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 were 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. 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, 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 terrible educators, precisely the opposite of what educators should be.

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. In fact, the teacher from my school who did that has been promoted and now works for the DOE. I've always liked her so I will try hard not to hold that against her.

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.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

PS 333 Votes Thumbs Down on Principal

You know, you'd think after years of ineptitude and embarrassment, the DOE would just pull the plug on bad principals, and set them to work on things that can't damage actual humans. I'm thinking a big old LEGO room at Tweed. They could build castles and exercise all their various power trips on plastic figures instead of living, breathing people. But with an army of administrators having graduated from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy, it's easier said than done.

It appears the Upper West Side of Manhattan is not precisely feeling the love for Principal Claire Lowenstein.  A DOE spokesperson has issued a nebulous statement, as always, offering vague support but promising nothing whatsoever:

“We will work closely with the community to ensure students and staff continue to receive the support they need,” she said.

Thanks a lot. Teachers are left like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a mountain of failed leadership. Yet over and over we speak out. At PS 333, if I'm not mistaken, The Daily News says 80% voted no confidence in her.  I'm told the other 20% mostly abstained, and almost no one supported her. That's not the sort of confidence I'd like to inspire. For me, as UFT chapter leader, it's SBO week. I'm required to get 55% minimum to pass that. Our SBO passed 180-0, so I'm gonna go out on a limb and say admin and UFT are better aligned at my school than hers.

There are shades of Ben Sherman here, tinged with not-so-subtle racism:

Many of their grievances were racially tinged, ranging from complaints Lowenstein ignored multiple allegations that a white eighth-grader was selling drugs in school to the claim Lowenstein allegedly told two black sixth-graders to “Leave your street problems outside of my school!”

It's hard for me to understand principals who ignore drugs in schools. I'd think the safety of students would be paramount. It's one thing to fail English, but quite another to foster an addiction problem while in elementary school. It sounds like there are elementary shortcomings to this principal. She's also accused of cronyism. You may say okay, but in 2019 the President of the United States practices blatant nepotism, so it's no big deal. However, the members at PS 333 appear not to be buying it:

The son of a former MSC parent is currently on P.S. 333’s payroll, and it is unclear as to what exactly his role is," the document states. “This staff member spends a good portion of the work day sitting in (a room), while listening to music in headphones.”

Hey that's a good gig. I know a lot of people who would excel at it. In fact, a whole lot of my students would be great at that.  Now sure, there are those nattering nitpickers who say, "Hey, maybe kids should take their earphones off, stop looking at the iPhone screen, and begin paying attention to the world around them." So maybe this principal is just going with the flow. Still, how exactly that makes her the role model her job entails is a mystery to me.

Forest Hills has got a new interim acting principal, but the lowlife DOE couldn't help but place ridiculous nonsense into their welcome message:

As you are aware, Monday was Ben Sherman’s last day as principal of Forest Hills High School. We thank Mr. Sherman for his leadership and wish him well in his new position.

We got rid of the guy for no reason, the DOE would have us think, and he's clearly done nothing remotely incorrect. So we're boldly standing up and taking no responsibility whatsoever.

It's time for the DOE to stop defending the indefensible, and start ridding itself of toxic principals at least as quickly as it presses 3020a charges against teachers who've done nothing to merit them. Given their track record, though, I'm gonna sit while I wait. Hopefully, whatever preposterous rationale they offer, they will move Lowenstein to a job more suited to her talents and inclinations.

Maybe they can send her to Trump's White House and call it a promotion.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly June 2019--We Resolve to Stand for Muslim Students--Paperwork and Operational Complaints Working

4:39 Mulgrew calls us to order. Announces, to applause, that it’s June.

Speaks of email about presidential nominations. Says didn’t want anyone to endorse early. Says it’s incumbent upon state and local affiliates to engage, and that NY candidates want to be in debate. Says it did not constitute endorsement, and they want other candidates to speak to UFT. Expects story in Post. 

We will have to do all in our power, once decision is made, to move our agenda. Next year is a political action year. Will be major focus all year. 38 city council seats up. More people involved in political process better off we will be.

—Rent regulations appear done, landlords irate. This is what we supported. Needs to be more fairness. We have a lot of folks to whom rent regulations are important. Teachers seem at war with hospitals. If you live in NYC you probably haven’t seen commercial by coalition supporting patient protection legislation. Health care costs are out of control. Small number of hospitals were exploiting loophole. Westchester Medical is now out of network. Some hospital bills are inflated heavily. WM was almost doubling bills. Threatened insurance providers, resulting in 37% increase. Made negotiations difficult.

Hospitals are saying teachers trying to put them out of business. Taking this as personal challenge. We don’t like hospital making hundreds of millions, saying they are non-profit, execs get huge bonuses. We can fight because we are a union. Coalition with Consumer Reports. NYS Business Council hates them. Next to me in Albany when I was lobbying for bill. All municipal and state unions stood together. Still going on. Will be in Albany tomorrow.

Little talk of charter schools. Due to our work. Stopping them raising cap not good enough. Want transparency. We know they want to take money from public schools and privatize. Will continue fighting for level playing field. 850K donation to Eva Moskowitz from hedge fund operator.

—Please get involved in Queens DA race. Doing a lot of communication with campaign. Says we have really good candidate.

City council budget—Goals were making teacher choice baseline. Working on it over 30 years. Dial a Teacher, Brave, services used constantly. Helps us have better relationships with students. They remain friends with Dial a Teacher. Brave now not just hotline, but also training. For last few years, city council has been doing more with us, they understand our programs help schools, are real. Say we are only org doing what we say we will with money.

