Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Poor Epifanito

It's hard for me to learn Chinese names, and I have to learn a lot of them. They're the largest group in our school's ELL population, and by far. It doesn't matter how long I do this. I'm totally unfamiliar with a whole lot of them and it isn't getting much easier.

As if that weren't enough, the spellings my students use in English often mislead me to mispronounce them. I didn't find out until this year that I was mispronouncing a girl's name all last year. I should've been tipped off by students laughing at me every time I spoke her name.

This year, in my beginning class, I have a lot more Spanish speakers. Almost half the class speaks Spanish. One of my Spanish-speaking girls is upset that the Chinese names are so hard to say, so she named all the Chinese boys. I'm not exactly sure why she didn't name the girls. Every day, for a while, she would rattle off the names as she pointed to each boy.

I told her she didn't have the right to just assign people names. That was the job of their parents, I said, and they had done this years ago when her classmates were born. My student didn't care. Why was I wasting her time with this when the matter was already settled? Another teacher who covers this class told her the same thing. The student had already made her decision, though, it was final, and our words were just a wasteful diversion. She knew who these boys were, and just to make sure she didn't forget, she continued to announce their names at every opportunity.

She'd named one of the boys Julio. I told her Julio wasn't his name and she shouldn't call him that. The boy objected. He said his name was indeed Julio, and that was his English name. I told him Julio wasn't an English name. It was a Spanish name. He didn't care. That was his English name and he was going with it. He told me his teacher in China had given him that name.

This was a little hard for me to take, primarily because I knew it wasn't true. I know that English teachers in China don't always really know English, because I've had hundreds of students who studied English in China for ten years and came here knowing nothing. In China, they don't seem to teach conversational English. In my experience, they're more focused on discrete point tests and long essays that may or may not have meaning. Nonetheless, Chinese teachers from China do not issue Spanish names. This was my very first Chinese Julio.

So here I am defending this guy's identity and he gave it up to the first girl who decided he was someone else. I understand fifteen-year-old boys going with the decisions of fifteen-year-old girls. I once asked a fifteen-year-old boy, "If she jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you jump off the Brooklyn Bridge too?" The boy said, "If she jump, I jump." At that age, I may have jumped too. Fortunately, when I was that age, I was never forced into that particular decision.

Last week, I had one of my students transferred to another level. These things happen in my line of work. This was a pretty quiet boy. If you weren't paying attention, you might not have even known he was there. Now I did, because I have to take attendance. But I was pretty surprised when my young name-giver asked me, "Where's Epifanito?"

"Who's Epifanito?" I asked.

"You know Epifanito," she said. "He's the boy who sits right there."

"His name's not Epifanito," I said.

"Yes it is," she told me. "And where is he?"

"The boy who sat there has transferred to another class," I said.

"Poor Epifanito," she said, shaking her head in sympathy.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Job Creators

I hear a lot about how Amazon will create jobs. This, evidently, is why we need to give Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, another 3 billion dollars. You see, money makes money. For example, if you happen to be the richest man in the world, New York City will give you 3 billion dollars. You see how that works?

If Amazon comes to town, they say there will be a lot of jobs. Someone has to work there, of course. We don't know, though, whether the people will be local. Bezos might have his own people. After all, we're building him a helipad, and you can't have just anyone manage one of those things. Personally, I don't know jack squat about helipads. What color should I paint it? What do you clean it with? Should I have some guy standing around with fancy flashlights guiding the helicopters? Who knows?

Surely Bezos has someone to do that work. And if there are high paying jobs, he might have people to take them too. Maybe they'll come from Seattle. Maybe from the moon. Who knows where guys like Jeff Bezos hang out? If you want jobs created in New York, for New Yorkers, Bezos may not be your number one go to.

As it happens, I have a solution. The other day I was having a conversation with a couple of English teachers in the cafeteria. One of them suggested that Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio ought to give us the three billion instead of giving it to Bezos. This made sense to me, and on multiple levels. For one thing, I'd like to have a billion dollars. My dog goes through a lot of treats, and they don't grow on trees. Wedding gifts are getting more and more expensive, and don't even get me started about taxes.

As for taxes, you really pay a lot less when you're a billionaire. For all I know, Jeff Bezos doesn't pay anything. As we split the money three ways, each of us would have only one billion, so we might still have to pay something in taxes. We all decided, though, that we'd be willing to make sacrifices for the money. That's just the kind of people we turned out to be.

