Saturday, September 21, 2019

CEP--Comprehensive Educational Plan or Waste of Time?

If you're a chapter leader, you're part of your school's SLT, or School Leadership Team. The main purpose of this team, theoretically at least, is working on a CEP for your school. I've been doing this for a long time, as I was on the SLT before I became chapter leader, and we've spent varying degrees of time on it. The only contribution I recall UFT making in our school was a suggestion we have fewer negative teacher ratings. Then last year we didn't have any, so there wasn't anywhere we could take it.

It's always seemed a little bit odd. I remember waiting until much of the year was over before we really dealt with it. I'm not at all sure it's even relevant. There are several issues that really bother me. The one that bothers me most is the rampant overcrowding. Even though UFT was able to negotiate us an annex, it won't open for two years. When it does, we'll have a net gain of only eight classrooms. In my view, we'd have been better off negotiating a reasonable population. DOE says it will stay the same but full disclosure--I don't trust them.

Another issue is the state of the building. For years, as custodial employees have left, they haven't been replaced. This is reflected in the condition of the building. As if that's not enough, air-conditioning doesn't work in much of the facility, including the trailers. Every day the custodians tell me the geniuses at Tweed will send someone to repair the trailer tomorrow. Pretty soon, instead of being 99 degrees in fall, it'll be 29 degrees in winter.

So how the hell do they expect teachers to focus on the graduation rate? There's some sort of hierarchy of human needs, and as far as I can see, shelter comes well before high school graduation. As if that's not enough, there's now a ponderous process involving some computer program into which the CEP must be entered.

At our first SLT meeting, the principal announced that there was an SLT already begun, and that there were already 125 pages of data entered. Not only that, but there were also responses and suggestions from the superintendent. I sat there wondering why I was sitting there. If all this is already done, why do we need to even show up? What's the point of pretending that we're part of the process?

Of course there's nothing to prevent us from discussing actual school concerns. There's nothing that prevents parents, students or UFT from placing things on meeting agendas. As far as I can tell, though, the CEP is a pretentious, unnecessary load of unmitigated nonsense. I mean, it's great to hope that 14% of some group or other will score 5% better on some test or other. I suppose if I were principal, I'd sit around and calculate exactly which goals I could probably meet, and then I'd set them. But I'd also know there were holistic concerns that affected my school and community.

A chapter leader I know told me his school has two CEPs. One is the official one they send the city. The other is the goals independently set by the school leadership team--things the school community actually wants and needs, regardless of the constraints of the ponderous yet limited official document. Maybe that's a model for other schools to follow.

I generally like the new chancellor. I'm not bothered by the things the New York Post writes about him. I think he has the interests of students and teachers at heart. I've seen him speak, and he sounds like a teacher to me. He sounds like someone who hasn't forgotten what it's like to be in the classroom. When the media complains he fired a few people, I think that's s good start. Now fire all the rest of them, every single one Bloomberg pushed in without exception.

I wonder whether he understood how preposterous the current CEP is. I wonder whether or not his focus was there. My job as teacher/ chapter leader is pretty much all-encompassing. Good intentions notwithstanding, I'm not coming in all summer for free to help the principal compose some tedious document that will likely have little effect on what's actually going on.

Am I overlooking something? Is the CEP more important than I think? Should I earmark 200 hours next summer to sit in the principal's office and pore over tedious documents for free? Will that change the world for the better? Let me know.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

UFT Citywide Chapter Leader Meeting September 18--Paradigms and Telephones

4:23 UFT President Michael Mugrew welcomes us, salutes new chapter leaders.

Says he loved being CL, first year was really tough. Recalls defending contract, says CLs are not alone, and we support one another. Says union is focused on giving CLs more tools.

Says besides December 23rd, he has concerns. Looking at end of current administration and political context. They have this year and next year. Would like to get things done in that time. Says pre-K will be mayor’s biggest legacy. We have to protect it. Also wants to expand it citywide, which UFT supports.

Disturbed we are hearing nothing good about school system. Enemies are happy at that. Parents saying we don’t believe in standards, suspensions, G and T, only makeup and demographics. Fact is school system doing better than ever but we don’t hear it. Even with vocational diploma never had grad rate this high. Outperformed rest of state four years in a row. Not heard in public discourse.

Policy issues bantered about by people who don’t know what’s going on. This can be dangerous. We kept them from eliminating suspensions. Graduating entire class of social workers. Will be another one. School system not only about child who commits an act. We also need to help victims and remaining students.

We have led charge on school integration for years. We believe no more than ten or twelve districts could do integration well because of demographics in district. Proud that teachers led way on progress we’ve made. Need to continue focus while education children day to day.

G and T also tough subject. We participated in committee. Said from day one never believed in Joel Klein’s program as he changed it a decade ago. Klein standardized tests for four and five years old, and six years of this administration has not changed it. UFT wants to get rid of Klein’s G and T, but not G & T itself. Should have multiple measure criteria and never use standardized test again for four and five year olds.

No one is hearing about graduation and dropout rates, or outperforming state, but only these things. We need to take what we’ve been doing and work with communities to show our successes. No one would have anticipated this 15 years ago. Have we had the right supports? Curriculum? Real conversations with principals about changing dynamics in evaluation? “(Very few say yes.)

We should be in much better place, going further, but are dealing with agenda led by people who don’t understand what we do. We have a period to focus on great work, celebrate school communities.

December 23rd—Been dealing with state and DOE since calendar came out. Believes common sense and rational adult thought will prevail in a short period of time. If we lose one day, we still have three snow days. Lots of confusion now, will play out. You know a certain NYC paper would write an editorial about it were it to happen. We have to be reasonable—most people work on the 23.

Climate march Friday. DOE asks that we advocate in calm and rational way. Ss seem to have been reasonable. Did this after Parkland with anti-gun march. Governor and mayor did walkouts with schools. Knew it would happen like it or not, but there is a little different guidance. Not saying teachers should be arranging school trips. Rally outside of UFT between 3 and 5.

DOE was attacked when they did this, papers said they didn’t care about teaching and learning. Students believe climate change is quite important now.

Survey—Checking whether things happened—Will ask whether DOE priorities for beginning of year were satisfied—student removal? Video seen? Conversation as school community on it? They were told by chancellor and two deputies they had to do it? Have you been given curriculum? Has principal discussed new expedited class size grievance process?

Today is day ten. From today to September 24, class size overage is in your and your principal’s discretion to fix. Still at school level. September 25, it is not. It goes to the district rep. and superintendent to fix. They won’t be able to drag process out and fix it when you’re walking into arbitration, maybe months later. On October 4th, it goes to citywide labor management committee for oversized classes. If they don’t agree on a remedy will go to expedited arbitration. No more waiting until April. We will not let DOE do this.

Evaluation law was changed last year. NYSED finished new standards. City teachers worked on them. Commissioner resigned. Standards not rolled out correctly, want reset. No guidance on different aspects of MOSL including NYSESLAT. We will continue to work to protect people and keep you informed. Acting Commissioner should be around for at least six months while they do a nationwide search.

We worked on web design for year and a half. Need you to learn when you call UFT must identify yourself and say I am a chapter leader. Will help you get through to whom you need to speak. We’re trying to get everyone the info they need when they call. Wanted to change things dramatically. Met with CLs and DRs. Biggest issue was things people wanted to change to do their jobs better. Centralized training and calling.

Want to help CLs organize and empower chapters. Some people have trouble organizing consultation committees. Wants to see people empower, organize and engage.

CLs get a stipend, $6 for every member you represent. Used to be 5. Decided there was more work for you. Want to say consultations are important, and change process, not base. Want points for DA attendance, consultations, COPE membership, and will up stipend up to 1K. Will see if it works.

Union focusing on contact centers, events, and EOE, (empower, organize, engage). Trying to maintain correct union profiles via call center. Call center is dispersed across entire city. We get ready for anticipated topics—next will be retro. We want to give as much info, accurately and quickly as possible.

Events—everything in union is an event. We’re at an event. DR meeting is an event. Teacher Union Day an event. October 20 11 AM. Wear pink. We want more district and borough based events. Had bowling parties.