Chancellor—At school visit—was asked if chancellor is reverse racist—Said from experience, absolutely not. He seems to have same enemies as us.

UFT, in terms of bias training, has been doing it a lot longer than DOE. It’s a tool, if you understand we all have biases. If you understand, can have better relationships with kids, and educate them better. We want to help children, are not afraid to admit we all have inherent biases. If we can think things through, we can teach kids to do the same.

We have vetted, had officers sit through DOE training. We had no issue. Outside vendors hired by DOE are different. We don’t accept their approach, and please let us know if you have that experience. I ask callers when they had training, they say they haven’t but have read NY Post.

Reporters asked if white teachers were upset by anti-bias training. I said it’s not an issue if done properly. Not good if someone walks in and accuses you of bias. When I said they were all biased, they didn’t like it either. Said, you see what it’s like?
This is good if done properly and professionally.

Discipline—Bill in Albany to ban K-3 suspensions. Group wants all suspensions banned in NYC. Bill in Albany passed with major amendments. Says you can’t ban K-3 students EXCEPT in case of long list of so-called violent acts. People in Albany think we suspend kindergartners for action out in class. Only happens for very bad things.

Told mayor we want two things—we have number of children who need clinical intervention, not suspension. We have no access to it. If you get mad we repeatedly suspend, and file multiple evaluations, it’s because it’s the only tool we have. We need group of people that can provide clinical intervention.

We need student removal process better than student sitting in office eating candy and being returned to class. Someone has to counsel and find out what happened. If you will deal with issue correctly we will work with you. Don’t want to hear up to principal’s discretion, or legal says no. Get them to specialists to decide, or propose intervention plans. Would save a lot of money, get kids what they need, and get us what we need to help them learn.

Will not fix it by passing more regulations. Chancellor’s regs may as well be a phonebook. Kids act out, we have to teach, 31 kids in class. If one has bad day we need to get the kid out. We’re happy to discuss that with DOE. Their rep is now actually visiting schools. They may be coming to understand.

Integration plan
—basically invites school districts to participate. Was started by teachers. Previous chancellor denied 7 schools PROSE applications who wanted to do integration plans. A year later, she adopted that plan. Now have three districts using. We are never supporting forced integration. We believe in talking to parents and showing them what will help children. Plan says if you want to work toward this, we’ll give you money. Opt-in program.

End of year
—We got contract. Only two unions have contracts. City hasn’t been negotiation with others.

Operational and paperwork
—85% of schools using consultation. Next year, not counting if you do one.

Urges us to file operational complaint. Photo since February 14.

UFT will allow SBOs in September. UFT will not approve IEP teacher if it doesn’t match citywide posting. Principal-created postings have not been good.

Janus program—Posters available for members to place in homes. Will be in borough offices.
Facebook frames available. Interactive video of union progress.  Will be cards about union programs available at borough offices. Will be stickers with “sticking with the union.”

Couldn’t run much of this until after election, but if we do this yearly it won’t matter.

We have to be on our guard, and we have to beat back the bad guys. Thanks those who produced Janus materials.

Thanks all at DA. We have contract, paid parental leave, elections, State Senate, are in good place, and credits us for it. Says union allows us to have real voice and power. We will fight back at those who try to destroy us.

LeRoy Barr
—Saturday school secretaries award luncheon. 12 noon. June 20th—50th anniversary of Stonewall—commemorative reception 3:30-6. Free. Register on website. Last year hundreds of people signed up for Labor Day Parade, Please do the same this year. Saturday September 7th. Will do cookout at end of parade again. Bring families. Wishes all a happy and restful summer.


Q—APs scramble room to room to do observations they’ve put off. No chance for improvement, so what was value? How can we make this cycle more impactful?

A—Sad and funny. In negotiations they admitted 80% of observations done April and May. In contract we have new language. Will have windows with cycles. One cycle in window 1—September to January. One cycle window 2—February to first Friday of June. Major thing is learning what cycle is will be interesting. We will stop that.

We will try to change culture. We will try to retrain everyone. If we keep pressure on we will get there. Not everything will be perfect in September, but with time it will improve.

Q—charters—Do we have a union committee to organize charter school teachers?

A—Yes. Just organized two in last month. Difficult but good.

Q—Snow—We’ve had quite a few snow days. Why no delayed openings?

A—NYC can’t. 137 bus companies.

Q—pressure to pass students who should not—admin pushing us to do things unethical. What does it mean to provide every opportunity, especially for students who recently came to country, or have been cutting class and now need packages to make up credit? Is there alternative method to graduation?

A—Who is being asked to provide packets for kids who have been missing? You have to supply them every opportunity, but regs can be interpreted in multiple ways. Some schools have agreements. Do you have to pass a child? No you do not. You are responsible for grades. They can ask you to give another look. So look. Maybe grade was too high.

Administrators’ contract is tied to achievement. That’s why they push. But we are a profession. We should be ethical. If you’re asked to be otherwise, we need to know. We will talk to them. How do you pass a student who came to class 20 days?

More difficult for newer students. Different issue. You have to use your judgment. I would work with child who should pass. We all face these dilemmas.

Q—ATRs—They were given a package—How many took it? Will there be similar offer next year?

A—No guarantees. 650 ATRs will probably be offered full time, will be 650 left. Approaching pre-Bloomberg numbers. Next year will be a drop of 20K students, but we are approaching 1.2K. Will ask DOE to not hire 1,000 extra teachers if we don’t need them.



