Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Put CAASS out on Its Posterior

Yesterday, period two, I had a very hard time taking attendance. We have this very new and glitzy system called CAASS, so you can take attendance on your laptop. I am almost married to my laptop, except I surely spend more time with my laptop than I do with my family. This is no more evident than when I'm in class.

The first thing I have to do with my laptop is take attendance. After that, I may check homework, and if I'm checking for completion I use another program to do that. After that, I almost always do a Keynote presentation, as vocabulary is key to what I do.

Yesterday, period one, everything was fine. If anything wasn't fine, it must have been my fault. Period two I tried to take attendance, and it would not populate. I sat and waited, while my kids waited as best they could. I'm not very patient at all, and the kids are less patient than I am. I waited more. Someone came in late. I hate when people come in late.

I waited until I could wait no more and went into doing whatever it was I had to do. In between classes I wrote to the principal that CAASS wasn't working. Period three it didn't work either. This grieved me deeply. However, I determined to go on with my life, attendance or not.

Nonetheless, a few short months ago I had these pink sheets that I could mark. Sure, it was a terrible waste of paper. We have 240 or so teachers and that's over a thousand pages of paper a day. I hear we have to store it for like a hundred years. Maybe the reason we have no space in our building is because we've got acres of paper sitting around in some crypt somewhere.

My understanding is that CAASS has a contract for scanning, but not for attendance. In this situation, though, they're still the only game in town. Now don't get me wrong, I like games as much as the next person, but when the game entails sitting around in front of a computer waiting for names to populate, it's not a whole lot of fun. This is particularly egregious when you have 34 kids in front of you.

I am going to go out on a limb and speculate that the people in CAASS don't have 34 kids in front of them while they work. However, if they did, it would me far easier for me and my colleagues to understand their rather spectacular ineptitude. I mean, it's great to have a program to enter attendance, and it's great to work with kids, but you really expect different things from kids and attendance.

For example, I have a girl at the third table who doesn't like to work. She's not a bad kid, but the whole work thing simply does not resonate with her. So I'll quietly remind her. I'll look over her shoulder. I'll ask how she's doing. I'll make a nuisance of myself. (That's one of the things I do best.)

I have very different expectations of computer programs. For example, when I get on this blogging platform I expect it to take what input I offer, record it, and publish when I press the appropriate icon. It does that, and that's why I continue to use it.

On the other hand, CAASS more resembles a recalcitrant high school student. I mean, sometimes it works. When it works it's fine, pretty much. I'd probably give it a B. But it isn't at all consistent. So here's the thing--I haven't got an option for days when I don't feel like taking attendance, so I take it pretty much every day.

Except I can't. CAASS presented itself to my principal as a done deal, from everything I've heard. Because of all the issues they failed to notify us about, they updated the system, and they improved it. Except when it freezes and doesn't work at all. And who knows when that's gonna happen?

Not me. Will it work today? No one knows.

I'm pretty sure, though, that if my supervisor walked in and I was doing what CAASS did yesterday, which was absolutely nothing, I'd be rated ineffective. If that happened enough times, I'd be out on my keester.

I'm not at all sure why CAASS deserves to be held to a higher standard, especially when their ineffectiveness is not even debatable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Great Uncoupling

We have a Blue Senate in NY State, for real this time. Most of the IDC, the fake Democrats, have been toppled and are yesterday's news. I'm particularly happy to see the back of Tony Avella, who presented himself as a bold progressive and sold out to caucus with the Republicans. I worked with UFT to get him elected and he stabbed us in the back. Not only that, but after losing the Democratic nomination he ran as an independent, heedless of the risk a Republican would take the seat. I hope he has to get a real job now, but I suppose the people to whom he sold out have something for him somewhere.

I'm most excited about the possibility we can enable universal health care in our state. The Assembly has passed it four years in a row, and we'll see whether the new Senate follows suit. Not a lot of people know that this was how Canada got universal health care--system by system, province by province. Perhaps our unions and employers could be in charge of supplemental coverage rather than basic coverage. For example, my brother-in-law in Quebec gets free prescriptions and free medical insurance when he travels outside his province as benefits from his union.

What UFT will talk about, and what is much more certain, is a law releasing us from being rated on the basis of test scores. There is a soon to expire moratorium affecting English and math tests, but that doesn't affect high school teachers. I guess the state agreed that those tests were crap but wasn't ready to acknowledge that others were as well.

Actually I'm unfamiliar with a whole lot of state tests, so it's possible some are not crap. I know that the one I'm rated on, the NYSESLAT, is total crap. Right now it's so easy that students who can barely utter sentences in English test out of ESL. For me and my colleagues, that hasn't hurt. We look like geniuses. But we can't depend on that. Right now the Regents need to prove that their system of providing little or no direct English instruction is helping English Language Learners. That's why the test is so easy and meaningless. But that could change.

In fact, we have years of history to suggest change is inevitable. A decade or so ago, it was important to establish that Michael Bloomberg's reforminess was successful. After all, the man had bought Gracie Mansion fair and square, and went so far as to buy a change in the law voters had twice affirmed so he could do so a third time. So naturally, the tests had to be dumbed down to emphasize his educational genius. After all, how could anyone with all that money be wrong?

