reluctant to transfer to schools with high needs because they believed that would result in their receiving a lower VAM score, which was now part of their evaluation.

Do you see what's happening here? Teachers seemed to believe the actual students played a part in their own test scores. Also, by hanging test scores over teacher heads like the sword of Damocles, teachers didn't want to teach kids who might get low test scores. Go figure. This whole self-preservation instinct bedeviled Gates' efforts to identify and eliminate sucky teachers from the start. Burris comes to a more realistic conclusion, the very conclusion she and her fellow principals reached when they first saw Gates' Degrees of Suckiness:

The project failed because evaluating teachers by test scores is a dumb idea that carries all kinds of negative consequences for achieving the goal we all want — improved teaching and learning. Every good principal knows that improvement in teaching requires coaching built on a relationship of trust and mutual respect — not boxes and metrics intended to determine whom to punish and whom to reward.

That's what sensible administrators seeking sensible results think. That's what every teacher knows. That's why teachers have been so demoralized by this project. It's clearly conceived in vindictiveness. Cuomo, in fact, called it "baloney" when its first iteration failed to fire enough teachers. He referred to himself as a "student lobbyist," clearly suggesting those of us who spent our lives supporting students didn't give a damn about them. (Meanwhile, "lobbyist" Cuomo pointedly ignores the C4E law demanding lower class sizes, something that would actually help students in need.)

The newer junk science system also failed to fire as many teachers as Cuomo wanted. This notwithstanding, every teacher I know understands the goals of this system. We all understand all these people are walking around with checklists to determine just how much we suck. We feel it every moment of every day, and it's all because Bill Gates woke up one morning and decided he alone could measure suckiness. He imposed this program on virtually the entire country via Race to the Top, with the full cooperation of the Obama administration.

Though we now know it to be a miserable failure, we're stuck with it. Gates tosses seed money at communities and leaves broken systems in his wake. Hence we're stuck with small schools that don't work, and a teacher evaluation system based on the voices in Gates' head.

In New York City, because we have a large volume of vindictive and unreflective administrators, this situation is exacerbated. Although we have very few teachers ultimately rated ineffective, we recognize this system is designed to oppress rather than support us. Because it's entrenched in state law, and because all the papers post reformy nonsense as gospel in their editorial pages, it's a long, hard slog out of the garbage dump into which Gates placed us.

It's pretty clear to me, at least, that teachers need a system to support and help us, rather than one whose goal is finding out precisely how much we suck so it can more easily fire us.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

AFT, E4E, and the Learning Curve

I missed this when it came out, but I was nonetheless pretty surprised to read an op-ed co-authored by AFT President Randi Weingarten and E4E founder Evan Stone. I mean, it's important to get Stone's perspective, I guess, since he taught somewhere for five minutes before selling out to Bill Gates and the reformies. I actually agree with much of what they wrote. Regarding the uprising in red states:

They occurred in states with laws that weaken unions and their ability to collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions — which, when it comes to public education, are teaching and learning conditions.

I've written much the same myself.  That's why people in NY looking to duplicate those actions are more or less banging their heads against a wall. They hit closer to home here:

No student should attend schools with overcrowded classrooms that lack desks for every student...

I wrote just yesterday about being in that situation. In my building, not only are those same half-rooms open, but we now also have converted closets used for classrooms. There are no windows, and there are indoor air-conditioners. They don't work very well, but anytime they are on, interaction is pretty much impossible because they are incredibly noisy.

You may recall a few years back that the AFT brought Bill Gates to its convention as keynote speaker. I've written about Bill Gates here and here, among other places. After the convention, to thank us, Gates went and spoke somewhere against teacher pensions. If you think he was just fooling around, you're wrong. Right now there's an entire organization devoted to attacking our pensions, under the guise of protecting our earnings. (One of its leaders wrote an op-ed in the Daily News suggesting UFT teachers could not take their pensions with them if they changed jobs. That's not the case.)

The other remnant of Bill Gates, the one we see each and every day, is the junk science-based evaluation system. Every time Boy Wonder comes in to check off how much you suck, you can thank Bill Gates. While you're at it, thank Evan Stone, who supported this nonsense in all its glory. After all, he's not a teacher and hasn't been one in years. No skin off his apple if you're oppressed and miserable.

Here's another point where I agree with Randi and Evan:

Teachers rely on their unions to fight for them, but they are also asking for more from their unions. Frankly, they don’t always feel represented by them, and we must respond to that. 

I'm not exactly sure how non-teacher, non-union Stone is part of this "we," but let's humor the notion. I recently wrote about how I felt paying dues to AFT, NEA, and NYSUT but having no vote or voice in any of the above. I don't give a flying hoot what Evan Stone thinks about it, but if Randi Weingarten wants to expand democracy I'm all for it.

High school teachers voted for me to represent them at UFT Executive Board not because I'm charming, but rather because they agreed with me on teacher issues. I worked that election very hard and I am determined to represent not only those who elected me citywide, but also those within my own school building who elected me chapter leader. Someone has to stand up and say it's a terrible idea to get into bed with the likes of Bill Gates or Evan Stone. I'm frankly amazed that Randi Weingarten has yet to figure that out.

In case it's not clear, let me help out. You recall how Gates attacked teacher pensions to thank us for featuring him as keynote? Evan Stone is now engaged in attacking the Absent Teacher Reserve, based on ratings enabled by Bill Gates that are likely as not nonsense.

