Monday, March 18, 2019

Misogynists Run Amuck

Here's a great piece about what might happen if more teachers were men. You look around, all over the country, and see teachers treated like third-class citizens. The writer cites a particularly outrageous practice in her own state:
Over the past few years, the Kentucky government has “borrowed” funds from teacher pensions and then refused to give it back. To be clear, this is money the teachers have paid into the system, themselves, for their own retirement, and the state has essentially stolen it.

That's not really unique, unfortunately. We have a contract with our employers, an agreement that we will work for so long and then be eligible for pensions. State after state violates these agreements. New Jersey and Illinois spring to mind. They may or may not brazenly steal the money, but they're failing to contribute their part, even though we contribute ours.

How is it that politicians can stand up in front of God and everybody and make absurd pronouncements like, "I like teachers. I just don't like teacher unions." Who do they thing teacher unions are? Are they armies of recalcitrant bullfrogs? Last I looked, there were teachers in teacher unions.

So you have to ask yourself, would politicians around the country muster the audacity to treat us like this if were were mostly male? I'm gonna say probably not. I hear politicians cavalierly refer to teaching as a "part time job," and excoriate us for having summers off. Do you think those red state governors could get up in front of 34 teenagers five times a day and do this job? I don't. You can't just get up in front of them like they're a Fox News audience and make stuff up until they leave you alone.

When I was very young, most families were one-income. My father worked, and my mother didn't. The guy across the street from us had a job at a Taystee Bread factory. He had a wife and five kids and owned his own house. He probably made more than teachers did. And although now many more women work, and not nearly as many men could support their families on one income, the old prejudices remain. The writer of the piece says, if more teachers were men:

Teachers would make more money. Salaries would be higher across the field because it would be widely assumed and accepted that “teachers need to make a living to support a family!” This is how the pay gap still exists in our wider economy. But it is a fact that wages remain low in predominantly female professions, such as teaching, nursing and childcare. These are critical skills and services, without which society would collapse on itself; and yet, because we value women less, we pay less for their work. 

I'm struck by the childcare model as well. I have family members working for minimum wage taking care of children. Meanwhile my nephew, in his twenties, was just offered a job managing childcare facilities. His mom runs one, and the woman who's charged with inspecting it saw fit to offer him this job. Although he lives with his mom, he's never worked for her, and he has no experience whatsoever in child care. Neither my sister-in-law nor anyone who actually works for her, all women, got this job offer.

In the United States, we're still unable to pass the Equal Rights Amendment and guarantee that women will be paid the same as men for performing the same service. We have a President who demeans women in the most outrageous fashion. We have a bunch of states disenfranchising voters of color, and in Florida, where the people passed a referendum to return voting rights to felons, the Republican governor is going to do everything in his power to thwart their will.

Sometimes I feel like we're moving backward. How are we gonna turn the tide?

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Leadership Ain't for the Faint of Heart

I've been chapter leader of a large school for almost ten years now. It's changed my life in many ways, mostly for the better. I did not actually want the job. Someone I respected greatly told me I had to do it, and I went for it. I ran against three opponents, and was pretty surprised when I won. I was even more surprised when I started to love the job.

People don't anticipate everything that comes with leadership. Whatever you do, someone is going to be against it. Nothing pleases everyone. If you're a teacher, maybe you're used to that in some way. Some kid will be mad at you for something. It feels different from adults somehow. Everything feels different from adults somehow.

Admittedly, I've got little right to complain. I have been giving as good as I get, likely worse, since well before I put up this blog in 2005. I can find fault in a whole lot of things (and I can write about those things faster each year). Lately I try not to get dragged into every online squabble there is. So little time, and I'd rather walk my dog for the most part. As time goes by, I'm a little more selective, and hopefully a little more thoughtful. But you can't please everyone.

This has been a most unusual year for me. Though opposition hasn't been particularly good to my friends or me, I still pay attention. When they clamored for fewer observations I knew it was a good idea. In fact, they didn't need to remind me. The all-intrusive observation machine has been the number one complaint in my ear for several years. It was a no-brainer for me to push for it on the contract committee. I'm happy that 85% of tenured teachers will have an easier time of it, and proud to have played some small part.

When I read a blog asking why NY Teacher didn't cover Forest Hills I thought it was a valid question. So I made some calls and asked if I could write a piece about it. I know a few Forest Hills teachers, and I'd already been writing about it anyway. I had some help and did it. I didn't expect thanks from opposition, but I didn't expect gratuitous swipes either.

The swipes got a little nasty in the comments on the UFT Facebook page. This page had influenced me in the past. For example, when the march for Eric Garner was happening on Staten Island I had no plans to go. But the comments on the UFT Facebook page disturbed me so much I made it a point to be there. I couldn't help but peek when my piece went up. There were an awful lot of comments in support of the Forest Hills staff. But not all.

"Propaganda," screamed one comment. That wasn't sufficient, so the commenter added:
BY A UFT SHILL PAID FOR WITH YOUR UNION DUES

I guess I must be a UFT shill. I'm UFT, and I support UFT absolutely. However, I don't work for UFT. I'm a teacher, in the classroom every day. I don't know whether NY Teacher pays for articles or not. I don't really care either. If I were in this for the money, I wouldn't have been writing this blog for fourteen years. In my capacity as UFT shill I'm on UFT Executive Board, and I don't get paid for that either.

Another comment got a little more personal:
propaganda at its best, UFT unity understand 10,000 of teachers are getting abused across the Doe. Elections are up so they pick one unlucky admin whos known for abuse and set up this huge show. They turn Auther away from more and his blog fans to help the show continue. Why is the admin still there???? The abuse is still going to continue across the for and Ben is still admin vote out unity 

For the record, Unity didn't turn me away from MORE. MORE never supported our work, barely showed at our meetings, ejected all my friends, and labeled our victory a disaster. When MORE dumped us, Unity invited some of us in. We were specifically asked to keep challenging them at Executive Board, and we were asked to sign nothing whatsoever.