We are not DOE, who says they want to help but sends you paperwork.

Consultation, safety committee important. Can use student removal procedures. Principals have been trained.

Politics—AFT will endeavor to engage as many presidential candidates as possible and hold decision until next spring. Engaging with certain candidates to come to NYC—we want bigger names. Upset NY State has so little to do with primary winners. By the time they get to us it’s done. God bless the people of Iowa, but really?

Sunshine committees—organize to have fun. Have bowling or movie night. District reps and borough offices trying to do it. Promotes engagement.

What happens, for example, if superintendent is unresponsive, while teachers and parents are doing a lot of events? There are a lot of political relationships inside that district. We want to restructure union so it supports workplace at all time. Will continue grievances and arbitration, but want more info in hands of more members.

Of course there will be bumps in the road, but we don’t go backwards. Please have patience. People are doing things differently. We’re still dealing with Janus. They will try something else.

Deirdre McFadyen—Shows new website—launched in July. Had to upgrade for software reasons, but wanted to show value post-Janus area, focusing on your rights, your benefits, your union. Moved CL section—now right under “chapters.”

All union programs under “Your union.” UFT discounts found on member website, must be logged in. Podcasts available. Under teaching, there is new teacher section with instructional materials. Events calendar under get involved. Call center knowledge base integrated into FAQs.

Under “my account” there are customized links. New members will see Welfare Fund Application. Asks we download UFT app.

Mulgrew—This is designed to help CLs get info quickly. DOE is now officially under corrective action plan for special ed. violations. Pretty embarrassing, Much has to do with ELLs and SETTs.

NYC has said parent can opt out of having info shared with anyone, including charter networks. Will be challenged in court. Want to work on an opt-out plan. For years Klein said he wasn’t doing it, but he was. Would do anything for charters, including sharing private info. City now gives parents right to opt out, will work with parents and districts.

Thanks CLs from Bronx Plan schools. All got micro grants of 5K, were recruitment teams, AP classes, much more efficiently than DOE could have done. Clearest example of when you give it to people who do the work, they will make anything flourish.

DOE sends instructions and expects people to do things. They check paperwork. Nothing to do with you.

A plus—proud to announce that UFT has been accredited by NYSED for graduate level studies. Have it for a few course, but want to expand. Thanks Evelyn de Jesus and her team.
First classes will start shortly in Bronx.

We need to empower, organize and engage every school site. We will always get up, push back, and make it work. Can’t thank you enough for taking on this tough job. Our job is to get members support and respect they need. You made a choice to go above and beyond, to understand how important union is. We will not be stopped by teacher bashing. We will get beyond it.

You chose not only  to make a difference in children’s lives, but to protect those who made the decision.

Questions

Q—How can we support UAW?

A—Will do a resolution Monday and work with them. Workers are under attack, gave back to save company.

Q—What can we do to expose abuses inside schools before media? Sometimes done wrong way with teachers blamed. Schools pushed to pass students. We know that much of it is fake. Happening everywhere. We are under pressure from abusive principals. Untenured play along, will backfire. Leaders use comp time to create a clique, de facto admin.

A—If we’re going to make an allegation, we need documentation to prove it. If there’s something going on, we want to know. CL has right to say no to comp time positions. It’s tough. People who want jobs are members, but you have to say no if it’s making someone de facto admin. You have right to do that. DOE denies this stuff, but ends up in paper. Use consultations to build case for when we go public. We will back you.

Q—How can we inform parents of opting out of charters? In our school, five students without parent consent were enrolled in charters. One parent had inquired but not given permission. Parents sent them back to public school.

A—Will roll this out by next DA.

Q—Gifted and talented is big diversity issue. Moving forward, what will be our role? Concerned about children of color having access to these programs.

A—Was with chancellor and mayor, took first press conference. Said UFT opposed tests, wanted things back in school district. Key is how to ID accelerated learners early. Tough in young children. Tests are unfair and caused segregation. Maybe should wait until grade 2,3,4. Needs to be district based. This is all political. Should be educational.

Q—Forms for submitting consultation minutes and SBO are a little clumsy. They should be a lot easier. Also call center is difficult. Member complained about being shunted through center, had to verify personal info. Freaked out member. Are the people in call center actual UFT people and teachers? Would like knowledge base accessible faster.

A—Not all. Mix of staffers and school-based. Has been improved in last two weeks.

Q—Know union is doing a lot with maternity leave—in next year or two are you working on tiered retirement system? Tier 6 is hard pill to swallow. Paying in for entire year. Should be equity.

A—Not a fan of tier 6. We don’t negotiate these things. Literally done in middle of night in Albany. Done to all city and state workers. If we see the opportunity—we are not allowed to negotiate pension benefits—has to go to legislature then governor. Municipalities need to agree. We have to seek an opportunity. Completely agree.

Make sure new members are okay. They may not speak out.

Q—With leave, and babies, challenge is teachers have to drop their kids off when they need to be at school. Our principal helped out on member, but that’s kind of a whim. Can we get parents time to get their kids to school and get to work?

A—Not sure how much this admin will do on this issue, but we can start reaching out. We had many SBOs, over 1300—number one was parent teacher conferences. More than two thirds of schools have shifted them. Others shifted start times. If we can agree on it and make it happen, that’s fine. We should talk about this more and more.

Q—Expedited class sizes—identified classes that were over, have two classes oversized—principal say he’s filing a variant. Can you give us guidance on that? What do we say?

A—Has to see Kerry Yefet—sometimes okay, sometimes not. Depends on situation. Special education has a lot fo rules. State rules not accepted in NYC.

Q—Principal on day one sent components he wants included on lesson plans—says they’re non-negotiable.

A—Clearly did not follow chancellor’s instructions to work with you to change the culture on evaluation. Start by documenting that fact that he’s not following the chancellor’s order in consultation. Let’s set the tone.

Mulgrew—Thanks us again. First DA October 16, wear pink. Will be coat drive.

NY Post Editorial Board Hates Regents for All the Wrong Reasons

I'm always amazed when I read the simplistic nonsense in the NY Post education editorials. Evidently, they believe passing the Regents exams actually symbolizes mastery of something or other. I guess these writers weren't focused when the thests were Common Cored to ensure maximum indifference to anything of inherent value. More likely they were off to the side cheerleading when that happened. Admittedly, I don't always follow the editorials.

I know counselors who tell me the very highest-achieving students cannot write a coherent college essay. I can't say I'm surprised. Our concept of teaching English involves prepping for a test that measures neither reading nor writing, but rather the ability to copy language from both sides of an argument, say which side you prefer, and then answer a bunch of multiple choice questions. Formulating your own argument? That's a thing of the past.

Common Core, of course, is founded by the great David "No one gives a crap what you think or feel" Coleman, who now runs the College Board. Nice work if you can get it, I suppose. Since your feelings and opinions are presumed to have no value, it's hard to imagine how you're going to get the whole writing thing going.

It's ironic that an editorial board would champion such a philosophy. After all, it's their job to tell us what they think and feel. Why would they be so enamored of a system that so actively discourages what they actually do? If the Post editorial board thinks the system is so great, why don't they stop giving their opinions and start parsing whether or not shark netting is a good idea, and doing so by taking a list of prescribed articles and adding no judgment save which arguments they like better?

In fact, teachers have complained to me that they've failed certification exams for giving their opinions. It appears the whole common coriness thing has become a qualification for our position. Evidently our opinions are not welcome either. That's an odd qualification for a job that depends so heavily on frequent, almost perpetual instant judgments. But what do I know? I'm not an editorial writer or a test designer. (I mean sure, I design tests, but my tests are designed to measure what my students actually study, not David Coleman's public grappling with his lifelong feelings of personal inadequacy.)

Actually there is a reading test we offer. It's actually not called that. Rather, it's called the new global exam. I was pretty happy to know that I needed virtually no knowledge of global history to pass it. Because I've spent my life reading, I was able to figure out almost all the answers. On the other hand, you might want to, you know, have people study and learn about history. I think I would if I were a history teacher. If I wanted them to pass the test, though, I'd probably focus on reading and discussions. The subject would be of no importance whatsoever.

