Monday, July 15, 2019

Double Whammy for ELLs in NY State

I've written quite frequently about CR Part 154, which the geniuses in Albany revised so that ELLs would get less direct instruction in English. MaryEllen Elia and the Regents decided it was discriminatory that ELLs were in classes by themselves learning English. What a waste of time, they thought, leaving them in classes with other language learners. So they cut direct langauge classes by a factor of 33-100%, and decided to take another approach.

The new NY approach is sit around, do nothing, and hope for the best. In a way, it works. For one thing, the most recent iteration of the NY State English Regents exam is a piece of crap. It measures neither reading nor writing. It isn't called a Common Core exam anymore, but that's what it is. In NY State, because Common Core exams were so unpopular, the geniuses in Albany removed the name Common Core. They just left the tests the same and hoped no one would notice.

They've accomplished several things here that benefit taxpayers. First, they cut services to the most vulnerable students in the state, saving districts a ton of money that may have been frittered away teaching newcomers English. After all, who needs English in the United States of America? There are plenty of jobs washing dishes and collecting aluminum cans that require no English at all. Second, they saved the taxpayers the unwanted expense of rewriting a test.

Now sure, you'll say, a teacher like me can write a test in ninety minutes. But what do I know? I'm just a teacher. We need to run tests by psychometricians and people with doctorates. We need to find out what people in offices think about them. Then we need to run all sorts of tests. We need to place questions on current tests to test the tests. Now sure, after we do that the tests may still be total crap, but we'll have spent millions of dollars developing them. So you see, NY State, by allowing the crappy tests to continue, has saved the taxpayers millions.

Now sure, counselors may look through college application letters and notice that even their very best scoring students can't write their way out of a paper bag, but what difference does that make? After all, they'll get accepted somewhere anyway. And if their college application letters are crap, at least the colleges will be 100% certain the students themselves wrote them.

Then we come to the test that ELLs take to demostrate their English level. This test is called the NYSESLAT. Here's what teachers I speak with have been noticing--our students are lower than they ever were before. I notice it too. Last year I taught an advanced class for the first time in ten years. This is because there were fewer beginners. Why?

The NYSESLAT says that students I used to teach as beginners are no longer beginners. That's no accident. NY State sets cut scores any way it golly goshdarn pleases and needs to show progress. So lo and behold, ELLs are scoring higher and doing better. My beginners, who often used to be false beginners with more background knowledge than we expected, are rank beginners. The false beginners, who truly need what I have to teach, have been placed higher.

In fact, I had a whole lot of beginners in my so-called advanced class. They couldn't produce a coherent sentence in English. This notwithstanding, they'd tested out of English instruction and passed the ridiculous English Regents exam. For those who didn't, it was my job to teach them how to pass the Regents exam. This came, of course, at the expense of learning reading, writing, or English, all of which they required.

I'm really baffled as to why educational activists statewide seem not to give a damn about ELLs. It mirrors the Trump administration's indifference to newcomers. Maybe they don't know. Maybe they don't care. Only time will tell.

Friday, July 12, 2019

AFT Teach in Washington DC--We Give President Trump a Lesson

Friday was a pretty full day at AFT Teach. I thought we were going to go to workshops but there was just a little more. That's the AFT crowd in the afternoon at US Customs and Border protection. New AFT Executive Vice President Evelyn de Jesus mostly ran the rally, as President Randi Weingarten was injured.

Evelyn had a prepared speech, which kind of surprised me. She usually speaks off the cuff. But she was very good, not happy at all about the atrocities Donald Trump commits on a daily basis.

I was moved by this group on the right, which had not only bilingual signs, but also a photo of children. The President of the United States is putting children in cages. I'd never have imagined such a thing happening back when I was a little kid studying civics. Of course, they don't teach civics anymore. That might at least partially explain why we have a President who's thoroughly uncivil, a President who behaves like a recalcitrant child, a President who takes credit for everything and responsibility for nothing.

I'm fond of this sign, and how the teacher made it so graphic. I suspect this is from an elementary teacher. They seem to have better eyes than we do. I have awful handwriting, so rather than make my own sign I just photographed everyone else's. We are horrified by this ongoing atrocity, and that's the only sane or reasonable response.

There was a lot of press there, English and Spanish. You can see Evelyn speaking to the press on the right
here. I have no idea what language they were speaking, but this event was planned very well and there were people with cameras and mikes all over the place. I know because I was taking photos right along with them.

Washington Governor and Democratic presidential hopeful Jay Inslee showed up. He spoke very well and displayed precisely the sort of outrage the situation calls for. He bemoaned this shameful episode of our history and told us we were going to make Donald Trump history in 2020.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait.

They can't wait either.

This is later on. In the evening, AFT marched to a park just next to the White House. We had a police escort, and it was incredible. We marched, chanting, "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here." I thought a lot about my students who, along with their families, are living in fear of the xenophobic lunatic boy-man in the White House.

People applauded as we went by. 

 We were walking under a
tunnel, and a reporter photographing us told us they've never let anyone walk through it before, and that the only way she'd ever gone through was in a car.

Above us, we could see people on the bridge applauding us. It was a remarkable moment.

All along the route people had great messages for us and we invited them to join us.

I couldn't get a clear photo of this group, but it's a bunch of people holding letters that say, "UNCAGE KIDS." It was pretty powerful if you saw it, and I'm sorry you can see so little of it.

There was a huge crowd at the candlelight vigil when we finally arrived. We heard from a lot of immigrants. One from Sri Lanka said, "The diversity of this crowd is the beauty of this nation. It is not our weakness. It is our strength." AFT President Randi Weingarten spoke as well. She was injured and in a wheelchair, but said this was too important to miss. From where I was, I couldn't see her at all, so alas, no photo.

What I could see, and what all Americans need to see, is that this is an atrocity. We have a country moving backward into the very bad old days, and we have to use every means within our power to set it right.

2020 is just around the corner.

Meanwhile, AFT has a message for the President, who thinks democracy is him doing what he wants, how he wants, when he wants, to whoever he wants.

Teachers see democracy just a little differently--speaking truth to Trump. 

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Crossing the Line

We all have lines. We make lines and we respect them. Some lines you just don't cross. Now if you're Daffy Duck, or Donald Trump, you just draw arbitrary lines and tell people not to cross them This is the line of death, you say. Cross this line and you die. Then, when they cross it, you draw a new one and say this is the line of death. Cross this line and you die.

Most of us have different lines, and we don't rewrite them over and over. If we did, we'd have no character, and we'd be Daffy Duck, or worse. Some lines are necessary. Some are stupid. Judging which are which is a challenge.

I crossed a lot of lines this year. When MORE unceremoniously booted my friends from the caucus, they crossed a line. I was never going back there again, and I'm sure if I'd only been attending their meetings they'd have kicked me out too. I crossed another when people from Unity invited us to run with them. I'd never envisioned doing anything like that, but it seemed like the best decision. I want to be active beyond writing things on a blog.

Of course there are consequences for crossing lines. For me, I suffered a few nasty comments online. Some people are funny with me now, and not in that ha-ha sense. For MORE, there went 80% of their vote. But they're happy with that, because winning was never the goal for them. They considered it a disaster. Fortunately for them, having redefined themselves as losers, they will remain exactly where they wish to be. I'm in DC right now at AFT Teach, and I'm spending time with people a lot more interesting than most I encountered in MORE.

I crossed another line when I trashed the geniuses in Albany last week. I'm getting a little blowback from that. Oh, they may double down on bad policy because they're offended. What does it say of ostensible educators that they'd double down on bad policy that hurts thousands of children because they don't like what someone says about them?

Regardless, I hope they're offended, because it was my express intention to offend. Their actions, depriving children of vital basic English instruction, makes life harder for kids whose lives are hard enough already.

Yesterday I got to hear an Albany rationale for the changes to Part 154. You see, by giving students classes with other ELLs, we were segregating them. They weren't getting the chance to meet other people. Therefore, dumping them into general classes with less English instruction was a bold step, a definite improvement.