I distinctly recall Diane Ravitch comparing the NY State tests to the NAEP exams, and saying the tests were definitely rigged. She was written off as a crank, because again, how could Bloomberg be wrong if he had all that money? A year later, the press came around and it was a revelation. They were shocked, shocked, that the test results were not valid.

Then came Common Core, and it was time to get tough and show everyone how stupid we really were. Reformy John King announced that a very low percentage of students were prepared, and waddya know? That very same percentage flunked the test. Now it's pretty well established that when students do well, it's because Michael Bloomberg is a genius, and when they do badly, it's because teachers suck and parents are irresponsible, what with all their opting out and insisting on a voice in how their children are educated.

The only real constant here is that the tests are rigged. And while it's nice that the NYSESLAT makes my colleagues and me look good, there's a very high probability the Regents could rig the test some other way. Then we would look bad and get terrible ratings. So I support the movement to uncouple tests from teacher ratings. Sometimes, believe it or not, it is the students themselves who determine whether or not they pass tests. I have firsthand knowledge of this. The first time I studied geometry, or perhaps the second, I spent the entire semester looking at the girl who sat to my right, while the teacher blathered on about triangles. For all I know, she was the best teacher in the world, but I didn't care about triangles then and I don't much care about them now either.

Some people say that this isn't enough, and that we should junk the entire evaluation law. Those people are right. The law is grounded in a determination to fire teachers, and Andrew Cuomo has said so ad infinitum. In fact he famously called it "baloney" when too few teachers for his taste were rated ineffective. Cuomo justified this by citing the test scores.

So it's a good step to uncouple test scores from teacher ratings. It's not as good as junking the entire system. But at least we're moving in the right direction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Big Ask

At the DA last week, Mulgrew spoke to the evaluation process. He said that it wasn't enough to get fewer observations, and that we had to improve what happens. He's said that both UFT and DOE agree that the current process is meaningless. The UFT position is we somehow have to find a constructive process.

Even as he says that, the DOE resists placing two observations in place now because they've planned out APPR to work the way it works now. It's evidently too much trouble for them to change the number. They're all set to do it this way, so how could they possibly do it any other way? That's precisely the sort of attitude that makes meaningful evaluation such a remote ideal.

And if that isn't enough, the city is rife with terrible administrators. I don't know how many times I've written that people who need to escape the classroom are the worst teachers, and consequently the worst administrators. In my school, none of the administrators teach anymore. They're too busy doing Important Stuff. The fact that they don't consider teaching to be Important Stuff speaks volumes about priorities.

Admittedly, one of the reasons so few of them teach nowadays is the insane evaluation system. My AP supervises 42 teachers. Let's say some are rated highly effective and take three. That still means 150 observations, 150 written reports, and 150 meetings with teachers to discuss them. That's not to mention 42 initial meetings, or any non-evaluative observations she may see fit to do.

Let's say you have another type of administrator, the kind that doesn't bother with non-evaluative observations, because why bother helping anyone? There are quite a few of those floating around. Let's say your administrator is super pissed off about having to do the required amount of observations, because why did he bother getting out of the classroom at 30 if he had to do All This Work?

Let's say you work for one of the scores of administrators I see profiled in the tabloids, who show up late, don't show up at all, falsify observations, have sex with other APs on their desks, and give interminable lectures on the perfidy of teachers at the drop of a hat. Let's say your administrator writes up things that didn't actually happen during your observation because the voices in his head contradicted what was happening right in front of his face. Or perhaps he overindulged the alcohol the previous evening, couldn't focus during the lesson, and just made stuff up. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of administrators?

I've been fortunate to largely have supervisors who are Not Insane, even though I've mostly taught in trailers and glorified closets. A great many of my brothers and sisters have had terrible, outrageous supervision. To make evaluation meaningful, I'm supposing someone would have to outfit Boy Wonder supervisors with souls, not precisely an easy task.

Another possibility would be to hire competent supervisors. There are some of them around. Every good supervisor I've seen or known has been a longtime teacher. People who teach for two years and then leave the classroom are unlikely to know what's going on with career teachers, let alone have the capacity to offer worthwhile advice. Nonetheless, Bloomberg's Leadership Academy made a career out of spitting out instant supervisors. They did this very much like Dunkin Donuts pushes out chocolate glazed, except Leadership Academy made absolutely sure every one of their supervisors tasted like crap.

It's a lofty and worthwhile goal to instill trust and a helpful atmosphere between administration and teachers. It's also a gargantuan task. I'm glad I'm not in charge.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Thank You Regents, for Tying My Hands and Hurting My Kids

The geniuses in Albany have their think tanks. One of the big ideas they've been brandishing has been that the only reason we teach standalone English is to prep students for so-called core classes. I guess they are social studies, math, and science, or ELA, you know, but not English language. That's why, in Regents world, we just take newcomers and make them read To Kill a Mockingbird. Because who has time for beginner stuff anyway?

In case that's not clear enough for you, imagine stepping off a plane in China and being told you were going to read The Great Chinese Novel. You know, that's The Great American Novel, but the Chinese version. That's challenging, because it won't be To Kill a Mockingbird. And here's the thing--even if it were, how the hell would you read it in Chinese? And even if you read it in English, how would you discuss it in class? How would you even know what the teacher was talking about?

In NY State, high school newcomers get one year of 40-minute classes in English. After that, they don't have to get anything. They just plop them in chairs, sit an ESL teacher in the back, and newcomers study math, biology, history, and whatever else the school sees fit to give them. Maybe the ESL teacher will sit in the back for one of those, and that's good enough for the geniuses in Albany.