I'd discourage that if I were teaching to the English Regents. This doesn't involve reading, reflection or consideration, but rather close reading, or nitpicking for details that may or may not be of ultimate importance. The Post sees things differently, of course.

The real agenda here is simply to further erode any standard that might expose public schools as failing to educate. Ever since forcing the exit of Chancellor Merryl Tisch in 2015, the Regents have watered-down standards on teacher training, teacher accountability and state tests for grades 3-8 as well as the Regents exams.

It was actually Merryl Tisch who ushered in all this Common Core nonsense. All the current Regents have done about that, so far, is nothing. They've moved steadily in Tisch's direction. In fact, they've made the rather stunning determination that English Language Learners need less English instruction. So after watering down ELA to virtually nothing, they've determined that the students most in need of English need less than nothing.

For my money, getting rid of the Regents exams with which I'm familiar has no meaning whatsoever. You may argue that the math or science exams have some value, but I'd be quite surprised. The Post thinks the Regents want to make diplomas meaningless. If that is predicated on the assumption that they are now meaningful based on Regents exams, they've got their work cut out for them.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

DOE Targets Public Enemy #1--Chocolate Milk

I'm always happy when the geniuses at Tweed put their heads together and figure out what our children really need. You know, while I was sitting in two of my three classrooms with no air-conditioning, I was reflecting on how important it is that we not have chocolate milk. If we had it we might simply pour it across one another's heads to keep cool.

Now sure, that's not the first use for chocolate milk that comes to my mind, but when the temperature reads 99% on your trailer thermostat you just never know what people are gonna do. So it's important to keep the chocolate milk somewhere safe. People that uncomfortable are likely to do really crazy stuff.

Another case in which chocolate milk can be dangerous is in oversized classes. There are dozens of them in my school, and chocolate milk would surely make a bad situation worse. For example, when there aren't enough seats in the classroom the few you have ought to be distributed in a fair fashion. You don't want people bartering seats for chocolate milk. It's not fair that only the students who get there early enough get the chocolate milk. Some students live too far away to get to school early enough.

And for goodness sake, you have to be careful about how chocolate milk is used in those half classrooms with over 30 students inside them. If someone should spill it, it could anger the guy who gets paid to clean the room. After all, it's a lot easier to clean the room if it isn't dirty. So maybe he'll write you a note telling you what a slob you are, insist you leave it for the kids, toss out the dividers you need in order to give tests in the crappy room, and then leave the chocolate milk all over the floor anyway. After all, how else to make good on his threat to infest the room with pests?

Yes, I'd say this is really where we need to focus our energy and effort. Yesterday, after period three, while I was silently cursing the slow-moving person in front of me while trying to get to my class on time in our over 200% capacity building, I said, "Thank goodness someone is finally tackling the chocolate milk crisis. And as I pushed the chronically stuck door of the half room with all my might, injuring my shoulder, I thought, "Well, we won't have chocolate milk to kick around anymore."

In fact, later that afternoon, when I was in the miserable trailer and the students wearing sweatshirts with nothing under them, the girl who wears long flowing robes that cover herself head to toe and everyone else started complaining about how hot it was, even though it was only 85 degrees, the coolest it's been all year, I thought as I walked them to the auditorium, where no one can hear anything, let alone accomplish anything, "Finally someone is gonna address this crucial chocolate milk crisis."

Even though the tests that measure my students' progress suck, even though they tell us nothing of any value whatsoever, even though the English Regents exam promotes neither reading nor writing, and even though the state doesn't think English instruction is important for newcomers, I'm bursting with pride at the way we're fearlessly tackling that rapacious chocolate milk lobby.

Another great victory for we, the people!

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Oversized Classes, Free Donuts and Prostitutes

Every year I report oversized classes to the union. We do this in September and February. There's a process, and it's been slightly revised for schools like ours that are chronically in violation. As a matter of course, we report class sizes days 1, 6, and 10. Under the new agreement, if they aren't resolved by day 10 it goes to the superintendent days 14 and 19. I suppose this gives principals some incentive to actually do what's necessary to fix things. At least I hope so.

Last February, for the first time in my memory, we came into compliance and had no oversized classes. However, there's still the possibility of not doing so. In that case, we're asked what we want in lieu of reasonable class sizes. In the past, we've gotten things like relief from C6 assignments one day a week. Other schools got relief from C6 one day for each class that was oversized, or relief from C6 the entire week. The logic of arbitrators eludes me, and consistency doesn't appear to be a concern.

Summer 2018 during contract negotiations, I told the DOE that I'd taught classes of 50 and over. The DOE reps didn't care. I told them that the "action plans" they devised were ridiculous, and that if I had an oversized class, I needed support right there in the classroom. The only thing one free period could be good for was possibly going to therapy to deal with the stress the oversized classes caused me.

Last week, when my district rep. asked me what I wanted if we couldn't solve the issue of oversized classes, I told him I wanted $50 per extra student per day per oversized class, and also free donuts and prostitutes in the teacher lounges. He said he'd rather not ask for free prostitutes. Now I understand that we are union, and that we support working people. I never suggested anything about the DOE not paying them. This notwithstanding, he seemed to have other objections as well.

I brought my proposal to my department. At first they asked whether there would be both male and female prostitutes, and I said yes, of course. Though I'd answered that question to their satisfaction, they too seemed to have other objections. You just can't please everyone. Still, they seemed to agree with the district rep. for some reason, and began proposing alternate demands.

One said it would be really nice to have a licensed massage therapist or two in the office between classes. After a tough period dealing with the relatively impossible task of trying to teach over 34 teenagers at a time, it would be nice to stretch out and have someone sooth your highly stressed body. Put everything out of your mind and just feel those magic fingers. Of course we'd need space to lie down, so there's a memo to school construction. I'm not sure how viable that is.

Another asked for bubble baths and spa treatments. Now, as a guy, I'm not really familiar with what a spa treatment is. We hyper-macho type guys don't usually go in for that stuff. But all the women seem to think they are pretty cool, so I have to respect their experience. Again, there is that space issue, so I'm not sure how viable it is.

One of my colleagues suggested we install chocolate fountains in the department offices, to be stocked with fresh fruit. Personally I'm not eating sugar lately, but I'd respect that if it makes everyone happy. They also demanded marshmallows, and not those little ones either. However, our building is teeming with mice and having a lot of chocolate in the offices could exacerbate that issue. On the positive side, it might not take up a lot of space.

Another colleague chimed in and said we could adjust the plumbing to reflect hot, cold, and a nice Chianti. After all, if it's good enough for Hannibal Lecter, why not provide it for hardworking school teachers? Of course this would only be for staff. Students would have to rough it and buy Boone's Farm to drink in the woods, like we had to do when we were teenagers. We can't just hand them everything, you know.

Sure, you'll say, the district rep. and my colleagues are right. It's distasteful for working teachers to run around demanding that prostitutes be provided in public schools. Maybe I should be written up on page six of the tabloids for making such insane demands. To that I say you're absolutely right. Who the hell do I think I am, making such demands? They are ridiculous.

In my meager defense, all I can say is my demands are no more ridiculous than those of the DOE. 34 is already the highest class size in the state. There's been a successful lawsuit demanding they be reduced, which the geniuses in Albany, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to simply ignore.

Do you also deem my demands ridiculous? Would you like me to be more reasonable? Fine. Then tell DOE to stop demanding that my colleagues and I teach classes of over 34. Demand they do their jobs and fix the frigging class sizes. Stop kowtowing to Eva Moskowitz and start helping the overwhelming majority of New York City's children. That's what we pay them for, whether or not they know or care.

Friday, September 13, 2019

No, Tin Is NOT the Ideal Insulator

I'm glad, in a way, that I'm back in the trailers after having been out on leave for three or four years. I'd forgotten about all the little twists and turns and surprises they held, and I guess I needed to be reminded.

Period 7 yesterday I went to my class in trailer 4.  Several students preceded me, and were sitting in their seats waiting for class. It was nothing short of diabolical. The thermostat read 99 degrees. I was pretty surprised because it was cooler yesterday than it had been the day before. How could this happen?