Okay. Let's take that a step further. Why are we dumping only the kids who want to learn French in French classes? Isn't that segregation? Why don't we just dump everyone in French classes? That's absurd, isn't it? Would you want to be the French teacher after that happened?

Actually, I'm all for having ELLs attend classes with speakers of English, as well as other languages. I just want to give them the opportunity to prepare for it. Not only that, but the only people who need explicit language instruction in English are ELLs. So no, I'm not placing them in a linguistic ghetto. I'm placing them in a group with people who share their needs, people who empathize with them and can mutually support one another.

I wrote that NY State, by depriving learners of the instruction they desperately need, but pulling away the only safe place they had to practice English, was practicing an awful kind of discrimination. Someone told me that was not their intent, and that they were rather trying to make up for something. I believe that. But why, I asked, did they place such an awful, stupid program in its place? I anticipated every single negative consequence that would occur. Why didn't they?

"Because they aren't teachers," the person answered.

Now here's the thing--the very first time I read about Part 154, I knew what the consequences would be. Of course, I don't attend the meetings of the geniuses in Albany, and being geniuses, they don't need teacher input.

So they had good intentions. But most if not all of the students they hurt are students of color. So they're practicing discrimination. Is discrimination any better if the intentions are good?

For my students, the results are exactly the same. So no, it isn't any better. Not even a little. I'd like to see a whole lot of people stand up and tell the geniuses in Albany this is outrageous. You must fix it.

But a whole lot of them won't. They don't want to cross that line. You have to be nice to the geniuses in Albany, they say, because they have good intentions.

I don't care. I'm over the line. If they fix Part 154, I'll sincerely apologize and tell them how much I appreciate it. If not, I couldn't care less just how many good intentions they've used to pave their shiny new road to hell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Saga of the Rainbow Bridge

Last month was Pride month. Someone decided it would be a good idea to paint the bridge at Silver Lake in Baldwin. I don't live in Baldwin, but my sister in law does. I'm there a lot and I walk my dog there a lot. To my eye, that's a distinct upgrade. It's also a celebration of a nationally recognized observance.

A lot of people in Baldwin didn't see it the way I did. I won't post social media without permission, but they argued it was graffiti, that graffiti was bad, and that it therefore must be removed.

Not only that, but it was removed, and quite quickly. Within days the town had covered over the offending rainbow and it was no more.

The next look is on the right. It was very quickly painted over. You'd think they'd at least let it last the month, but you'd be wrong. This happened after only a few days.

A lot of people said that yes, sure, it had been a good look, but graffiti is graffiti. It didn't matter what its purpose was. There was a statement, referred to in the photo, from Legislator Debra Mule in the photo. It pretty much said the same, and that if she were to tolerate this painting, she would have to tolerate other less well-meaning statements on public property. I'm not accusing her of bad intent, but I'm not pleased with her position either.

I wondered why they couldn't have just left it up for the month of June at least. Actually, the new neutral look did not last long, and you can see what looks like now.

I have to agree with that caption on the left. Now it really is graffiti. As far as I know, that's how it looks now. Or perhaps there's a renewed urgency. Maybe town officials are jumping up and down to remove that seditious message, "Live, laugh, love." After all, who knows where they'll be living, what they'll be laughing at, or who they'll be loving?

It looks to me like people just got all bent out of shape over that little rainbow and it had to go. I understand we don't want swastikas painted on public bridges, but I hardly see how a symbol of hate can be conflated with one of tolerance.

I find myself really disappointed in the alacrity with which the rainbow bridge went away. It bothered people. They can say all day long that they're just concerned with the graffiti issue, but it's more than that. We're an intolerant country with a bigoted xenophobe ostensibly in charge, and little things mean a lot.

In one respect, it's amazing they couldn't look the other way on a little rainbow bridge. In another, it's no surprise at all, and there's just no painting over that.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

When Principals Embrace Alternative Facts

What can you say about holocaust deniers? In this era of "alternative facts," you might say they're par for the course. We have a President who can't even open his mouth without lying. He can say any goshdarn thing that enters his head and almost half the country will cheer wildly. He can separate children from their families, place them in cages, deny them basic necessities and call it patriotism.

After all, we all need someone to hate. It makes us feel better about ourselves somehow. I was born here, and am therefore better than you are. My parents had more money than you did, so I have more money than you do, and I'm therefore better than you are. My skin is this color and yours is that. I speak this language and you speak that.

The thing is that we as educators have a mission. What is it? It depends a lot who you ask. If you ask the geniuses in Albany they'll say our mission is to make kids pass tests. Actually they may say something else, but their actions suggest testing is the only thing they care about. I have a different idea entirely.

I'd say our mission is to fight stupidity and ignorance. Our mission is to encourage questioning and thought. I'd also say that it goes beyond figuring out whether a, b, c or d is the proper response to a question. That's what sets me apart from the geniuses in Albany. That, and you won't see me posing as a genius anytime soon. I don't know everything and I don't pretend to.

I know that it's idiotic, at best, to say the history of the holocaust is open to interpretation. I know it's idiotic, at best, to say the same about slavery. This Florida principal seemed to say it about both. There are people on both sides. Well, there are people on both sides of science too. Donald Trump can stand up and oppose it as many times as he likes, but it won't change anything.

Someone has to help kids understand what's true and what isn't. It's positively Orwellian that we have school principals who refuse to take sides between reality and alternative fact. How on earth are children supposed to learn anything from people who feel it's only fair to give equal time to birthers and flat earthers?

As always, there are reasons for this. There's racism. There's bigotry. There's xenophobia. There's homophobia. There's good old, old-fashioned stupidity. Any of them can explain why you'd take history and deny it. But anyone who suffers from any or all of the above ought not to be an educator, let alone a principal. That's why it's great to read that this principal is now seeking other work. Whatever it is, I hope it doesn't involve people. 

A teacher's job is to help students think for themselves, not to justify ignorance of any kind. In these times we are needed more than ever. You know who should lead schools? The best teachers, the ones who are willing to share their craft with the new teachers. Instead, look what we have.

Too bad the geniuses in Albany are so obsessed with test scores, because school leaders like these are most definitely not limited to Florida.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Bill de Blasio Offers Valuable Lip Support Against Privatization

I got to see a little of the NEA forum with Democratic presidential candidates, ably covered here by Chalkbeat. Bernie Sanders really shone here, in contrast to his indifferent showing in the debate. He seems to have gotten a better focus on the education issues that were so thoroughly neglected by all in 2016. He's not the only one.

Of course, there were disappointments, including Beto O'Rourke, who trotted out the old canard about opposing private, for-profit charter schools. That's a dubious distinction, as only two states even permit so-called for-profit schools. Yet they all make profits, one way or the other. I like Mayor de Blasio's message much better.

That said, it's tough to take his opposition very seriously. When de Blasio first ran for mayor, I supported him enthusiastically. I declined to support his primary opponent, what's-his-name, who had told the Daily News editorial board that NYC couldn't afford to give teachers the raise that NYPD and FDNY had gotten under Emperor Bloomberg. The time to support what's-his-name, in my view, was four years earlier when he ran against Bloomberg.

I contributed to de Blasio, went to Queens UFT to make calls for him, and attended his inauguration. I froze my ass off out there, having neglected to wear warm shoes, but it seemed worth it. We were finally going to have a mayor who was Not Insane, a mayor who didn't hate us and everything we stood for. What was one day of cold when we'd finally be able to move teaching into the twenty-first century?

De Blasio, though, didn't make the moves that were necessary to fix NYC. He left most of Bloomberg's awful educrats in place. Worse, he appointed one of Bloomberg's leftovers as chancellor. Carmen FariƱa made her bones as a principal. She replaced teachers and students somehow, and got her school to get good test scores. I failed to see the miracle-working inherent in that. If you get to pick your students, the miracle would be not getting great test scores (a feat many charters appear to
achieve somehow or other).