E4E is a corporate cancer in our midst. Its leaders don't even bother pretending to be teachers anymore. Instead, Stone is a CEO or something. Hey, AFT, if you want to reach out to real teachers, we're right here. Let's work together instead of helping Stone stab us in the back.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Poor Eva Needs Space

I was pretty surprised to see a link in today's Chalkbeat newsletter to a piece about how Eva needed space for a new Moskowitz Academy. Eva, who makes $782,000 a year, is in a real pickle. Evidently the city is reluctant to close another school so she can push her way in. It's tragic. What awful discrimination. Where are kids going to sit to pee their pants during test prep? Where is Eva going to store the extra sweat pants to give the kids who pee themselves?

I don't link to the 74, where the article is, but it was hard for me to cry for poor Eva. I mean, why doesn't she take a few of the millions she raises from her hedge fund supporters and buy a damn building? In fact, why is she taking tax money at all? She can't be bothered to sign the pre-school agreement every other provider signed. Once she does that, she can't do Any Damn Thing She Feels Like, and that's a great injustice somehow.

As part of a school that's obliged to follow chancellor's regulations, as part of a school in which denying students' basic biological urges constitutes corporal punishment rather than Just Another Day, it's hard for me to muster sympathy for Eva Moskowitz or her mission to take space away from us, the community.

It's particularly egregious because I've been teaching in real public schools since 1984. The one I've been in since 1993, Francis Lewis High School, suffers from rampant overcrowding and has done pretty much as long as I can remember. While I don't make students sit until they pee themselves (because I'm evidently not dedicated enough to be Moskowitz Academy material), I have been experiencing outlandish overcrowding situations since well before Moskowitz Academies even existed.

One day shortly after 9/11, an assistant principal walked into my half-classroom, really angry.

"Why didn't you observe the moment of silence?" he demanded.

"What moment of silence?" I asked.

"We just announced a moment of silence for the victims of 9/11," he said.

"Well we don't have a loudspeaker so we don't have the announcements," I told him.

He didn't like that. He tried approaching the situation from another angle.

"Why are those kids sitting on the radiator?" he asked.

"They don't want to sit on the floor," I told him.

I followed him out of the room and asked us to help us get a better room. That, evidently, was not as important as the moment of silence or the unacceptable seating arrangement. He stormed off without answering my question. He was soon promoted to principal.

Another time I was in a bowling alley-shaped room. It opened onto several fragrant dumpsters. There were twelve rows of three seats each. Once, after a test, the AP security came in and started screaming at one of my students. The student was wearing earphones. He had finished the test and was bothering no one. The AP dragged him out and wrote him up. I complained to the AP that he should have spoken to me first. The AP gave me a dirty look. He was also promoted to principal, though not quite as soon.

I did a year in a music room. It was very large. We had a piano, and a board with musical staffs on it. It was OK, expect when the music teacher next door decided to play Flight of the Valkyrie at top volume. However, he generally did that no more than once a day, every single day. I politely asked him to close the door. The first time or two, he complied. Then he decided the hell with it, everyone needs to hear Flight of the Valkyrie each and every day, or what's the point of life itself? One day I'd had it, and I walked over and slammed the door so loud it was perceptible above Flight of the Valkyrie.

The music teacher was horrified by this. He complained to his AP, who called me into her office and screamed at me for ten minutes. I defended myself, explaining how being polite had not proven effective, and she told me I had no right to do what I did. I referred to the situation as "bullshit," and she was horrified by my awful language. She went on about that for a few minutes before throwing me out of her office. She retired before they could promote her to principal.

I also taught maybe twelve years in crumbling trailers. I'd walk in to find the floors covered with sheets of ice. Sometimes some genius would leave the AC on all night and all the seats would be wet with some sort of AC mist. Sometimes there'd be no heat. Sometimes there'd be no AC, and you can't imagine how hot it would get in those oversized tin cans. Sometimes the custodians would be in a wacky mood and throw snowballs at us through the broken windows. Sometimes the marching band would come by playing Louie Louie while my poor students tried to take a test.

Twenty years later, the city is building an annex for us. When it's finished, maybe we'll get some relief. It took a little longer because I haven't got a hot line to Joel Klein so he can give me Whatever I Want, Whenever I Want. I had to get elected to the UFT Executive Board and get Ellie Engler to call up the school building authority. It's not a perfect solution because we all know well the city, rather than utilize this to help us, could simply overcrowd us further to make things even worse.

However, I don't feel sorry for Eva Moskowitz, who manipulates her kids to protest in Albany on school days, who terrorizes children to artificially boost her stats,  holds "got to go" lists, boasts of how wonderful her schools are, sheds the majority of her students well before they graduate, and blames our public schools for their lack of progress when they return.

I'm sorry for the poor teacher who had to write that thing. Maybe she doesn't know any better. Who knows? Maybe she's drunk Eva's Kool-Aid and thinks she's doing God's work. Maybe she'll become a principal for having written this thing. Maybe she wrote it of her own volition.  Maybe she doesn't understand the shelf life of a Moskowitz Academy teacher, and maybe she doesn't understand the value of due process.

Still, I don't feel sorry for the Moskowitz Academies. Screw Eva Moskowitz. Screw Michael Bloomberg and Joel Klein, who enabled her. Screw the propagandists who sing her praises while ignoring the overwhelming majority of her students, and ours, who she ends up hurting. If Michael Bloomberg had to send his kids to public schools, there'd be no overcrowding anywhere. Instead of engineering giveaways to developers, we'd be building schools for the children of New York City. Instead of helping Eva with her corporatist self-serving shell game, we'd be improving education for all.