Janella Hinds--Resolutio to support students observing Ramadam—Students fasting, limited sleep, were taking NYSESLAT and AP exams. A lot for students getting up at 3:30 AM. Would like to identify accommodations for practicing Muslim students.

Akeel Williams
—Supports. Fasting is fourth pillar of Islam. All Muslims of age and in good health must fast. Pre-dawn meal. To do it had to be up before 3 AM. Then morning prayer. If we’re lucky we can get hour or two before regularly day begins. Good for us spiritually but tough physically. Focus is tough. Difficult for me as adult. More difficult for children, especially during testing time. Important they have consideration for religious obligations.

Matthew Forguino
—School in central Bronx, large Muslim population. Criminal they had Global History Regents on eve if Eid. Would be like Christians doing it on Christmas Eve.

Antonio Jacobs
—Our principal decided to address students and make sure they weren’t in cafe while fasting. Took several students and did not eat, to show respect. Supports resolution. We should make provisions so students don’t feel punished for practicing religion.

Question called

Passes unanimously

Resolution in support of Darcel Denise Clark for DA
—Mary Atkinson—Is current DA, first African-American woman to be elected—should amend to read that. Product of public schools, instituted internships, moot court for HS students, also works with MS and elementary. Wants to help people with substance abuse issues get treatment instead of jail.

Question called.


—We endorsed the only candidate in the race. Thanks all. Happy Father’s Day. Wishes all a great summer. Congratulation to all retirees. Thank you for your service to union. Congratulate Howard Schoor on retirement. Happy summer. Let’s have a great rest of school year and finish strong.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Last Week

There's something tough about the last week of classes. I don't know about you, but I gave my final exams already. My students have 200 other tests to take and I don't want to burden them with homework that takes more than a few minutes. I'm doing mostly reading and discussion, but I know that we're pretty much finished. So how do I keep my students from figuring that out?

I'm not sure I can, actually. They kind of get the vibe. One kid asked me why we were doing an activity the other day, and I said, "Because it's a CLASS. You have to DO something." I heard that in a college class I was teaching. One student said it to another. He was a little older and the student asking the question was very young. He was a doctor and could be very sarcastic at times. I liked that particular response though, and I've stolen it more than once.

I'm worried my students are reading my mind. Once that happens I'm not sure how effective I'm gonna be. The kids seem to get smarter every year, though, and once they become clairvoyant I'm afraid I'm gonna be finished. What if I make a threat hoping no one will take me up on it? I'll have to follow up with whatever promised consequence there was, even if the student read my mind and understood I didn't want to.

Last Friday was the day after the prom, unofficially designated senior cut day, My seniors didn't disappoint period one. Not a single one of them showed and my class was down by half. I decided to give a quiz. The students were shocked. But the questions were not too bad.

When was the War of 1812?
Where does Chinese food come from?
What color is the white board?

I went on like that for ten questions. The last question was, "What's your favorite subject?" and I gave extra credit to people who wrote English. Despite that, some people got grades as low as 90. I can't remember which question they got wrong, but I was surprised. On the brighter side, they aren't yet reading my mind.

There are some good aspects to this week. One is that an enormous pressure will be lifted from my shoulders. Despite all the years I've been doing this, the most pressure I feel is in creating classes. I felt this before Cuomo's awful evaluation law. One of the things Cuomo didn't consider when pushing the miserable evaluation law is what it's like to bomb in front of 34 teenagers. This, of course, is because he's never taught, and he's never been through what we go through each and every day.

I don't know about you, but I fear that more than I fear some supervisor with an iPad. I remember it happening to me in my first few years. I remember watching other teachers and wondering exactly what they were doing that I was not. Why are their classes calm while mine is off the wall?

I'm not sure there's an easy response to that. I'd say things got just a little better when I started calling houses. And maybe I've grown more confident or authoritative over the years. Mostly, I have more experience and more go-to lesson plans. If I see something not working I can usually push it in another direction and try something at least different, if not always better.

But although all my observations are done, I feel more pressure this week than any other. I don't recall feeling this way at the end of the year last year, but I also don't recall having to give finals over a week before classes ended. Of course there are many things I don't recall, and this may be only the most recent one.

And when summer's around the corner, it's hard to feel the pressure quite as intensely as much as you would some other time.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

UFT at Puerto Rican Day Parade 2019

This is NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza with UFT Vice President Evelyn de Jesus. It's kind of cool to have a chancellor who will show up on a Sunday to support a UFT event. As you know, if this were Joel Klein, everyone who touched him would have to wash their whole body with Brillo pad. (I know Norm Scott once hugged him and survived, but I can't speak for everyone who had that unfortunate experience.)

Last time I saw the chancellor was at the UFT Spring Conference, where he picked up a guitar and serenaded Evelyn. He was singing about Puerto Rico and she was all tearing up.

It's feels strange to have a chancellor who spends time with UFT members rather than on the phone taking orders from Eva Moskowitz, but I guess I could get used to it. The chancellor also posed for pics with a few other people. 

That's my friend and colleague Mayra on the right, along with the chancellor and me. Unlike me, and unlike the chancellor, she's actually Puerto Rican. She gives us both street cred in this photo, so we're grateful.

The Puerto Rican Day Parade is my favorite UFT event, for some reason, and this is the third year I've attended. This year, because we were standing around waiting for such a long time, we actually had time to watch a whole lot of the parade.

On the left is a guy who had a lot of people on the street screaming. I didn't know who he was, but Mayra did, and it turns out he's Ricky Martin. When my daughter was very young, she'd get up and dance whenever La Vida Loca was on the radio. It didn't matter if we were home, or in a pizzeria, or wherever. It was pretty cute when she did it, but I couldn't recommend you or I doing it. 

