Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Lost Boys (and Girls)

For some reason, not many of my colleagues ask to teach beginners, ever. It used to be different. People used to think, it seemed, it was easy to teach beginning English Language Learners. Maybe people thought, because the level was low, that the material was easy. That's true, for me at least. Basic English is not a large challenge for me. I've been using it since I was a baby, and I understand it pretty well. (Of course, you can't brag about that the way you could if you were discussing advanced physics or something. On the other hand, there's a lot more need for basic English than advanced physics.) I love to teach beginners not because the materials are easy, but because I love seeing the amazing progress they make.

There are challenges, though, that most people wouldn't anticipate. Who's in beginner classes? Well, beginners are there, of course, unless they ace one or more of the idiotic state tests that supposedly measure language levels. You never know what those tests are going to do. My tests are different. My first is to ask what your name is, where you're from, and how long you've been here. Responses to those questions can say a lot. Sometimes I have students write about whatever they want to see what they can do. Of course the geniuses in Albany know better than I do, so they don't bother with things like that.

Sometimes you'll get students classified as SIFE, which means they're missing formal education somehow. This seems to be a frequent occurrence in El Salvador, where there's a whole lot of uncertainty. The first time I encountered a student like this his Spanish teacher knew exactly what to ask. The student said he hadn't been in school since fourth grade. I called his father, who told me you had to bring the kid in by a certain date or he wouldn't get admitted to school. I found that hard to believe. I mean, if I made a mistake like that once, I wouldn't make it twice. According to Dad, he made it six times in a row. I'm sure there was more of a story there, but I was never going to hear it.

Some students don't want to learn English. It's odd, especially in teenagers. Social life was a prime directive for me as a teenager, and it seems important to most I know. This really drives langauge learning. But some kids really didn't want to leave their country. They don't like it here, and they don't want to learn English. Usually they get over it. Sometimes they don't. When they don't, they tend not to pass English. Sometimes they stay at the beginner level. Sometimes they advance because people think it won't do any good to leave them in the same class. Sometimes they get sent back to the same class anyway.

There are special education students from other countries. Sometimes they weren't identified as special education in their home countries. Sometimes they were. Either way, it's a long process getting them services here. You have to get translators, there's some incredibly complicated process, and it doesn't get resolved for months. Meanwhile these kids sit in your classes. If parents don't wish their kids to be tested, they don't get tested. I've seen kids like these fail all, or almost all of their classes. I've also seen kids like these take out their frustrations in ways that are highly undesirable.

A new thing is ICT classes. These are blended classes of two-thirds general ed and one third special ed, with two teachers. It's driven by IEPs. These IEPs tend to place students in ICT classes for English, social studies, science and math, contending that they need these services. Frequently, though, they don't need them for subjects in which the school doesn't offer ICT classes. For example, I know language teachers who have quite a few of these students. While you can only have up to 12 students with IEPs in an ICT class, you can have 34 of them in a Spanish class. The evident logic is that the student needs extra help in her native language, but none whatsoever to learn a new one. That makes sense, right?

ELLs now need an ELA component. I can teach it because I'm certified in English. I teach two classes this year, one ELA and one ESL. So a student requiring ICT classes might be in my ESL section, with rank beginners, but also in an English class full of native speakers with a special education teacher. I'm gonna go out on a limb and say that kid absolutely does not belong in a class with native English speakers. Nonetheless, there he is. In fairness, because of Part 154, there may be an ESL teacher hanging around that classroom now and then. The geniuses in Albany, you see, think that this newcomer can read To Kill a Mockingbird as long as an ESL teacher sits in that room twice a week.

In any case, all these students are floating around my building. I get new students every week, and will do so for the entire school year. By the end of the year, likely as not, every one of the students above will be in my classes. The standing advice is to differentiate instruction. Honestly, though, it's tough to see how anyone can meet the varying needs of all these kids in one classroom.

Maybe that's why so few people ask for this level these days.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Two Unions in Puerto Rico, and Only One Side on Jacobin

I'm not going to link to the Jacobin story trashing AMPR, the Association of Puerto Rican Teachers. This is because they've refused to run responses to it. FMPR, the Federation of Puerto Rican Teachers, does not technically represent working teachers. It was decertified after a strike. I won't pretend to be expert on the strike, what caused it, or whether it was a good idea, but clearly it didn't work out well for FMPR.