Here's what they will tell you--they will tell you the system is a success because more students are passing the NYSESLAT, which supposedly places students by their ability. I didn't really grasp the absurdity of that assertion until this year. For most of the last ten years I've taught beginners. I noticed last year that the beginners seemed consistently lower, and that there were fewer of them. This year there were so few of them that we have only one class, so I'm also teaching an advanced class.

I'm teaching a novel in my advanced class. That's what I used to do when I taught advanced classes in the past. Things are different now. It's become clear to me that I have students who can't handle it, and some of them have tested fit for native-level English. Not only that, but I'm reading college entrance letters from them and they are abysmal. These students, who have tested out of ESL, do not know fundamental English grammar or usage. They cannot use simple present or past tense properly. They don't know how to link verbs. They most certainly don't know how to identify or tell an interesting story, but I can't get near that until I get them to write comprehensibly.

That's fine and dandy with the Regents, who sit around their offices and dream up rules for everyone else to follow. The really good thing about it is that even if they fail abysmally, all they need to do is change a cut score here or there and they're geniuses. They've managed to make everyone test out of ESL even if they barely know any English at all! No one's ever been able to do that before!

As for us, the lowly teachers on the ground, we have to give the tests we're given, and if we don't like it, too bad for us. Now here's the thing--though we may appear as geniuses for making them advance on the largely meaningless NYSESLAT exam, we still have to get them to pass the Regents ELA exam. If we have enough of them taking that exam, it's mandatory we be rated on that.

I haven't actually examined the English Regents exam in ten years. I've had my hands full teaching beginners. It's funny, because what the kids in my advanced classes desperately need is what I teach in my beginning classes. I'm not at all sure I'll have the time, though, because I'll be busy teaching them how to pass the ELA Regents exam.

Now anyone who's studied language acquisition will tell you that newcomers have language needs that are totally distinct from those of native speakers. We would tell you that newcomers ought to be taught differently, and eased into academics. We would tell you that comprehensible input is key to all progress or lack thereof. Fortunately, the Regents don't know jack squat about language acquisition, so they're unencumbered by any such quaint notions.

Me. I'll be prepping these kids to pass a test. I could be teaching them English instead. In the long run, that would be much more meaningful to me, and much more valuable to them, It's what I love to do, and it's what I do best. But hey, they can't graduate if they don't pass this test, and my junk science rating will plummet if they don't do well on this test.

As for those college essays, I'll help clean them up as best I can. My priority, though, will have to be getting them ready for that Regents exam. College can wait, and it probably will. My kids will need to take remedial courses, courses I could teach them for free, and it will cost them thousands of dollars to take them for no credit in community colleges.

What utter nonsense.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly November 7, 2018 Puppies and Politics

4:27 Michael Mulgrew calls for moment of silence for victims of recent atrocities.

Mulgrew--We were trying to accomplish two things on election day—work with retirees, get check and balance to block Betsy De Vos. Then was NY State Senate—both done.

Tries not to watch too much TV or social media. Jeff Sessions resigned today—we know it wasn’t planned because President wanted to change media cycle. Will be non-stop rollercoaster in news, we need plans and strategies. We now have the Congress of the US, which is a big deal strategically and a lot of hard work. NY flipped 3, as did NJ.

Florida is tough. We have to keep working on it. Our AFT colleagues work hard but need our help. Only line of offense cannot be retiree chapter. Very important and pivotal state. UFT retirees can’t do all the work.

Today would be very different without Congress. Would be charters and vouchers. Flipped 17 governors including 2 of the worst. Kim Kolhass in tears at 3 AM when Walker lost. Her coalition pushed him out.

Every referendum for funding last night passed. Anti public school referendum in Arizona went down in flames. Nationally, we still have work to do, for pro public school, pro worker agenda. Afterward we will deal with other policies.

In NY State will be 39 Dems 23 GOP, better than expected. Lots of hard work. Reason is COPE dollars and many volunteers. LI and Hudson Valley we have major numbers. We are coordinating with local teachers and NYSUT. Seeing major impact.

NYT asked what this means for charters. I said what do you think? They gave millions every cycle to GOP, we didn’t want them to be our enemies but we have no choice.

Teacher evaluation—last year bill passed in Assembly. GOP held it hostage for 100 charters in NYC and increased funding. Assembly said no, as did we. All of these things are now in play, as well as progressive agenda for NY State.

In this election we wanted to move a progressive agenda, and NY State sent that message last night. Everyone said they would do it but we led the way. Thanks all who helped.

Though one person hasn’t conceded, that’s the cherry on top. To Brooklyn, they all said UFT was only trying to make GOP spend money, but couldn’t win. We never believed that. We understood because Golden wouldn’t support evaluation bill, or speed cameras, and supported charters and vouchers, we went to tenant association. He wasn’t nice to them either. Together we took him out. Will not have that seat anymore. Thanks Ellen Driesen.

Lots of teachers absent today, were up till midnight in Brooklyn. We did it together. Much better than two years ago. This place was in bad shape. We took it one step at a time. First issue was major ed. cut from feds. We stopped that. We protected NY State. We solidified NY State as pro worker pro public ed. Good work last two years, but we still have work to do. We didn’t panic.