Make no mistake, that's what we'd be doing if we had a collective conscience.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

AFT Discovers Bernie Sanders Two Years Too Late

I'm really astonished by the volume of tweets I see from Pittsburgh quoting Bernie Sanders. Two years ago those of us who supported him were "Bernie Bros," a bunch of thugs who had no regard for the sensible middle. Note that none of us were female, evidently, since "Bernie Sisters" doesn't connote the same threatening aura. That's actually sexism on the part of the group that was stereotyping us. Go figure.

But yes, two years after Donald Trump became President, Bernie Sanders is a mythical figure whose ideas are to be lauded.



Bernie was speaking that very same truth back on 2016. He had the same optimism and the same ideas. In fact, Bernie was advocating for Medicare for all back when Hillary Clinton was telling us it would never, ever happen. Hillary was ridiculing Bernie's ideas for free college, saying the Trump children would use it, as though Trump would send his kids to state schools. Fifteen bucks an hour was too much to ask, thought Hillary.

At the time, I thought well, there might be merit to their arguments. They pointed back to 1972, when the Democrats ran George McGovern and got crushed in a landslide. Of course, we now know that everything McGovern said about the Vietnam War was correct, and even Nixon seemed to get on board as he extracted us from that quagmire. More importantly, we now know what a horrible error it was to run a candidate whose strongest calling card was being "not Trump."

There are other things AFT is wrong about. Close to home, UFT is mistaken to exclude every single voice that saw what Sanders was saying was true back in 2016. While it's good that we're now applauding Sanders, every AFT rep in Minnesota was compelled to follow the company line that "Bernie Bros" were bad.

It's nice that Hillary gave a speech, but endorsing her was likely the worst decision our union has ever made. It was done early, and there was talk of a survey. Nonetheless I never saw the survey, I have no idea what it contained, and I don't know a single person who took it. It was supposed to be a smart decision to endorse early. I guess it was supposed to be a smart decision to extract no preconditions for said endorsement.

Yet teachers all over the country were then and are now reeling from the nonsense known as Race to the Top. That's what pushed all this unnecessary, ludicrous and hurtful testing. That's what enabled the junk science ratings taking place all over the country. Now I still like Sanders, and he's still saying things that need to be heard.



But if we are to survive as unionists, we need to open up and pay more than lip service. We need to endorse and encourage politicians who support union and education. We need to stop settling for compromised mediocrity like Hillary Clinton. We need to stop saying this is the best we can do, so let's go with it.

Donald Trump is living proof that this is about the worst philosophy we could have espoused. Going forward, if we're going to embrace candidates, let's embrace those who support what Americans support, like universal health care, affordable college, and a living wage. And for goodness sake let's refrain from endorsing those who lecture us about "public charter schools," whatever they may be, which is precisely what Hillary did in 2016.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Should the State Pay Bargaining Fees?

That's what this piece contends. It's an interesting notion. Because Janus is a potential loss of bargaining power for unions, the state should pay it. This way, unions retain the same power they'd have otherwise, even when freeloaders choose to dump expenses on those of us who believe in community. This would neutralize the worst side effects of Janus.

I see issues with this. One is that in negotiations, we are adversarial. It's our job to maximize compensation, and the state's job to save money. It's kind of perverse for us to depend on our adversary for bargaining power. Also, who's to say the state won't just say, "Hey, we're giving you guys too much money. We're cutting the fee by 50% because, you know, we just feel like it."

I don't think that's far-fetched. Who knows who will control the state? Right now, we have a Democrat governor who ran on a platform of going after unions. That was fashionable, you know, because the big thing for Democrats that year was to triangulate and pretty much become marginally less insane Republicans. This year, of course, with Donald Trump as President of the United States, with Hillary a massive failure, he adores us and we're his bestest buds. Things change, especially with politicians who have no moral center who bend any which way the wind blows.

There is a marginal upside to Janus, to wit, union leadership that is more answerable to membership. I see that happening somewhat right here. Unity Caucus is entrenched, with some terrible habits, but the smarter members have opened their ears. I see that particularly in the fact that fewer observations now appears to be within our grasp. Months ago we were vehemently disagreeing over that at Executive Board. Now I think many in leadership are waking up and saying, "Hey, you know what? Teachers are not fond of excessive observations and maybe we should do something about it."

I see this in the negotiations for parental leave. A lot of people say this was a perfect storm and that's why it happened. I agree. But part of this perfect storm is the need for leadership to bring a victory to members. While there are detractors, and while our agreement is not perfect, no agreement is. For my money, and for those of members with whom I speak, this is a huge improvement.

I'll go out on a limb and say I think we have seen the last of giveback-laden awful contracts like the one we saw in 2005. Leadership now needs to worry about deals like that one. That's a good thing. Were we to partner with the state, not only would that end, but we'd run the risk of losing funding. The state could hold that over our collective heads. If every union in the state doesn't agree to these crap contracts, we'll pull your funding. Given all your deadbeat members, you'll be nothing.

I don't want to be dependent on notoriously fickle government for the funding of my union. We need to take a bad thing and make something good out of it. Specifically, we need a more responsive leadership. We should never be negotiating away fundamental seniority rights for a few extra bucks. We ought never to have created the ATR. We ought never to place ourselves in a position in which the state can say, "Hey, give us a time frame to fire ATR members or we're gonna pull all your funding."