Of course, the heat, which we likely as not won't have at all between December and February, was on. Why wouldn't you have the heat going full blast when it's 75 degrees outside? Heaven forfend anyone should be anything remotely resembling comfortable in one of those frigging boxes of tin.

I was pretty happy I had the foresight to wear a short sleeve shirt. I called and informed the main office that we were going to the auditorium. I also filed a grievance demanding trailers be closed until and unless they were fixed. Custodian said they'd requested an emergency repair but no one had showed. They were hoping for today. Hope springeth eternal.

I went back later and noticed a sign saying go to auditorium. Evidently I'd neglected it when I arrived, as did all the students in my classroom. Perhaps they shouldn't have left the doors open, which signified enter to my students and me. I closed the doors in the boiling trailers so no one else would enter. I worried some overly zealous new teacher would go in there and show the whole world that nothing would stop her, certainly not a thermostat reading 99 degrees, likely because it doesn't go any higher.

I met a teacher who told me her students were quite upset at how miserable the trailers were on Wednesday. She's Chinese, and the students kept asking her, "Is it because we're Chinese?" Can you imagine going to school feeling like you were dumped in an inferior setting because of your ethnicity? Unfortunately, inferior settings are something we all get to share in a place where there simply isn't enough space, a place where there is no limit on how many students can come in. Amazingly, Eva Moskowitz gets to toss anyone she likes out of her place, and for all I know, they all come to us.

The disgrace belongs to New York City. It's unconscionable to say there is no limit to how many students can enter a space. However, that's policy. Our school has done well for New York City. Bloomberg, frothing at the mouth to destroy every comprehensive high school in the city, never laid a glove on us. Instead, he just overcrowded us, hoping we'd burst at the seems. It seems we we outlasted the son of a bitch.

Of course, that can't last forever. We'll have an annex in a few years, which should add a little bit of breathing room. Even so, and even after they haul away those horrific miserable trailers, we'll still have spaces that no kid should learn in.

But hey, let's find a new place for Amazon. Jeff Bezos needs parking for his helicopter.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

If Principals and Custodians Have AC, All's Fine in City Schools

Yesterday didn't seem as bad as Tuesday. I looked at the thermostat in the trailer, which was not easy. Some genius or other had mounted it outside the bathroom close to the ceiling. That may be a good idea, actually, if you want people to feel like it isn't as hot or cold as it really is. School trailer bathrooms somehow tend to get heat and AC when those of us sitting in the actual room do not. So I looked up, put on my glasses, and even with the weird location it read 87 degrees.

Of course, if you happened to be by the windows, you were getting direct sun, and that was brutal. A young woman in my class sits there, and she wears very long clothing that looks heavy. I asked her if she wanted to move further into the classroom, away from the window and she turned me down. She's clearly made of stronger stuff than I am.

I usually wear suits to work. I started doing this when I was in the trailer, because trailers look like piles of crap. I thought the students should know that even though the city dumped them in the crap I felt differently. When I was finally paroled from the trailers a few years back, I kept wearing them. I now figure if I'm in meetings with the principal and the district rep, I ought to look the way they do.

Another teacher told me that he went the other way. He used to dress up, but thought the students related to him better when he dressed closer to the way they did. I said that was really interesting, and that maybe we were both right. He said it was good that sometimes people could see things two different ways and not fight. Other things, though, are really obvious to everyone.

For example, it's absolutely miserable sitting in a hot classroom. This doesn't phase the Tweedies, who talk of something called "air-conditioning season." This is a period of time that one genius or another pulled out of his ass and decided was good enough for NYC children. The standard is it should be no higher than 78 degrees. Why not 75? And why is it okay for temperature to go highter than that when it isn't "air-conditioning season?" Do they sit in their air-conditioned offices and determine people don't feel the heat at those times? Who knows what goes into Tweedie decision making? A coin toss? The age of their mothers when they got them the jobs? Could be anything.

One of the great privileges of being chapter leader is getting the plum programs. I teach four classes in three classrooms, and only one is air-conditioned. That room, of course, is only half a room. It's diabolical. When you give a test, you have to put up these ridiculous dividers. It's awkward and inconvenient, and creates new and exciting ways to cheat. Also, if the guy who gets paid to clean the room takes a notion to throw them out because the room wasn't clean enough for his discriminating taste, you're screwed.

Don't get me started about the trailers. I was in there for twelve years. I'd always ask for them because while everyone hated them, it at least kept me out of the crappy half rooms. Now I'm in both. An AP asked me last week if I'd swap out one real classroom with one of his teachers who had a trailer. Why not, I thought. I'm already like that cartoon Mexican mouse running around on three different floors. Why not run outside as well?  I said yes. This week, he casually let me know he was doing something UFT hadn't approved, in blatant violation of the contract, and thanked me for allowing him to do so. When I told him that was not, in fact, the way we do things, he informed that me that I had a choice of going along with him or screwing the kids. Thoroughly charming.

Of course, being an assistant principal means never having to say you're sorry. Sometimes I'm jealous, and think I'd like to run around uttering whatever came into my head whenever I felt like it with no consequences. Actually, though, I would get no joy whatsoever in issuing pointless ultimatums or treating kids like that. I want my class to be a relative oasis where students know I will be patient and help them get where they need to be in other classes.

I was lucky yesterday, My wife found a short sleeve dress shirt someone had given me as a gift, and it really made the day go easier. I was going to buy a few more after work. I saw an ad saying they were two for $29 somewhere. It turned out they were two for $129. That's way too much for shirts I'd wear only a few times a year. 

Anyway, no more suits for me until the temperature outside drops below 80, and the true trailer temp drops below 90. I like the kids I have this year very much. They're charming and funny. But I've got my limits. My standards may be low, but they're all I have.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

This Morning in Capitalism

I'm a creature of habit. This is particularly true because another creature of whom I'm very fond depends on me quite a bit to help him out. I walk him morning, afternoon and night if I'm free. Because work often makes me less free, my wife helps me out most weekday afternoons. When I have PM meetings, she often covers for me then too. But when school's in season, I'm almost always out on the street with him in the pitch black at 5 AM.

I'm not the only one up at that hour. I don't see many dog walkers, but now and then there's someone as crazy as I am. However, there's a big business collecting bottles and aluminum cans, which carry that five-cent deposit. I leave them in our recycling bin, and by 5 AM they're already gone. This bottle and can collection is serious business.

There's a young woman in a GMC van I see on the canal all the time. As far as I can tell, she's the most active of the three collectors I regularly encounter. The other morning I was trying to cross the street with Toby, and she came up the street maddeningly slowly. I wanted to cross, but unlike some people, I have this thing about walking in front of moving vehicles. I'm not Blanche DuBois and I'm loathe to depend on the kindness of strangers. Eventually, though, she passed us and my friend and I were able to cross the street without incident.

She's the most visible, and likely the most ambitious of our three bottle collectors. She spends hours out there. I know this because in the summer I was out around seven and I'd see her scouting for opportunity. Once or twice I've seen her in the afternoon, checking to see what she and her competitors left behind, or perhaps trying to find things before they waited until morning.

There's also a man who looks to be in his eighties. He drives a late model Toyota Camry. I often wonder why someone who can afford a relatively new car needs to collect bottles. Perhaps he doesn't need to and just does it for fun. Personally, the fun part of dredging through trash cans eludes me. If that's the case, though, is it ethical for him to compete with those who really need the money? Or did some generous relative simply gift him the car? Why didn't that person also gift him a little spending money too?

The third person I know is a really shadowy and elusive figure. The dumpsters for the Tropix bar are all the way in the back of a paved parking lot, a full block away from the club itself. Some mornings when I walk by there, I see a figure with a flashlight rattling through the dumpsters, and I hear the unmistakable rattles of cans and bottles being tossed into plastic bags. It's a little scary because all we can actually see is the flashlight. Actually, the last time I looked there seemed to be multiple flashlights, so perhaps this is a group effort. (After all, team work makes the dream work.)