Of course Chuck Shumer was in the parade. A lot of people were screaming at him, but it was not remotely the same way they screamed for Ricky Martin. Maybe Chuck went into the wrong line of  work. Still, it's hard to imagine people paying money to see him sing. I could imagine people paying him money to not sing. Mayra was impressed that he wore a guayabera. That's what you call the shirt he's wearing, evidently.  You never see him wearing it at meetings with Donald Trump, but I guess it must get pretty cold at those meetings.

The chancellor stayed with UFT for the entire parade. Someone on Facebook told me he knew good optics. I'm not sure. I think he likes being with teachers. Of course the chancellor is under a little pressure for having fired or demoted a few white women he hadn't chosen. I'm glad he fired them, and I wish he'd fire a whole lot more Bloomberg leftovers. If I were the chancellor, I'd fire just about everyone at Tweed.

The first people I'd fire would be the ones who meet us at Step Two grievance hearings. What happens there is one person pretends to represent the superintendent, and another pretends to represent the chancellor. Actually, the person you see repping the chancellor at one meeting might rep the superintendent at the next. The chancellor's rep pretends to listen to UFT, then pretends to listen to the superintendent, and finally rules against UFT no matter what.

Q--What do you call four fired Bloomberg leftovers?
A--A good start.

There were a lot more UFT members at this year's march than last year or the year before. That had nothing to do with the chancellor, because absolutely no one knew he was going to be there. I'm not sure whether it's chance or a sense that there needs to be more involvement, but I'm hoping for the latter. With Trump in the White House and a SCOTUS that would as soon strangle us as look at us, that's a good thing. 

I had to take a photo of this statue on Fifth Avenue. I wasn't sure what it symbolized, but I imagined it to be Cathie Black, the woman Michael Bloomberg selected to be chancellor. You may recall that Cathie Black had never taught, had never held a position in education, but owned a penthouse on Bloomberg's block or something. I supposed she also attended the same cocktail parties and gala luncheons.

She lasted all of three months. She once visited my school with Dennis Walcott, her eventual successor, at her side. She sat like this statue while Walcott fielded all questions. While Walcott was mostly a mouthpiece for Bloomberg, at least he was smart enough to speak for himself.

What a horror it must be for her to see a chancellor who's actually qualified walking up the street, and with a bunch of teachers beside him, no less.

At the right is José Feliciano. Mayra and I wandered ahead of UFT and it turned out he was in front of us the whole time. He was being honored for lifetime achievement. Mayra was impressed that I knew who he was. I thought everybody did. However, if you don't know who he is, he's a singer/ guitarist who had AM hits with Light My Fire and Feliz Navidad

This dog marched the entire parade with us. Well, he didn't actually march, what with his being on a skateboard and all. But he did the entire parade, and of course he marched with UFT. He occasionally did wheelies, but alas I didn't catch any photos of them. He was quite well-dressed, and if you look carefully you can see he's wearing sneakers. 

To the right you can see my dog Toby, sporting a very fashionable Yo Soy Boricua neckerchief. Toby was pretty mad when he saw that the dog above had attended the parade while he had not. Toby is, in fact, Puerto Rican. I told him the other dog had a skateboard and sneakers, not to mention a Yankee hat. Toby is demanding all those things for his birthday, which fortunately is not until December. I'm hoping he forgets by then but you never know. I did, however, promise to consider bringing him next year. We shall see.

One of the really cool things about the Puerto Rican Day Parade is that by the time it gets here, summer is just around the corner. Join us next year. 

Friday, June 07, 2019

DOE Galoots Abuse Speakers of Other Languages

I'm absolutely amazed to read of abuses involving translation services at IEP meetings. I've been teaching ESL for over three decades now. When I first started, I didn't really speak a second language. I needed 12 foreign language credits for my certification. I went out and took 8 in Spanish and 4 in German. That way I was able to do eight credits in one summer, and that was good enough for NY State.

Ironically, friends of mine studying with me were trying to get certified at the same time were fluent in Spanish but didn't have the credits. They had to take them before they could get the certification. So I got the license and they had to take credits in a language they knew way better than I did. Go figure.

I decided that it behooved me to become fluent in a second language if I was going to tell kids they could do it too. I took more Spanish credits. I spent two summers in Mexico studying. (I also married a woman from Colombia, though not strictly to learn Spanish.) I even got a certification to teach Spanish, though I don't have any particular desire to do it.

It was great knowing Spanish. Most of my students at John Adams High School spoke Spanish. My friend, a Spanish teacher, suggested I call parents and say no muestra respeto, or she doesn't show respect. He said that was a particularly effective phrase. I eventually developed my own series of home-calling statements, and now use them pretty much exclusively, but it was a start.

Shortly after I got a handle on Spanish, I transferred out of John Adams High School. Had I not done so, I'd likely as not be an ATR, so I'm grateful my former supervisor painted me into that particular corner. The thing was, though, that Francis Lewis High School was completely different from John Adams. There were Spanish speakers, but there were also quite a few Chinese and Korean speakers. Over time, Chinese speakers have become the dominant group.

I'd done my bit learning Spanish. I was not quite up for learning Chinese. However, I began to make friends who spoke Chinese. My first few years at Lewis, I was very good friends with a Chinese paraprofessional. He would help me out whenever I had to make calls. I made friends with speakers of Korean, Farsi, and Greek. I found friends who spoke whatever other languages the job called for.