There are a lot of teachers being abused. That's undeniable. If they want to stand up, I support them. I can tell you from personal experience that standing up against abusive administrators is not a fun thing to do. It's frequently time consuming and frustrating, and there's no guarantee of victory either. We've brought a whole lot of abused teachers to Executive Board. Some, not all, have had good results. If not, it isn't because we aren't trying.

It's not that UFT leadership isn't trying either. If there's anything they can do, they'll do it. When I need help I get it. It's problematic when people think only leadership should act, that Michael Mulgrew should fly into the school like Superman, break through a brick wall, and beat the crap out of your principal. (The VPs, I guess, should then come in and start kicking him while he's down.)

When real change happens, it happens differently. We've seen remarkable successes at CPE1 and Townsend Harris. In both cases, it was not central, but rather the school communities that rose up. UFT offered support, just as it's doing with Forest Hills. Why isn't the principal out of Forest Hills? Ask the chancellor. I did, at the end of the article I wrote. Mulgrew doesn't hire and fire principals, nor does any teacher union president I've ever heard of.

I see situations and look at ways I can make them better. In this case I wrote the article. At the moment I have a friend translating it into Spanish so we can release it elsewhere. Have I got an absolute solution? No I have not. But there are always things you can do.

I'm always open to suggestions. I'm pro-activism. But activism, for me at least, is a two-way street, and it emanates from the grassroots. I encourage it. At this time, though, standing outside 52 Broadway and throwing rocks is not my preferred MO.

Friday, March 15, 2019

You Can't Stay Mad At Me

That's my dog Toby in the picture. Sometimes he frustrates me. I want to let him loose in the park to play with his friends, but he'll stick his nose in the grass and eat something gross. I chase him all over, but he's a lot faster than I am. I can't catch him until and unless he wants to be caught. Then he looks at me, with those eyes, and they say, "You can't stay mad at me." He's right.

A student said exactly those words to me the other day. It wasn't her fault. It was mine. She comes in late a lot. I want to say something harsh to her but she looks at me and I can't. She hasn't got a bad intention in her entire body. So I told her, "I can't stay mad at you." This puts me at an extreme disadvantage in my mad plot to manipulate her into showing up on time. Now, every time I begin to open my mouth, she says, "You can't stay mad at me." And she knows she's right.

So now it's the end of the first semester and she needs a grade. Her average is not so good, particularly since she screwed up on an in-class writing project by not showing up and never finishing it. I will probably give her 60 instead of 65. I'm hoping that, rather that having me get mad, she will get mad enough to pass the class and teach me a valuable lesson. It's a tossup, really.

She says it's not her fault that she's late. She says her mom drives her to school and sleeps until the last possible moment. My student says she gets up on time but has to wait for mom to drive. What's really bad here is I tend to believe her. I call her mom periodically and she shows up on time for a few days. Then things happen, and she's late.

It's not working out well for this student. This semester I've moved a little away from testing toward in-class projects. The real problem with in-class projects is you can't do them if you're not in class. Now I could have students write at home, which would make sense in a lot of ways. Why should students have to sit and write in the classroom when they could just do it at home?

Here's why--my students tend to get help when they write at home. Sometimes they use Google Translate. That's a big mistake, as the translations are invariably awful. I've realized, though, with me walking around and helping people, I've let at least one student bring in a Google Translate document and have me correct it. A more common issue is getting people who speak English to help. When that happens, I have no idea whose writing I'm actually reading. How can I help you write when what I'm reading was written by your girlfriend?

I've seen worse with kids who have paid tutors. Sometimes these paid tutors just do my students' homework for them. This might help them out on projects, but if I give a test these kids are dead in the water. I can understand people wanting to tutor for money. I can't understand how on earth tutors who do homework for kids think they're helping. I've often told parents to fire tutors.

The very worst thing I've seen has been with students who go to after-school academies. I once had a girl who was failing my class, doing little or nothing, and I knew she could do better. She said she didn't have time to do homework because she had to go to the hogwon. That's the Korean word for academy, I guess. I told her I'd call her parents and tell them to stop making her go there. No, she said, she loved it. Evidently it had become her social life somehow. I don't remember whether I called her parents, but I recall feeling very sorry they were paying all that money for nothing.

I can't stay mad at my student. But I can't pass her either, until and unless she starts showing up on time, and a little more frequently. Hopefully we'll find a way to fix this. At least it will be easier than teaching Toby not to eat gross stuff when he's loose in the park.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Secret Sauce

A colleague tells me she has mastered Danielson. I was kind of surprised to hear this talk, as opposed to the litany of complaints to which I'm accustomed. She says that she uses the same method to deal post-Danielson as she used pre-Danielson. What's the secret?

She claims she's taught her students that, whenever an observer comes in, they are to raise their right hands if they know the answer to a question, and their left hands if they do not. She says she regularly practices this and has a code phrase she uses when she wants students to enter the left hand-right hand mode. I can't write what it is because I don't want an administrator to identify it. It's an innocuous phrase that anyone might say at any time, so you'll have to come up with your own if you choose to go this route.

I've been hearing complaints about Danielson for years. How does it possibly apply to PE? How does it apply to resource room? How can one rubric judge every single class ever given? I once urged an administrator to give model classes, since administrators are supposed to know everything and would always do everything perfectly. The administrator told me that wouldn't be reliable, since you can't predict how one class would do at any given time. The administrator was absolutely right, of course, but no teacher can really predict how each and every class is gonna go either.