Being as you can't actually see that person, or those people, it makes me a little nervous to walk by. But I've got Toby with me, and he's not afraid of anything. He barks at big dogs as if to say, "Yeah, I can take you. Come here if you dare." I think he's nuts, actually, and I tell him so. "Can't you see how big that dog is? Are you out of your mind?"

Collecting bottles is hard work. To make 15 bucks and hour, you'd have to collect 300 of them. To make 20, 400. It seems like there must be better ways to make money. I suppose there are worse as well. I wonder why such a culture exists while we're running around making America great again. Wouldn't America be great if we all had health insurance? Wouldn't it be great if everyone could afford to make ends meet without collecting aluminum cans? Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to divest ourselves of all our worldly goods to merit half-decent end of life care?

Maybe we need to make America decent instead of great again. Again or not, who cares? It's really sad that so many people have to live like that in the richest country in the world.

Monday, September 09, 2019

UFT Executive Board September 9, 2019--UFT Supports Dorian Victims, Census, Trump Victims and More

6 PM—Secretary LeRoy Barr calls us to order, welcomes us.

Barr recognizes new members. We applaud. Barr explains process.

Minutes—approved

Barr announces Smallheiser winners.

Barr—9/18 CL meeting. After will be 100% attendance celebration. 9/25—Tribute to founder Abe Levine 4 PM. Without Levine, UFT would not have come together. Brought factions together. Celebrated divergent thought. RTC meeting that day. CL training Oct. 5, 6. Oct. 20—Sunday, Making Strides even 8 Central parkt. Also Teacher Union Day 11. Sept 22, Alzheimer’s walk Coney Island, 9 AM.

Questions:

Arthur Goldstein
—I’ve been a teacher since 1984, and I have never seen a test as useless as the NYSESLAT, which ostensibly determines English levels of English language learners. Last year I taught a class of supposedly advanced ELLs. Most of them were deemed proficient in English by the NYSESLAT. Many had passed the English Regents exam. Some who’d done both were unable to produce a coherent sentence in English. Almost none were able to produce a reasonable college essay.

This may work well for those of us who teach beginners, as we appear to be geniuses. But I have recently been hearing of teachers whose ratings have been dragged down by student performance on the NYSESLAT. What can we do to ensure the next commissioner is not insane, and what can we do to make sure the NYSESLAT is replaced by a test that isn’t a piece of garbage that any thinking teacher could improve upon with 90 minutes and a laptop?


Barr
—There has to be a test out there somewhere. Evelyn De Jesus is working on it, and will continue to do so. We will keep you informed. We want someone who understands the needs of people who are school based and that needs of members are at the forefront. If they are insane we will find sanity for them.

Michael Mulgrew—President’s report—Asks new members to stand—welcomes them to more applause. Hopes everyone had a restful summer, thanks those who worked. This year we have to focus on what we can get done during next two years of this administration, after which there will be a mayor’s race. Must focus on what we’d like to keep.

Thanks those who came to Labor Day Parade, and those who prepared.

School opening has been smooth so far. Met with 2000 new members. Seems like there will be 5000 new hires. Much drama over gifted and talented, Looks like it will stay and there will be more access.

December 23—We are continuing convos with state and city. Commissioner has resigned. Thinks we’ll get there. Should never have happened, they know they were wrong. Safety issue, under ESSA we have to report attendance. Thanks parents and teachers for getting voices heard.

Over last few years, we’ve run more and more programs—we now have a call center here at UFT. It became tough to answer phones before. We want people to look at us as a resource. We are now answering more calls than ever, more work but work we want to do. Proud to be seen as support for school related or other things. We need to be patient—improving every day. Thanks everyone who went for training. We will get answers people need.

Outside of political work, consultation was important last year. Must build on what we started last year. Will push reluctant principals. Will have empowerment plans for every district. This will help empower and organize school chapters. Will have reports on how many schools were involved. Schools that use this tool are getting results. Gives us documentation to do what needs to be done. Thanks us for taking the time to do this. Thanks those who provide food. Says it will be a long and interesting year.

NYC performs well and keeps great graduation rate. Only way to make good policy is to listen to people who work in classrooms. A lot of people resist that and blame schools for everything. That continues to be our fight. They are supposed to support us. Thanks us.


Barr—union initiated grievance over envision math—members got training rate—our position is they should get per-session as posted. We will fight to get them paid.

Carl Kain—Over summer three decisions on behalf of individuals. Are precedents. Regents scoring doesn’t have to be both January and June. Can be one or other.

ELA scoring and religious accommodations—DOE said if someone missed training on Saturday couldn’t come until next question—we won, and had people trained on Sunday instead.

Paras and DC 75—Para was terminated, but placed back to work. First, service in D75 will count toward para probation now, of one term. Also defined term as five months.

Reports from districts—

Serbia Silva—invites to welcome back fest Lex 3rd Ave, cosponsored UFT and CD 4 10-1. Will register UFT there. Sat Sept 14

Rashad Brown—Reports that June 30 UFT marched 50th anniversary Stonewall Riots. Didn’t go to big corporatized parade. This was anti-corporate march. Thanks Anthony Harmon.

Janella Hinds—Heard about caring kind Alzheimers walk. Many members impacted, especially among families. UFT has developed partnership—If you’d like to participate we will have our first ever team with Caring Kind. Looks forward to phenomenal group

Eliu Lara—Reports that past June 20 brought school community together—gave kids laptops, printers, scientific calculators, backpack of school supplies, had reps from all over state. Kids were very happy and thank all of you for support.

Karen Alford—thanks to borough reps, staff and all who came out for new teacher week. Signed up over 2K over that week. Our ranks are growing. Just signed 220 on line. Please look for new members and support them, meet greet and help.

One of our schools, PS 52, will be on Inside Edition. Every student will get backpack of supplies

Doreen Berrios Castillo—First ever new secretaries orientation. DOE only 110

Arthur Goldstein—I want to talk about our trip to Texas. Evelyn De Jesus, LeRoy Barr, Janella Hinds, Tom Brown. Marie Callo, and maybe others in this room went last summer. We met AFT teachers there who told us what life was like without collective bargaining. It was mind-blowing for those of us who take that for granted. I know they were very happy to see us, and to see there is another way of doing things. I also know we will continue to support them.

We visited one of Trump’s internment camps, where we were denied entry. We stood in front of the building and held vigil until some guy with a gun offered to arrest us if we didn’t move to the sidewalk. We did that, and when we were just about finished he came around with some friends and their guns and told us we would now have to move all the way across the street. They also had tow trucks and threatened to tow our vans.

Randi Weingarten told us all to get in the vans. She told me if anyone was going to get arrested that day it would be her, and explained to me that getting arrested in Texas was no fun at all. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and we got to visit a Catholic charities facility that supports newcomers. We gave them a whole lot of necessities, and it was gratifying to see little children playing with teddy bears we’d brought them.  Tom says the family to whom we gave money is very grateful and in touch.

I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything, and I hope we follow up soon. I’m ready.

Tom Brown
—Met many people, but walked in and saw a lady and her son. We took a tour, met Blancita and her 16 year old William, spoke only Spanish. Had arrived 3 days earlier, had walked fro Honduras for three and a half months. Wanted to get apprehended, asked for authorities.

Were granted asylum, but then had all their personal items confiscated. Were brought to bus station with nothing. We met them, sitting in a corner at Catholic Charities. They were on their way to Houston where father was. Had gone there 15 years ago. After three days father sent them bus tickets. That evening they were headed to Houston. Had not seen husband for 15 years, Willie had never met him. Had no money, broken cell phone. Group came, gave them money.

William sent pictures with clothes he and mom bought with money we gave him. Started school last Thursday. Wanted to thank all of us, AFT and UFT. When we met in lobby they gave us t-shirts. I took off my AFT shirt gave it to William. Have photo. They are forever thankful to us.

To meet someone who walked 3.5 months—they came because they’d been abused. They had to get out. Father was in Houston. They are together now. Have to go to court in three months for official asylum. Was proudest moment of being AFT/ UFT member.