A few years ago I co-taught with a Chinese speaker. We helped one another. I called the parents of Spanish speakers and she called the parents of Chinese speakers. We still do one another favors. In our building, we also have a Chinese-speaking guidance counselor who's very smart and very helpful. I'm just saying that if it's your goal to communicate, you'll find a way to do it.

If, on the other hand, your goal is ridiculing and demeaning people who don't speak English to your standards, you may take a different approach.

One parent was told to bring a teenage nephew to translate her daughter’s special education meeting. Another mother struggled to decipher a phone call explaining that her daughter had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. A third parent, who requested an interpreter for a meeting, was asked, “Why don’t you learn English?”

Wow, wow, wow. What exactly do these people think their job is? I'd think it was communicating with parents, and I've given you a pretty good primer of how to do that. Of course, that assumes you want to do it, which these people seem not to. Years ago, I was talking to a racist galoot who was ridiculing the way a Spanish speaker used English. I told him, "She knows two languages. You know only one and you're making fun of her." I thought, if anything, she should make fun of him. (Of course she was too well-brought-up to do that.)

Here's the worst aspect of this story--it's no longer all that difficult to find translation services. You don't even have to foster friends who speak other languages. NYC has a translation service. All you do is call in, tell which language you need, and they provide a live translator. I have been in IEP meetings in which this service was used. It works.

Personally, I prefer using my friends, because I know and trust them. Regardless, it's beyond the pale that people treat speakers of other languages like this. If it were up to me, I'd sentence these abusers to lifetime, non-divorcible marriage to Leadership Academy principals.

They're just lucky it isn't.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Why Are We Raising a Generation of Non-readers?

I had a lot of time on Monday. I proctored for one hour and 15 minutes, and then I was pretty much free. Also, we were free the next day. It felt like a Friday, and I just want to thank all my Muslim brothers and sisters for giving us that Tuesday off.

No one was in trouble on Monday This was good for me, and my members, but I hadn't brought a book or anything. So I sat down and read the new social studies Regents exam. I haven't studied history in, oh, decades, and I'd have aced this test. I had almost no prior knowledge whatsoever. There were only two questions that confused me, and both were in the short answers.

I don't remember exactly what the first one was, but I do remember that I looked at it very carefully, reconsidered, and decided it was a different answer. I was absolutely sure I was correct. The hardest question on the test for me was one about revolutions. Was it the Iranian Revolution, the French Revolution, or one of two other revolutions?

I had no idea. Then I looked at the source names, and waddya know, one of them was in French. It was the French Revolution. There was some essay question about the rich oppressing the poor, or the capitalists exploiting countries, and they asked me to choose three out of five given non-fiction pieces to cite and prove my point. I chose the last three, which were on target. I was very confused by a tea advertisement, though it may have just been evidence the English were using Indian tea. It didn't matter. The last three all fit.

What I noticed about this exam is that it was a reading test. If you could read, you could pass. You needed no specific prior knowledge. Odd, then, that you'd have to spend a year sitting in a social studies class all so it could culminate in a test that you needed no particular information to pass. I'd think that would be more appropriate for an English test, but the English Regents exam does absolutely nothing of the sort.

So we have a social studies exam that tests reading, and an English exam that tests nothing. And a lot of students, unless the geniuses in Albany set the past score low enough so as to render the exam utterly meaningless, are going to tank on this test. This is because they are not readers, and we are no longer developing readers. We are developing a generation who knows how to look at line 24 and decide whether it means A, B, C or D. We minimize the importance of reading fiction and push tedious crap, and it has precisely opposite the intended effect.

I am a reader. When I was very young my mother sat with me until I cracked the code, and from that point I was liberated. I was fascinated with comic books and read them compulsively when I was very young. I'd read just about anything except romance. I was not particularly romantic when I was eight years old.

From there, I started reading all the paperback novels my mom left lying around. I read a lot of mystery stuff, and I still love reading pretty much anything like that. Right now I'm reading Prime Suspect, about the character on the great PBS series with Helen Mirren. So I'm an English teacher and I don't sit around reading Shakespeare or Moby Dick all the time. I read all of Shakespeare, and Moby Dick in college, and despite the best efforts of my professors,  they're not my go to when I have free time. I'm still reading the same mindless fiction I've been reading since I graduated from comic books. (And that's not to say I wouldn't instantly read a comic book if I found one lying around.)

Why am I going into detail here? I'm trying to point out why I am a reader. I am a reader because I was encouraged, actively or passively, to read for enjoyment. I am thrilled on days I have to go to Manhattan and I don't need to drive to Queens. That means I will spend hours reading on the train, on the subway, when waiting for whatever meeting or event I'm going to. Sometimes, if the event is tedious, I'll hide in a corner somewhere and read some more.

Because I am a reader, I can ace that social studies test while knowing little or nothing about the topic. I can parse the sentences. I can eliminate bad answers (note to Regents--your distractors suck). I can plod through all the boring crap you can toss my way. That's because I'm a reader.

However, we are not raising a generation of readers. We are raising a generation of students under the premise put forth by David Coleman--that no one gives a crap what you think or feel. Thus fiction is unimportant. Placing yourself in a deeply empathetic position with a fictional character is of no consequence. Being fascinated by stories, an element of every human society since forever, means nothing.

You will take this crap, you will read it, you will answer questions about it, and that's it. No love of reading for you. No enjoyment for you. No empathy for you, and no one gives a crap what you think or feel.

I see absolutely no evidence that either MaryEllen Elia or any sitting Regent has the remotest awareness of this. That's a disgrace, of course.