Mayor de Blasio ran on a platform of opposition to charters. This was one of the things I most appreciated about him. However, Andrew Cuomo, having taken suitcases of cash from BFFs of Eva Moskowitz, didn't much appreciate this. Thus he and his Heavy Hearted Assembly passed a bill saying if NYC didn't approve charters, it had to pay rent for them. After all, who wants Eva's company frittering away its hedge-fund millions on things so petty as rent?

Mayor de Blasio didn't have a whole lot of options. He had to enable the charters one way or another. I can't blame him for that. However, I haven't heard him utter a cross word about this law. I haven't seen him lift a finger to oppose it. After years of absolute inaction on this, it's hard to accept de Blasio as a strong privatization opponent.

If he's still in the race by the time it hits NYC, he's very low on my list of choices. He's better than Beto. He's better than Booker, who's actually Betsy DeVos with a tie. He's better than Biden, who can't think on his feet or keep his foot out of his mouth. But I love Bernie. I also loved seeing Kamala Harris jump on Biden, and would love to see her debate Trump. Elizabeth Warren is getting better on education.

If Bill de Blasio wants his campaign to catch fire, he's gonna have to provide a viable spark. Thus far, I'm not seeing it.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Principals' Principles--How Low Can They Go?

 I know principals who'd laugh at that picture. I know others who'd place their noses in the air and feign horror. They're way too important to entertain jokes about their Very Important Work. Of course, those who take themselves uber-seriously have enormous potential to be terrible leaders. There are all too many of them in NYC.

Everyone has opinions about school leaders. Michael Bloomberg believed in the imperial principal, a person who can do whatever he golly gosh darn pleases. He enabled this, in part, by establishing a legal department to advise them. Every chapter leader has heard about "legal." They're the people who present the principal with contract as menu. Choose the parts you like, they say. Ignore the rest.

This is, of course, a terrible situation. It precludes working hand in hand as teachers and school leadership should. UFT doesn't advise me to ignore rules and do whatever I want. Also, UFT offers me accurate interpretations of the contract, as opposed to alternative facts. I'm in a completely different place than principals are.

A big question is what can be done about blatantly abusive school leaders. Sure, a lot of them have drunk Bloomberg's Kool-Aid, but some of them are way over the top. They're positively Trumpian in their intolerance of opinions differing from their own. Over at CPE 1, Monika Garg placed the UFT chapter leader and delegate on 3020a charges. It's like they were the resistance in some fascist regime, imprisoned without cause.

Garg thought her actions would intimidate and silence all who resisted her reign of terror. To the contrary, it energized the school community. Parents stood with UFT against her, and they just would not back down. Garg tried to ban parents from the school their children attended. Things got worse and worse, until someone at DOE with an iota of common sense moved the principal somewhere she could do no harm (or at least less harm).

There are other models. There is Forest Hills, and more recently La Guardia. Terrible leaders are brushed aside and sent elsewhere, to do whatever it is they do in Tweed. There is one thing these schools have in common. School communities united and took a stand against these leaders. This is a big ask for teachers, who didn't precisely sign up to be revolutionaries.

Nonetheless, if you push us too far, we will stand. We see this replicated all over the country, as teachers in red states walk rather than endure the slow death GOP lunatics envision for public education. We see it in multiple schools in the city. Of course, we don't see it everywhere.

Bad administrators are a plague here. I would not be at all surprised to learn that 25-40% of administrators ranged from inept to outright destructive. I know many readers of this blog would place that percentage higher. How many teachers suffer in silence? How many run away from the job rather than face these lunatic Boy Wonders who make demands of everyone except themselves? Does DOE care about teacher retention enough to do something about it? Not so far.

There are a few things successful schools have in common. There are votes of no confidence. This indicates a united front. It shows the staff has been pushed too far. There has also been media coverage, and for that at least someone has to be willing to go public. DOE seems to be sensitive to terrible media coverage, which is odd, since as far as I can tell, they couldn't care less about school morale. It would be good if we could change that, but that would likely entail dumping the Bloomberg leftovers who form the DOE's morally bankrupt soul.

It's really tough to organize resistance in a dispirited staff, but it can be done. I don't think there's a magic formula. A thing happens, a line gets crossed, and there's no turning back. It's hard to predict what those things will be. If we knew what they were, CSA would probably seek a way to preclude them. Doubtless they're trying to find a way to put a stop to these actions.

Fortunately for them, there is a solution. No, it's not walking things right up to the line of mutiny and leaving them there. That's not productive. It's not good for your staff and it's not ultimately good for schoolchildren. Theoretically at least, we're trying to get them to be responsible citizens who express themselves. How do we do that when we ourselves are living in abject terror?

There's a better way, CSA. Tell your members that being autocratic assholes does not equate to leadership. Tell them you lead by example, and it wouldn't hurt, if they want us to be great teachers, to be great teachers themselves. You want us to give a highly effective lesson? Get up in front of our classes and show us how it's done. That would make us respect you a lot more than watching you sit in back of our classrooms and telling us how much we suck. When's the last time your principal or AP gave a lesson, as opposed to a lecture?

For us, it's about organization. We need to stand together in small ways before we can rise together in big ways. It's harder for us than it is for CSA. I don't have a magic formula either, but I've seen how events can unexpectedly unite a staff. I'm very glad not to have had to hold a vote of no confidence where I am, but I certainly understand why others have done it.

We can encourage and enable these small revolutions. It would be much better, though, if the DOE and CSA would act to make them unnecessary. I don't know about you, but I plan to sit while I wait for that to happen.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my new column in City Limits today. NY State may not place newcomers in cages, but they do them little service by depriving them of the direct English instruction they need most.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

More Abuse in PS 333--What's in a Name?

I'm a cancer survivor. It was one of the toughest things I've ever faced, and I've taught teenagers for over three decades. That's a tough job. Half of the people who start it drop out after the first five years. Nonetheless, cancer makes it seem like a walk in the park.

I wear scars from it, figurative and literal. I won't bore you with details, but I will tell you most people I worked with were very understanding. I took a sabbatical for restoration of health. The first day I went back to work, I told a supervisor I was really happy to be there.

"Here?" she said. "You happy to be here?"

She didn't know. 

"If you were where I was," I told her, "you'd be happy to be anywhere."

Sometimes people ask me why I'm no longer scared of things that once bothered me, of things that trouble my colleagues. Once you look at cancer, there's not a whole lot at work to scare you. Why is this about PS 333?

Because I've spoken to a lot of parents from there. They don't want anything that will identify them on this page. Is the principal as scary as cancer? Maybe, maybe not, but we're talking about their children here. No one wants reprisals against their children, and every parent with whom I've spoke thinks Claire Lowenstein is absolutely capable of it. Why on earth is she still there?

There is a great story about this abusive principal. It's got humor. It's got pathos. It's got incredible irony. It's been shut down on other forums for various reasons, and I've been asked not to post it here either. Sorry. (If you're reading this, Mr. Chancellor, let me know and I'll send it to you.)

Instead I'm gonna talk about names. At PS 333, everyone is on a first name basis. The teachers, the students and the principal all use first names. I could live with that. I worked at the English Language Institute at Queens College for 20 years and we used first names. The problem arises when you mandate a first name system, but the leader is, say, a space monster, a Leadership Academy Graduate, or a self-centered Boy Wonder. (And yes, of course there are Girl Wonders too.)

When I was in a system that used first names, teachers, admin and students treated one another with respect. That's what the whole first name thing represents. It can work, but there has to be an underlying understanding to make it successful. Clearly this is not carried off well at all in PS 333. The practices presupposes a trust that simply doesn't exist there.

Let's imagine you're a teacher at PS 333. We'll call you Frodo. A student gets up in the middle of your class.

"Frodo, I'm going to see Claire right now."

"You know, this is not the best time. Please return to your seat."

"Well, Claire said I could come to her office whenever I want, and I'll tell Claire that you just tried to stop me from going there, and she'll get you fired for that, bro."