My colleague says I'm absolutely wrong, though I have to say she's the only person I know who says that. She says administrators come in and are amazed at the level of participation. The teacher says the students all know she may call on them if they have their left hand up, and must be prepared to say something. She says she gets rated highly effective all the time, and is regularly praised for her level of participation and engagement.

To me, this sounds too good to be true, though my colleague swears by it. I don't think I could get my students to act like this, and I'm not at all sure I'd want to if I could. For one thing, my students don't know a whole lot of English. It would be difficult to explain this concept to them. Even worse, for me at least, it would be very difficult to rationalize it to them, let alone myself.

But hey, if it works for her, more power to her. I wonder if it could just be that she's very good at what she does. For students to cooperate like that, they must like her. She says she gives them participation credit for doing this. I'm not sure that would suffice for everyone. Some kids don't care even a little about things like that. Yesterday, a student came to my classroom door, said hello, and announced that he was cutting the class. Then, he went and cut the class. I wonder what Danielson would've said about that. Was I supposed to go to the door and drag the kid in? That could be construed as corporal punishment. Also, for all I know, the kid is stronger than I am and it wouldn't work anyway.

I'm not going to bother trying to do this. Do you think a teacher could take this system and make it work? Do you think it would work for you? Are you gonna try it?

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my article on the struggles at Forest Hills High School in this month's NY Teacher.

Monday, March 11, 2019

UFT Executive Board March 11, 2019--An Hour of Fun

6:00 Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us.

Speaker—Maurice Blackman—Essex St. Academy—Inspired that early UFT leaders were pacifists. I too am against violence. This is why I teach. Our works counteract it. Our system helps many, but has also failed many. High stakes tests cater to a small faction of our students. This is a form of violence our students experience. It is unacceptable.

UFT has history of acting powerfully. Your support is important. UFT is voice of educators not only in bargaining but in other ways. We need equity, restorative rather than punitive measures. In my work I’ve learned this generation demands more in education than previous. We serve 1.1 million students in some of the most separate but unequal schools in the country,

Integration is more than moving bodies around. Culturally responsive ed. is urgent. We can use work developed in NYU. What if all black and LatinX students had the same opportunities as others? Look at integratenyc.org, run by several exec. directiors, students. Non-profit, affiliated with NY appleseed.. Thorough and equitable. Our schools guarantee free and appropriate education. What is UFT doing to honor this?

Our work is building character and inspiring curiosity. Hope UFT will support students who look to us and rely on us.

Schoor—We will look into that, maybe give our people your name so you can be involved.

Minutes—approved

President’s message—Michael Mulgrew—One house budgets happening today. Revenue issue. Lobby day perfectly timed, it seems. Just about full. Thanks those who registered. Having a tiff with city over discipline policies. Hate when NY Post agrees with me.

Everything you do in school is about classroom. If you are looking at it from afar you have wrong POV. We can’t have way over the top suspensions of students of color, but you can’t simply say make it difficult to suspend. So this is not working out.

If I am a teacher in the classroom and a student picks up a chair, what am I to do? If whole policy is only about child who picked up chair and no one else, we have an issue. What about child who got hit, and parent hears offender not suspended. Parents could resort to charters to be “safe.”

Bills in Albany to ban suspensions and mandate restorative justice. We train teachers in that but it is only one tool in toolbox, not something that fixes everything. In schools that use it, trained by us, suspension down 82%. Those schools can now ID students who need clinical intervention. These people ought not to be integrated into our schools. Will discuss with city.

In Albany, it’s a revenue issue according to de Napoli. Also bad policies. Single payer sounds great and we support it nationally but could preclude an education budget. We can’t take away health care and education. Difficult piece as we move forward.

CLs are putting in consultation, but we add a few hundred a week. If you aren’t doing consultation and reporting it to UFT we know members not having voices heard. We will have a real hard discussion because it will be time. CLs said they wanted these tools, useless if you don’t use them. Would like to report at end of month.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

LeRoy Barr—Friday asking that you celebrate 59th anniversary of UFT. Early childhood conference Saturday. Next week para luncheon. Want a great turnout. March 30 middle school conf. 31 Herstory brunch. Ballots go out March 25. Asking you to press members to look for ballots, vote right away and send back. EB March 25.

Schoor—Answer is they’re still working on it. Question about X 213. DOE regular answer.

Space—brought up to DOE—charters have form for space—said they do that because it’s the law. Law doesn’t prevent them from doing for us, say they’re looking into its

Questions

Jonathan Halabi—X 213—Did officers go to school.

Schoor—Yes, but principal puts sign on door stating personal emergency, and doesn’t see us.

Eliu Lara—We’ve been working with school for a while. Constant communication with supe. Will be there on 21st. Goal is to make sure we move school forward, resolve issues.

Schoor—Deputy chancellor said it was unacceptable. First paperwork issue to hit central committee. Checked budget, they have money, and DOE says they’ll do something.

Halabi—School advisory group yet?

Janella Hinds—Not yet.

Halabi—Fordham Leadership Academy—high turnover because of toxic environment. CL is friend of principal, new teacher, also COSA. Principal did not reveal during fact-finding that she’s married to Roberto Hernandez, involved in plan. Not revealing that, with CL who doesn’t rep members, this school slipped into Bronx plan. Was a mistake. We need to look from the classroom, not 14th floor. How can we remove this school from plan and protect members?

Schoor—Committee reviewed all schools that applied. We don’t pick CLs. CL and principal have tp agree to it. Asking Rich Mantel to explain.

Rich Mantel—We did look at turnover rates. Was a cutoff. School had high turnover and that’s why we put it in program. Met cutoff. Ran it by DR as well. Roberto did admit his wife was principal. We can’t remove school because principal is related to someone in DOE. Contract is still in effect. More voice now. We will watch them. They are on radar as all schools in plan. We think it will work out.