As for job creation, we all agreed that if we got a billion dollars each, we'd be willing to leave our jobs. That's three jobs right here in New York City, for locals to have. Not only that, but they'd be union jobs. Would you get that with Amazon? Almost certainly not.

Of course the governor and the mayor can fool around with a questionable company like Amazon and hope for the best. They can give the money to someone like Bezos and hope he'll do the right thing. But there is an alternative. My colleagues and I are willing to guarantee, in writing if necessary, that we'd create jobs.

Honestly I don't understand why the politicians don't come directly to us. We teachers are honest people. When we say we'd be willing to do the right thing and step aside for a billion dollars each, we mean it. All that's left is persuading the politicians.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Do That Thing? Or Don't?

I had an experience the other day that I may or may not blog here one of these days, but it reminded  me of something that happened a few years back. The thing that happened the other day was not my fault at all, but this thing was kind of in the middle.

An assistant principal I knew handed me a copy of a letter written to a French teacher. It criticized the teacher for omitting an "s" somewhere or other. I'm not at all good in French, so I neither understood why it was wrong nor recall exactly what it was.

As it happened, the AP handed me the letter as I was returning from a funeral service for the parent of a member. I was not in the best of moods. I read the letter and found it kind of petty. I make mistakes on the board all the time. I misspell words that I know how to spell because I write very quickly. Students correct me sometimes.

Whenever I write tests I'm in kind of a mad rush. Oh my gosh I have to finish, because the test is tomorrow and I need to make copies. Will the copy machine work? Will I have to sneak into another department and surreptitiously use their copy machine? Will the other copy machines work? You really have to juggle a lot of thoughts to get your work done as a teacher. Anyway, I make mistakes on tests too. When students catch them, I give them extra credit.

Oddly, the letter the AP wrote must've been written a whole lot faster than most of the stuff I write. It was full of errors. I was a little tired of this teacher getting letters over nitpicking nonsense, and the funeral service had not improved my mood even a little bit. I got myself a red pen and began correcting the AP's letter.

There were subject-verb agreement errors. That really bothers me. I don't recall what else there was, but I decided to be a total jerk about it and correct absolutely everything. I even corrected a cc, taking the point it should just say c, as it was not a carbon copy. I ended up giving the letter a D.

The AP was very upset, asking what had ever been done to me from that office. In truth, nothing. The AP was always very kind to me. I guess, though, that I was responding to the barrage of petty nonsense befalling my colleague. In a way, it was appropriate. In another, it wasn't. It kind of fit the situation, but it was all too personal in the end.

I regretted it, but in retrospect I'm not sure making a speech about how one of my colleagues was being targeted would have been quite so effective. You can never really be sure whether APs are taking these actions on their own or as agents of the principal. In this case, I think it was the latter. I remember I apologized to the AP.

Also, I remember the barrage of letters slowed to a trickle.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Attendance System Is Dead. Long Live the Attendance System

For the last few months we've been grappling with an online attendance program called CAASS. It's been an interesting journey. Last year we started it, and found there were a lot of redundancies built in that wasted our time. CAASS told us not to worry. They were going to have a glitzy new fault-free program by October or thereabouts.

I can't recall when we started using it. I do recall the hours and days when it didn't work. Admin did not necessarily worry about that. You see, even if I had no record of a student being absent, or present, or whatever, the student could've been marked in other classes. Therefore our general attendance would not go down. That is important somehow, but I'm just a lowly teacher so don't ask me why.

The thing is, if you made a mistake yesterday you couldn't correct it today. It had gone in, it was etched in stone, and that was it. Also, there were no records. So when you call a parent to explain that the student had been frequently absent, you couldn't give the parent dates. More than one parent asked me to provide dates of absence at parent-teacher conferences and I was unable to do so. I felt like an idiot.

Also, I'm very dependent on my laptop when I'm working. I use it for just about everything. So if a kid walks in late and I need to record it, I have to take my computer off the display I'm showing to write it down. Alternatively, I could write it on a piece of paper somewhere and hope to find it again in time to record it.