Leadership now has to focus on organizing. While that reflects a lot of extra work, and while that work makes its way down to people like me, it's work we should've been doing for decades. Whatever happens with Janus, organizing reflects a substantive improvement. We need to build on that rather than finding shortcuts to avoid it.

An activated and informed union is a superior union. We can't just sit around and ask why Mulgrew hasn't solved all our problems. We need to be hands-on and face them ourselves. The notion of state funding for unions moves us backward. We cannot afford to move that way ever again.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Greetings from Not Pittsburgh

Today the AFT is holding a convention in Pittsburgh, PA. I'd very much like to be there, but decided not to go anyway. Everyone I wanted to go with is here in NY. They have all sorts of excuses. They're undergoing surgery, they have family emergencies, and all sorts of other trivial excuses. Mine is even more trivial--I'm not going because they aren't going.

It's too bad because I'd love to go there and write about it. This year they're featuring Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I'd be really interested to see what they say. I saw Hillary in Minneapolis two years ago. She told us we could learn from public charter schools. It was one of the stupidest things I've ever heard, and spoke to just how compromised she really was. All charter schools are public in that they take public money. They are private in the sense that they do whatever they golly gosh darn please without community oversight.

It's also too bad because the fact is NYC high schools have no vote and no voice there. Not one single person we voted for is in Pittsburgh, not even on our own dime. Every single one of the reps there will vote as they are told. I know this because I sat through a meeting in Minneapolis where some guy instructed every single UFT rep to vote yes on this and no on that. Anyway, while it's a great honor to pay dues to the AFT, it's disappointing to have absolutely no representation there. I'm unequivocally pro-union but that's indefensible.

It's ironic because on the Executive Board we vote for virtually everything they propose. Support strikers somewhere? Yes. Oppose oppression? Yes. Mom and apple pie? Yes to both, even though I've personally been off sugar for a while. I guess we got lucky that this was not the year of voting for Common Core, junk science evaluations, or John King as an impartial arbitrator.

In fairness, there were a few roads on which we parted ways. There was one resolution where we condemned the racism encouraged and enabled by one Donald Trump. Leadership removed Trump's name and attributed everything to "the presidential election." In retrospect, they may have been correct. You can't dump blame for everything on Donald Trump. It appears to me that Hillary Clinton is the biggest reason he's President, though I don't suppose she will make that her theme when addressing AFT. I'd still argue that winning UFT Executive Board seats gives us more right to be there than losing the US Presidential Election to the Worst Person on Earth.

In fact, I'd go even further. I'd argue that Hillary Clinton, via her terrible campaign, via her failure to present ideas more compelling than, "I'm not Donald Trump," and via her refusal to support ideas the American people support, like universal health care, a living wage, and affordable college, enabled Janus. It wasn't her intention to do that. It was her intention to take the least risky path, put herself out as little as possible, and win the presidency. She didn't inspire me, but since she was running against Donald Trump I got off my ass and voted for her. Alas, many didn't.

When you're in a rigged system, full of interference from within and without, you have to do better. Given Janus, UFT has to do better too. I don't expect to see 2005-style poison pills in the next contract agreement. Still, a system in which our "activists" are solely people who've agreed to represent leadership whether or not leadership represents membership needs to be fixed. It's a mistake to build brick walls and keep out those of us who don't believe in reforminess. It's a mistake to invite Diane Ravitch to speak while not allowing those of us who support her ideas to have a vote.

It was a fundamental and egregious error for AFT to jump ahead and support Hillary with no preconditions. It's another to think you can sustain the organization while purposely disenfranchising intrinsically motivated activism. In 2018 and going forward we can and must do a whole lot better.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Observations and Elephants

Some of us have been quietly trying to persuade leadership that there needs to be an option for two observations. I'm persuaded they now understand, what with working teachers bearing the message and Janus hanging over all our heads We picked that number because that's the minimum under the state law. It's not ideal, and I'm honestly not sure what is.

Former principal and current head of Network for Public Education Carol Burris told me she generally only needed to observe once a year. She said if things went well and nothing else came up, that was sufficient. She suggested her time and energy would be better devoted to teachers who were actually in need of assistance. That makes sense to me, and I'd hope we could get as close to that model as possible.

Another thing that makes sense to me is hiring administrators like Burris. If you want to be in charge of teachers, you should be super smart and outright supportive of people who serve children. We all know administrators who don't speak as plainly or logically as Burris. In New York City we have the remnants of Michael Bloomberg at virtually every level of administration and alas, Bill de Blasio has done nothing to change it. Thus we have people like this in positions of authority.  I don't know exactly how you remove this level of sludge from administration, but having insane people run the system is not how you help children, let alone those of us who serve them.

Although Sue Edelman at the Post finds and exposes a lot of the corrupt administrators, the public has not made the connection. Also, vindictiveness and incompetence alone don't get you on page 6 of the paper. You have to not only be corrupt, but also get caught. Those of us who actually do the work know this is more far-reaching than most of the public knows. And the public, after reading years of stereotypes about us, continues to focus squarely on teachers. With all this, how do we correct the evaluation system?

I'd favor dumping the law, which is based on sheer vindictiveness on the part of Governor Andrew Cuomo. I don't envision that happening, and I'm not sure exactly how we make the case to the public. Many eyes are on the percentage of teachers with poor ratings. Leadership's best argument to maintain the status quo has been to tout the very low percentage of ineffective ratings. Our enemies use these same statistics to say the system is not vindictive enough.