In the end we focused as a union, that’s how we make a difference in society. We did that as we faced Constitutional Convention, Janus, we passed paid parental leave and an early contract.

87% of members voted to ratify. Thanks those who held elections in schools and sent 90,000 votes in. Blessing because contract is early. We have time to prepare to implement. We usually don’t get this. Will try to take advantage.

Speaking to chancellor, will form three committees.

Eval—not just about number two. There is a lot. Negotiating position is eval. is useless or punitive. DOE agreed it was busy work and not meaningful. If we want it meaningful, we need to take responsibility. Some members like it meaningless. We have to own it to make it meaningful. Imagine how many more teachers we could keep, who would prosper, if it were meaningful.

We have cycles. Will be two a year, September to January. Would like cycle two on February 1st. We will have to have training for that. Imagine one day, you’re in auditorium, admin is sitting with you, discussing true purpose of eval, and what process would make it meaningful. How can we be more effective, how can they better help people?

10 hands agree in hall of hundreds.

Can you imagine principal sitting through this? DOE has tech issues. Their system is a dinosaur. First we need to work out other parts.

Bronx plan
—not just Bronx. We will begin work on it. We are looking for high collaboration indexes, staff feels it’s good school but faces challenges. Schools don’t do this unless UFT agrees. Chancellor agrees, doesn’t want to waste time. Wants schools that will work in teams and make a difference. High collaboration numbers, 3x more likely to effect student achievement.

Operational—Everyone has to get right in schools. This is the tool you need. CLs need to make sure this is working to fix whatever big issues are going wrong.

Teacher Union Day—1500 attendees, award winners, thanks all.

Asks who is at second DA. Thanks new attendees.

Karen Alford—would like to make motion. As owner of new puppy, moves we be allowed to bring puppies to DA as comfort dogs. As many of us take MTA, we have stressful commutes. If we drive we have parking. By this time we are stressed out. With puppies, anxiety levels would go down.

Point of order—You’re taking motions during President’s report?

Mulgrew—We are just demonstrating. Karen doesn’t actually have a puppy. If chair recognizes, you give name and support.

Janella Hinds—wants to amend. Would like us to bring puppies and kittens. Important for those of us who love cats. Asks for support.

Richard Mantel
—Calls question.

Mulgrew—should call all questions before house, because that was just the amendment. Some people don’t get to speak. Would ask if someone wants to speak against or for. I get emails. We didn’t debate enough. You’re a tyrant. Body decides.

Asks in favor.

Body rejects cats.

Mulgrew—-can see headline—UFT hates cats.

Body rejects dogs too. Your correspondent is shocked.

Mulgrew—I get complaints debate is too short and too long. This is what UFT debate is like. Hope you come back. Did not see puppies and kittens going down.

Asks delegates to sign up for text messages.

Jonathan Halab
i wants to see Rachel. Is she real? Mulgrew says she’s upstairs texting.

Mulgrew—UFT is there for children, and we are doing a drive for a thanksgiving celebration to give winter coats. We are taking money and new winter apparel.

Richard Mantel—We will pick them up from you at borough offices. We have 200 students in temporary housing, we give them meals, activities, and clothes that fit. We deliver leftovers to shelters. Kids are very appreciative.

Janella Hinds—World AIDS Day Dec. 1st, we have a poster contest. HS students can create artwork. Please get it back to us by November 15. We also are collecting for WIN, Women in Need. We support HS students too. Give them time away from shelter. On way out, please whatever you can donate.

Mulgrew—If you will volunteer, please do. Coalition for homeless has much work.

Karen Alford—Wants to coordinate holiday party for 200 children, please collect toys for them for December DA. They get to see Santa, be kids, have fun. We also give to shelters.

Mulgrew—Super Saturday, December 1st, for new teacher program. Day of wellness. How are new teachers doing so far? (I hear multiple vulgarities.) We’ve all been through it. Nice to have a day like this. Please get new teachers here. It’s getting to be that time.

Last, holds up poster on history of UFT. Asks to bring back to schools. Let DR know if you need them. While colleagues are losing, we continue to gain. These are things that improve education. Today is an historic day. November 7 is 58th anniversary of first UFT strike. That was because we wanted to become first teacher union to have collective bargaining.

Now some people are having it taken away. Asks founders to stand. Much applause.

LeRoy Barr—Wishes happy anniversary. Celebrating 100% attendance for delegates. 2019 HS Awards, 5th year, Friday April 12. Nominations due by Dec. 14. Next DA Dec. 12.


Q—New contract, has retaliation language—what should we be doing if we have that happening to prove that?

A—First, don’t file case until right is active. Grievance Dept. will make guidelines, will work with DOE. Some are 30 days after ratification—we want this there. Document it now, but don’t file until we have right.
Q—Mentioned we only had one snow day, Why so few?

A—Where holidays fall—contract says we report Tuesday after Labor Day, and school ends June 28. We love diversity, recognize it, so slowly we added more holidays. Now we have complete agreement that we cannot add any more holidays, unless we come earlier or work less. I want St. Patrick’s Day, but it is what it is. There is model where we have no snow days, once every seven years. Anyone want to give up a holiday? City always asks us to give up February break. I say no, and what’s it worth? We paid for that years ago, and that’s the end of it.

Q—Last week was violent altercation, colleague tried to help. What is role of CL in incidents?