Last week was pretty interesting. CAASS would work period one, but periods two and three would crap out entirely. Two nights last week I recorded absences while I was at my home. One day I was able to get back in period 5 and do it while I was on the clock. But it was so unreliable I had no idea whether what it showed was true. For example, I spoke to a dad who wanted to know if his kid was in class on a certain date. The kid swore he was. I pulled up CAASS and it said he wasn't. I had to tell dad this meant nothing because I had no idea whether or not the info was accurate.

A lot of teachers told me they were recording attendance on their own and then transferring it to CAASS. That sounded like double work to me, and single work is challenging enough for my taste. I was going to file a paperwork complaint, which looked like a slam dunk to me, at least. Admin seemed to agree, saying that they'd dump it if I complained.

Although almost everyone with whom I spoke hated the system, I wasn't certain everyone felt that way. I decided to put it up for a vote. I printed ballots and made a staff list so people could sign as they voted. At the end of the day, I got a call from the principal's office saying they were dumping it regardless.

Evidently I was not the only one receiving parental complaints. Some made their way from the teachers, to the assistant principal, to the principal. Evidently, some parents want to actually know for sure whether or not their kids are attending classes. I don't blame them.

I'm sure it's possible to take attendance online. I'm sure someone will think of a program that works. Here's the thing--whoever does that needs to thoroughly test it before making it public. Getting online with a buggy program and hoping for the best is just not the way to go about it.

Monday, December 03, 2018

UFT Exec. Board December 3rd, 2018--Elections and Health Care

6:02—Secretary Howard Schoor calls us to order.


LeRoy Barr, along with all officers, is not here—Schoor reports 300 CLs were trained at Rye Hilton, including operational clauses, hopefully live soon. Paras celebrating 50 years of UFT representation. Will be celebrated this year. 28,000 paras now in union.

Kate Martin Bridge—There was MLC meeting on single payer. What is happening with this legislation. Where do we stand?

Jeff Sorkin—Not much to report. Legislators presented they wanted to work with MLC—is being considered.

Schoor—Unions want to know what the effect is on us. 2% of whatever raise we’d have gotten goes to our health care. Very expensive program, we want to know state can afford it. Most probably should be federal program. No position on it yet because we don’t know what it’s going to say. We’ve already paid for our health coverage.

Reports from districts

Sean Rothkowitz—SRP event in SI.

Legislative Report

Schoor praises Paul for CL training.

Paul Egan—Sunday fire alarm went off and building was emptied over burning bagel. No one hospitalized. We need to finish early because Eagles playing Redskins.  Chelsea won.

Tish James will be AG, will resign as public advocate. Mayor must fill it, will be special election. Will declare on 3rd of January. At least 9 declared candidates. Will have ten days to fill petitions. 1500 signatures a day. No party will be helping, may shake out a few people. Election will be at end of February, and will be repeated in September.

We are going to try and have four town hall meetings with candidates. Have set Queens meeting 13 December, Manhattan 18. Will be two more in January. At DA in January we will debate and endorse. That is goal.

In 2009 many City Council seats will be term limited. We have analyzed districts. If every UFT member turned out and voted and rest of pop. turned out in regular numbers, we would win all 51 seats. We can influence things. More people stay at home than vote in this country. When de Blasio won primary, turnout was 18%. That means only 9% of Democratic vote was needed to win. We have great opportunities.

Would like UFT members to run. Looking for viable candidates who can raise money. City council has matching funds. We’re looking for people who want to run and will pair them up with advisors. In some case we may have multiple UFT members looking to run. Imagine if we had 26, who could decide on next speaker. Imagine what we could do.

Happy to have conversations and put people in touch with consultants. Would like 15, 20, 26 candidates.

Election Committee Report—Amy Arundell
—Have proposed election calendar. Formed committee at last meeting. Have met once. Have various reps. Put forth for your approval.

Plan to mail ballots March 25 and count April 17. Asks for approval of election notice.

—Will committee come to us later with other things?

Arundell—Correct. We will come back to you after future meetings.


Schoor—40 candidates minimum for slates.

Michael Mulgrew
—Fully expecting attack on union in May and June. Empire Center just released report on NYSUT. May and June there will be a campaign against us.

We averted a difficult situation with NY Presbyterian. Was not dropped from Blue Cross. Good for 43 months There are basically 5 hospitals in NYC. None of them deserve non-profit status. If they did not settle, they would’ve come looking to us, at worst in 43 months.