Eliu Lara—That school has a co chapter leader too. Was renewal school, receivership, so many are no longer in school. If I see the issue we will deal with it. If they let me know, we will take care of it.

Mike Schirtzer—Re NY Post and Mulgrew’s response—idea that students can initiate investigation on a teacher, perhaps falsify report. Student has to get permission from parent to go to museum, but not to launch an investigation. Maybe we should think about it. If you need permission to see dinosaur, maybe parents should see complaints first. Sometimes principals don’t want context, say UFT member did this. Context is important. Can’t just say teacher raised voice. Might have been trying to stop fight. Should we think about parental consent for these reports, or DOE mandating context?

Schoor—OEO, SCI and OSI investigate. SCI most dangerous. Outside agency. We use lawyers with them. I can’t answer. We will ask our safety people and lawyers to report on investigatory bodies. Connected with what Mulgrew was talking about.

Arthur Goldstein
—We have an interesting situation in Queens. We have a principal said sleep in front of the school to check who shows up early, who seems to find pot smoking in the halls to be a subject of enduring hilarity, who appears neither to shut his bathroom door or open his office door, who thinks one to one tutoring is wasteful, who rides the halls on a unicycle and juggles, and who puts forward the notion that he’s principal and therefore can do any golly gosh darn thing he likes.

I’m very happy that UFT Forest Hills is fighting the good fight. Still, we have a lot of other principals and assistant principals who are less flamboyant but equally undesirable. As long as we have administrators like that we’ll have assessment issues, whether we use S and U, Danielson, or whatever new things come down the pike. As long as we have people with visions, that preclude perceiving what’s actually going on we’ll have a flawed evaluation system. How are going to address the issue of unreliable, disingenuous, and vindictive administrators going forward?

Schoor—We have some people here who have had and will continue to have problems. When they hit the papers things change. Parents have organized and members have organized. New superintendent there. DOE wants to do something but they have issues. Principal has rights they  say. We will continue to fight that fight. We had good resolution on CPE and Townsend Harris. You can read about our success in NY Teacher.

Sang Lee—elementary—What is union’s position on death of SESIS?

Schoor—About time, should have happened years ago. State is asking city for info, and city is looking into it. Can’t give them what they want because SESIS doesn’t allow it. Couldn’t get UFT to do extra paperwork. New system won’t be there for at least a year. SESIS could never do what they wanted. We won arbitrations over it, but city has to do reporting. We will be involved in new process.

Kate Martin Bridge—SESIS not dead yet, is it? Will we get training?

Schoor—No. it isnt. We will get training.


Kate Martin Bridge—Will we survey members?

Schoor—We will be involved and make sure it’s a success. When they work with us, they succeed. How many of our members are on paid parental leave?

A—Have paid out 20 billion so far. Not sure of number of members.

Reports from districts

Tom Murphy—RTC—Feb 28 40th annual luncheon, Mulgrew spoke, FL association pres. spoke.

David Kazansky—In schools are petitions for Debra Penney’s re-election. Must be signed and returned before April.

Priscilla Castro
—Last month D75 had great team building. Bowling 40 of 60 CLs went.

Rosemarie Thompson—CL school counselors—thanks everyone for support.

George Altomari—Apri 13 will be annual UFT social studies conference. Has been around for a long time. Have had nobel prize winners speak. Mario Celenti, pres. NY State AFL-CIO this year.

Schoor—Mulgrew wants to confirm Monday is Lobby Day. 1000 people going.

Resolution for prevention training of human trafficking.

Janella HInds
—Affects many different communities. We have schools where young people trafficked for servitude, sex, labor. We want wide ranging prevention training to all our educators to protect our students. Asks for support.


Kate Martin Bridge—Corrects line.

Passes unanimously

UFT Election Report—Amy Arundell—Election committee met Feb. 28. UFT staff brought all submitted petitions for review. Two things came up. A caucus submitted xerox copies. Same exact petitions for a number of candidates. Was no official request for this. I was asked, and said it was original signatures only. Committee decided not to accept these petitions. Was not a number that impacted caucus’s slate statue.

Mike Shulman—was 13.

Arundell—One person only voted to accept. A caucus had petitions electronically signed, Again, no motion was ever presented prior to being submitted, therefore no other caucus had opportunity to utilize this technology. Motion was passed not to accept with one person voting against. Again, a handful, did not affect slate status. Election committee voted to accept all other petitions.

Four caucuses have slate designation.

Last Thursday, March 7, we had a draw for ballot order. For each section of ballot, we drew order. Ballot can now be printed.

Suggestions for election “dos.” Create a tree on a bulletin board and every time someone reports put a leaf. Similarly a thermometer. Asks the union to print I voted stickers, relying on self-reporting.

Halabi—How are individual petitions scrutinized?

Arundell
—Reps of caucuses took a look. Membership checked status. Made sure people were in correct division. Did not check every signature, but did spot checks.

Schoor—We will vote separately on xerox and electronic.

Xerox—in favor of not accepting.
,
Passes

Electronic—in favor of not accepting.


Passes

Vote on accepting totality of report.

Passes

Motion to accept report.

7 PM We are adjourned.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

NY Post Editorial Board Giveth With One Hand, and Stabbeth in Back With the Other

Now that mayoral control is an issue, the NY Post is on a rampage standing up for us poor teachers and the terrible discipline issues we have.

“If I had a dime for every time I was told to suck something, I’d be a millionaire,” said a female Jamaica, Queens, high school teacher.
“They know the system. They can say whatever they want to us and get away with it, but we can’t say a thing to them.