A—First, were all safety plan procedures followed? CL can’t do job alone. We have safety liaisons. We’ve gotten along with DOE on safety. You break up fights to stop students from being harmed. Someone needs to know rules. Many times rules not followed.

Jeff Povalitus—You need to report incidents to union. OORS system not transparent. We don’t get that. We have our own mechanism at Someone will follow up.

Q—Follow up on OORs—you said CLs would have access. Can you elaborate?

A—Will be available, perhaps with redactions. 48 hours before safety meeting, you will get copy of OORS info so you can prepare.

Q—Parking permits—some of them will soon expire.

A—Get info to Howard Schoor.

Q—Can instructional coaches meet with staff?

A—Depends. You have your preps. Protect the prep. It’s yours. Professional periods, school may have SBO, talk to district rep.


LeRoy Barr—for this month. Asks if you have copy. Res to support racial and economic justice, support various groups that support social justice. (Reads too fast for me)


Res. UFT stands with OT PT chapter and supports their struggle for fair contract


OT PT chapter member—motion for next month—Moves UFT emails members they stand with OT PT chapter against anti union forces. Our chapter members don’t have similar salary to teachers, city said no to all demands. Want to stay strong.


Res 1 Janella Hinds—Motivates condemnation of Kavanaugh hearing—Hard to say Me Too for shame and ridicule, Dr. Ford passed through all of that fear and recalled sexual assault at 15. Nominee responded with partisan anger, prez ridiculed her. As K-12 educators we can contribute toward positive atmosphere. We must create respectful and safe environment. Need it from politicians too. Asks for support.

Antonio Jacobs
—point of information—looking at resolution wants to know if there was collaboration with office of equity and access.

Mulgrew—Yes there has.


Mel Aaronson—I was involved in the strike. Michael talked about it so I will not repeat what he said. Teachers had no right to go to employer and ask for improvements. We wanted to have rights similar to other unions. We wanted to have discussion—collective bargaining. We had a new organization. UFT was only a few months old. We were led by first president of UFT, Charles Cogen. We all have to thank him. They told him no. He came to members and said this is so important that we should strike for it. Thousands of members agreed. We went out on strike November 7th.

Discussions went on, and at end of second day, recommendation was—we have agreement for collective bargaining if teachers of NYC vote for it. Was accepted by members. Thousands risked their jobs. Less than a week ago, we agreed to contract which included many of our demands. Please recognize first strike and its heroes, leadership and membership.

Barbara Silverman
—Feels connected. Was HS senior. Dr. Gold stayed at door speaking to colleague. Said she can’t strike on Monday. I’m going on strike. Wife is going out. Do not know if I will have a job on Monday. Said he apologized. Should not have said that, and you cannot tell anyone. You have to come. We have to be missed.

Monday when I showed up I watched teachers walk around. It was snowing. They were out there and back on Wednesday. Felt I was part of it. 5 years later I became a UFT member.

OT/ PT chapter member—Rises in support. Our collective bargaining group voted no. While our brothers and sisters will reap benefits, we will not. I sympathize with colleagues who said no, but it was city who said no, just as they did to Charlie. Urges you support resolution and us.

Dave Pecoraro—calls question

Passes unanimously

Rich Mantel
—Marriott largest owner and operator of hotels in world. Pays many workers garbage. In 7 cities on strike because pay, benefits lousy, and eliminating jobs. We need to support them. My sister works for them and is paid crap. We need to support this resolution and these workers. Please vote in favor.

Dave Pecoraro—Adds resolved—Urge fellow unionists in professional sports not to cross picket line. Yankees crossed picket line in Boston and deserved everything they got.


Resolution as amended passes

Mulgrew—Not going to get all res. done.

Motion to extend for 15 minutes—


Mulgrew thanks us for donation $3500.

Raffle 5:58 

Monday, November 05, 2018

UFT Executive Board November 5, 2018--He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken Not Responsible for Toxic Hate

6 PM—Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us.


President coming, not here.

Staff director coming, not here.

Reports from districts

Rashad Brown—November 7 after DA—happy hour with pride committee at Suspenders around corner

Tom Murphy—RTC—NY—Active calling for Tish James, working on NJ congressional districts. hoping to flip three districts, hopeful for Menendez. Phone banking, bus trips for canvassing, In FL, for governor and Senate candidates. Active for Stacy Abrams in GA. Luncheon Nov. 20.

Serbia Silva—Were three tragedies in one school, but staff is appreciative of union support.

LeRoy Barr—Thanks for turnout, 1400 at Teacher Union Day. Congratulations to honorees, don’t forget to vote yes on prop 1. DA on November 7th, actual strike day, hoping to commemorate it, celebrating 100% attendance, Next EB November 19.

Michael Mulgrew—Thanks everyone for Teacher Union Day, award winners, thanks staff. Tomorrow is huge day. Working hard all over, Lots of phone banking. Don’t take it for granted. Thousands of colleagues working in two different states. This is a great thing we can do, due to dedication of retirees. Amazing what they’ve been doing. Will see what happens tomorrow, looking at Congress Senate and NY Senate.

NYSUT working with us. Keeping the eye on the prize and being as strategic as possible. Not all about President, all about us getting our work done. Making sure we can get out vote. We need to focus on work now. Many of these will come down to small number of votes. Our hard work can turn NY Senate seats.