But it's also a tragedy for the children of New York State.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

DOE in Deep Denial over Forest Hills Principal

I shouldn't be surprised when the NYC Department of Education trades in outrageous lies. I mean, that's more or less their stock in trade. Their "legal" department exists only to tell principals to do Any Damn Thing they please. Contract? They likely as not have never read it. I have never once seen DOE legal on the right side of an argument with UFT.

Here's the latest DOE assertion:

DOE officials insisted Monday that Sherman’s extraction was not prompted by any official findings or negative conclusions about his performance.

Surely it's just a coincidence that this occurred exactly one school day before a planned protest outside the school. I happen to know that Forest Hills UFT members invited the press, This denial goes beyond pants on fire and rivals Donald Trump levels. Maybe the DOE expects us to believe that they swapped out the superintendent just for laughs. Maybe they expect us to believe they installed a shadow principal just because they had nothing better to do that day.

I'n glad I'm not a DOE spokesperson. I hope Carranza fires this one, and any others left over from Bloomberg. I guess saving face is a political thing. Nonetheless, it sets a bad example. When I screw up, as I do from time to time, or more, my go to remark is, "I'm sorry." There are variations, like saying I hope it won't happen again, or it will never happen again, but it's not a weakness to recognize fault in yourself and try to correct it. It's a sign you're listening, you're learning, and you're alive. I think Jack Nicholson said, "If you aren't learning, you're dead."

Well, if you're refusing to learn, you aren't necessarily dead. But you aren't exactly moving forward either. I'd argue this sort of thinking is left over from Bloomberg. You remember Bloomberg, don't you? When the scores went up, he was a genius and it was absolute proof his brand of reforminess was the bestest ever. When they went down, it was proof that teachers sucked, that there should be no tenure, and that there should be no union. Better that everyone should place their fate into Bloomberg's fat little fingers and hope for the best.

It's kind of ironic, though, that our business is setting an example. These are the people who nail teachers to the wall over nothing. These are the people who create Leadership Academies that produce people like principal Ben Sherman. I guess when you've peppered people of that persuasion absolutely everywhere, you might be a little defensive when it turns out none of them know how to get along with anyone else. Of course, they're likely as not trained to be like that.

It's funny, because that's not a route to success as teachers. I have a student with pink hair who comes late a lot. When she first started doing that, I gave her a hard time. She reacted badly. I went to another one of her classes and pulled her out. She told me that her mother drove her to school and was perpetually late. She claimed she herself was ready on time every day. I believed her for some reason.

Now I'm not saying that principals ought to let us come in late every day. We aren't kids and we aren't depending on our mothers for transport (I hope). But we do have issues, and going to work would be so much easier if our bosses supported us, rather than making hilarious clever remarks when we complain, say, that students are smoking pot all over the building. Maybe secretaries are more comfortable if you close the bathroom door so they don't have to watch you urinate. Maybe it's not the very best to make cutesy remarks about women's appearance. I don't know. I guess they don't teach that sort of thing in the Leadership Academy.

But the DOE screwed up. It's a shame the people ostensibly in charge of education in the largest school district in the country can't bring themselves to admit their errors.  I'm just glad they aren't in my classes.

Monday, June 03, 2019

UFT Executive Board June 3,2019--Norm Holds Court, MaryEllen Elia Is Public Education Enemy #1, and Adios to Smilin' Ben from Forest Hills High School

6 PM—Secretary Howard Schoor calls us to order and welcomes us.


Kamala Redd—adult educator, 26 year teacher—Speaks of how senior teachers want to contribute to success of students—Says commitment to teaching is lifelong, always teaching. Says when an adult learns, a family succeeds. Teaches in her own community, sees her students every day. Says she’s being forced into retirement, is not ready. Connects it to age and increase in salary. Says new admin took over and closed her class. In placement center, her job, which was closed, was open. In September it was closed again.

Says it’s a pattern, and that adult ed. needs our support. Says she got no support moving her class and 15 years of materials to another floor. Was suddenly rated U, after 15 years. Got an email, by accident, where AP said she was getting an S, but principal questioned it. She emailed back.

Says she’s just one of 30 senior teachers who’ve been targeted. Says it’s traumatic and unhealthy, form bad to worse. They’ve now closed both her classes, Senior teachers being u-rated, it’s a pattern, and union needs to support its members. Senior teachers being given split schedules. Students are placed in classes of newer teachers as older teachers lose students and classes.

Remembers when teachers were respected and their importance was obvious, input valuable. Was quality PD, and adult ed. was invigorated. Students were happy, teachers were creative and challenged to experiment. Was understood that not every lesson was successful, but improvements could be made.  That’s not reality anymore, but I have seen schools where that’s the case. Inaction toward bullies condones their behavior.

Schoor—13% appeal will now include U ratings and if anyone has been harassed into it will bring it to impartial hearing. We have retaliation complaint in new contract. You can file a grievance. All members should avail themselves of it.

Norm Scott—Have been speaking about this same situation. Adult ed. people have been here for seven years. Always you have to file a grievance, they will observe you to death. We need an intervention. DOE legal doesn’t worry about contract. Says they can do whatever they want. We need more than that.

We have to congratulate union on FH principal. Union finally did intervene. Does CSA have pictures of you guys doing stuff? Why do you say they’re another union? They’re practically criminals. The people Carranza got rid of are swine Good riddance.

LaGuardia—Parents had a rally there today. They’re trying to make it all about college. They wiped out vocational ed. in NYC. Insult to kids who want to work with hands. They killed auto shops. Union must be more proactive.