Legislative report—Cassie Pruitt
—More political—Please that yesterday at Columbia was successful training of union advocates to be presidential delegates. 200 showed. Will keep posted.

Thursday at 7 will be Democratic debate watch party. Will be special political guests.

Resolution to support Dorian victims
—Karen Alford—Stories like Tom’s are who we are. We want to help victims. Were 100 foot waves. Death toll rising. Tens of thousands in need of aid. Asks that you support this resolution.

Resolution carries.

Barr—trying to figure how to help people in Bahamas and what exactly they need. Working with AFT.

Resolution to raise awareness about 202 census—Sterling Roberson—Census every ten years. Important because in NY we are under-represented, undercounted, below national average. Impacts funding for public services. Important we improve count. Public schools, housing depend on this. UFT will bring full court press to NY communities. Will work with partners and organizations. Big but important job. Will require our due diligence. Asks for support.

Resolution carries

We are adjourned—6:53

Sunday, September 08, 2019

IO Classroom Sucks

I used to write that Skedula sucks, but it became the first thing you saw when you googled Skedula. I'm not sure whether or not that's why they changed their name, but they still suck. One of the reasons they suck is they are totally unresponsive. They actually sent someone to my school a few years back, and asked us what we wanted to see improved. Of course, no improvements followed.

This year IO Classroom sucks, but it's not 100% their fault. It's also the fault of the execrable Part 154, enacted by the geniuses in Albany to make sure that English Language Learners (ELLs) don't fritter away valuable classroom time learning English. Instead, we prep them for the English Regents exam. I'd argue the English Regents exam is the second worst test I've ever seen. The worst, of course, is the NYSESLAT, which theoretically measures English ability, but actually places students very poorly (and also rates teachers very poorly).

A particularly insightful idea the geniuses in Albany had was to group ELLs by grade rather than language level. Consequently, they decreed that students may be no more than one grade apart. That might make sense with very young children. For example, 1st and 4th graders may be at very different places developmentally. The Regents applied this across the board though, and couldn't be bothered noting that 9th and 12th graders may not have that issue. In fact, as someone who's taught them for decades, I can assure you they don't.

However, because of the directive by the Regents, I now find myself teaching as many as four classes in one room. (By "room," of course, I mean room, half-room, or trailer, all of which I teach in this semester. Thankfully, unlike the room and trailer, the half-room is actually air-conditioned.) There are several issues with this, the worst of which is recording grades for four classes instead of one. Actually, so far, there are only three, as four of my sixteen classes don't yet have students in them.

An administrator helped me the other day. There is, evidently, a way to combine classes within IO classroom. I thought that would solve my issue. To an extent, it did. I was able to combine my active classes together and rename them by period, as opposed to the long and incomprehensible letter and number alphabet soup mandated by the city. So I am now able to write, say, "homework #1," and assign it to three classes at a time. That's great.

Here's the problem, though--when I try to actually grade the homework, it shows up as three classes again. This means I have to separate the assignments into groups, or jump back and forth in those letter and number groups I don't recognize. This was not so bad last year, when I had only two groups in a class. After a while, I kind of remembered who fell into which groups. Three, likley four as I get more incoming, is beyond the pale.  If I had a paper marking book, I'd simply alphabetize all the students together and mark them very quickly.

This is redundant paperwork. IO Classroom ought to fix this instantly. If they don't, they'll have to deal with a UFT paperwork complaint, because I certainly won't hesitate to file it. Like every teacher, I haven't got time to jump through hoops on a daily basis in order to satisfy their lack of foresight and flexibility.

Friday, September 06, 2019

The Making of an Assistant Principal

Everyone wondered why Mr. Jones was so happy. The weight of the world seemed to be lifted from his shoulders. He had a spring in his step. His smile radiated 100% organic sunshine. Just last week he was a chronic complainer, but now he was reborn. No one knew why, at first.

A few days later, we noticed a harried young woman sitting in the cafeteria, frantically consulting books and writing things on her computer. She never spoke to anyone, so a friend and I introduced ourselves. She didn't want to stop, but she was polite nonetheless. It turned out she was Mr. Jones's student teacher. Mr. Jones had a comp-time job, sitting in an office somewhere, doing something or other, and only taught three classes. This young woman, with no experience whatsoever, and no evident support was prepping and teaching all of them.

As a student, she did this for no monetary compensation, while Mr. Jones sat in back of the classroom pretending to pay attention to what was going on. Nice work if you can get it, perhaps. It didn't pay well enough for him, so he tried to get a job at Queens College, where I happened to be working. He and a young woman I know applied at the same time, and both used me as a reference. I talked up the young woman, who was brilliant, and she was hired. When asked about him, I said I had no idea, and he wasn't hired. He called me at home on a Friday night to angrily ask why not. I had no idea, I told him. In fact I had no idea where he got my phone number. Shortly thereafter, he got a job at a different college.

Another colleague taught at Queens College, and had Mr. Jones and the same young woman in his class. He swears the young woman did the homework and Mr. Jones copied it. He also told me that one of his high school students was busily grading papers in his high school class. He asked why she was doing it, and was told they were the papers for Mr. Jones's college class. He took the papers and told the student to tell Mr. Jones to come ask for them.

I found that story hard to believe. One day, though, when I was working in a department office I noticed a young man across from me grading compositions. I asked why he was doing that. Mr. Jones was giving him extra credit, he said. Can you imagine paying for college and having a high school student grade your papers? I assume the kids did as good or better a job than Mr. Jones would have, but still.

A person gets tired, though, of not teaching and not grading papers. Who knows, for example, when someone was going to come and observe you? Sure, you wouldn't be teaching, but what if they asked why the student teacher was doing this or that? What could you say? You never consulted with her, and you hadn't been paying attention to what she was doing. Also, what with her grading all the work, you had no idea what the students were doing.

It was time for a new career, decided Mr. Jones, so he went to supervisor school. There was time, after all, since he didn't teach in the day, since he didn't grade night school papers, and since no one knew what exactly he were supposed to do at his comp-time job. Also, there was that paraprofessional who actually did all the, you know, actual comp-time work. Still, he had a ponderous, florid  multi-page resume enumerating in great detail all the things Mr. Jones did not actually do. But the resume used a lot of impressive big words, and why shouldn't it? Mr. Jones had paid a girl with a very high SAT score to write it.

Mr. Jones could be charming when he wanted to, and as soon as he had his administrative certificate, he snagged an administrative post. When the first school he worked in closed, he found another one. With every progressive gig, life became less demanding and tedious for Mr. Jones. Finally, he was able to spend more time doing the things he liked, whatever on earth they may be.

I hope he's not your boss today. Alas, the empty soul of Mr. Jones resides in many, many administrators.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don't--Teacher Vilified in NY Daily News for Working Too Much

You know, you can't win. I'm forever reading about how lazy I am, how easy my job is, and how it's a walk in the park to stand around and have big fun with 34 teenagers in a trailer. On the other hand, if you work too much, you make too much money, and then you get dragged over the coals for that as well.

I gotta say, this piece caught my eye. The headline suggests outrage that a teacher managed to pull in 78K of per session. If you look more closely it also includes back pay, which evidently is also to be condemned. This teacher somehow did 1100 hours in addition to his teaching schedule.

A copy of Singh’s schedule for the 2018-19 school year reviewed by The News showed him teaching three out of eight periods a day, with the others devoted to scheduling, overseeing lunch, and coordinating coverage for missing teachers, as well as leading “senior activities” and a prep period.

Based on this, DN calls him a "part-time teacher." It's not clear whether or not the writer is aware that teachers do five classes a day, not eight. By that definition, I'm a part-time teacher too, since I teach four classes out of eight. To get this plum assignment, all I have to do is be UFT chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, the most overcrowded in the city. Doing this in addition to teaching four classes of teenagers is a walk in the park, and I have no doubt the reporter could do it in his sleep.

I was sorely disappointed to see this quote:

“I never see him staying with kids” after school, one teacher said.

It's not only that the guy is a programmer, and that this particular job does not entail staying with kids. It's not only that programmers do long hours, and that this often entails extra hours. It's not only that people ought to, you know, be paid for their work. It's also that it's disappointing to see UFT members trashing one another in the press. It's particularly egregious when their arguments have no merit.