Contract ratified by 87%. Count finished Sunday morning. Got all ballots counted. Meeting tomorrow with chancellor. Trying to finalize timeline. Operational things about collaborative workplace. Retaliation and harassment language, Bronx plan chancellor wants.

More to evaluation than just number 2. Goal is to try and come up with agreement to change culture of school system around evaluation. Will require planning and training. No final agreement, but will meet tomorrow. Hopes to have news at DA. Thanks everyone, let’s keep fingers crossed and have good night tomorrow.


Arthur Goldstein—I think I’m speaking for tens of thousands of teachers here. We’ve just passed a contract for teachers that features fewer observations. I believe the large margin of victory has a lot to do with that.

I also recall hearing that a few of the DOE’s favorite parts of this contract will be placed into effect before next year. Cooperation is a two way street.

Since the DOE agrees fewer observations are necessary, and since we also agree that fewer observations are necessary, we should enact fewer observations immediately. It’s early November, and there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Can we work toward this? If you need help I volunteer.

Schoor—We’ll put you in charge of that committee.

Goldstein--Thank you Howard. Let me write that down.

Jonathan Halabi—I hope anti harassment is up for early enactment. My school is in leased site, like several others. We have a standard operating procedure issue—principal cannot discard things. We have broken things everywhere. It can’t just be us. What’s the resource for the union.

Schoor—We will contact DOE on your behalf.

Serbia Silva—Health and Safety facility—there is dropbox for principal in portal to request dumpster.

Halabi—Can we get divisional turnout contract numbers?

Schoor—We will, last election was 77%, this is up. Norm was with us on Friday.

Norm Scott—Great lunch

Schoor—We waited, but they didn’t start counting until Saturday. Happy we stayed and counted all ballots. Same amount of votes but higher yes vote by 10%.

—Would like to hear about how we support OT and PT.

Schoor—We will work with them and meet with each chapter. Optimistic about turning it around. That is strength of union that individual chapters vote. May be a risk but gives voice to chapters. We surveyed functional chapters and met with them. Met with DOE and them on several conditions. Got what we could, were no givebacks. Approval numbers showed this.

Kate Martin—Are we setting something up to make sure paras aren’t being suspended without pay? With some shady things that happen, will we keep track of any sudden spikes in that or retaliatory pieces that may occur?

Ellen Procida—We’re well aware of possibilities. Have been in discussions to prevent and monitor them.

Schoor—Answer is yes, and we are also watching those out on suspension.

Martin—Should we give CLs a heads up?

Schoor—We can do that. 

Legislative report—Paul Egan
—Eagles neither won nor lost, but Washington did. More importantly Chelsea won.

There are also politics going on. Please get out and vote. People have won by very small margins. Your vote matters. Get everyone out, all your family members and kids. Things are looking good. Anna Kaplan in Nassau will be close, but if absentee ballots are indicative, she will do well. Will be close. James Goren looking good. But don’t sit at home. Anything can change if you don’t show up. In 22nd it will rain. If young people turn out, 8,000 new voters, Golden will lose. if we win this, it’s all over for GOP. Brooks is necessary hold, in tight race but may squeak it out. If all goes right, could be four pickups. Could be five. Opportunities elsewhere.

Resolution to support striking Marriott workers—

Janella Hinds—Supports. Many of us have spent time in hotels. None of the work can happen without those who assure space is clean, safe, food served. Marriott refuses to bargain in good faith with 7,000 workers. Important we stand together.

Tom Murphy—Spoke with head of hotel workers, said he would rather have us in than out—How would it affect us in Brooklyn?

Hinds—No one on strike in NY.

Passes unanimously

Resolution to unite with orgs against toxic political atmosphere

Anthony Harmon—Some people are guilty but all of us are responsible We need to stand in solidarity with orgs speaking out. Please support as is.

Jonathan Halabi—Glad it came forward. Offers amendment.

UFT stands…against toxic political atmosphere—substitute hate speech including provocative rhetoric of President Trump which has contributed to the toxic political atmosphere…

—We have responsibility to stand against this but also to name those responsible, including hate monger in chief. We know where it comes from.

Stuart Kaplan—I understand where you’re coming from, but rising against it. Not first time these things have happened. Happened before and after Trump. Don’’t want to give him the attention. Want to educate one another this talk is unacceptable. Don’t want to say he’s the cause of it. He’s not. People have spread this talk before.

Question called.

Vote on Amendment


Main motion


We are adjourned 6:45

Sunday, November 04, 2018

UFT Contract Overwhelmingly Passes

This has been a pretty strange trip for me, but I went the way I had to go. I was part of negotiating the teacher contract and fewer observations mean less stress. As someone who actually works in a classroom every day, and as someone who represents a whole lot of others who do the same, I can tell you less stress is something we've needed more than money for some time now.

I'm pretty surprised at some of the criticism of this contract. I understood why, in the past, there were things to complain about. I understand why there are still things to complain about. This notwithstanding, I do not follow how we are supposed to move the contract back twenty years, and also get a higher raise, at no cost to anyone.

Most everything is negotiable, I suppose. I also suppose we could get rid of some of the onerous factors of the 2005 contract if we really wanted to. One way would be to forgo money. We'll take a smaller raise if you do this. Personally, I would've been more than willing to forgo a raise if we could've lowered class size. I was in the minority on that in the Contract Committee, though, and I'm certain I'd be in the minority of rank and file as well. In fact, I'm not at all convinced rank and file would vote to forgo a raise for any reason whatsoever.