Imagine having to deal with that on a daily basis. That's not the fault of first name usage. It's the fault of an irresponsible administrator who fails to set boundaries, who uses children as secret police, who grants them freedom and presumptions they most certainly ought not to have. The first name basis thing just makes it worse. If you abuse authority like that, you don't deserve to have it.

Principal Claire Lowenstein needs to go back to kindergarten and learn how to get along with people. That may not be possible, as there are contractual demands and due process likely precludes it. I don't oppose due process. Nonetheless, I've seen teachers accused of far less than Lowenstein reassigned pretty quickly.

It blows my mind that the city will tolerate so much more from principals than teachers. By the simple nature of their positions, they have the ability to do so much more damage to so many more people than teachers. I haven't got a clue as to why the city sees fit to tolerate this. Principals can damage entire communities. Common sense dictates they need to meet a higher standard, as opposed to a lower one, or more likely, no standard whatsoever.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

NYSED and ESL--Stupid Is as Stupid Does

"Gee I want to learn Spanish so I can take math tests in another language, " said no kid ever.

Yet that's precisely the policy of NYSED, whose official rationale for stand alone ESL classes is, and I'm not kidding.  “Students receive English language development instruction in order to acquire the English language needed for core content areas."

As teachers, it’s our job to somehow persuade students to love our subjects. My job is to teach English to speakers of other languages. It’s pretty easy to make kids love English. I don’t even have to trick them. They can take what I teach them and use it not only that very day, but also for the rest of their lives.

If you’re the child of immigrants, your parents might depend on you for more than just taking out the garbage and doing homework. Since you’ll learn English faster than your parents, you might become a part-time translator. Dental appointment? ER visit?  Let the kid help. Trip to the supermarket? Bring the kid in case you have questions. Over the last thirty years I’ve heard countless examples.

Not only that, but you might have personal needs. The very best language learners are social. That’s intrinsic motivation. When the teacher shows you how to introduce yourself, you hang on every word. After all, you want to make friends. When the crazy teacher sits you at a table with three people who don’t speak your first language, it may be the only time in your young life when you’re forced to use English.

One of my students wrote a very funny story about his struggle to order a hamburger in a restaurant. He described the gesticulation and pointing, the misunderstandings that occurred, and the eventual communication between he and the server. After taking my class, he was able not only to order hamburgers easily, but also to write about his struggles to learn how. (That may sound like a minor achievement, but if you’re with teenagers all day you know perpetual hunger is a an ongoing issue.)

I could certainly re-orient my classes to conform to NYSED’s concept. What would happen if I revolved my classes around geometry or earth science? Do you think my students would respond better with test-prep over communication and survival skills? I don’t.

Not only that, but everything I’ve read about language acquisition suggests NYSED is horribly wrong. Language is different from other subjects in that how well you grasp it may not be as linked to intelligence as it is to affect. For example, my student, I’ll call her Maria, loves being here. At first, she was angry when I placed her at a table with no one who spoke her language. Within weeks, however, she was chatting with the boy next to her. He and Maria shared sharp senses of humor. They unwittingly helped one another to learn English all year long. That’s what I call a win-win.

On the other hand, my student John didn’t love the US and was dragged here kicking and screaming. He never spoke to anyone. He didn’t care who he sat with, and his sole interest was figuring out how to use his phone in class without having me confiscate it. I can smell illicit phone use, John didn’t like that, and eventually he stopped coming altogether.

Do you think English lessons revolving around geometry would have won him over? I don’t. Had I done what NYSED wanted, I’d have lost not only John, but also Maria and her friend.

Newcomers need a place they feel understood. They need a place they feel safe. I can give them that, and I can ease them into using our language. I can show them the joy of communicating in a new language. Were I to do what NYSED wanted, all of my students would not only fail my class, but also lose their very best path to understanding the others.

NYSED’s notion that English is not in itself a subject is nothing short of idiotic. I’m a teacher, and idiotic is not remotely what I want to model for my students.

Monday, July 01, 2019

If You Don't Think You Need a Union, You Are Too Stupid to Teach

I'm just blown away by some of the nonsense I read around the net. I found out I needed a union years before I was chapter leader. I had a pretty uneventful trial by fire when I started out. I was an English teacher, and I could never get a job teaching English. One day someone decided I'd be a good ESL teacher, even though I didn't actually know what ESL was, and I took to it. I even turned down my first appointment as an English teacher.

I think it took me six years to get tenure because of that. I decided I really wanted to be an ESL teacher. I even took half a year off, supporting myself by playing guitar in the Worst Irish Wedding Band on Earth. I survived wearing a Kelly green jacket in public, working for an out of tune singer who wore a $99 white polyester suit because he fancied himself Kenny Rogers (quite popular that year), so I can survive anything.

The first time I realized how absolutely vital union was happened maybe fifteen years ago, before I was chapter leader. I had two students in my ESL classes who were fluent in English. I couldn't understand why they were there. These kids were very different in some ways. One was arrogant and impatient, giving me a hard time about everything. The other was sweet and cooperative, always listening and trying to find ways to participate. What they had in common was that when asked to produce writing, they simply would not.

The one kid would scream, and storm out all angry. The other would kind of look down. I wrote a few words out for the more cooperative one. Mother. House. I got nothing. I told one guidance counselor, who's no longer working at our school, and he was all, "What do you want me to do about it?" I told someone else, maybe the head of guidance at the time, who was suitably horrified.

The principal didn't believe it. He wanted the kids tested in their first languages. I told him I had talked to one of their mothers, who told me yes, he has this issue, and then asked me to help him. That didn't matter. The principal went ahead and had language teachers test them. It turned out, given their languages used the same alphabet as ours, they couldn't decode in those languages either.

I had called Micheal Winerip, the then-education columnist in the Times, to complain about something he wrote about ELLs. I told him this story as well. He asked if he could put it in a special ed. story he was writing. I wasn't sure.

"Do you have tenure?" he asked.

I did, I told him. He said it would be fine.

It wasn't. When Winerip placed the quotes from me (which never appeared in the eventual article) in a fax to the DOE, I started getting called into the principal's office at odd times. Check in with me at the end of the day. I'd sit and wait for him to scream at me about how ungrateful I was, after all the things he had done for me. (For the record, he had never done anything for me.)

I was called in to sit through various meetings in which it was determined this one's ass was covered and that one's ass was covered. Most importantly, the principal's ass was covered. On the last day of school I had to sit in the principal's office with a pretty heavy stack of books I was bringing home for the summer. It was vital that he berate me before I leave.

I am 100% certain he'd have fired me if he had half a chance. This had nothing to do with how I'd taught. Though he'd been my principal for years, he had not set foot in my class to watch me teach once. He once came it to show some Very Important Visitor something or other. He made it a point to say hello in Spanish. I told him we spoke English in my classroom. He then said hello in Chinese. He was quite versatile in saying hello.

It was odd, because his successor once did the same thing, saying hola. I just looked in his direction for a moment and he said, "Oh my gosh, I'm sorry." There's a tremendous difference between a thinking, conscientious school leader and that other kind. Unfortunately, we have a veritable army of that other kind traipsing around Fun City. Blanche DuBois always trusted in the kindness of strangers. I trust in my brothers and sisters to stand with me in my time of trouble, and they can trust me to do the same for them. I trust in the power of union.

Everything else is BS from people who hate us and everything we stand for. If you'd sell us out for a bag of silver, you'd do the same for your students. You're unfit--too selfish and stupid to do what we do. And if you, as a role model, renounce union, you're setting a bad example for both your colleagues and students.

That's not at all why we're here.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Summer Starts Now...

...says a commercial I'm watching.

I'm starting it by going to Queens UFT to file grievances. It turns out that, as chapter leader, your magical access to the online grievance form disappears the day after school stops. Like everyone, of course, I love the smell of fresh grievances in the morning.