A real teacher evaluation system ought not to be vindictive at all. An effective system will focus on teaching teachers how to better serve students. If will not be a ridiculous checklist that suggests physical education teachers ought to have the same instructional approach as science teachers. And though that's an extreme example, I could see how there would be disparity even between academic subjects.

For example, I teach English to newcomers. New York State does not feel English is actually a subject, saying the only reason we teach it is to prep students for core subjects, but I look around me and say, wow, we sure use English a lot. I mean, I do, I just walked my dog, and I spoke to people along the way. I want my students to be able to do the same, so I stress conversation. I also hope people won't say, "Hey, who's the idiot who taught you English? "so I teach and practice structure with them.

I guess that works, because Danielson likes interaction. I could imagine perhaps less interaction in a math class, and if students were learning the math I would not conclude the teacher sucks because there's less interaction. I mean, I love the way Carl Hiaasen writes, but unlike Danielson I don't conclude that anyone who doesn't write like Hiaasen sucks.

As far as observation reports go, it's pretty clear to me that the old observation method was superior to the current one. If you have a professional and competent supervisor, that supervisor need not be restricted to a checklist, That supervisor can observe the lesson, decide what helps the students, and decide what needs to be expanded upon.

Unfortunately, we have many supervisors who are neither professional nor competent. Now here's the thing--if you have supervisors like that it doesn't really matter what the observation method is. They see what they want to see, write what they want to write, and their decisions are utterly worthless. Because in some nether region of their icy cold hearts they know that, they tend to blame those they observe for their own shortcomings. Until we deal with that, whatever observation mode we choose will be fatally flawed.

Cutting down the number will be helpful on multiple levels. First of all, teachers will be marginally less terrorized. That will make teaching better all over. Second, competent administrators won't have to waste their time observing teachers who don't need help. This will free them to help those who need it. Alas, incompetent supervisors help no one, and will continue to help no one. They're the elephant in the room, and every thinking teacher knows the last thing we need in a classroom is an elephant.

We can make things a little better, and hopefully that will be part of our new contract. But I work in a school that's massively overcrowded, spilling out onto the streets, and even when we get an annex we won't have enough space. Of course we'd have more space if we didn't insist on keeping elephants in rooms. There needs to be a much-expanded look at incompetent supervisors. Now I have nothing against elephants. Real elephants are quite intelligent.

Here's my proposal--let's ship all the Boy Wonder supervisors off to game preserves, where they can learn from real elephants. Once they complete their studies, we'll leave them there. They can be regularly evaluated by the elephants. And because we are thoughtful, we won't force the elephants to use Danielson's rubric. We'll trust elephant judgment just as competent supervisors trust teacher judgment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The Making of an Administrator

I was once in an assembly, and there were a couple of kids acting out and causing distractions for the students trying to listen. I asked them a few times to cut it out, and they ignored me. So I called the dean and had them removed. Fifteen minutes later they were back again. The then-principal was sitting near them and complaining about their behavior. He didn't choose to intervene, but rather gave them a few looks, which they ignored.

I went to the dean's office a little bit later. I found the dean who removed them. I asked her why she sent them back. She said she had given them a stern talking-to, or something. I told whatever she had done did not work, and that she had just taught those kids that there was no consequence for their actions. I told her if I'd wanted those kids to stay in the auditorium I would not have had them removed. I told her she'd undermined my authority and I didn't much appreciate it. She didn't have much to say in reply.

I didn't have any dealings with her for a while, as she was in a different department, and I almost never call deans for any reason. For my regular students, I generally figure there's not much deans can do that I can't, and if someone's gonna call mommy and daddy it might as well be me. The next time I saw her, I had just been elected chapter leader.

One of the first things I did when I became chapter leader was assemble an email list. I sorted it by department so I could send emails to the English teachers, or the social studies teachers, or whoever. It was really hard work collecting and recording all these addresses, so I asked people on my committee for help. One person immediately gave me all the non-DOE emails of a very large department, and I was pretty happy to have that.

When I sent out my first staff email, the amazing dean approached me with a pretty serious complaint.

"I feel like I've been raped," she said.

I was pretty shocked. I asked her what happened.

"I never gave you my email, and you sent an email to my private address."

"Oh my gosh I'm so sorry," I said. "Ms. Z. gave me your email. I'll take you off the list right away."

"No, that's okay," she said. "You can leave me on the list."

So what is this? You raped me, it's horrible, but feel free to do it again? I left her on the list. Of course I removed her when she became assistant principal, which happened almost instantly afterward.

The very first grievance I received was against her. She'd failed to give a teacher any classes requested. I met with her. She said there was no way that she could arrange the schedule to make that happen. She showed me classes arranged in a Delaney book. I looked at them for thirty seconds, and said, "Why don't you swap this class for that class?" I had solved the problem. I was a genius.

"Well," she said. "It's not good for the kids to change the teachers this late in the semester."

We were weeks, at most, into the semester. It was ridiculous. For some reason the teacher withdrew the grievance. It came up at another meeting, though. I don't remember why.

"Well, Mr. Goldstein never suggested a solution to that problem."

So there she was, lying to my face. I said something along those lines. Later, she confronted me in the hall about this, or maybe something else. I responded in kind.