I'm wary of a publication that won't allow responses. However, I'm even more wary of what's left of MORE, and the person who wrote the article in question identifies as MORE. When I first met people from FMPR, I took them at face value. I sent them money a few times. I didn't ask whether or not there was another side to the story. That's on me, I guess.

I've been observing union and union leadership pretty closely for a few years now. No one's perfect, and there are flaws in every organization. There are some UFT employees I like more than others. MORE, though, has crossed lines in ways that go far beyond the pale. A group of us worked very hard to have our voices heard within UFT We planned and schemed, and then we put our plans and schemes into action. We won seats. This was remarkable.

However, a group within MORE considered our victory "a disaster." I've seen them refer to us as "right-wingers" in writing. Evidently, that's what you are if you don't subscribe to their particular philosophy, whatever on earth that may be. They were horrified when I brought a resolution supporting smaller class sizes to the UFT Executive Board. Why didn't I run it by the Steering Committee, which they controlled?

When this small, self-important steering committee found themselves term-limited, they took a page from Michael Bloomberg and tried to remove the limits. For whatever reason, they failed in that effort. Once they were replaced, they moved to dump all their replacements. They couldn't be bothered with their own by-laws or anything, did whatever they wanted, and managed to lose 80% of their support in the next UFT election. I'm very comfortable determining they don't appear to believe in democracy. They fractured opposition so decisively I determined it to be a waste of time.

I saw a real vision in what was left of MORE, and the vision was this--we do whatever we want, however we want, whenever we want, and if we lose elections by a landslide because we alienate the overwhelming majority of our former supporters, we're good with that. Hey, if they only want to mix with people who buy their particular brand of socialism, or whatever they call it, that's fine. But if you want to reach UFT members, if you want to organize and change things for working teachers, you need to be willing to talk to everyone. You need to be willing to have conversations with people who aren't limited to your particular ideology, whatever it may be.

I'd argue that people who can't tolerate opposing points of view, who won't mix with those who have differing points of view, who blindly condemn those with whom they likely have more in common than not are fanatics. A lack of tolerance like that is not likely to accomplish a whole lot. I'd rather work with people who can and will make change. In 2019, on this astral plane, that's the UFT leadership. In fact, as opposition, the only way I ever got anything done was by working with leadership.

Is FMPR like MORE? I have no idea. I hope not. However, I need to hear both sides of a story to make up my mind. I haven't heard the AMPR side, and I don't know what it is. I know Jacobin is declining to run a response, and I know someone from AFT requested space for one.

I don't know enough to say anything about FMPR. But Jacobin ran one side and won't publish the other. What good is that to people who want to know the whole story? That's no more helpful or effective than spitting in the face of 80% of your supporters and pretending you're a force for change.

Life is short, and I'm not wasting my time with that.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Should We Maintain the Regents Exams?

Some social studies teachers think that stopping the Regents exams will be a terrible thing. Given what I saw on the latest iteration of the Global exam, I'm not sure those conclusions are warranted.

The council added that Regents exams in social studies, in particular, "are essential for the survival of a democratic society."

I'd argue that if the stakes were so high, we ought to focus on current events as well as history, and closely examine parallels between the two. Nonetheless, the exam I saw last June tested neither current events nor history, but rather the ability to read for information. For my money, it was a better reading test than the English Regents exam, but that's not saying much at all.

I have not studied history in decades, and I have no particular memories of it. I could perhaps teach social studies, but I have no deep well of knowledge on which to rely. I could read ahead of the kids and be aware of what I was supposed to teach. However, I haven't got any special spark or love of the subject. I wouldn't inspire kids, and I likely wouldn't inspire the survival of a democratic society either.

However, I could ace that test in a New York minute with no prep whatsoever. That's because, in my wayward youth, I picked up every loose paperback my mom left lying around the house and read each and every one. It's because as a child I read every comic book I could get my hands on. It's because I deem it a great luxury to take the LIRR to Manhattan and just sit with a book and read.

Alas I didn't learn that in some class prepping me to take some idiotic test, and I'd certainly classify the new Global Regents exam as idiotic. I don't know what the geniuses in Albany were thinking or smoking when they designed it, or how much they overpaid the psychometricians to lend their magic touch to it, but the test is a piece of crap. It fails to measure whether or not I am familiar with global history. I know precious little about it, did no prep whatsoever, and ought to have failed. Anyone who's a good reader can pass that test.

