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.
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