A few days later, she called me into her office, closed the door, and started screaming at me. How dare I talk to her like that? I opened the door and walked out while she was still screaming.

I spent years fielding complaints about her from all sorts of people. Evidently she treated many others the same way she treated me. A lot of people seem not to like that. Now she works somewhere else, so my life is just a little easier. Of course I get complaints from the chapter leader at the new school, who blames me for sending her over there.

But it's a small price to pay.  Until she becomes superintendent, of course, when all of us will pay.

Monday, July 09, 2018

Unions Feeling the Pinch--but the Pinching Has Only Just Begun

The Chief ($) reports that union leaders are trimming their budgets in anticipation of Janus losses. NEA anticipates a 14% loss over the next few years. They're projecting based on losses in so-called right to work states. While the article doesn't provide figures, I'm sure AFT and UFT are doing the same. We've heard some talk about it at Executive Board, though I don't recall the exact details.

I'm not surprised by any of this, and I don't suppose regular readers of this blog are either. There are some details toward the end of the piece that grabbed my attention a little more. One is encouraging:

Though membership has dropped significantly in right-to-work states, those are also the areas where the union has experienced the greatest membership growth, thanks to a series of Teacher strikes earlier this year in five states, including West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma. The NEA added 2,000 new members in Arizona after its strike.

It's good to see that, having pretty much hit bottom, people are signing up for union and looking for ways to improve their lot. I've read and heard a lot about what hitting bottom means. It's going a decade without a raise. It's having your pay cut by $10,000 because some genius in the government decides they can give tax cuts to zillionaires by slashing teacher pay. It's paying $10,000 a year extra for health insurance because another genius in the government decides that's another great way to fund tax cuts for zillionaires.

Me, I'd prefer to fight now and avoid hitting bottom. But it's entirely possible we could. Many states that were union strong are now crippled by right to work, and that's exactly what they have in mind for us. The people who financed Janus are the scum of the earth and they aim to break us.

Right-to-work groups targeting Teachers isn’t the only attack the unions have to prepare for: there may be legal challenges as well. The NEA, along with the American Federation of Teachers, is facing a suit from California educators seeking refunds of past agency fees. Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT, noted that the Janus ruling did not mention back payments.

Imagine that. They want to retroactively enforce the ruling, against the old ruling, so as to empty union coffers. And the fact is, with the corporatist lunatics sitting on the Supreme Court, they could well pull it off. The entire notion of justice has nothing to do with what they do up there, and their tenure is a whole lot better than ours. Just because they don't remotely do the job of representing the American people is no reason for them to lose their lifetime gigs.

We already know what follows, because we've seen it in Wisconsin. They will surely come after collective bargaining next. You'll take what you'll get and you'll like it. Now in Wisconsin they allowed police and firefighters to keep collective bargaining. After all, they need someone with some degree of commitment to guard the state house when teachers come after Walker with torches and pitchforks.

I'm certain a Trump Supreme Court would entertain that. If the right-wing lunatics in Wisconsin passed it, the right-wing lunatics on SCOTUS would pass it too. Who knows what else they'll entertain? Wasn't it Newt Gingrich who talked about putting children to work cleaning up schools? Are we gonna repeal child labor laws?

We live in a country that rips young children from their parents, puts them in cages, and expects them to defend themselves in court without a lawyer. I couldn't make this stuff up. These same people have painted targets on our backs for the crime of teaching American's children and expecting to be compensated for it. It's on us to give them a fight like they've never seen before.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

What's a Chapter Leader to Do?

It's a new world, post-Janus. No longer will all my colleagues be union brothers and sisters. Yet I'm chapter leader of over 300 people. It's a job I love, but things will be very different now, one way or another.

I'm assuming that it will be my job to recruit newcomers to my building. Though I could be wrong about that, I've prepared a Keynote presentation showing things that labor has won. (Keynote, if you don't know, is more or less PowerPoint for Mac.)

I'll also have to tell them about improvements we've made in our building. I'm fortunate in that there actually are a few. We are preposterously overcrowded, a victim of our own success, among other things. When I complained about it at Executive Board, Ellie Engler set up a meeting with the school construction authority. We're set to get an annex to handle our overflow. Construction has begun, and I'm hoping to live to see it. Should that be the case, I'm gonna demand a state of the art classroom, since I spent forever in the trailers and worked to get this thing started.

We've also had a few successful paperwork complaints. There was some insane memo floating around saying that we had to document student participation. I was flabbergasted, as were several members who'd never complained about anything before. I thought, I can record participation, or I can teach, but how could I do both? Our complaint, with the help of Debbie Poulos, killed the impossible demand.

There have been many, many sixth classes in our building. They're attractive because they pay pretty well in shortage areas, like mine. I've turned down extra classes for years. I'd always been told that sixth classes meant no relief from C6 assignments. One day James Eterno instructed me to actually read circular 6, and in fact it said otherwise. Unfortunately I was unable to get a single person with a sixth class to grieve.

Another thing we have in our school is a nine period day. We were able to negotiate a program that gives a lot more prep time to our teachers, and it's very popular. In fact, 100% of staff voted it in for a third year. We gave up one day of our regualar C6 assignment for a teacher team meeting, very much favored by our principal, and get one day for OPW. I was able to file a paperwork grievance stating, since our teachers with sixth classes were not required to do C6 assignments, that the paperwork involved in the teacher teams was excessive. We won that complaint.