We are among handful of people who still have premium-free health care. It is endangered. What we did last spring was very smart. Number one issue in last election was health care. We work day in and day out to protect and fight for it, but we should not take it for granted.

There will be many more fights over the next year. We can use buying power of entire city health force. Few people running institutions worry about patients. They worry about bottom line. That needs to change.

300 CLs in Rye. Nice group of brand new CLs. Did presentation on operational issues, which go into effect December 5, in two days. DRs will be trained on Wednesday. Think these through, can be tool for empowering workshops. Asked CLs to strategize on how to use this to empower and organize. We want workforce to say there is better way to support children if we have right supplies, workspace, etc.

There will be many trainings over next month. Will be rally on Wednesday against Spectrum. Have decided they want to fight union as multinational corporation. Labor, governor, many elected officials demonstrating against Spectrum. Were UFT retirees marching today.

Single payer—We are in support of single payer for United States. If we enact this in NY State it will blow hole in budget public schools will not recover from. 100 billion dollar hole in state budget would be largest ticket item.

Was piece in NY Post saying they don’t and we don’t support it. Post doesn’t support it because they don’t support working people.

As for public funding, for elections. it’s 3-400 million budget item. Can we support it? No. These are my opinions, not union’s. My tax money going so political crap can come to my house?

Janella Hinds—Saturday third annual bowling event with students in temp. housing. Had phenomenal time. Gave them money for holiday shopping.

Karen Alford
—Saturday there were new members here. Classes in Zumba, yoga, mindfulness, diet. Helped to de-stress. Lego came and middle and high schools revolved around robotics.

Shelvy Abrams
—Thanks people for November 3rd, SRP recognition day. Many paras showed and were acknowledged. Great to see members celebrated. Expects everyone in room to buy table of ten at Hilton.

We are adjourned. 6:40

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Small Car Reviews, Volume 2

I'm still waiting to get my car back, and it looks like I won't see it until Tuesday. I had a Nissan Versa that I liked pretty well, but the tire inflation light came on the day after I got it. I drove it back to the rental joint where they put some air in it and said it was fine. The next day it went on again. They said not to worry about it, and that I should just fill it up with air every now and then. I wasn't happy with that, and took the car back.

Now I'm in a Ford Fiesta. This car is 30% plastic, 30% metal, and 40% road noise. The latter wouldn't be so bad if the stereo were able to play bluetooth music at a decent volume, or even an indecent volume. However, it does neither. If you're under five feet in height, though, you should find it comfortable to sit in.

The controls are in odd places. The headlights are controlled from the main console rather than the thing protruding from the steering wheel. Also the windshield wiper control doesn't pull down, but rather up. I had to sit in the car for a few minutes before I figured that out. The stereo controls are pretty extensive and I'm not used to them yet. I'm hoping to return the car before that changes.

On the positive side, it has a kind of thick steeering wheel. It's also got little corners in the rear view mirrors which actually show you what's in the blind spot. While the lights don't turn on and off automatically when the car does the same, it does have a tone that essentially says, "Turn the lights off, you idiot."

I haven't driven a Toyota Yaris yet, but I read somewhere that it was essentially a Mazda 2. I'll bet that's a cool little car. But I don't suppose I'll ever know. Fiesta is the Spanish word for party. If you're going to one, you might have more fun taking the bus than driving this car. Driving this car makes me yearn for a decent public transportation system that would allow me to forgo driving altogether. 

Saturday, December 01, 2018

On Health Care--MORE Is Hard of Reading

An issue dear to my heart is universal health care. I've been close to people who've died as a result of our unconscionable system. This has shaped much of my political thought, and has made it virtually impossible for me to support GOP candidates for just about anything. That's not to say all Democrats are good either. I can't recall many things quite so disappointing as Hillary saying single payer will never, ever happen.