Been attending 3020a hearing for math teacher. It’s a Twilight Zone. These are middle school math classes, seems to be doing a decent job. Saw video with kids raising hands and she got unsatisfactory. It’s a horror story. Hoping she will survive. Have been ten hearing dates to try and fire a teacher who appears to be competent and decent? Isn’t that a waste of resources?

CPE 1 went to 14 consecutive meetings before UFT involved. If you make 120K there’s a target on your back. I’d rather make less. Get rid of FSF.


Mulgrew is in Albany.

LeRoy Barr
—Mulgrew is fighting on behalf of patient bills, against high hospital rates. Past weekend UFT Pride scholarship brunch. Rashad Brown did great job. First book event in Queens district 28. June 15, school secretary luncheon, June 12 DA June. Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday.


Arthur Goldstein
—MaryEllen Elia seems to think classroom time is so precious that we need to come in on December 23rd, despite the enormous and wasteful expense of opening school for one day, a day on which a whole lot of students will not bother coming, and a day on which teachers are going to be prohibited from doing anything new, or at least anything that they won’t have to repeat on a day when students are in attendance. Yet this same MaryEllen Elia has no issue taking an entire day away from a whole lot of high school students today so they can take a new exam. Meanwhile, we have a state English exam that tests neither reading nor writing.

She’s further done absolutely nothing to ameliorate the wretched revision of Part 154, which takes 33-100% of English instruction from our most vulnerable and needy students. Both UFT and NYSUT have resolved that ELLs need more, not less instruction. That’s not to mention the fact that ESL teachers are run ragged all over the state with dozens of co-teachers, little to no common planning, and various other roles that preclude us from doing our jobs.

In case that’s not enough, I just read this week that it was MaryEllen Elia herself who blocked implementation of the Contract for Excellence law, a law that would reduce class size in all grades. From my perspective, teaching classes of over 30 in a miserable half room in the most overcrowded school in the city, that’s criminal, and I don’t mean merely in the literal sense. I don’t know a teacher or parent who doesn’t want smaller class sizes.

My question is why aren’t we up in Albany with torches and pitchforks, and if we’re not getting torches and pitchforks, what are we gonna do about the State Education Department’s outright indifference to NY State’s students, parents and teachers?

Schoor—President in Albany working on these very things. Working on 23rd. First problem is hours. After that, 23rd comes to forefront.

Kate Martin Bridge—Looking for clarification on teachers as first reporters. We had an incident where police were looking for ID. We knew seeing picture in paper, were told no you can’t report that. What is teacher’s responsibility if police are looking?

Schoor—in contract negotiations, school safety reporting requirements have changed. No one on committee here. Coming to resolution. Will be recourses.

Martin Bridge
—Happened outside of school. Am I responsible if I see young man on TV? Principal says his name confidential to you.

Schoor—Jeff Povalitus will reach out to you. We spent months and years negotiating. Just because it’s in there doesn’t mean members abide by it. Union can’t implement unless members take ownership. Want to make sure it’s followed. Every school that came here—we have followed through. Biggest change maker is members and parents involved. Action in schools is what works.

Jonathan Halabi—Risen with similar question—In LaGuardia HS are issues with students and parents and admissions. They are talking about admissions that squeeze out talented students, but they are not saying, they are squeezing out talented students of color. This winter the School Diversity Advisory Group made recommendations on HS admissions. We need to organize discussion on issue. I’m CL of a specialized HS. Members in my school discuss this and organize. Members do indeed need to act.

I’ve been coming to this Exec Board for ten years. I criticize when things are wrong and praise things that are good, like recent contract. When members are fighting we support them. I told this story a few years ago. In A Few Good Men, two soldiers, enlisted men, marines get dishonorably discharged. One soldier said “we didn’t do anything wrong”. The Black soldier, the leader, says “yes we did, we didn’t stand up for someone who couldn’t stand up for himself.” I’m being critical here. We must assist, we must help, not only when members are organized, but also where they cannot stand up for themselves.

My term is over. I know that there is an open mike, but I think this will be my last comment at this board. I thank you and wish you luck going forward.

Janella Hinds
—Needs to be larger conversation. Will convene discussion in Fall. Will get together before end of school year on specialized HS.

Report from Districts

Rashad Brown—pride committee—June 20 will commemorate Stonewall Rebellion, 3rd floor. Saturday 8th, Brooklyn Pride March. Yesterday was Queens Pride. Please ask members to come. Pride flag raising ceremony at Bronx Borough Hall today. Saturday this room had over 200 people for Daniel Drumm scholarship lunch. Thanks all for support.

Eliu Lara
—June 20 will be Bronx Pathway to Graduation Awards. Will recognize 30 students, will receive laptop and printer, calculator, backpack, and certificate. Please come

Debra Penny
—When in service you can contribute to TDA. This year 3280 members turned 70, 800 showed today. Had great workshop.

Anthony Harmon—Firstbook event Saturday, thanks Queens UFT. Truck was four hours late, unpacked 8PM to 11:30, and came back 7 AM to finish work. Gave 40K books. Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday. 45 between 5 and 6 asking they get there 8:30. Expect to finish at 2. Please join us.

Richard Mantel—Last Wednesday Let’s Talk About It—Anti drug event. Was very good. Many helped us. SS learned a great deal.

Mary Atkinson--In Bronx Friday, first career and college pathways. 1300 kids from D75 met with people who offered jobs, corporations, work fair for kids who are often overlooked.

Arthur Goldstein
--I just want to report that Forest Hills HS at long last has gotten free of Ben Sherman, the much unloved principal.