Sure, we could go on strike. We'd appear a whole lot differently to the public, though, than teachers in West Virginia who need to choose between doctor visits and gas for their cars. I don't see a whole lot of public sympathy for teachers striking in NYC in 2018. In fact, I don't imagine rank and file would vote that up either. 

The 05 contract was an abomination. It was a huge tactical error and it set the path for a lot of what's wrong now. The givebacks were a mistake, and they weren't worth the money. On the other hand, if I'm in the DOE and you want to take them back, I will offer them out for a price. You want to get rid of the ATR? I want to give you less money. You want to grieve file letters? I want to give you even less money.

It's easy to tear things down. I revel in tearing things down when they merit it. The current agreement, I keep saying, is not a panacea. I don't expect every problem to go away. I don't expect it to solve every issue in every corner of New York City. What I see in it is a serious improvement in working conditions for a very large percentage of my brother and sister teachers. I see a long overdue improvement in status for those who work as paraprofessionals.

No, I don't expect the contract to cure every ill in this huge unwieldy system. It's funny that critics demand we not only do that, but also get more money. It's funny that none recall exactly what we had to do to break the pattern, which, again, we did back in 05. Current critics seem to want us to break the pattern, have no givebacks, and also take back all the givebacks they (and I) complained about in the past.

Now I'm not Michael Mulgrew, and I'm not part of leadership. If I were, my thoughts would be something like this--I will never make these people happy, no matter what I do. They demand everything, and they offer nothing in return. Why should I make concessions to them when everything I concede will be rejected as not enough?

Speaking for myself, I was part of the UFT Executive Board that pushed for parental leave. I thought winning it was a great victory. Members in my building were jubilant. Those of us who wouldn't be able to take advantage were very happy for those of us who would. From the opposition, I read pages of nitpicking and invidious arguments. I certainly understand there are pros and cons of various ways of doing this. My understanding is that UFT wanted to achieve fully paid leave and that's why we went this way.

I see a 100% chance that if we'd gone with the state model of partially paid leave, the same critics who lambast the current program would be screaming that it isn't fully paid. They'd be demanding that UFT achieve something fully paid. You could certainly make that argument if that's what you're determined to do.

Speaking for myself again, I was part of the UFT Contract Committee. I did indeed push for two things--a reduction in class sizes, and fewer observations for teachers. I did my best in the class size committee. I went with prepared arguments, and it was easy to improvise others when questioned. When the DOE asked me how I'd pay for lower class sizes, I told them I'd put all the ATR teachers to work. They said well, we can't place a teacher from Brooklyn in Queens. I told them if I were an ATR from Brooklyn, I'd leap at the opportunity to work at Francis Lewis High School, and why don't they just ask? At that point, the same guy who asked me the question told me we were off topic and refused to take it further.

On the other hand, I happen to know that Michael Mulgrew personally pushed for two observations. I saw him tell the DOE that was what we wanted. In the end we won this, something I've read a million times on blogs that we needed, and something people have told me to my face they wanted for years. We now have fewer observations for a huge number of working teachers. I believe this affects the overwhelming majority of tenured teachers.

Of course, that's not enough. People who didn't come in summer days to work on the Contract Committee say it isn't enough. I now know I did my level best and it isn't good enough. I now know that whatever improvements we make in the future won't be good enough either. Those people who never show up to Exec. Board, who couldn't be bothered with the Contract Committee have a very clear idea of what we should be doing, and that is whatever they want, whenever they want, and however they want. We should get all that and give up nothing.

I would be for that, actually. But I'm also for what works on this particular astral plane. History says we beat the pattern via givebacks. I don't want to do givebacks anymore. I want to move in the direction this contract propels us, and I want to find other ways to improve our working conditions. That's my priority.

That's what I will continue to work for.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Don't Forget to Vote

We're at a turning point in America, and I'd argue here in NY State as well. We've mostly rid ourselves of the fake Democrats who caucused with the GOP in the State Senate, and we have a great opportunity to turn the Senate blue on Tuesday. This is very significant because each year our Assembly votes to pass universal health care for New Yorkers, but it lingers and dies in the Senate.

There are so many levels on which this is important. I've taken this issue to heart ever since I was in college. The father of a person I worked with went broke paying his wife's medical bills. He had to sell his house to settle. He moved into the basement of his son's house, and one Christmas Eve he blew his brains out with a gun. I learned that other countries covered people for medical bills, and that people in those places didn't go bankrupt over catastrophic medical emergencies.

About ten or twelve years ago I had a job playing with a bluegrass band in Pennsylvania. We played in this really cool old theater, and they sent us out to lunch in a nearby restaurant. I won't say the name of the band we opened for, and most readers probably won't recognize it anyway, but I will say that there were four people in the band and the only one who wasn't obese was the banjo player. I remember we sat together, and I remember we both ordered Ruben sandwiches.

Even more clearly, I remember that was a Sunday, and a few days later I heard that banjo player had died. He'd had chest pains but didn't want to pay the thousands of dollars it would've cost him to go to the ER. Of course that was a terrible decision. I can tell you for sure, though, that playing the banjo is not the optimal route to making a good living in America these days, or probably ever.