There is indeed truth to that. If you read Chancellor's Regulation A-421, you'll see that teachers may not say anything that:
Has or would have the effect of unreasonably and substantially interfering with a student’s mental, emotional, or physical well-being; 
This means, essentially, if you say, "Good morning," and the student doesn't like your tone, you could be sitting at a disciplinary hearing. If "reasonable" is determined by a Leadership Academy-style principal, or some other DOE hack, they could certainly rule against you and your nasty old "Good morning."

And it's absolutely true that it's tougher to take action, with the movement against suspension. I'm always surprised when I see columns suggesting that students who get suspended are less likely to graduate. Of course they're less likely to graduate. But is that because they were suspended, or is it due to the behavior that caused the suspension?

Anyway, it seems like the NY Post editorial staff is our bestest buddy when they write stuff like that. On the other hand, they also write stuff like this, saying that Mulgrew betrayed the mayor on mayoral control by admitting our current discipline system was broken. I'm a little hard-pressed to see how wanting better discipline equates to betraying the mayor, or even opposing mayoral control. (I oppose mayoral control, but I express it by saying, "I oppose mayoral control," not by criticizing school discipline.) And here's the Post's take:

We don’t doubt that Mulgrew’s been hearing plenty from his members for years. But this mayor has been generous with pay increases for teachers, and done his best to crush the charter schools that the union hates. So the UFT boss speaks up about discipline only when he’d look ridiculous staying quiet.
For my money, we don't hate charters remotely enough. The Post loves them because they're non-union. They love seeing someone like Moskowitz, who meets with their Dear Leader Trump and says she'll work with him. They love Eva, because she can't be bothered with inconvenient nonsense like teacher certification, and is fine with letting her college student son teach economics for minimum wage. There's no student coddling over there. Instead, Eva makes them do test prep until they pee their pants.

Aside from that, charters don't take the same kids we do. There's a reason why most of the students who start with Eva don't graduate with her. There's a reason why you won't see a beginning ELL, a SIFE student, or an alternative assessment student in any Moskowitz Academy. It's not much of a miracle to get higher test scores when you don't take a cross section of the community, and when you dump everyone who doesn't perform. Where do you think students who make trouble in Moskowitz Academies end up? Certainly in front of you and me in public schools. Maybe they're the ones the Post is writing about.

I'm not exactly sure how generous this mayor has been with us. In fact, the mayor still owes me around twenty thousand dollars that I earned a decade ago. I've never seen that acknowledged in the Post, and the clear implication here is that we're making too much money to criticize the mayor. That's ridiculous. I'm not exactly sitting around lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills. Also, I'm sure the Post board would be overjoyed with adult teachers making minimum wage like Eva's kid.

Here's what Mulgrew says:

“We need the resources and training necessary to change school climate.”

The Post determines that to mean that he wants more "restorative justice." Where it's appropriate, I want more too. But "resources and training" aren't restricted to that. Suspension is an important option , as well. Every situation is different, and I'd argue options are resources too.

As for de Blasio and mayoral control, while UFT has and seems to still support it, I don't even know why he wants it. We all know Bloomberg used it to close schools and give carte blanche to Eva Moskowitz. As soon as de Blasio denied Eva, Governor Cuomo and the Heavy Hearted Assembly passed a resolution that he had to pay rent for charters if he denied them space.

As far as I can see, mayoral control only applies if you're a reformy charter school supporter. Michael Bloomberg could do Any Damn Thing he wanted, and I never saw the Post editorial board fretting over school safety when he was mayor. The Post wants to deny de Blasio mayoral control. If pretending to care about our working conditions advances that narrative, then that's exactly what they'll do.

This doesn't make them our supporters by any stretch of the imagination.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

NYC Principals Leadership Academy Lesson

Today we're going to cover doors. Doors are important. Every school leader should have an open door policy. That means that anyone who wants to come see you can do so at any time. This way everyone knows that the leader is interested in everyone's issues, and ready to deal with them at any time.

But won't that make it difficult to do our jobs? Yesterday you told us all about writing out 3020a reports. How can we do that if we're talking to every loser who walks by?

Yeah, I think so too. I expect to be writing letters to file every day. Tuesday you told us the way to get teachers to obey without question was to frequently write letters to file.

And what did I say you needed to do before writing the letters?

I remember. You said to call legal and make sure there was no problem.

And when will legal say there is a problem?

Never. They will approve absolutely everything no matter what. Then we deny at Step One, legal will deny at Step Two, and it will take over a year before it gets to an arbitrator.

Good. I'm glad you're paying attention. You will make great leaders.

Yeah but what about the door? I don't want to spend my time listening to teachers bitching about how unfair I am, or their crappy observations, or how I violate the contract all the time.

You're not thinking. How many doors do you have?

What are you talking about?

Leadership is all about thinking outside the box.

I don't have a box.

Yeah, I don't have one either.

How many doors do you have?

Well, there's the one that leads to my office. There's also the one in the outer office.

Are those the only ones?

Well, there's the lavatory door.

Exactly. 

What, you think I should leave the lavatory door open?

Always. You have an open door policy. No one specified exactly which door you were going to leave open.

What if someone watches me while I'm using it?

Just say something like, "What's the matter? You didn't like what you saw?

Seriously?

Look, do you guys want to be school leaders or not? Because if you don't want these jobs, I can drag a hundred other people right off the street to take them. 

Jesus, What's next?

Tomorrow we're doing juggling on a unicycle. Don't miss it. And next week we'll show you how to encourage early attendance by sleeping in your car outside of the school.

Friday, March 08, 2019

In Life

I've found a few videos online that have pretty good instructions on how to pass the lamentable waste of time and effort known as the NY State English Regents. Clearly the teacher who prepared the videos has devoted more thought and time to this topic than I have, and her instructions are simpler and more effective than the ones I've been giving.

I'm therefore going to use her videos for my class. I showed one today. The students seemed to follow and understand, and even if they didn't I can reinforce and break down these instructions. There was just one thing that really bothered me. The presenter said the main idea ought to be presented with an "in life" statement.

