Friday, November 28, 2014

Meanwhile, in Chicago

Our leadership has had a lot of exciting adventures lately. There was the election, of course. When someone finally reached out to me to explain they were making calls to keep the Senate under Democratic control I contributed some time. I was not moved by their first organizing effort, the notice as to which days there was Chinese food and which there was deli.

I alluded the other day to NYSUT's rationale for the bath we took. According to Randi Weingarten's hand-picked leaders it's the fault of the members who didn't vote, and local presidents who didn't push them to vote. On the other hand, a lot of us loved brilliant Zephyr Teachout, and our leadership made sure she didn't carry the Working Families Party nomination, thus depriving us of someone who could've really brought out the vote. Also, when WFP supported Cuomo, it rendered them farcical. Who actually believes Cuomo supports working families?

Revive NYSUT ran on a platform saying they equated Cuomo with Scott Walker, and opposed him. But they couldn't manage to support Teachout's bid for the Democratic nomination, and they sat on their hands in the general. Perish forbid they should support Howie Hawkins, the only non-millionaire in the race. I voted, but I certainly understand the disgust of my brother and sister union members.

While we get Happy Thanksgiving messages from UFT, NYC just found 2.6 billion dollars under the sofa cushions. Maybe we shouldn't have taken the city's word (or Mulgrew's) that the "cupboard was bare." Maybe we shouldn't have told members if you don't take this piece of crap contract you get behind 151 other unions and may get nothing. Maybe we shouldn't actually indulge in appeals to fear, because maybe it encourages members to be fearful. UFT leadership repeatedly uses arguments that ought to come from management.

Today in Chicago, their leadership is urging members to stand up to corporate rule. They're protesting at a Walmart grocery store, demanding that working people be paid a fairer wage. While we were tacitly supporting Andrew Cuomo, their leader was running for mayor until health issues stopped her. I went to Chicago with members of the activist PJSTA and met her.  The room was electric with inspiration the likes of which I hadn't seen in a long time. And unlike the monthly get-togethers at 52 Broadway, none of us were patronage recipients.

By making sure there was no viable opposition for Andrew Cuomo, we supported everything Walmart stands for. To thank us, he stood up in front of God and everybody and swore to break the "public school monopoly." What does UFT fight for? Two-tier due process and pay raises a decade after everyone gets them. One party rule in which teacher interests are blatantly ignored. Charter schools, mayoral control, junk science ratings, and depriving members who resigned or advanced of money they earned.

When we stand up to their nonsense, they spout nonsense like we oppose teacher empowerment, and actively frighten members to cow them into compliance. They criticize the statewide vote but fail to note that the UFT, the largest local in the United States, can't even must 20% of working members to vote for union leadership. Although I vote every chance I get, that's even more understandable. More than half of UFT votes came from retirees who have absolutely no skin in the game when it comes to contract negotiations.

Our Chicago brothers and sisters have chosen another path. Things had to get worse in Chicago than they are here before they rose up. Of course, in Chicago, only working members vote for leadership. In NYC the deck is stacked against democracy in multiple ways.

We simply cannot afford to lie down and allow our leadership to continue collaborating with our reformy enemies. It has gotten us nowhere. I'm thankful for our brothers and sisters in Chicago, and hopeful that we will wake up and follow their example.

Now seems like a good time. Unless you think we should wait until our leadership sends us memos why it's a good idea to break the "public school monopoly."

There's absolutely no reason to assume that's not what comes next.

Thanks to Mike Schirtzer

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Danielson Guide to a Highly Effective Thanksgiving

Full disclosure--found on the internet, unattributed. 

Ineffective: You don't know how to cook a turkey. You serve a chicken instead. Half your family doesn't show because they are unmotivated by your invitation, which was issued at the last minute via facebook. The other half turn on the football game and fall asleep. Your aunt tells your uncle where to stick the drumstick and a brawl erupts. Food is served on paper plates in front of the TV. You watch the game, and root for the Redskins.