I'm only familiar with two other state tests, and one is the English Regents exam. This test also asks inane reading questions, questions that no one reading the New York Times Book Review would ever consider. It tests a prescribed bunch of terms that do not determine whether or not you're a skilled reader. It also has you do something or other resembling writing, but really it's picking through pre-selected arguments, regurgitating them, and determining which one you like better. Perish forbid it should ask you to compose your own argument. It's ironic, because I used to teach the English RCT, which did, in fact, require you to produce arguments. It's funny that this test was ostensibly for students who couldn't handle the Regents exam, but abandoned for a Regents exam that holds an even lower standard.

I could write a better test than the English Regents exam in 90 minutes. If I had all the time and staff the geniuses in Albany fritter away on these tests, I'd have a much better exam. For my money, the Regents have been moving steadily backward. Furthermore, if you disregard the abysmal quality of the tests they produce, you can't ignore the fact that they arbitrarily move the cut scores up and down to suit whatever the trendy flavor of the week is in education.

I say let the tests go. Let them all go. Also, let's dump Common Core and every last vestige of it. Let's stop fooling ourselves that whatever they renamed it is different or better. Any Regents in Albany who agree to the David Coleman philosophy that no one gives a crap what you think or feel ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. They always need people in Dunkin Donuts, and if they worked there at least they'd be making people happy.

I agree, in fact, that social studies is quite important. I agree we should study history. However, the fact is if you take New York City away, our state probably chose Donald Trump for President. That suggests a wide swath of our population is poorly informed. We need a social studies curriculum that will allow our children to understand what people mean when they point fingers at universal health care, a living wage, and affordable college and label it "socialism." In fact, we ought to be raising a populous that knows what socialism is, what democratic socialism is, and what logical fallacy is.

The social studies Regents exam I read closely achieves exactly none of the above. I rate it, and the NY State Regents ineffective. Before I demand the tests that bear their name be continued, they'll have to establish they can produce one that isn't total crap.

I shall sit while I wait for that to happen.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Terrible Teacher

So this student doesn't show up to class for days. When he finally comes in, he's got these really prominent earphones. Who knows what kind they are, but they aren't airbuds. One of them is huge and made of something metallic. It really kind of stands out. The teacher has never seen anything like it before. He asks the kid to take it off, and he does. The teacher goes on.

The next day, the student comes in late again, and he's wearing the same earphones. Maybe they're a fashion statement. The teacher asks him to take them off again, and he does. The next day the same thing happens. The teacher, by now, is getting a little bit tired of him coming late to class and wearing these things. So he calls the dean, who comes in and takes them for the night. He's got to pick them up the next day. Undaunted, he pulls his phone out and starts doing whatever he does with that.

The next day, when he walks in late again, wearing the same earphones, The teacher starts to think he's not making an impression. This time he calls the dean and ask that they take his phone too. IThe teacher figures that's what powers the earbuds, so maybe this will discourage the repetitive behavior. The teacher tells the kid in the hall he's sorry, but it will be very hard for him to pass if he keeps walking in late and wasting time with the earphones.

The following week he comes in on time, and not wearing the earphones. The teacher hears his phone beep and asks him to turn the sound off. The kid does something or other, and the teacher assumes he's turned off the sound. The next time the teacher sees the kid he's late again, and they're having a test. The kids phone rings in class, and the teacher's patience is short indeed. So the teacher calls the dean again.

The teacher is more than a little shocked because he just took his phone on Friday, and the student has just gone a whole weekend without it. He later learns that the student's parents came up to get the phone on Friday. Evidently this played some small part it today's behavior. Why worry if the teacher takes the phone when they just have to give it back anyway?

The teacher tells the student to give the phone to the dean but he refuses. This is problematic because they're in the middle of the test. The dean says if he refuses to turn over the phone he has to go to the office. Off they go, but the dean has to return because the student left his phone in the backpack. Later the student returns with his backpack, but supposedly without the phone. Will the parent bail it out later? Who knows?