In life, people need to treat one another with respect.

In life, men and women deserve equal opportunity.

I don't think those were the ideas her "in life" statements embraced, but it doesn't matter. I don't see what the words "in life" add to these statements, other than two extra words. I mean, perhaps if you were consorting with vampires and needed to contrast your situation with the undead, it would be useful to mention you were among the living. Vampires are not big nowadays though, so that's unlikely.

Now it could well be you find yourself in the midst of a zombie plague, and if the zombies were Walking Dead style, differentiation would be important. On the other hand, I've seen a show called iZombie where this pretty young blond woman eats brains and Sriracha sauce with chopsticks. You can barely tell she's a zombie. So you might not even need to use "in life" there. Nonetheless, it seems altogether redundant and unnecessary everywhere else.

My students have a habit of writing about humans. "When you walk down Main Street, there are always a lot of humans there." Personally, I'd say "people" instead. Of course my students are not native English speakers, so they have an excuse. There are exceptions, though.

For example, we were writing about shark attacks, and saying "humans" seemed plausible when we were being contrasted with marine animals. Also, if you were writing about another planet populated by, say, Klingons, you might want to specify that you were talking about humans. After all, Klingons are people too, even if they wear those ridiculous masks.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

The World Would Be Better if People Were Nicer, Suggests Chalkbeat

OK, not really. But they did a big feature on how better teachers make better mentors. I'd agree with that, of course. The methodology with which they aim to prove it is something else altogether. I mean, I suppose if you wanted to prove the world would be better if people were nicer you'd need to do some research. You'd need a focus group or something.

But what exactly is nice? I mean, my dog is nice. I know a lot of people who are nice. Am I nice? Well, it depends who you ask and when you ask it. If you ask my daughter after I give her an Apple watch for a Christmas gift, she'll probably say yes, he's very nice. If you ask my students after I give them homework, you're likely to get another story entirely.

The primary takeaway for the study Chalkbeat references is test scores. Now I'm sure someone did this study using test scores, and I'm sure a whole lot of people have measured things using test scores. After all, test scores are a perfectly objective measure of student achievement. They're never inaccurate or culturally prejudiced. Except, of course, when they are.

Personally, I'm struggling with teaching one of my classes how to pass the English Regents exam. Yesterday I read all their compositions. It's not easy. Some of them have never been taught about English usage, and they've done very little actual reading or writing. That's not surprising, since we neither teach nor test reading and writing. Instead, we teach them how to answer a few questions the likes of which they'll never see again.

Out in Texas there's a big brouhaha over an evidently insane testing system, and I'd argue things are not much different in New York. Kids take tests, we score them, and then the geniuses in Albany determine exactly what the passing score is. Remember a few years back when Reformy John King declared that two-thirds of our kids (not his, who attended Montessori schools) were going to fail the tests, and waddya know, they did?

I think it was Alfie Kohn who said something like test scores measure how big houses are in the neighborhood. If your parents are well-to-do it's highly unlikely they both work two hundred hours a week and haven't got time to help you, or check your homework, or talk to your teachers. It's much more likely they can pay for  tutoring if you need it.

Of course better teachers make better mentors. But better web sites have better articles, too. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Non-Snow Day--De Blasio Made the Right Call

I've seen a lot of talk about the mayor and the recent snow day, the one in which it barely snowed. It's pretty easy to point fingers at the mayor and say he made an error. In a way, he did, but in a more significant way, he didn't. It doesn't take an Albert Einstein to figure that it really didn't snow enough to justify closing the schools. I won't argue with anyone who says that.

However, the mayor isn't a meteorologist either. I was watching TV on Sunday and it looked like there were going to be 4 to 6 inches of snow. Given that, I was dreading the drive in. I always think I'll call in sick or something, and end up going in anyway, because I'm crazy or something. You might be smarter than me and stay home on days like that, and I don't blame you at all.

I will never forget Carmen "It's a beautiful day" FariƱa announcing that Macy's was open so it was fine for us to drive through the raging blizzard. I will never forget the four plus hours it took me to get home either. A friend of mine broke down on the highway and had to wait there all night. She had a Prius back then. She's since sold it, bought a small SUV, and moved from Suffolk to Queens. No more long drives for her.

I haven't done anything quite so radical as move, but I certainly understand. The incredible arrogance and insensitivity of someone who gets chauffeured around from gala luncheon to dinner gala saying we should trudge back and forth because Macy's is open is hard to forget.

Carmen's predecessor, He Who Shall Not Be Named, was even worse. As a blogger, I'd be up at 5 AM waiting for the announcement, which rarely came. De Blasio decided he would give notice so parents could plan. That's perfectly valid. If you're a working parent, you may not want to leave your kids home and hope for the best. Also, 5 AM may not be the optimal time to find child care if you need it.

Better safe than sorry, and I for one am glad this mayor wants not only children, but also their teachers to be safe. Losing one day is not the end of the world. Of course, I'll regret it if we have another snow day and end up making up the day in June, but that's the risk you take. If I find myself sitting in some miserable hot classroom in June I'll be sure to have a good sulk over it, but I'll recover.

There's not a whole lot of chance of a late March snow day, but we had one last year. You never know. Here's one way to look at it--we're in the middle of a six-week stretch without a day off. Should we get one, it may be valuable. We'll be able to do all the important things we've been neglecting, like have a snowball fight, ride sleds down the hill, or take a nap.

The mayor made the right call. I don't love everything he does, but unlike his predecessor, He Who Also Shall Not Be Named, he seems human.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

DOE Legal + Crappy Pay = Grotesque Incompetence

A colleague of mine happens to be a lawyer. He doesn't work as a lawyer. He works as a teacher. He also has a doctorate, but you'd never know it. He doesn't use the title.