When people get in trouble, I go around and ask questions. I try to find out what happened and what circumstances might mitigate whatever someone's being accused of. I also try very, very hard to find technical screw ups that might get a letter killed, if indeed there is one. I'm often successful, though the grievance process sucks and takes a long time. But I never give up.

What if you aren't a member? I mean, you may think you're the sort of person who could never get in trouble. You're probably wrong. CR A-421 says your screwups are in the eye of the beholder, to wit, the student. If you say, "Good morning," and the student doesn't like your tone, I see a disciplinary meeting in your future. If the principal is reasonable, she'll toss it out. If she hates your guts, however, you'll get a letter in file, at least. (I'm quite surprised at some people who've gotten in trouble. If you think you're invulnerable, you're laboring under a serious misconception.)

I also send out a weekly email. I scour education news and blogs on a pretty constant basis. Members get a whole lot of descriptions with links. I usually write the first part myself, leading with school issues and telling members whatever I'm working on. I send out emails when people we know pass away, along with whatever arrangements there may be. I send emails when rat bastard DOE investigators are in the building, telling members not to talk without representation, and to contact me so I can procure it.

When I first got this job, a piece of advice I got from several people was this--Whenever a member comes to you, say, "Put a letter in my box."  80% of them won't do it. That's certainly an effective way to reduce your CL workload, I guess. I've never said that to anyone. I have a whole network of people I can go to for answers, both within and without official UFT. I have a good sense of who can help with what. In fact, once in a while, I know the answer myself. When things happen more than once, I tend to remember.

What am I gonna do with people who think I should pay and they shouldn't? Well, there are a lot of things I'm not actually required to do. I don't get paid to send emails. So they're off my list. I don't need to spend time getting points of view about disciplinary matters. I could be writing a lesson plan, or a blog, or taking a nap.

And hey, if you have an issue, if admin isn't reasonable with you for whatever reason, I'm pretty good with the contract. I can tell you which article is violated, and why. If I don't have it on the tip of my tongue, I can look it up. I can ask any of a number of acquaintances how strong the argument is. I can write you a grievance within minutes. I'm a very fast writer.

On the other hand, I could also say, hmmm, that's interesting. Put a letter in my box. Then, after I deal with every issue union members have, maybe I'll look at it. I'm usually pretty busy helping union members, but you never know. I might get around to it. If I do, I'll have questions.

Why don't you check to see where in the contract that might be? Get back to me when you do.  And when you do, I can say, OK, go write a grievance. Bring it back to me. I'll look at it when I get a chance. Then I could check it when I get a chance.

I don't know whether I'd do things like that. I'd much rather not. But one thing is for sure-- members take precedence over the goons and the ginks and the company finks.

What would you do if you were me?

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Labor Studies

Why on earth do we not teach our children about the history of labor? Why don't we teach them about how laborers organized, and how they organize worldwide? Why don't we teach them about how powerful unions are in Europe? Why don't we teach them about the history of labor in these United States? The story of labor is a long one, and there's been a new chapter attached to it within the last month.

That chapter, of course, is named Janus, for a scumbag government worker who turned on his brothers and sisters for thirty pieces of silver, or perhaps 15 minutes of fame. He claims to believe the very act of representing working people is political. It doesn't matter, supposedly, which candidates they support or that they need to have a dedicated fund to support them. I'm sure I wrote this before, but union tends to underrepresent those who favor more work for less pay.

So the court decided that from now on those who wanted more work for less pay would be able to stand up and be counted. No I don't want you to negotiate more money for me. No I don't want safer working conditions. No I don't want to be released from work when my kids graduate from high school. I'm not all-knowing, and I haven't taken any polls, but I've been teaching since 1984 and chapter leader of the largest school in Queens for nine years. I have never heard anyone make demands resembling these.

The truth is that five justices appointed by Republicans, who have not remotely represented working people since maybe 1959, ruled that people could opt out of union. After all, the rest of us could pay for them, so what's the issue? Of course, what we know is that this is the culmination of decades of work by an anti-labor group financed by billionaires.

Now maybe you think billionaires are our benefactors, who sit around and plot ways for working people to do better. But no reading of unvarnished history supports that. In this world, the one we actually reside on, people have had to sacrifice, fight and often give their lives for rights in the workplace. I don't recall ever having studied stories like this one in school, and the only reason I learned about the struggles in the coal mines Donald Trump claims to love so (despite never having set foot in one) is that they've been written about in films and novels. These struggles still go on today. No one in America should have to choose between working in a coal mine and unemployment. Coal miners are still victimized today.

Here in America, we have an entire network dedicated to fool working people that the rich, who keep all they can for themselves and throw the rest of us crumbs, are somehow looking out for us. Trump talks about "clean coal" as though it exists.  And though Trump has presided over a temporary uptick in miserable, dangerous unhealthy coal jobs, in the long run, they will decline.

I've spent much of the last thirteen years writing this blog and looking closely at UFT leadership. The 2005 Contract was a spectacular piece of crap. Its legacy has left teachers fearful and cynical. Add to that the insane regulations that Bill Gates's puppet Arne Duncan foisted on America called "Race to the Top," and you have a recipe to crush the morale of many working teachers. It's particularly egregious in New York City because years of Bloomberg have left us a legacy of vindictive, small-minded, self-serving, unimaginative administrators who wouldn't know what was good for children if it were banging them over their thick heads.