I'm gonna take advantage of my trip to Queens by visiting my dentist. She's got me on a teeth-whitening regimen. A month ago, I won an award from UFT. Part of this entailed seeing myself talk on a very large screen. I have no idea what I was talking about, because I couldn't stop looking at my teeth. They had reached Keith Richard levels. I understand that Keith can maintain himself looking like he does, but who can afford the kind of drugs he must be taking on a teacher salary?

I'm now aiming to have teeth as white as my dog Toby. This is a tall order, but I'm getting closer.

I stayed up to watch the Democratic debate last night. I thought Kamala Harris made Joe Biden look ridiculous. It was pathetic to watch him invoke the name Obama to somehow rationalize the idiotic remarks he'd made about his buddies, the segregationists. She also cornered him into saying he opposed this kind of busing, as opposed to that kind of busing. I would love to see Donald Trump try to debate her.

My long-term fave, Bernie Sanders, failed to lay a glove on Biden for most of the night. This is his style, his MO, and it looked good when he was running against Hillary Clinton. When there are 200 others on the stage, he needs to take another approach. His closing lines were the best of the evening, when he said if you didn't push for change, you'd get the same thing. I see that as either Democrats who do nothing to advance the will of the people, or more Trump.

That's unacceptable.

But Bernie failed to win the evening. It's ironic that his power is felt all over the stage, as every single candidate is discussing his priorities--universal health care, climate change, and free college. I am not impressed by Mayor Pete, who channeled Hillary Clinton by saying we couldn't have free college because rich people might use it. First, as long as Harvard and Yale are around, GW Bush's kids aren't going to Queens College. Second, we don't exclude rich people from public schools, They exclude themselves, which is terrible. Countries where everyone goes to public schools have better results than we do.

Kamala looks unstoppable. If she doesn't get the nomination, it's hard to imagine anyone overlooking her for VP. If Biden stumbles through and wins the nomination, he will desperately need her. America desperately needs to wake up and see he is not the guy. He isn't Obama. Even if he were, Obama was so awful on education that I couldn't vote for him the second time around.

I'd vote for Biden against Trump, but I'd vote for my dog against Trump. In fact, the only Democrat I wouldn't vote for against Trump, so far, is Cory Booker, who is Betsy DeVos with a tie. Hickenlooper looks and speaks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, but I can't see him gaining traction.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

To All My UFT Brothers and Sisters:


1. Listen carefully to video.
2. Sing this song everywhere you go, no matter what you are doing, each and every moment of each and every day for the next two months.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I'm Not Cranky. I'm Simply Outraged

Prominent charter advocate James Merriman surprised me by tweeting my Daily News piece. I can't argue when he calls me a veteran, as I've got almost 35 years in. He also called me "cranky."

He's got me thinking about what it means to be cranky. I can't dispute that on the surface, but I may use that adjective differently than he does.

The first day I taught was one of the worst days of my life. I got the job via a subway ad and had absolutely no preparation. I decided I would be nice to the kids, which almost no high school teacher had been to me. It was a terrible mistake and the kids walked all over me. Not literally, but they might have if they'd had half a chance.

I'm happy to say that, over the years, I've found better ways to be nice to kids, ways to do so without rendering my classroom into a place of absolute chaos. However, back in 1984 I could not have envisioned a way to achieve that.

In my very first lunch period, I went down to the cafeteria. Back then all schools had teacher cafeterias. (Michael Bloomberg later decided comfort and convenience were things teachers didn't need unless they turned a profit for the city. Ours survived, but we're the exception that proves the rule.) I met a table full of guys who looked to me like cranky veteran teachers, and they had advice for me.

"You're new, right? Get out while you still can!"

"The kids here are the worst."

"Go to Long Island."

"It's a waste of time with these kids."

"There's no future for you here, kid, You'll get eaten alive."

"Get out before you're stuck like we are."

Wow. Tough crowd.  

They were cranky. It was interesting, to say the least, to see how cynical they were about their own careers. It actually would have made a great deal of sense for me to have listened to them. I was having a day like I'd never had before. I'd accepted false notes from students, one of them knocked a briefcase full of papers onto the floor, and my classes were totally out of control. If you ever want to know stress, stand in front of 30 teenagers who you're ostensibly in charge of, and watch them do any goshdarn thing they feel like.

In fact, during the first few weeks of my teaching job, I was weighing an offer from a friend of mine to drive a truck for Federal Express. It paid marginally more than teaching did, then at least, and it certainly seemed simpler. You drive packages places, you drop them off, and then you go home. At Lehman High School I was struggling just to get by. We were required to write capsule lesson plans for the entire week, in advance. It was excruciating, as I had four preps, which they later adjusted to five preps.

This notwithstanding, my reaction to these teachers was not what they were hoping for. I decided that day, that moment, that I never, ever wanted to be like them. I never wanted to be bitter and cynical about my job. And despite the fact that I've been complaining on this forum and elsewhere for over 14 years, you won't see me say I hate the job, or the kids. I love the job, even though it's impossible, and I love the kids, even if they're crazy. I simply strive to be crazier than they are, and usually I am.

That said, there are an awful lot of things that outrage me. I have no patience for bureaucrats who waste my time with idiotic and baseless mandates. I'm tired of wasting my time with DOE lawyers who can't be bothered reading the contract they're interpreting. I'm particularly upset with state officials who think that English Language Learners will acquire the language via magical realism, or whatever it is they call the nonsense embodied in CR Part 154.


I think this is the best job there is, despite all the political nonsense swirling around it. I'm totally freaked out by young teachers who walk around sarcastically declaring, "I'm living the dream," or reply, "I'm here," when I ask how they are. There's a joy in this job. It's our job to find it and share it. It's my job to show students the joy in English, to put their hands and hearts around it, and somehow make them carry it with them. My job would be a lot easier without idiotic mandates from Albany, but there's always a way.

That said, there's always something to be outraged about. Merriman and I may not agree on exactly what constitutes an outrage, or much else, but I'm sure we both see that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Blogger's Day Off...

...but check out my piece on the chancellor's new discipline initiative in the NY Daily News.

Monday, June 24, 2019

At PS 333--No Health Care for You!

Yesterday I wrote about the revolving door of second grade teachers at PS 333. I mentioned a much-loved teacher who started out the year without being completely certified. I was under the impression that this was why he left.

Yesterday I got an email forwarded to me that had a little more information. Evidently the young teacher got his certification within the first few months, only to learn that there was a hiring freeze.

It's hard for me to understand exactly why you'd apply a hiring freeze to teachers already in place, particularly those assigned to a group of impressionable seven-year-olds. It's even harder to understand why a determined or resourceful principal couldn't find a way around it. Of course, I'm not one of the great minds who sit around Tweed and do Whatever It Is They Do There. I'm just a lowly teacher, so to me that makes no sense at all. If I were a principal, and I had a teacher kids and parents loved, I'd fight tooth and nail for an exception. I'd get this teacher a full-time job whatever it took.

Another approach would be to just tell the teacher to suck it up, and keep working without health benefits. After all, who needs them? What's the big deal if you get sick and have to go to the ER? Who cares if a day there costs you $10,000? That's only about sixty days work as a sub, before taxes. Maybe after taxes it's half your annual salary. So what? There's always the other half. You can use that to, you know, eat, live, or whatever it is you do when you aren't teaching.

Actually I was extremely surprised to read the principal of PS 333 told this young teacher to "figure it out," as opposed to working to help him. There are ways administrators can help teachers, if they're so inclined. Isn't that why they pay them? There's a young Spanish teacher in my department who came in as a per-diem sub. My AP helped him find a program to help, supported him and he's now drawing a salary. He doesn't have to go back to his country if he needs to see a doctor. Without health insurance, that might be his only option.

I don't know if the second grade teacher at PS 333 had a country to go back to. A lot of us were born here, and this is the only country we have. The number one cause of bankruptcy in this country is catastrophic medical emergency. You really don't want to have one of those when you live here, especially if you don't have insurance. You may be a great teacher, and you may love your students to pieces. Still, you may not be the very best role model if you decide taking care of your health, medical, financial, and otherwise, is not a priority.