Like a lot of people, my friend often finds himself in need of money. I won't go into details, because they really are not important. My friend teaches at local colleges at night, and will take a sixth class if it comes up. I know how that is. I taught at Queens College for about twenty years. I only stopped when I became chapter leader, which kind of took over my life. I never take extra classes, because I have no idea how I even handle my current workload.

A few weeks ago, someone discovered by friend's law degree. That person reached out to him. Would you like to join DOE legal? This might be a key for him to reclaim his life. No more working nights at college. No more teaching six classes a day. It was simplicity itself.

So he went for an interview. It went well until he asked about the salary. It was $10,000 less than he was making as a teacher. Would they give him credit for decades in the system? No. We don't do things like that over at DOE legal. So he'd take a cut in pay, work more hours, have no chance of teaching the sixth class, and still be stuck teaching college in the PM. No thank you.

I have another acquaintance who used to work for DOE legal, but went the other way, into education. I asked her why the lawyers there disregarded the contract, and why, when UFT said one thing and legal another, that legal was invariably wrong. "They haven't read the contract," she told me. "They just do whatever they want."

That's just one reason the UFT grievance process drags into months and years. I may have written once or twice about the fact that I've got at least half a dozen step twos waiting on arbitration. How long will they wait? No one knows. My last step two hearing was around a month ago. From step one to two took almost a year. We're waiting on the step two ruling, which will certainly go against us because they all do. Our only chance at fairness is to get to arbitration.

This culture of indifference and unfairness pervades the DOE. It's pretty well-known that you don't get rich becoming a teacher. Law has a reputation, deserved or otherwise, as being a financially rewarding profession. When you hire lawyers and pay them less than teachers, what's the expectation of quality? I can only suppose that quality is not what the DOE values. What DOE values is defending principals at the expense of educators no matter what. Truth is of no consequence.

Thus, if you hire the lowest quality lawyers, perhaps you can trust they will not only disregard the collective bargaining agreement, but they will also not bother to read it, let alone consult it. You want to put a letter in file over three months after something happened, Mr. Principal? You want to put a letter in file without consulting with the teacher? You want to refuse to pull a letter after three years? You want to agree in writing to pull the letter, then pull it, then just put it back whenever you feel like it?

That's fine, Mr. Principal. Not only can you do all of that stuff, but we'll rule with you at step two. We'll say that the incident was not an occurrence, and therefore the three month window does not apply. We'll say you didn't need to pull the letter because you didn't feel like it. We'll say the consultation doesn't apply because the letter wasn't disciplinary, even though the contract provides for no such exception, and never mind the letter said if the incident was repeated the teacher might be terminated.

It must be great to have a gig where you can do any damn thing you feel like, ignore absolutely all rules and regulations, and sit around some air-conditioned heated office with a desk and a computer. It's like on The Sopranos, where a bunch of guys sat around a construction site in lawn chairs, drinking beer and watching the people who had real jobs working.

Of course we teachers are the people with real jobs. We get judged by junk science as DOE legal revels in their incompetence. In fact, if DOE lawyers prove themselves sufficiently inept, they seem to get promoted. That's who's advising our principals.

Some people wonder how someone like Ben Sherman rises to principal. I wonder how the ones who aren't like him manage to get promoted at all.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

The Good Old (Snow) Days

Sure, I sometimes give Mayor Bill de Blasio a hard time. I mean, he left all those fanatical ideologues Bloomberg hired in place, and my job is just that much more difficult. He's done nothing to hold back all those insane lunatics Bloomberg's Leadership Academy trained in the art of insane lunacy. I'm still teaching in a half-room, my colleagues are in trailers and closets, and he doesn't give a golly gosh darn about class sizes.

This notwithstanding, he's been pretty good about snow days. It's nice to have a mayor who wants fewer of us to get injured or die on the road.

Do you remember waiting until 5 AM to find out whether or not school was open? Joel Klein would sit around, reading the tea leaves (or doing whatever it is predatory birds do to pass the time) and wait until the last possible moment to let a million kids and a hundred thousand UFT members whether or not they had to dig out and come in.

De Blasio is having none of that. It looks like there's gonna be a crapload of snow, so schools are closed. Not only that, but he tells you the day before. One day, after de Blasio visited the UFT Delegate Assembly if I'm not mistaken, Norm Scott and I took off to Luke's Lobster over on South William Street. Norm was drinking beer, but I had to go to work the next day and abstained. My District Rep sent me a text that school was closed, and all of a sudden we were both drinking beer. It was a great moment.

Before the announcement, I was playing around with friends on Facebook, saying maybe tomorrow would be a snow day. It seemed to good to be true. But I learned on Twitter from the chancellor that this was really a thing:

 

Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon the above UFT graphic, which I texted to every one of my colleagues whose phone number I happened to have, and then realized it made more sense to just email it to everyone on staff. I may be slow, but eventually I catch on. It's nice to be the bearer of glad tidings, something that happens all too rarely. I'm pretty happy. I'd almost certainly have gone in. Every snow day I think about staying home, but I don't think I ever have.

I remember, when Rudy Giuliani was mayor, driving up the Long Island Expressway, listening to him saying, "It's really dangerous out there. If you don't have to come in to work, stay home." I'm certain I posted that message on the board for the five or six students who were as crazy as I am, showing up that day.

New York is known for being ridiculous on snow days. My mother told me that once, when she was a little girl in Brooklyn, there was an incredible snowstorm and her parents sent her to school. The teacher was there, but she was the only kid whose parents made her go. The teacher sent her home. (I wonder whether the teacher went home.)