The student stays and finishes the test. The teacher hangs around until he does. Unsurprisingly, the student's not happy. He's demanding a new teacher, presumably one who's okay with him coming late whenever he golly gosh darn feels like it. A good teacher is one who lets you come in whenever you want, who lets you wear your earphones and listen to music in class, who never bothers with stuff like that.

This teacher, clearly, is totally out of the mix.

Monday, October 07, 2019

UFT Executive Board October 7, 2019--Class Size and More

6 PM—Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.

Minutes
—approved.

Barr—DA next week, Oct.16, please wear pink. Breast cancer walk Oct. 20 9 AM. all boroughs. Same day, Teacher Union Day at Hilton. LGBTQ youth empowerment dinner November 21. Want to raise 30K for scholarship fund. November 4, names added to Wall of Honor downstairs, will be shortened Exec Board.

Questions—

Arthur Goldstein
—Given our new class size process, can you tell us how this year looks citywide, particularly in comparison to last September?

David Campbell—Generally far fewer, so far, appears process has forced DOE to do all they can to equalize. Principals have had pressure because day 14 would go to superintendents. Mulgrew will report further.

Mike Schirtzer
—Where are we with special ed. compliance?

Mary Jo Jinese
—We want to put pressure on DOE and file complaints. They have hired more staff but we want to keep the pressure on if we can’t resolve at school level. We hope for in house resolution where possible, and less finger pointing between FSC and principals. Will get numbers

Schirtzer—Presidency and upcoming election—AFT called on locals to create process, members want to get involved, can we do an online poll, perhaps events to encourage engagement?

Barr—Mulgrew will speak on that, but perhaps not tonight. AFT wants locals to engage with any candidates they wish before their exec. council meets. Encourage locals and members to engage as much as possible. Right now you may work with anyone with whom you wish. At some point AFT will ask us to get  behind one person. We want engagement now to increase awareness. We are having a Democratic Debate Watch Party October 15 7:30-11. We encourage people to come out. In the next 12-13 months our lives will change and we certainly hope it’s for the better, with more engagement. We cannot afford silence.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew—Wants to thank Anthony Harmon and those who participated in CL weekend.

Class size—Our focus is on making new provisions work. All DRs have made this part of consultation, borough reps with executives, and me with chancellor. Many leaders did not know about these provisions. Chancellor agreed—why should we have oversized classes in April when these things can be solved. DOE legal doesn’t like it but everyone is doing a very good job. We used to have 800 schools day 10. Have slowly cut it to 400, and this year was 350. As of today we are down to 105 schools, best we’ve ever done. By week’s end we hope to clear up much of them. Many fewer will go to arbitration. We want to finish by Thanksgiving. Amazing how people figure out how to solve things when they’re actually told to solve things. That’s how we make our contract work. Thanks to grievance dept. Still issues with overcrowding.

DOE announced Imagine Schools. Idea is to site 20 schools in 18 months in crowded area. They want teachers, communities to say what they want in a school. Creative scheduling or focus possible. We want existing schools to opt in. Not about schools in need of improvement. We should tell schools to come up with plans and submit.

Next year assessments will change. Second change, next year to “Next generation NY State Standards.” They are out. Looks like we will make same mistake as common core. Has anyone been trained on this? (No hands) How many schools have checked if curriculum is aligned? (One hand, says it isn’t aligned.) This bodes ill for tests next year. Whole system looking at it.

What would our enemies do if our achievement schools dropped in one year? We can’t wait for DOE to do job. This is party of my conversation and consultation. We have to awaken principals. Their evaluation is tied to those test results. DOE says they’ve trained thousands of people. We don’t believe it. Maybe they trained a few principals or superintendents who were looking at phones.

Corrective action plan in NYC due to non-compliance in special education. Do you think principals understand? Principals stilll say they haven’t got money. Superintendents say it’s support center. Issue will grow and inaction will put our system at risk. We didn’t fight all these years to allow incompetents to set us up for a beating. We need to put this in consultation agenda at every level of union.

Amazing we are still getting stupid answers. They can’t just say it’s not my job. It is their job. We will focus on and fix these things. We must be the ones to protect our school system despite their inactivity.

Reports from Districts—

Mike Schirtzer—Five screened HS in NYC changing admission system to encourage diversity including Leon Goldstein, trying to attract ss from other zip codes. Also chancellor formed culturally relevant curriculum committee, per session. We need UFT people on it. Important that we be part of curriculum review.