Hey, if someone commits an atrocity, I don't expect everyone to get up and applaud. It's quite different to complain that someone whose job does not entail staying with kids doesn't stay with kids. This person doesn't even give a name.

Let's look at what's really wrong here, if something is wrong. That looks like a lot of per-session hours. Did this person really need them? If not, there is indeed fault. I'd lay it at the feet of administrators, whose job it is to post these hours and select someone to take them. In fact, it's on someone like me, the chapter leader and "part-time teacher," to make sure that postings go up and candidates are chosen according to contractual regulations.

It's disappointing to see something so misleading in the paper, aimed at instigating anger toward teachers. I can't really speculate on how much this teacher's efforts were needed or not. However, it's administrators who decide how to allot per-session hours. It's on chapter leaders, people like me, to make sure that they are posted and everyone gets a chance to apply.

Personally, I don't seek extra hours. I already lack sufficient hours in the day to do what I want. However, I worked for over twenty years as an adjunct professor. I didn't want to live in a tree, and it's tough to make ends meet. 

It's on members to speak up if they aren't being considered. I've found times when jobs were given to members without rotations, and I've corrected them when I could. Sometimes members will not complain, and will specifically instruct me not to complain either. I can't do much about that. The truth is I have no idea what's going on here, and it's disappointing that most people who read this article will think they do.

Finally, how does this teacher make 130K when UFT salary maxes out around 10K less than that?

There's more here than meets the eye. At the very least, there's more than reached the eye of the reporter, whose job entails, you know, reporting.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Startup Tips

Tomorrow is the first day we meet students. Here are some tips I wrote for new teachers. I'm sticking by them. If anyone has anything new to add, please do so in the comments.


I Wish Someone Had Told Me

I hope you are kind to children, and I hope you like and respect them. If you don't, you may wish to look elsewhere for advice. If you really care about the kids you teach, read on.

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help. (Note--neither the DOE nor your supervisor accepts that, so have a lesson plan available anyway. I do.)

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school.   Here's something from Miss Malarkey. And whatever you do, don't forget Miss Eyre's excellent series on what no one will tell you about working for the DoE.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

This Is Me (and So Is That)

Lucy's not happy, and you might not be either. Every summer goes faster and faster, and face it, this one is gone completely. When people ask me how my vacation was, I'm gonna have to tell them I woke up today and it was over. I may or may not cry afterward, but it won't change anything. Also, at chapter leader training they asked us to cry as little as possible in front of members.

Nonetheless, summer's now nothing but a memory. Of course I enjoy a good sulk as much as the next person, but because I have to, you know, work, I haven't got the time I'd like to devote to it.

We all know how Lucy feels, and as we slump dejected into some meeting where the principal tells us how he can't wait to get back to work, how he feels energized, and how anyone who doesn't isn't a team player, you have to know that the principal looked exactly as Lucy does as he walked to his luxury car this morning. He derived very little satisfaction as he turned it off and the mirrors folded inward. Though he's got a parking space and you don't, he sat crying in his office for fifteen minutes before some secretary forced him to get up, wipe his face, and give the same pep talk every principal has given since time immemorial.

Thankfully, you don't have to get up in front of God an everybody and make that speech. However, in two short days you'll face a bunch of students who all bear the same face you see above. You're gonna have to dig deep and at least try to change your expression. Day one can't be, "Well, you're stuck here and I'm stuck here, and there's no end in sight." Even if you feel that way, it's kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

There is, of course, another way to look at things. You remember, at Thanksgiving dinner, your crazy
uncle with the MAGA hat telling you how your job is a walk in the park, how anyone could do it, and how you asked him why he couldn't, if the job were so goshdarn easy? Isn't it true, though, that you wouldn't want his job on a bet?

You never know what's going to happen in our job. Every day brings something new. You're not sitting on an assembly line attaching one thing to another, over and over until either your hand falls of or you're replaced by a robot (which is not to say Bill Gates doesn't want to do that). Nor are you sitting in front of a computer inputting tedious data day after day. 

Maybe today is traumatic. Maybe today is the toughest day of the year, or maybe the toughest day is Thursday, when you first fact the kids. But this shall pass. And unlike a whole lot of working people in America, if you actually need a break, you're always got one to look forward to. Once Christmas comes, you get a week off every other month.

That's one reason your uncle hates you so much. There's the old story of the Russian farmer who says, "My neighbor has a cow and I don't. I want his cow to die." That's your uncle right there. It's on us, though, to get him a frigging cow whether he wants one or not. That's why we're teachers. We know that making things better for this generation will make things better for the next.

It's our job to make things better for the next generation. That's why we teach. That's why it's on us to vote, and to do whatever we can to make sure our children and students lead the best lives possible. Don't let your uncle make you feel guilty. You deserve a job that allows you to think, to react in real time, and make a difference.

Make no mistake, we are one of the last strongholds of vibrant unionism in these United States. It's on us to preserve and expand that. It's on us to educate everyone. While your uncle may be too far gone to see the light, America's children are depending on us.

If we can teach 34 teenagers at a time, we can do anything.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Geniuses in Albany Set to Think for Two Years

The Regents will surely have many gala luncheons and soirees over the next two years as they ponder whether or not to replace the exams that bear their names. Now you don't want them to rush into this willy-nilly, since the exams have only been around since 1865. It's important that change happen gradually, so that as few of us as possible remain living by the time these changes are made. That way, by the time the decisions prove all wrong, the current Regents can simply blame them on those who made them 30, 40, or 200 years ago.

The gold standard, of course, is the English Regents exam. It's important that our children know how to read tedious crap and answer questions about petty detail. That way, when they go to college, they'll have experience hating everything placed in front of them. And when they go to work, they'll be utterly miserable. This is pretty much the golden standard for common core, as envisioned by David "No one gives a crap how you think or feel" Coleman.

Coleman is now the head of College Board. This is important, because one of the ideas the geniuses in Albany are running up the flagpole to see who salutes is substituting the SAT for the Regents exams. This is a WIN-WIN in that it not only replaces one tedious and useless exam for another, but also manages to enrich Coleman and his BFFs. Who could ask for more than that?

After all, why should we bother with nonsense like trying to make our children readers? Just because you or I may be engrossed in some historical novel or other doesn't mean that our children should be. Why on earth would we want to burden them with examining the feelings of other humans when, as per Coleman's trenchant analysis, no one gives a crap anyway?

And you know what that leads to. Pretty soon they'll be telling us how they feel, and they'll want us to listen. Or worse, they'll want us to read about how they feel or what they're going through. Let's face it, if your job prospects entail being Walmart associates, you won't have time to indulge in that nonsense. That's why Walmart sinks so much money into charter schools that teach children how to march from room to room like little tin soldiers. A pliable public is a Walmart associate public.

Expressing your feelings ought to be reserved for the more privileged classes. For example, the President of the United States just visited the African-American History Museum. Here's what happened:

“The president paused in front of the exhibit that discussed the role of the Dutch in the slave trade,” Bunch writes. “As he pondered the label I felt that maybe he was paying attention to the work of the museum. He quickly proved me wrong. As he turned from the display he said to me, ‘You know, they love me in the Netherlands.’ All I could say was let’s continue walking.”

You see, a great thinker like Donald Trump needs to reflect. Your kids and mine, not so much. To make sure they don't, the geniuses in Albany wholeheartedly accepted Common Core. While they no longer place Common Core in the test title, the tests are still the same, and the Regents think they are good enough for the children of New York State.

So let them sit around and think for another couple of years, while New York's children waste their time with miserable tests that display total indifference to love of reading, ability to express one's self in writing, or anything remotely resembling writer voice. Where's the urgency?

The Regents have made a deep commitment to sit around for two years, and maybe do something afterward. Or maybe not.

That ought to be good enough for anyone.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Going to the Dogs

That's Toby, my dog, in the forefront, along with my daughter's dog Julio, wishing everyone a pleasant day.