I wish you all a healthy, warm and joyous snow day! No one deserves it more than you.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

The Ben and Juan Show--Episode 1 "Too Little Too Late at Forest Hills"

Superintendent Juan Mendez and principal Ben Sherman toured the school yesterday in an elaborate apology project. Evidently, they've been reading the mounting bad press. There is going to be even more, I hear.

They seem to have noted that the Forest Hills High School Parent Association has joined UFT in asking for the principal's removal. I can only guess by walking around the school and saying a few words of contrition they think that the school community will simply forget the last year and a half of failure and frustration.

It's always a good idea to admit when you make mistakes. Sitting on them and letting them build and expand rarely helps the situation. Nonetheless, the apology tour comes months and months after the alienation began. I'm betting the community doesn't buy it. Here's what Sherman said, in a letter to staff:

"I know you have been reading a lot about me recently.  I recognize there are many concerns.  I am against students using drugs, vaping, or smoking in our school.  I am against students loitering in the hallways, staircases, or other places.  I am not a perfect person.  I have many faults, just ask my wife.  I apologize for statements which have offended you, including saying 'because I am the Principal.'   I need to listen better to you.  If I have given anyone the impression that I am soft on crime or that I am permissive about drug use I apologize. 

It sounds good, on the surface. But is it a genuine revelation, or simply something you say out of expedience after the NY Post writes a few articles about you, and Jimmy Fallon makes you the target of a late-night joke? Call me cynical, but I think anyone with a modicum of self-awareness would have noticed there was a problem way sooner.

The unspoken request is that Forest Hills move back to square one, and that the community trust someone who has done absolutely nothing to earn trust. Norm Scott always says, "Watch what they do, not what they say," and that's apt here. While the principal, likely as not at the urging of the superintendent who placed him, has put out a few words, his actions say he doesn't care a whit about the school community.

To me, that's not a strong calling card for someone to lead a school. After a consistent pattern of abuse, of looking the other way, of refusing to own responsibility, a few words are less than persuasive.

As a teacher, if I ran my class the way Ben Sherman seems to have run his school, I'd almost certainly be up on charges for incompetence. It's funny how, here in Fun City, principals can just say, "I'm sorry," and have every expectation of plodding on in their gross ineptitude. Funnier still is, given the Leadership Academy, it's likely the city trained Ben Sherman to behave this way.

If the mayor and chancellor are serious about going in a different direction than that of Michael Bloomberg, they need to take decisive action. "Oopzie," simply does not quality.

Friday, March 01, 2019

English and the Fine Art of Crap Extraction

I'm doing one of my least favorite things this year--preparing students to take a standardized test. They don't graduate unless they pass it, so I don't feel like I have a choice. One problem is that half the class has actually passed the test, so those students aren't particularly motivated to study for it. I don't blame them. The NY State English Regents Exam, more than anything, is an exercise in tedium. It's exactly what I would not teach if I wanted to inspire a love of reading or writing.

Of course, I can't be bothered with such lofty concerns. The important thing is that they learn how to pick out appropriate support, spit it out credited, and explain it. I recently heard a supervisor say the only kind of writing done in college is argumentative essay. If that's the case (It wasn't when I went.), then I have little idea why we're even bothering with college. The current iteration of the English Regents exam is all about the crap we refer to as "close reading," or dredging through whatever to find particular points.

I speak to English teachers who tell me they're discouraged from teaching entire novels. Why not just teach excerpts so they learn how to extract crap from it? After all, what's more important--teaching a love of reading, or learning how to extract crap from fiction the same way you extract it from non-fiction? The more I look at the English Regents exam, the more I realize that crap extraction is the apex of Western Civilization, and we must therefore focus on it and it exclusively.

I'm old fashioned and unsophisticated in the art of crap extraction. I remember the first book I ever read. I think it was called The Little Black Puppy. I was fascinated when I cracked the code of sounds represented by letters. In elementary school, we were explicitly taught English usage, parts of speech, and punctuation. These are things we're not really supposed to focus on in high school, but I see a whole lot of students who can use help with it.

I'm thinking of two students right now who, in my unworthy opinion, cannot write at all. Their sentence structures are odd, likely direct translations from their first language that do not work in English. Both are in my advanced class, yet would benefit more from my beginning class. However, both have tested out of ESL via the NYSESLAT, which measures I have no idea what. Because the NYSESLAT is aligned with the English Regents exam, and the fine art of crap extraction, they've passed that too. One got 82, and the other got 86.

The insane concept of "college and career readiness" is somehow tied to the English Regents score. I assume that one or both of these students has reached that lofty plateau. I can tell you, though, with 100% certainty, that neither of these students is prepared to take English 101 in college. If they go to city schools, they'll take writing tests and be bounced into remedial courses. They'll pay thousands of dollars to learn what I could've easily taught them in high school.

Instead, they're sitting in my crap extraction course, which they need not at all. But common core has made the need for crap extraction a national emergency. Therefore our kids are done with fiction, finished with Shakespeare, rid of the need to interpret language, and set on a path of trudging through tedious crap and determining which of the crap is most important.

Multiple sources assure me it isn't only ELLs we're sending into the world unable to write coherently in English. Because NY State is enormously ambitious, we're failing native English speakers as well. I'm told that students with excellent overall grades cannot spit out a decent personal statement for college. This failure is even more shocking than the one we've presided over for ELLs.

We can serve our children better.. The overarching philosophy of Common Core, as stated by its illustrious founder David Coleman, is no one gives a crap what you think or feel. That's one of the most pathetic and cynical philosophies I can imagine.  It's anathema to anyone who's chosen to teach for a living.

How pathetic that we have so many so-called leaders who drink whatever Kool-Aid served them. While I'm actively involved in teaching kids how to pass one single test, and showing them skills that will likely be good for little or nothing more than that in the long run, at least I'm aware of it. Unlike a whole lot of people, I'm not going to pretend otherwise.