I don't know if New York can muster the heart to do this. I know it was tried in deep blue California and Democrats somehow blocked it. I'm not confident Andrew Cuomo, a shoo-in for reelection, will get behind it. It's possible, though. Cuomo is trying to rework himself into Bernie Sanders Lite, and has to act like he cares about stuff like health care and working people. This could be a good time for this.

If New York can make this happen, perhaps California will follow. And if we do this, it's possible that people in red states will tire of having no insurance. This, in fact, is how Canada got guaranteed health care for all its citizens. They don't have a national health care system, but rather each province has its own.

This would be a benefit to union workers as well. Why do we need to negotiate health care? Why do we need to worry about co-pays, and this plan or that? If there were a basic health care guaranteed to all who lived here, maybe we could negotiate on extras or something. My brother-in-law in Quebec is in a union, and all his prescriptions are paid for. He also receives insurance whenever he comes to vist us in America as a union benefit.

It's time for the pendulum to swing back toward us. The uber-rich have been having a great party with the ethics-shmethics president. While he pretends to be a conservative, it's time for us to make Cuomo not only pretend to be a liberal, but also to act on it. This may be our moment.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Noisy Girl

She used to sit with her friends and never, ever listen. Not only that, but her friends never, ever listened either. This was problematic, so I had to move her seat. This was pretty helpful to her friends.

In our half room, we have these tables of four. On the positive side, groupwork is kind of automatic. On the minus side, with this group, if I had a real classroom, I'd move them into rows so they could focus a little better.

Actually I don't love placing kids in rows. Give me half a chance and I'll place students in half a circle. I actually like it when they communicate. But it's got to be directed somehow. If I want chaos, I can always go to New Jersey. I don't usually do that, though, unless someone pays me.

So I moved the girl again. Now she sits with a boy who doesn't speak her first language. I've got her using English all the time. I am a genius. Well, perhaps not. Now, she talks to me. All the time. It doesn't matter what's going on. She has a question. She has a problem. She needs to do something, and she needs to do it right now.

I ask her to go to the board and she doesn't want to. It's not convenient right now. I tell her lots of things are not convenient, and she knows instantly I'm threatening to call her house. She's a quick learner. Only that's really not what I want her to learn.

I'm her English teacher, and I want her to learn English. She will, of course, with my help or without it. She's very verbal, and she will talk to anyone and everyone. People like her are the best language learners there are. Only her grades are kind of meh. 74 on this, 72 on that. The thing is, if she would focus, a little bit, it would be 95, 100, whatever. No one's smarter than she is. She just doesn't know it.

I could tell her, I guess, but I'm not sure that would help. She might interpret that to mean she merits even more of my attention. The problem is right now she's demanding 100% of it. This is inconvenient for me because I have over 20 other students. She hasn't noticed that, or maybe, doesn't deem it important. After all, attention needs to be paid, by me, right now, and every minute after that, just because.

It's pretty hard to find a compromise here. Okay. You want all of my attention. How about we make a deal? I will give you maybe 5 percent and you will allow me to deal with the other students in the room the rest of the time. No? 6 percent? That's my final offer, and it's really more than I ought to be offering.

I know there is a way to deal here. I know there is a solution. I just don't know what it is yet. Maybe tomorrow I'll go in and nail some tables and chairs to the ceiling. If she refuses to sit in them, I'll try sitting in them myself. That would certainly get everyone else's attention.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

41 Kids in Half a Room

I'm on a quest to make the least commercial music on earth, so I'm writing songs about my work as a teacher. My latest tune is called 41 Kids and you can listen to it here. I've taught classes of 50 or more several times. In fact, when I first arrived at Francis Lewis High School, one of my classes was at 53. We had a coordinator who told me she would get me materials. She didn't, and blamed a paraprofessional for not copying them. Fortunately, I didn't know or trust her, so I brought my own.

I taught music for one semester at John F. Kennedy High School. It was my second semester of teaching. I was sent there by a secretary who was going to send me somewhere else. At the time, I'd heard Kennedy was better. She decided to be nice and sent me there at my request. But when I got there, they didn't need an English teacher.

"What can you teach?" asked the APO.

Social studies?" I figured it was mostly words, and if I read ahead of the kids I'd be okay.

"No we don't need a social studies teacher. Anything else?"

"How about music?" I asked.

"Yes we need a music teacher," he said. "Go down to the first floor and talk to the AP."

I remember this AP. He was very different from the one I'd just had, who was so uptight I thought if anyone touched her she would break. He gave me a stern lecture about how I was not to mess with the schoolgirls. I wondered if that had anything to do with the opening.

I gave him my best promise that I wouldn't mess with the schoolgirls.

"OK then," he said. "Fake it till you make it."

I proceeded to do just that. He gave me two guitar classes and three music survey classes. The music survey classes were pretty tough. That was because there were 50 kids in a class, and in fact there still are. In our school, admin has simply done away with them. That's because this was where you'd get stuck to pick up a music credit if you weren't really interested in music.

I taught a lot about jazz, which made my class different from that of the other person teaching it. She taught all about classical music. While I don't think any of the students liked any of the classes, I got word that they hated my class less than they hated hers. I was honored, of course.

No one should teach teenagers in classes of 50, anywhere. Actually, 34 is pushing it pretty hard. I've lived through every part of this song, though not at the same time. Once again, it's right here.