I kind of wish I'd written this column by Frank Bruni. I'm not generally a fan of Times columnists. They seem to know as much about education as I do about calculus (which is nothing whatsoever). But there's some real thought here, and some genuine insight into how dogs enrich our lives. Like Bruni, I've developed a micro-culture around dog-walking, which I do several times a day.

You meet people you'd never meet otherwise, mostly for the better. You learn things about yourself you hadn't imagined, and there are these two cultures that kind of mesh--that of dogs and humans. My dog adores almost all humans. He thinks God placed them on earth, and particularly in his vicinity, so they could pet him and give him attention. For the most part, he's right. People look at him and he looks right back. He walks right over to them and they make an instant connection.

This brings me to make connections with the same people. Without him, I wouldn't venture out the door nearly as much. I'd be home reading a book, or watching TV, or something like that. But he actually drags me into a lot more social interaction than I'd bother with myself. Those of us with dogs have an obvious common interest that supersedes social, cultural, economic and political boundaries. I see something inherently good in people who love dogs. I might mistrust people who don't.

Of course, that doesn't mean we're perfect. My dog was almost attacked by a loose pit bull owned by the idiots across the street from us. I managed to scare him away, but I think it's left my dog with a fear of big dogs. He barks aggressively at them sometimes. I say, "Are you out of your mind? Look how big that dog is," but he pays me no mind. I usually cross the street to avoid big dogs he isn't already friendly with. This morning when I did that, the guy walking the big dog followed me. I crossed again and he followed me again. I then got into a conversation with a passing dog owner I knew about why this guy was so stupid, and she said it's because the dog is making the decisions for the guy.

That's better than sitting home watching Netflix, or having impersonal interchanges on social media. I'm guilty of both, and quite frequently. Nonetheless, having a dog and spending a daily hour or two walking him makes me have real interchanges with real people (not to mention real dogs). I've never appreciated my home as much as I do now. We have a canal and a waterfront park that Toby and I explore day after day. From my living room, where I sit writing this, I may as well be anywhere.

I worry about our children, who've moved away from human interaction. While my daughter, like me, has a dog, she's also capable of sitting in a room with family or friends and texting rather than talking. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it's hard for me to understand how a group of teenagers can sit in a room texting one another when they could just as easily talk face to face. Maybe they're saying things they don't want me to hear, but I have the distinct impression they'd do this whether or not I was nearby.

Our job, at least so far, entails and encourages human interaction. Celebrated billionaire/ troglodyte Bill Gates thinks we can simply place good lessons on DVD, but the fact is good lessons go two ways, and in worthwhile classes, students have to actually do something. How shallow and ignorant do you have to be to think our knowledge of geometry and triangles is the only reason we attend school, or that the test determines anything more than what we may or may not know about geometry?

Tests are a simple reflection of subject matter. They don't determine how we interact with others, They reflect a limited skill set, but they don't tell whether we're altogether honest, disciplined, self-motivated, reasonable, creative or any number of qualities that might lead to our successes or failures.

Our canine friends are living, breathing creatures that demand our real attention and won't settle for the social media nonsense in which we so frequently find ourselves. They're an additional dimension in our lives. In ways, they set examples for us. In others, they support us.

That's my handsome buddy Toby on the right, by my side at this very moment with his weird pink toy. He's the only person on earth who will stick by me while I do something as tedious as writing, and I for one am grateful.

I think dogs help us keep it real. What do you think? Am I neglecting cats? I don't know because I've never had one. Do animals make us better humans?

Saturday, August 31, 2019

I Respond to Advance

I'm going to put this out there, even if it costs me street cred--I have a great supervisor. She's the best ESL teacher I know, and I have, in fact, seen her teach. If I have an issue, I can go to her and ask for advice. Most of the time I will use it, and if I decide not to, she doesn't get all bent out of shape over it. (I apologize in advance to the many, many city teachers who can't empathize, but there are some great administrators out there. And yes, I know others.)

This notwithstanding, I'm not terribly involved with what she writes on the observations.Like many teachers, anything effective or above means all's right with the world, and who really gives a golly goshdarn what else it says?

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. I know in particular because I'm the chapter leader of a large school, and no one ever comes to me with an effective rating, or a highly effective rating. I get to see all of the bad ratings, though. No one is happy with those. Sometimes there are things we can do, but not enough.

Though I've railed about junk science many times in the past, and though I'm still convinced it ought to play no role in rating a teacher, I have seen it pull a whole lot of people up in my building. Last year there were no adverse ratings. One supervisor saddled an effective-rated member with a TAP, or Teacher Assistance Plan. This is a non-contractual imposition of a TIP, or Teacher Improvement Plan, mandated for teachers rated developing or lower. Unfortunately I didn't find out until May, and it took me a few weeks to get it killed.

For me, the new observation process is nonsensical, particularly when compared with its predecessor.  There's so much more and better information in a freely written observation report than there is in some checklist. I really do believe that there is no way you can codify classroom instruction into a rubric. Possibilities are infinite, and there's no way Danielson could anticipate them all. I can't sit around worrying about what it says on 2b, or not 2b. I would fully read and reflect on a written report.

However, the elephant in the room is not, in fact, the mode of observation. I once did a project that a supervisor observed. It went well. The supervisor asked me for the manual I got the activity from. She copied the manual word for word, and that was my observation report. What can you do with someone so fundamentally lazy she can't be bothered doing what she's paid for?

While I liked the previous method better, if I had a lazy, crazy or incompetent supervisor it would make little or no difference. This supervisor might trash me if I were good, bad, or indifferent. I've seen this happen. In fact, in my own school I got to watch a videotape of a lesson that contradicted the supervisor's report in multiple aspects. What exactly can you do when your supervisor just makes stuff up? And for the record, a positive observation from a bad supervisor, while not as hurtful, is equally useless.

I have another member who worked in Banana Kelly. She got a negative rating there for observations. The only real issue was the observations didn't actually take place. Not only that, but one of these observations was said to have taken place on a day my member was sick at home. This is one lazy principal, who can't be bothered to check whether or not the teachers are in on the days observations are falsified. I think the principal was removed, but I don't recall whether or not we were able to fix my friend's rating.

As for the entire rating issue, if we ignore the plague of bad supervision, which no working teacher can, what we're left with is the law that enabled it. The very worst part of this law, the one that really needs changing, is the one placing burden of proof on teachers rated ineffective two years in a row. The notion that anyone is guilty until proven innocent is abhorrent and un-American.

Of course the plague of bad supervision, while ignored in most of the press, cannot be ignored by those of us that face it each and every day. I don't know how many bad administrators there are, but given what I hear I'd guess 25-40%. That's outrageous and unacceptable. All the nonsense we read in the paper is the tip of the iceberg. There's a reason not a week goes by without Sue Edelman turning over a rock, only to find some supervisor or other crawling out, and probably not for the first or last time.

Former principal Carol Burris once told me that she used to observe once a year. She would only go back if there were some issue, like a complaint, or perhaps the teacher asking for help. That's a reasonable position. This year there should be some sort of APPR training, perhaps a video with the chancellor and Mulgrew. I know the message will be that observations ought not to be used as a "gotcha" process. Of course that's as it should be. (Update:There's a video of Mulgrew and Carranza saying that right here.)

However, until and unless New York City does a deep cleaning to root out incompetence and vindictiveness in administration, no observation process will ever be worthwhile overall. I don't know about you, but I'm not holding my breath for that to happen any time soon.

I submitted the above response to the city and provided my email address in case they wanted to ask me more. I'll be happy to speak with anyone who contacts me. After I posted the response on Facebook, several teachers said they'd do the same. I told them if they did that, the educrats at DOE would have a lot of responses to ignore.

That's exactly what I expect them to do. And by the way, here's the survey. As far as I can tell, the geniuses who put it up couldn't be bothered to make sure those who answered authenticated their responses.  I guess when you don't care whether or not results are reliable or honest, little things like that don't matter. The beauty part is that if anyone above them doesn't like the results, they can just go in and falsify them to their heart's content.

Good thing de Blasio kept all those Bloomberg leftovers in DOE. It isn't easy to work up a team like that.