The young teacher found himself a full-time job elsewhere and took it. He was, in fact, very sad about leaving the class. The principal, rather than fight for him, decided to blame him. She berated him and called him a coward. In PS 333, it's disgraceful if you're concerned with paying your rent. Why not get a job at a stable shoveling horse manure in the morning and work nights over at Dunkin Donuts so as to help out a principal who hasn't helped you?

I don't know what consequences there are for principals, but I've seen teachers in trouble for far less. Why not give this principal a promotion, DOE? Admit no guilt. Send her where Ben Sherman and Monika Garg are, to help Ben and Monica do whatever Ben and Monika are doing. At least they won't be in contact with teachers and students.

You will be hearing more about this school. These stories are the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Second Graders Victims of Musical Chairs at PS 333

I've been hearing from multiple parents from PS 333, which has a zany madcap principal who has priorities that elude everyone but the superintendent. Reasons for said support elude me utterly. The staff overwhelmingly voted no confidence in this principal.

Here's a comment that showed up just this morning:

One day, in 2016, I was sub teaching at this school. I did not even know WHO this principal was. The jr high (8th gr) classroom I was assigned to, was so out-of-control I tried turning the lights off (a trick to get the students' attention when all else fails). The principal walked in and talked to me loudly in a most degrading tone . . . like I was nothing but a worthless person saying, "We do NOT turn lights OFF!!! Turn them on!!" Her angry and disrespectful tone was shocking and the kids loved it. Once she walked out, the classroom got even MORE out-of-control than before. They now knew FOR SURE that I, as a sub, could be treated in the most demeaning way.

This shows a real lack of curiosity on the part of this principal. If I walked by a room with lights off, I'd be very curious as to why.  I would probably ask the teacher the next time I saw her. This principal just assumed the teacher turned the lights off for fun, or no reason whatsoever. Regardless, the results of upbraiding a working teacher in front of a class are entirely predictable. The principal was either unaware of that, which shows wild ignorance, or indifferent to it, which shows amazing recklessness for a school leader.

This week a parent told me that her child had four teachers in second grade. She said the first teacher they had was a young man of color, much loved by both students and parents. She was very happy with this teacher, as were other parents of her acquaintance. Evidently he had some sort of certification issue, and was therefore working as a per-diem sub. You probably know that per-diem subs get no health benefits.

The parent with whom told me they would have done anything they could to keep this teacher.. They would have crowd-sourced a collection to pay for his health benefits, if necessary. After a few months, though, the young teacher was gone, and in his place was a revolving door. The young man quickly found work elsewhere, with benefits, and this mom is not happy about it at all.

One of the teachers her son got was the school reading specialist, who hadn't been a classroom teacher in almost 20 years. Mom spoke well of her too, but said it was problematic for the kids. Evidently the reading specialist was a little strict, while the young man who started them out was kind of freewheeling. This was an unfair burden for the new teacher, not to mention the kids.

The first year I taught, I took over for a teacher who'd just walked out. The classes were a disaster and I had no experience whatsoever. It's much harder to take over a class midyear. Imagine taking over a class that had lost teacher after teacher. That's a tall order. And the kids? Seven years old and watching teachers, the ones with whom they spend all day, every day, come and go like that? Unconscionable.

As if that's not enough, this left the school without a reading specialist. If there's anything more fundamental than reading, I'd like to know what it is. This is the tip of the iceberg over there. You will be hearing a lot more. This is the sort of administrator with which the New York City Department of Education is perfectly comfortable.

There needs to be a tsunami of movement in administrators. If Carranza wants to do something great for the children of New York City, he'll dump absolutely every administrator who took the job because he or she is too lazy to do classroom work. If I were him, I'd start with the ones who regularly exercise ineptitude and cruelty.

Friday, June 21, 2019

CUNY Teaches Lies About ELLs

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm all bent out of shape over the most recent iteration of CR Part 154. It cuts direct English instruction to English Language Learners, and instead places an ESL teacher in one of their subject classes a few times a week.

So if you're teaching the Pythagorean  theorem today, and it takes 45 minutes to explain to the native English speakers, you will teach it, plus the requisite language, to ELLs in the same 45 minutes. You will do that because the ESL teacher is there (or not, depending on which day it happens to be).

My friend told me she was studying to get her ESL certification, and the professor told the class that this was wonderful. The students would get enhanced instruction, and would get the benefit of INTEGRATED ENL!!! (ENL, of course, is English as a NEW Language, rather than a second language.)

Actually, there's nothing wrong with the idea of integrated ENL. The problem is ELLs need more time, and NY State has given them less. They've cut ESL classes, placed ESL teachers in "core classes," and they somehow expect teachers to offer not only the subject, but also all the requisite English and cultural cues in the same time it takes to teach native English speakers the subject alone.

That's beyond absurd.

Yet this college professor (and likely as not others) is presenting this as though it's a step forward. However, this college professor is either a. stupid b. hopelessly ignorant c. woefully uninformed, or more likely d. all of the above. Maybe he went to a state workshop where they professed this nonsense, but I fail to see how it's different from watching Fox and determining Sarah Huckabee is the bestest press secretary ever.The worst part, though, is that it isn't one professor, According to my friend, just about all have drunk the Kool-Aid.

It's disappointing that our future teachers are paying good money to hear alternative facts. I'd argue that facing reality is a pretty high priority for students, teachers, and that it's not too large a demand for teachers of teachers either. I'll be standing on a soapbox by myself, though, since this nonsense is so widely accepted.

Oddly, once teachers actually procure jobs, they're likely as not to find they're running about like headless chickens, going twice a week to this class, twice a week to that class, once to some other, and that they have 15 co-teachers, none of with which there is any time to meet. There's a reason why NYC is perpetually out of compliance, and it's not because the system is easy to comply with.

I was shocked when my friend told me this story. I showed her the chart above and explained to her just how much more instruction ELLs got before it was released. They cut language instruction to the bone and gave newcomers absolutely nothing in return.

For that, they talk about what a great job they did, and tell professors it's a step forward. What it really is is sink or swim, a model that ought to have died some time in the last century. Remember in Annie Hall when they discuss how a shark must move forward to stay alive? ESL instruction in NY is that shark moving backward. It's so disgraceful I'm amazed Betsy DeVos herself didn't dream it up.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Townsend Harris and Neighborhood Schools

According to, the top school in the state is Townsend Harris High School. Here's why, according to the article:

Students at Townsend have a 100 percent rate of 12th grade students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, with 97 percent of the class earning a 3 or higher on the AP test.
With a 99 percent graduation rate, Townsend Harris students have a 99 percent ranking in mathematics proficiency and a 100 percent ranking in reading proficiency.

That's impressive, isn't it? What the hell is wrong with the rest of the schools in the city and state? If Townsend Harris can do this, why can't everyone? First, I want to say that I bear no ill will to Townsend Harris. One of my best friend's kids went there and had a great experience. I'm sure they have a great staff, and both they and their student body impressed me quite a bit when they moved to get rid of a terrible principal.

Furthermore, Townsend Harris is a better model than some of the other selective schools in that they don't just use SHSAT as sole measure of achievement, and are thus better integrated than schools like Stuyvesant. I'd actually thought they did, but a friend of mine who works for the DOE (Yes, I have a friend at the DOE.) told me I was wrong.

Townsend, like a number of public high schools, looks at the 7th grade test scores in conjunction with grades and attendance.

That makes more sense than a single test we'd score children on, forcing them to spend years prepping for it. Of course, I'm only referring to families that can afford to have their kids spend years prepping for it. I'd argue that this makes for anything but a level playing field. I'd further argue it's not a good use of children's time, and that they'd be better off studying for school, life, or pretty much anything else.

Like many others, I personally believe teacher grades are a far better predictor of success than a single test score. We do a lot of things other than take tests each and every day. Someone who can ace a test but can't get along with anyone may or may not get good grades in college, but "career readiness" certainly implies an ability to play well with others.