Keira Pena—Wants to thank district reps for class size reporting. Really positive—class size numbers gone down. Stipulations reached with many superintendent, who’ve opened new classes. DRs had advantage. In most cases were able to teach superintendents.
Rashad Brown—Youth empowerment dinner—November 21st, will support Daniel Dromm scholarship, Trevor’s project, hot line for troubled youth.

Tom Murphy—Campaign 2020—75 retirees may run as delegates. AFT doing town hall meetings, 9 so far. Julian Castro was in Las Vegas. Census—we can lose two members of Congress, and funding. We are conducting training here at UFT by census bureau, must reach as many people as possible. Will also find retirees who have presence in Florida and turn out vote there.

Serbia Silva—October 16 pink day. Please take pictures send to uftgopink@gmail.com. District 4 hit by a lot of suicide. Last year we started a team. Every school in district on Mondays will have suicide awareness to see signs. Maybe other schools can do this.

Barr—We have collected funds for Dorian—There is a link. Also a link to donate to children and families coming across border. Working with Catholic Charities. Both on UFT web page. Asks members to contribute.

Mike Sill
—lump sum payments update—This month money will come to a lot of our members. People who took ATR severance should receive payment shortly, before lump sum payment. This year most people will get same amount of money they got last time. May 1 we got last 2% raise and were no longer accruing money. Some people won’t get same amount, if they were on leaves they will get more money. If people were overpaid the will have deductions. Pedagogues, para Oct 15. Retired a week later. Different banks post at different times. Could be matter of a few hours. H bank—October 18. Ret H Bank Oct 17. In service per session Nov 1. F status Nov 20. Retiree per session Dec. 5.

If members are on parental leave, they will get paid as long as they return to service, on March 15. Some will get both payments this year.

Hard to staff Bronx Plan schools October 31st.

We are adjourned 6:42.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Oversized Music Classes

Last week I went to a class size grievance hearing. There was good news and bad news. The good news is the new process seems to have much improved things. It appears involving the superintendents in the process is a good idea. They tell the principals, their subordinates, to fix the problems and a whole lot of them seem to be doing it. In our school, for example, the only remaining oversized classes were in music.

We had exactly 12 oversized classes. Six were in music performing groups like chorus and band. There is evidently some exception for those classes. I'm sure that bands and choruses can use over 34 members, and I know some music teachers who'd argue the same. I'm not expert on exactly how many voices or instruments you need, but they are, and if they say they need more, they do. The DOE has to rely on an exception, though, and I'd argue if they use it they're still in violation. (I'd further argue that the teachers ought to be compensated in some way for teaching such large groups, even if it's a good idea.)

A more difficult argument is that of the "required music" classes. Required music classes can go up to 50. Why? I don't know. I haven't been around long enough to understand how these rules came about. What genius thought that students, who likely didn't want to take a music class at all, would learn better how to appreciate the arts in classes of 50?

Early in my career, I got bounced to JFK High School as an English teacher. It turned out they didn't need an English teacher, so they made me a music teacher. I taught a few guitar classes, and I also taught a few sections of required music. I had a book about jazz history that I'd been reading, and I made it the textbook. I'll tell you, though, it's a bitch teaching 50 kids at a time. Grading is no picnic either.

How on earth can you successfully encourage an appreciation of music in groups of 50? If you think these classes are worthwhile in any way whatsoever, wouldn't you push back on that? Isn't it plainly cynical to load the kids in like sardines and expect any positive outcome whatsoever? A whole lot of people love music already, whether or not they understand it. There has to be a way to build on that appreciation, to deepen and broaden that appreciation. Anyone who tells you the way to do that is by placing them in classes with 49 other high school students is taking stronger drugs than the ones I'm getting from CVS. Maybe they bought them in music class. How is the teacher supposed to know what's going on with that many kids?

I'm assuming it's the city that's allowed the 50 kids in required music, but it could be the state. There's no shortage of stupid in Albany, and decisions they make affect all of us. There's another flaw, though, in the entire "required music" notion. In fact, no one is required to take that class, at least in our building. We offer guitar classes, for example, and other classes of instrumental instruction. Over the last few years, the DOE has had to cut those classes to a still-too-high but better max of 34.