The best long-term fix for this would be education. People ought to know that weekends were not, in fact, handed down my God on Mount Sinai. People should know that paid sick days were not the idea of benevolent employers. There is just so much that we fundamentally take for granted I can barely begin to describe it.

If the union sucks, it's on us to fix it. It is fundamentally unethical for me to say, "Hey, I'm keeping my money. Screw the rest of you. You can pay for me." Yet that's precisely the sort of thinking the billionaires are going to encourage. We will soon be barraged by ads telling us how to opt-out of union. They'll say hey, we just want them to know their rights. That's nonsense. If they cared about our rights they'd be telling us how to unionize Walmart. In reality, the Walmart family financed Janus because they hate union. They're happy paying as little as they can to their workforce, and they're fine with having their employees rely on food stamps so they don't have to pay a reasonable wage. You and I subsidize Walmart just as we'll be forced to subsidize the lowlifes who opt out of union dues.

The bottom line here is that if you think any of these moneyed interests give a golly gosh darn about your welfare you are deluding yourself. Also, if you think withholding your dues is going to improve teaching conditions, I have a bridge in Brooklyn with your name on it. If you want to work to improve the union, you can do it. You can show up to union meetings. You can make your voice heard. You can tell leadership what we need.

As for me, as long as three of four UFT members can't even be bothered to vote in union elections, it's hard for me to make a case for pulling my dues. If leadership sucks, it's no one's fault but our own. I spend an awful lot of my time trying to influence leadership to improve things. I go to meetings. I talk to people. I write this blog, and have been doing so almost every day for over a decade. I write elsewhere and I do all kinds of small things I can't write about.

If you mostly sit on your ass and plot over how you can make a few extra bucks by withholding union dues, you are the problem. If we end up with another crap contract, it won't be Mulgrew's fault. It will be yours. And if you think the contracts suck now, wait until you see what they're like when union ceases to be a factor.

It's terrible that kids are not learning about organized labor. It's unconscionable that we call ourselves teachers and know as little as the kids.

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Tom and His Five Co-Teachers

Things are tough all over, but few things are tougher than being an ESL teacher with a crazy principal in the new world of Part 154. I have a friend, who I'll call Tom, who works in a school with just such a principal. You see, many schools are not as gigantic as mine, and often they hire one ESL teacher for the entire building. This is because there are laws that say they have to have them. The fact that there are new students who need English instruction is neither here nor there.

So my friend got his program for the fall, and he has two classes of one thing, two classes of another, and one class of another. To the principal, that's three preps. However, in the instances he has two classes, he's co-teaching with two different teachers. Tom has filed a grievance. The principal, being a self-serving bureaucrat with no interest in the problems of teachers, let alone students, says Tom is overreacting.

For Tom to be overreacting, each teacher of the same class would need to do the same thing every day. There would be no variation whatsoever, and no possibility of one teacher going slower than the other. No students would ask different questions that required different answers. No teacher would stress one topic more than another. All differentiation of instruction would be done in exactly the same way.

Also, Tom would not need to consult with all five of his co-teachers. That's a good thing because consulting with all five co-teachers is not possible. First of all, there's no time for it. Second of all, even if there were enough time, the likelihood of six schedules permitting such a thing is zero at best.

Will Tom prevail in his grievance? It's tough to say. Principals are required by contract, for example, to give complete programs the day before school ends, including periods and room numbers. One year I grieved when admin failed to do that, and won at Step One. The following year, the principal simply handed every teacher in the building copies of their current programs. When I grieved again, he said that was the best way to predict the following year.

A $1400-a day arbitrator agreed with the principal and said that was fine. Just do no work, no planning, hand out old programs, and screw the teachers who want to, you know, plan because they have children, or lives, or any unusual situation whatsoever. I took it in stride and wrote specific language into our SBO that teachers would get real programs the day before school ended. We did, but that doesn't negate the fact that the arbitrator understood neither the letter nor the spirit of the contract clause.

Let's be clear--it's demanding to work with one co-teacher, it's very difficult to handle two, and it's simply impossible to handle more. Giving Tom five shows callous disregard for not only him, but also for all the children he's supposed to serve. He'll walk into classrooms with no idea of the vocabulary or structures that will challenge the children, and rely on hoping for the best.

This may not have been the intent of the Albany geniuses who wrote Part 154, but it's certainly the widespread result. I wrote to the chancellor, applying for the job of deputy for ELLs earlier this week.  To his credit, he responded with the job of Deputy Chief Academic Officer. Evidently, in his reorganization, there is no Deputy Chancellor for ELLs. The new person reports to the Chief Academic Officer rather than directly to the chancellor. That's too bad, because ELLs are more important than that, to me at least. Here's what I wrote back to the chancellor's secretary:


Thank you for your speedy response. I will not be applying for several reasons.


  1. The first requirement is a credential I neither possess nor have any interest in pursuing, and
  2.  My primary interest is correcting the situation I described in my letter, not changing my job.


I have been on Telemundo discussing this situation, and I have written about it in Gotham Gazette and El Diario. Please thank the chancellor for referring the letter to you, and please tell him Part 154 is doing great harm to the students I serve. If he ever wishes to discuss it further, I'm always available. 

I'll let you know if I hear back. I'm not holding my breath, but I'm always hopeful. Of course if I do, I'll speak up for Tom and the hundreds of ESL teachers in his situation. I'll speak up for the ELLs who are so poorly served by this terrible program and even worse execution.

Mark Twain wrote "Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't."

That's just one reason you can't make this stuff up.