We’ve been talking about member action  This was  a member initiated action. It got a lot of help from a lot of quarters including UFT, parents, and community. I’d like to thank all the members at FHHS who got together and stood against this principal.  I’d like to especially acknowledge the chapter leader Adam Bergstein who spoke out, who freely spoke to the press using his own name. He was fearless in the face of harassing letters in file. He was relentless and never gave up.

I’d also like to thank Amy Arundell. She doesn’t like when you talk about her, but she's not here.  Nonetheless she was really supportive, followed developments carefully and advised everyone. I thank everybody in Queens UFT who spoke out.

This is a great victory and long overdue.

Legislative report—Schoor
—Mulgrew in Albany fighting for hospital bill. Every dollar we spend in medical coverage is one less that can be given in salary. That’s the fight. Some hospitals are trying to charge too much. NYC pays 7% of budget toward med. coverage. 4 charter bills introduced by Michael Bennedetto. One talks of schools having no more than 5% in charter unless CEC votes to have more. 

Paperwork and operational
—As of today, 262 complaints. Took five issues out of grievance process. Most popular still paperwork. 126 paperwork, 88% resolved. Next most popular has been safety. 34 safety complaints, all resolved. Next is workload, for functional chapters. 96% of 25 cases resolved. PD complaints, 23, all resolved. Curriculum—11, all resolved. Space, 10, all resolved. Up to members to bring these to CL who makes complaint. Have had successes in this committee, where CL didn’t have science supplies. CL sent picture with kids and supplies.

SBO—As of today, we’ve had requests for 763. Most popular to change parent teacher conferences, 344, session time, 188, programs, 122. comp time, 65, professional activities 51.

Consultation—80% of schools have reported. Many schools have achieved 100%.

We want to know what’s happening in schools. If they happen in many, we bring up with chancellor.

Motion to Agenda—Janella Hinds—Rescind resolution to oppose Alabama’s illegal law—Resolution has gotten attention from AFT. AFT asks that we stand down so they can lead way on this statement. I ask we rescind resolution passed by this board so AFT can move their resolution forward.

—Motion seconded, is debatable, can be amended. If it hasn’t been given to body before, requires two-thirds vote.

Anthony Harmon
—supports motion. Serves on AFT council, debated it. It applies in other states as well. Want nationwide response. Asks body support motion.

Kate Martin Bridge
—Is another resolution from AFT being worked on?

Schoor—Yes. will bring it to AFT.


We are adjourned. 6:56

UFT and Community Prevail at Forest Hills High School

Principal Ben Sherman is OUT. He has written a farewell letter to staff, and we have confirmed his exit.

Breaking--MaryEllen Elia Sets New Standards for Obedience School

I posted this pic and that headline on Facebook. I'm gonna share a comment from the Facebook post:

 I mean, honestly, this will only raise the value of an obedience school diploma, which let’s face it, has been declining for decades in the face of increasing automation in the traditional working breed jobs: computerized burglar alarms, newspapers going online, slippers not really a thing... 

Rover needs to be competitive in an ever changing world. What better way to achieve that than to be able to differentiate the rate of change with respect to the world function f(x)=h(x)-x^2 on the interval 0 to pi?

Speaking of pi... :::tail wags:::

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Geniuses in Albany Schedule Regents Exams for Monday

It must be great to sit around some Hogwarts-worthy building and decide what the rest of the state is going to do. Why not just schedule a Regents exam before school ends? That's a great idea, isn't it? Because every idea is a great idea if you have it. After all, if you weren't a genius, why would you have a job that entailed going to gala luncheons, staying in fancy hotels for conferences, and making arbitrary decisions with no rationale whatsoever?

Of course teachers will complain, but isn't that what they always do? If they had a point, why would they have such crappy jobs? Thank God they have us here to regulate them. We've done them the great favor of making sure they don't grade their own students on our brilliant exams. After all, they can't be trusted. They would manipulate the scores. Someone who only got 64 on an exam could be given a 65, and that would be terrible.

And anyway, manipulating scores is our job. We decide which percentage of students will pass and fail, and set cut scores to make sure things go our way. When teachers do it, it's corruption. When we do it, it's common sense. It's our job to make Michael Bloomberg look like an extraordinary innovator. It's our job to make the teachers look incompetent. It's our job to deny dangerous ideas like lowering class size in NY State. How will that contribute to more and longer gala luncheons? And Bill Gates doesn't believe in it, so why should we?

Now here's what the teachers are saying--they're claiming that the students will be unmotivated to continue in their classes after the Regents exams are over. They're claiming that the students will have issues about coming back to class. That, of course, is the fault of the teachers. If they were gracious and charming enough, the students would come back simply to see their smiling faces.

The fact is Regents exams come but once a year. Sure it's an important time for us. But when Regents exams are over in June, do you think we just stop going out to gala luncheons? Of course not! Do you know how many restaurants there are in Albany? Well, there are a lot. There are enough of them that we can go to a different one each and every day. Not only that, but there are plenty that will deliver to education conferences.

You need energy to do what we do. Do you have any idea how long it takes to give a valet your car in Albany? And once you do that, you have to walk to the restaurant, which could be one, even two blocks away. By the time you get out, walk to the restaurant, walk back, have the valet pick up your care, pay and tip, and fill out the expense account form, it's time to go back home. Do you think the state pays for your time once you leave work? Well they don't.

And the next day, you go to work at 11:30 or so, and you sometimes have to wait up to thirty minutes before it's time to go out to lunch again. Sometimes you have to go to meetings, and sign forms, and pretend you wrote whatever it was you signed.

So don't come complaining to us about your trivial little issues, teachers. We don't see you going to luncheons each and every day. Until you're willing to walk the walk, shut the hell up and leave us alone.