I don't know about you, but I'd rather learn beginning guitar than sit in a class of 50. And if I have that choice, how can the other class be called "required music." In fact, our school's classes were called "History of Popular Music" until a few days before the hearing, when they were retitled "required music." Now if you were cynical, you'd say they changed the name so they wouldn't be ordered into compliance. Be it far from me to make such lofty determinations.

I'll just say that if you care about these classes, even a little bit, you won't cram 50 kids into them. If your goal is to make students love or appreciate music beyond what little they hear on their own, you won't cram 50 kids into them. If you want to make these classes interesting, worthwhile, or something other than a waste of time for all parties involved, you won't cram 50 kids into them.

Of course, principals all over the city cram  50 kids into them as a matter of course. I'm just a lowly teacher who's never been to principal school, so what could I possibly know? Why do school leaders who care about music instruction cram 50 kids into classes for which they have any regard at all?

You tell me.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

No Food for You, City Teachers!

We're lucky in our school. We have one of the last teacher cafeterias in the city. I'm not sure exactly how many are left, but there are only a few among Queens high schools. Michael Bloomberg, who has billions of dollars and therefore knows everything, decided that teacher cafes needed to make a profit of be eliminated. He therefore closed a whole lot of them.

I don't have as much money as Bloomberg, and therefore I don't hold universal omniscience. Therefore I don't know how many cafeterias make money. I do know, though, that the concept of convenience does not always need to revolve around profit. For example, if I don't need to leave the building to get lunch, I'm likely to spend more time working. That might directly benefit those for whom I work, in this case, the children of New York City. Not being a financial expert like Mike Bloomberg, I think that is likely worthwhile, even if it costs a miniscule fraction of the city budget.

Of course Bloomberg had no issue dumping millions into computer systems that didn't work, or no-bid contracts on companies that left city children standing outside freezing waiting for buses that never showed up on the coldest day of the year. He had no issue appointing his wealthy BFFs for jobs like chancellor of NYC schools, regardless of their utter lack of qualifications. He didn't mind tossing around his own cash to buy another term, against the twice-voiced direct will of the people. But I digress.

Mayor de Blasio never moved to change much of what Bloomberg left in place, hence the flurry of stories of lawsuits from Bloomberg leftovers claiming they're being discriminated against for being white. Boy, it's tough to be white since Bloomberg left and no one's around to kiss Eva Moskowitz's ass with the  loving care it requires. She can't get a handle on her self-worth and isn't even paying herself a million a year yet.

One thing de Blasio did was eliminate charges for lunch for city kids. Personally, I think that's a great idea. I'm horrified when other districts indulge in lunch shaming, depriving children of food or making them eat things other kids don't have to. If families are poor, it's no business of schoolchildren. I'm glad they don't have to identify themselves as poor on a daily basis. Children can be particularly cruel.

However, in some schools teachers used to buy lunch in the student cafeterias. Now that they don't accept cash anymore, that's no longer possible. As if that's not enough, I hear some of those cafes give free lunch to custodians and aides. It's incredibly creepy they'd do that while freezing out UFT. That needs to stop. If people want to buy lunch in the cafe, there needs to be some provision for it.

More to the point, the mayor needs to step up and value teachers. All the teacher cafes need to be reopened, even if the city has to pay someone 15 bucks an hour to service it. I know some of them have been repurposed, while others sit idle and deserted. Again, though I haven't got as much money as Bloomberg, I can tell you that investing very little money into job satisfaction for teachers might show a return. Maybe fewer teachers will walk before reaching five years.

Actually, there's a strong upside to not treating teachers like crap. It might set an example, for instance, that our children shouldn't be treated like crap either. It's nothing less than common sense to extend this very small courtesy for those who serve the overwhelming majority of New York City's children.

Of course, common sense is the least common of all the senses. If I were Bill de Blasio, I'd want to do something worthy of positive attention right now. The presidential bid didn't really do it. Here's another approach Mr. Mayor. It wouldn't hurt right now to show you value educators. You can have total credit for the idea. No charge. Sometimes profit isn't everything.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Fear Itself

If you're a chapter leader, you know what the most common complaint is. "I have this problem, it's the worst problem on earth, but I don't want to file a grievance. When you complain about it, make sure my name doesn't come up." I understand nervousness. I understand aversion to risk. Sometimes I can figure out how to get around things, but not all the time.