For some reason I was sent a Politico Pro article put out by one of the people who conducted the great MORE purge. Some of my friends didn't make the cut of being extreme left enough to hang with the elitist MORE clique. It's kind of odd the fashionable leftists get Politico Pro. Last I heard, that cost like a million dollars a year. Maybe ISO subscribes. They make a lot of money selling those newspapers, I guess. Here's part of what the piece says:

Public-sector unions are gearing up to fight legislation that would establish New York State as the health insurance provider for all residents, worried the sweeping bill would curtail their benefits and negotiating power.
New York City labor leaders gathered in the Lower Manhattan offices of District Council 37 Monday to relay their concerns about the bill to its sponsors, Assemblyman Richard Gottfried and state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, several sources familiar with the meeting told POLITICO. The conflict puts unions at odds with an issue popular in the liberal wing of the Democratic party.

So one might come to this conclusion, as did the MORE person who sent it out:

Interesting that our union leadership is taking a position AGAINST single payer for NY State...

Of course if you actually read the piece, you would come to a different conclusion altogether. For one thing, nowhere does it say that union takes a position against single payer. Also, nowhere does it even mention UFT. It does say this:

Labor leaders also worry the bill would invalidate their collective bargaining leverage around health plans, thereby nixing the city's roughly $1,500-per-employee contribution to individual union funds. Those accounts cover a variety of expenses, including prescription drugs, hearing aids and glasses.

I have family in Canada, and my family in Canada is union. Not many people know that Canada does not have a national health care system. Rather, each province has its own system. I'm hopeful that we can emulate that, and that New York can lead the way. In fact, my brother-in-law's union plan, among other things, pays for his family's prescriptions. I don't suppose I have to tell you that prescriptions are prohibitively expensive in the United States. Until and unless that is corrected, and even if it is, it's the union's role to cover members somehow. I'm glad to see union fighting for various welfare funds.

I envision a role for union in health care similar to that of what it takes in Canada. Of course we would need a welfare fund. And as we don't know what universal health care would look like, there might be other roles for union to play. For example, there are all sorts of supplements to Medicare that people buy. Union could perhaps cover whatever shortfalls a new system might eventually show.

I certainly don't want to just dump the Welfare Fund. I think it's worth protecting. In fact, if you actually bother to read the entire piece, it looks like that's what the bill's sponsors want to do as well:

The lawmakers say they are now revising the legislation to address the unions' concerns, namely that the city's insurance options for its 380,000-employee workforce would not be reduced. City government offers some plans that cover virtually all employee costs, but the Albany bill has a provision that would charge workers a portion of the state tax used to pay for the $311 billion initiative.

I'm having trouble finding the part where any union whatsoever, let alone UFT, opposes single payer. It sounds like the bill's sponsors, in fact, want to accommodate union concerns and have everyone on board when this bill comes to a vote.

"Each union sets up its own welfare fund plan and it's funded through the contributions, and if you don't have the contributions, you don't have the welfare fund," Greg Floyd, president of Teamsters Local 237, said on Wednesday.
He was present at the meeting, which he estimated 150 people attended.
Gottfried said he and Rivera reached out to the Municipal Labor Committee, an umbrella group representing city unions, to collaborate on the bill.
"As Gustavo and I keep telling them, this is what our parents raised us to do. We were not raised to screw city workers. Or any workers," Gottfried said.
The new legislation would ensure employers continue their current rates of coverage, he said. The bill would also end up providing more than city workers currently receive, he added: "More services covered, more prescription drugs covered and when the bill is reintroduced in 2019, it will be broadened even more."
"There will be no deductibles or co-pays, there will be no restrictive network and no out-of-network charges," Gottfried added.
And any savings the city incurs — which he estimates would total $10 billion a year in reduced Medicaid expenses and payroll taxes — would replenish a fund partially controlled by unions under the proposal.
It sounds like sponsors will modify the bill to not only offer universal health care, but also to ensure that we retain our Welfare Fund benefits. In fact, it sounds like they want to go above and beyond. I see no reason any union would oppose such a bill, and indeed gaining union support appears to be a primary goal of the sponsors.

Like most Americans, I support universal health care. Acquiring health care for all Americans is a top priority, and that acquiring it for all New Yorkers will help us move the country in that direction.

For the record, UFT has endorsed universal health care. There's no reason we can't achieve it without weakening existing benefits for members. It's quite clear to me that's what the Teamsters president is looking for, and it sounds like that's the direction in which we're moving. That's something to be celebrated.

Reading is fundamental. Even the leaders of what's left of MORE, who've managed to take a small victory and craft it into a crushing defeat for opposition in general, ought to know that. Beyond that, they ought to put it into practice.