I once had a student in a beginning ESL class who got excellent grades on all my tests. High 90s, almost always. He was outraged that he was in this class. Unlike a lot of students who scored lower than him,  he never, ever spoke. He never even tried. One day he came in my office, screaming in a language I didn't understand. His translator told me he belonged in a higher class. He knew all this stuff already! He studied it in his country! I told the kid when he could come in and tell me himself, I'd try to get him promoted. His translator reported that to him, and the kid walked out very angrily.

Some people mix up test scores with The Ten Commandments. Bill Gates does that, and was responsible for a whole lot of school closings. I'm glad that Townsend Harris chooses to use multiple measures and actually values school grades and attendance. That's an example that could easily be replicated by selective schools.

Still, though, is it fair to compare Townsend Harris, or indeed any selective school, to those that simply take everyone who walks through the door? I'd say no. Is Townsend Harris the best school in the state? If you go by scores, maybe it is. But how hard is it to get good scores when you select all your students? I'd argue it would be a miracle if they didn't get high scores. Of course they must be doing something right because a whole lot of charters cherry pick and still don't outdo public schools.

Townsend Harris is a great school, no doubt. I'd argue there are reasons beyond test scores that reinforce that. Still, there are a whole lot of other great schools that don't pick their students. To compare them is ridiculous. Townsend Harris should be in a category of selective schools, and non-selective schools should have their own category.

This is a clear case of apples and oranges.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Marco Pollo and Boy Wonder

Marco Pollo was a teacher, but he was always afraid. His supervisor, Boy Wonder, didn't like him very much. That's why Marco had a big stack of letters in his file. Boy Wonder would sit in his office and write all kinds of things. Marco never understood why. Also, Boy Wonder walked around the whole building talking about Marco. Marco did this. Marco did that. Boy Wonder would walk into the men's room and start talking about how awful Marco was. Marco felt bad when he heard about it.

Marco's chapter leader listened to the stories. He told him to file complaints. He said to report him to 311, OEO, and the union. Marco didn't want to do that. He thought it would irritate Boy Wonder. And yet, Boy Wonder kept placing letters in his file. One day, Boy Wonder placed a letter in Marco's file saying if he didn't stop doing what he was doing, he would get fired. Marco was very upset. The chapter leader said to grieve the letter, since Boy Wonder never bothered to consult with Marco about it. Marco thought that was a bad idea. Boy Wonder might get mad.

Marco had to meet with Boy Wonder every week. He had to do all of his lesson plans a week in advance and bring them to Boy Wonder. This was a lot of work. It was really kind of double work, because the lesson plans didn't always end exactly where the next ones began. Marco had to write them all over again. Boy Wonder would walk in and see that Marco was not exactly where he said he'd be, and then write him up.

One day, Boy Wonder decided to call the chapter leader in to discuss issues with Marco. Marco sat quietly while Boy Wonder explained what a terrible teacher Marco was. The chapter leader asked why they were here. Was it just so Boy Wonder could yell at Marco? Boy Wonder said Marco was failing to follow the improvement plan they had agreed upon.

"What improvement plan?" asked the chapter leader.

"This one," said Boy Wonder, producing a pamphlet with Marco's signature on it.

"What was your rating last semester?" the chapter leader asked Marco.

"Effective," said Marco.

"Then why the hell do you have a TIP?" asked the chapter leader.

"This isn't a TIP," said Boy Wonder.

"Yes it is," said the chapter leader. "It's a Teacher Improvement Plan. Teacher improvement plans are for teachers rated developing or ineffective."

It's not a teacher improvement plan," said Boy Wonder. "It's a Teacher Assistance Plan."

"Where did you get that?" asked the chapter leader. "Did you just pull it out of your ass?"

"How DARE you?" said Boy Wonder. "NO ONE talks to me like that!"

Boy Wonder was going to go on, but he started thinking about the five-dollar fill up at KFC. If he started an extended conversation with chapter leader, he wouldn't have time to skip out. Mmmm.. Five dollar fill up.

"Anyway," Boy Wonder said, "it's NOT a teacher improvement plan. It's a teacher assistance plan. It's completely different."

"So," said the chapter leader, "it's not a TIP. It's a TAP."

"Exactly," said Boy Wonder. All was now clear.

"Well it's bullshit," said the chapter leader. "You don't have the right to do that to an effective-rated teacher. Also, the most you get to collect lesson plans like that is never."

Boy Wonder was really angry. His face turned a very deep shade of red. "This meeting is over," he announced.

The chapter leader told Marco to file a grievance, but Marco didn't want to do it. So the chapter leader filed a paperwork complaint and killed the TAP. But he was irritated because he didn't find out about it until March. If only Marco had told him in September he could have killed it right away.

The day he found out his TAP was dead, Boy Wonder left work 90 minutes early. He went to KFC and ate three five-dollar fill ups, but still didn't feel better. So he pulled out his laptop and wrote up an observation of the lesson Marco was teaching right now. Boy Wonder wasn't actually in the classroom, so he had to invent what was happening there. He rated all of it ineffective. It was a good thing he'd had the foresight to just leave work without signing out, so no one could prove he wasn't in the building.

There was no way Marco was gonna have a decent rating this year. Next year, Marco would have a TIP instead of a TAP, and the world would once more spin on its proper axis.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A First Wave of NYC Teachers Stands Up

I was blown away last year when the bold CPE 1 community stood up to a small-minded, vindictive principal. Many UFT members struggle to do their jobs under the questionable leadership of would-be tyrants who taught for five minutes, got the hell out of the classroom and feel they therefore know everything. Worse, we had something called a Leadership Academy that advocated methodology with which I wouldn't train dogs, let alone lead people.

More recently, Forest Hills High School spent more than a year struggling under eccentric Ben Sherman, with his wacky sense of humor and/ or leadership. They tell me Sherman would make remarks about how women looked, that he's asleep in his car to find out who came early to get the best parking spots, and that he'd leave the bathroom door open so secretaries could observe what he was doing in there. Then there are his hilarious dismissals of staff complaints about pot smoking--it'll be legal soon, so why bother dealing with it?

Both schools held votes of no confidence, and both were supported by their communities. More recently, PS 333 did much the same thing. This is far from an easy thing to do. Principals have a lot of power and can do a lot of things to inspire fear. In the case of CPE 1, then-principal Monika Garg placed both the UFT chapter leader and a delegate up on frivolous 3020a charges. While those against the chapter leader were pretty quickly dropped, the delegate lingered in limbo for months afterward. If you're utterly risk-averse, you might not think it's worth your while to stand up.

Of course if you don't, if you won't, you've lost before you've even begun. The good news is a whole lot of teachers do stand up. We are role models, and it behooves us to set examples for our students. Do we want our students, our children. to sit passively while bullies tread all over them? Shall we sit quietly while blithering bullies from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy make random demands that help neither us nor our students?

All over this country teachers are waking up and asking what the hell is going on. There are a lot of teachers in worse shape than we are, but that doesn't mean we can't improve where we are, or where our students are. That doesn't mean we have to lie down and tolerate the stunning incompetence that passes for leadership here.

Teachers are not stupid. We can see when principals and assistant principals are incompetent. Sometimes they just lumber around and mostly stay out of our way. Other times they impose themselves on teachers and students and degrade entire schools. In NYC, teachers are waking up to that. It's time for the mayor and chancellor to wake up with us. You don't improve the education of children by placing self-serving, self-important windbags as leaders. Furthermore, you can't ignore the fact that Michael Bloomberg presided over churning out the worst school leaders NYC has ever seen. They may as well have been spit out of an assembly line absolutely guaranteeing abysmal quality.

More schools are voting no confidence, and it behooves us to support them in any and every way we can. While teacher-bashing may be a virtual national pastime, it's far less common for eyes to be on administrators. That's too bad. Bad administrators undermine education a lot more widely than any teacher could. They terrorize young teachers who've yet to find their voices or identity. They force teachers to spend their time and energy on nonsense that has no relation to the classroom. They impose counter-productive and wasteful programs on classrooms that preclude actual learning.