It takes a lot to make people stand up at the workplace. Sometimes people have nothing to lose, so they decide what the hell, I'm ready. That's what happened in a few red states, where people really had nothing to lose. Once you decide things can't get any worse, all you can do is make them better.

Other times it's very tough. I'm on a teacher board on Facebook, and a lot of people, even on that board, say, "Please post this anonymously." Mostly I don't blame them. When you're out there on the internet, it's like open season. People can say anything, and often do. There are a whole lot of people you can't reason with, and trying to do so is an absolute waste of time.

On the other hand, if you've got work issues, and if they are real issues, you have to at least try to improve them. Many, probably most, supervisors are reasonable. There are a lot of them you can take chances with. Of course that's not always the case. And if you have a crazy supervisor, argument isn't going to accomplish anything.

Union is a bulwark against a lot of nonsense. There are rules. Of course the DOE has an army of bad lawyers who push back against them. They can wear you down. I have grievances that have sat for years waiting for arbitrators, and even some waiting to be heard at step two. Step two is where your complaint against the principal goes to the still-Bloomberg DOE, which rules against you always always.

Patience is not my best virtue. I hate waiting on things when I know I'm right. However, I'd hate it even more if I were to let things go. As long as I'm stuck in this system I'll use it. If you don't enforce your rights, you really haven't got any. Being afraid doesn't help you. I'm thinking of someone who's been repeatedly abused by a supervisor, but refused to take action. That emboldens the supervisor in question, who lashes out and does more outrageous things. Not fighting back, in fact, doesn't help.

It's tough to make people understand that. In fact I know people who've been put up on 3020a charges for nonsensical reasons. Fortunately, they survived this nonsense. They've been dragged through the mud, though, while fighting it. People like Joel Klein, Campbell Brown, and who knows how many readers of flawed op-eds have no problem making judgments, whether they know the cases or not.

You know what made me afraid? I had cancer about eleven years ago. That was scary. After that, I didn't worry so much about whether or not I got a letter in my file. I stopped caring whether or not people knew who wrote this blog. It seemed everyone who knew me knew about it anyway.

I don't know exactly what we have to do to overcome fear in our numbers. It doesn't really help us. It isn't what I want to see in our children or students. It's probably not what you want either. I wouldn't wish cancer on my worst enemy. I don't want my colleagues up against some wall, feeling they have nothing to lose before speaking up, let alone rising up.

All I can tell you is if you lose your fear, you'll feel better every day.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The Unwelcome Email

The chapter leader was new. He was overwhelmed. The job seemed impossible. Every time he walked down the hall he was accosted by members, and they all had questions. It was pretty discouraging that he didn't have any of the answers. He had no experience whatsoever. He looked online and called a lot of friends. They knew more than him. Eventually he learned about frequently asked questions, but it was hard. He was like a new teacher all over again.

One thing he decided was he was going to communicate via email. He would tell the staff every week what was happening in his school and beyond. He would send minutes of consultation meetings to staff every time they happened, and he'd be available to anyone who wanted to contact him. But it was a big school, and collecting everyone's non-DOE email was an enormous task.

Of course he asked for help. One person gave him 30 names and emails, the entire department. This was a great help. While he still had to enter each one manually, it wasn't in his handwriting and he could actually read what was written. This guaranteed fewer mistakes. It took a long time entering those names, along with all the others. Sorting them by department took a long time as well, but once it was done he'd never have to do it again.

He sent out his first email on a Friday. He mostly got good reviews. People said they enjoyed it and thanked him. There was only one exception. He saw her by the elevator.

"I feel like I was RAPED," she said.

"Oh my gosh, what happened?"

"I never gave you my email address," she said. "You sent me email ANYWAY."

"Wow, I'm very sorry," he said. "I'll never send you email again. No problem."

"No," she said. "It's okay. You can keep sending me email."

He was confused. It didn't make sense to him. But okay, hopefully there won't be any more complaints on these lines. There weren't.

Six months later, she was promoted to assistant principal. The first thing the chapter leader did was take her off his email list.

The second thing he did was field complaints about her, almost every single day, about everything from almost everyone.

He was very happy when she transferred elsewhere. Life was simpler.