I've long maintained that people who long to leave the classroom are the very worst leaders of teachers. They hated dong this job, and now it's their job to show you how to love it. I hated math when I was in high school, and you wouldn't want me teaching it. Yet a whole lot of people who hate teaching are supervising teachers. As a teacher, as a chapter leader, as someone people reach out to, I see this replicated all over the city.

We can't allow the rise of red state conditions. We need to move forward, not backward. We need to be a beacon, an example. We need to stand together and not only support our embattled brothers and sisters, but also move to end the scourge of abusive administrators. We need to turn around not only all the damage caused by the so-called Leadership Academy, but also push away all incompetent leadership.

We need to stand strong, and we need to make every single incompetent administrator know that their days are numbered. We will expose them and tell the press, the city, and the world about them. We will demand leaders who understand what this job is, leaders who can actually do it themselves. If you want to sit up on a pedestal and tell me what I'm doing wrong, you damn well better be able to get in a classroom and show me how it's done.

Now that we've cut observation in half, administrators ought to be teaching a class every day (and not that honors class that runs itself either). If they can't do that, they ought not to be leading us. And if they lack the people skills we instill in kindergarten, they ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. (I hear Sarah Huckabee's job is open.) If the DOE wants to send them all to Tweed to do whatever people in Tweed do, they'd better secure air rights, because that's gonna be the biggest skyscraper in the world.

Let's send an army of teachers to every embattled school, let's shine a spotlight for the press to follow, and let's have New Yorkers know that school leaders ought to be great teachers, not the petty, vindictive little dictators that are Michael Bloomberg's legacy.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Should We Be Advising Janus People We Are Union?

One of the things Mulgrew discussed at the DA was responding to the vile filthy whores who will be coming to our house to ask us to stop paying dues. He said there are lawn signs and stickers to show you're a union household. I'm not at all sure that's the right approach.

When they come to your door, why not invite them in? I mean, sure, you don't want to have vile filthy whores sitting on your nice furniture, because who even knows where they've been? But maybe you can get one of those plastic covers and make them sit over it. I mean, then whatever is crawling on them won't get on your couch.

My girlfriend in high school had a mom who was a compulsive cleaner. She placed those plastic things on all the furniture and they'd crunch when you'd sit down. It wasn't comfortable, but it's not our job to grant comfort to anti-union parasites. Let them crunch. After they leave, you could burn the plastic slipcovers. I mean, a lot of people object to the smell of burning plastic, but you can always point to the fact that no human will ever have to come into contact with the material that touched the scab union-busting piece of crap touched.

Anyway, if you invite them in, have them explain their positions. in excruciating detail. Have them tell you how you can retain union representation and simply have your brothers and sisters pay for it while you contribute nothing. Have them tell you how you'll be a working-class hero and how you'll be a great example for your children. Perhaps your children will grow up to be self-centered, self-important, egotistical windbags who care about no one but themselves. They can contribute nothing and take everything. Maybe they'll grow up and become President of the United States. After all, that's  the current model.

Offer them a cup of coffee. You need not poison it if that sort of thing bothers you. Plus, when your neighbors complain about the burning plastic you can tell them, "Yes, I'm burning plastic, but I'm a nice person. After all, when some union-busting pieces of crap darkened my doorstep, I didn't even poison them." Once they see what a nice person you are, they'll respect you. (Or perhaps they'll fear you, which often works equally well.)

Let them talk for two hours, instead of visiting other union members to spread their unspeakable repulsive anti-human nonsense. The more time they spend with you, the less they'll have to spew their toxic bile on others who might be more impressionable. And if everyone does this, they'll have a lot less time to talk to people less informed than you are.

So here's my advice to union leadership--Instead of giving out signs that proclaim we support union, make plastic furniture covers available. Perhaps we could use old tarps or something. We could tell them we're painting soon.

Another possibility might be to offer the lowlife scumbags a dollar an hour more than the minimum wage they're getting for performing this execrable act. After all, people who've sold out humanity for such a low price will surely do whatever for an extra buck. After all, money is money, and if that's all you value, you'll do what it takes to have more.

Maybe the anti-union whore scabs can supervise the burning of plastic furniture covers. Sure, it's disgusting malodorous work, but that's what they signed up for, and now they'll make an extra buck an hour. Maybe that extra buck is a better use of union money than advising them in advance their time is wasted with us.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Teachers and the Central Park Five

After having watched When They See Us on Netflix, I'm understanding the outrage over the so-called Central Park Five more clearly than I used to. I knew that they were proven not to have committed the atrocity for which they spent years behind bars, and I knew that former village idiot, now national idiot Donald Trump had declared their guilt with no need of proof. I knew Trump used their case as an argument for the death penalty, even though it's one of the best arguments against it.

I somehow missed the story of this teacher, who was fired for presenting this story to her class back in 2016. Evidently administration thought telling the story could get students all riled up, and wanted a more "balanced" view. This reminds me of Deborah Lipstadt, who refused to appear with a holocaust denier on CSPAN. Lipstadt knew, unlike Fox News and the Trump administration, that demonstrable falsehood does not represent the other side of an issue.

The other side of this issue is that prosecutors did not, in fact, rush to judgment and go all in to find these young men guilty of crimes they did not commit. But they did, and the only defense I hear from said prosecutors in light of the new documentary is that the young men were in the park and up to no good, that they were guilty of something. Well, even if the prosecutors are correct, highly doubtful given their track record, these young men were not guilty of the crimes for which they were falsely convicted.

So when I read that the young woman in question had her suit to get her job back tossed in court, I'm a little upset. I can understand the argument that your First Amendment rights do not extend to the classroom. I have a whole lot of opinions, many or most of which have been on this page, that I don't share with my students. I don't go into my first period class ranting about Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, or whoever happened to have disgusted me that morning.

Sometimes there are two sides to an issue. We recently discussed the issue of arming teachers in my class. I tried to present both sides even though I think it's a ridiculous idea. I proved so good at playing devil's advocate that one of my students told me she was afraid to speak against it because she thought I wanted to carry a gun in school. I had to tell her that I opposed it. I had to tell her that, in fact, I wished she would speak out and I was just saying things to provoke comment.

Sometimes there aren't two sides. The story of the Central Park Five is one of outrageous injustice, and when we prohibit its discussion in class, there is another outrageous injustice. It's not about the teacher's First Amendment rights. It's about the right of the students to discuss objective reality. It's not the teacher's job to present the views of Donald Trump or holocaust deniers as though they have merit. It's further not the teacher's job to sugar coat actual events so that students aren't upset by the outrages perpetrated by our government.

I'd argue that, if we do our jobs correctly, we help students get in touch with what's going on. We encourage them to express themselves and participate in society. If we are so cowardly that we can't present the truth for examination by our students, we aren't very good teachers. The administrators who instructed this teacher to suppress the truth and then followed up by haunting her into 3020a proceedings aren't very good administrators. Further, they are trying to place blinders over the eyes of our students, precisely the opposite of what educators should be doing.

In my school, a teacher taught a lesson based on the same film and was observed doing so. She got an excellent rating from the administrator who observed her. This points to an issue with our outlandish rating system. Theoretically, Danielson is the great equalizer. Everyone gets rated by this rubric, and everything is fair. That's another blatant falsehood. The truth is everything is still in the eye of the beholder, and administrators can use the rubric to rationalize whatever the voices in their heads tell them.

In one school, you get fired for discussing the real story of the Central Park Five. In another, you get rated highly effective. How do you explain that? Of course there's the ever-burgeoning scourge of inept administration, only coming to light very recently. There's outrageous and deliberate ignorance that passes for leadership, closely tied to the implicit racism that freaks out the NY Post editorial board each and every time the chancellor draws attention to it. And then there's the encouraging existence of reasonable administrators who see it as their job to, you know, help us teach children about important events that affect their young lives.

Regardless, it's an outrage that this other young woman was fired. I hope her legal team finds another angle that's more successful and has her reinstated with full back pay.