Developing: You set the alarm, but don't get up and the turkey is undercooked. 3 children are laughing while you say grace. 4 of your nephews refuse to watch the game with the rest of the family because you have failed to offer differentiated game choices. Conversation during dinner is marked by family members mumbling under their breath at your Aunt Rose, who confuses the Mayflower with the Titanic after her third Martini. Only the drunk guests thank you on the way out. Your team loses the game.

Effective: The turkey is heated to the right temperature. All the guests, whom you have invited by formal written correspondence, arrive on time with their assigned dish to pass. Your nephew sneaks near the desert dish, but quickly walks away when you mention that it is being saved until after dinner. You share a meal in which all family members speak respectfully in turn as they share their thoughts on the meaning of Thanksgiving. All foods served at the table can be traced historically to the time of the Pilgrims. You watch the game as a family, cheer in unison for your team. They win.

Highly Effective
: The turkey, which has been growing free range in your back yard, comes in your house and jumps in the oven. The guests, who wrote to ask you please be invited to your house, show early with foods to fit all dietary and cultural needs. You watch the game on tape, but only as an video prompt for your family discussion of man's inhumanity to man. Your family plays six degrees of Sir Francis Bacon and is thus able to resolve, once and for all, the issue of whether Oswald acted alone.

Originally posted November 28, 2013

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

I'm Thankful

I’m thankful for having the best job there is. Despite all the noise and nonsense that swirls around it, I love the kids I teach. I love the idea that I’m helping them with something so vital, so necessary, and so indispensable. I’m thankful that the overwhelming majority of my kids know that, and participate eagerly.

I'm thankful to my colleagues for allowing me to represent them. I was pretty nervous about running for chapter leader, but I think Patrick Sullivan told me I had to, and after that I had no choice. The job is completely insane, but for some reason I can't explain at all, I love it. It's certainly not for everyone, but sometimes it's really worth it. It may not be a good job for most bloggers, because a whole lot happens that you simply cannot blog.

I’m thankful to have supervisors who aren’t insane. I hear stories from all over the city of people who have it otherwise. I don’t get multi-page memos or endless lectures on the vital importance of bulletin boards, or how there is only one way to teach and every other way is absolutely worthless. Therefore I don’t need to worry that next year there will be a new only way to teach and that this year’s only way will then be worthless.

I’m thankful to have a regular job and regular classes. I'm fortunate to sometimes be able help ATR teachers. But I understand how miserable it is for a teacher to go from one school to another, in an endless rotation of teaching subjects in which you may or may not have proficiency. Early after the advent of the ATR, I corresponded with a young teacher stuck in the rotation. She got so frustrated she resigned. I always remember that we are all ATRs, and that becoming one is usually a response to the offense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I’m thankful to be part of a union. While I may have a discouraging word or two about the leadership of the UFT, I know this blog and my voice in general wouldn't exist without it. Without a union I couldn’t speak out against overcrowding, mayoral control, APPR, charter schools, crooked politicians and reforminess in general. And though union leadership is against me in much of that, being union allows me to speak the truth.

I’m grateful to have allies in the fight against reforminess. I’m particularly grateful for Diane Ravitch and Leonie Haimson, two voices that emerged from the wilderness and loudly demanded sanity. I’m grateful for a lot of my friends from ICE and MORE who continue to speak truth to reforminess, even as UFT leadership ridicules them and shuts them out from all levels of worthwhile decision-making. I’m grateful for those in leadership who actually help people without indulging in gratuitous and ridiculous prejudices.

I’m grateful for my brothers and sisters in NYSUT who are beginning to note the insidious nature of the UFT machine, who will speak out and demand true representation in our state union. All over the state there is a growing awareness that it’s not worth demanding a “seat at the table” if we are to be the meal. It's becoming painfully apparent that Revive NYSUT opposes neither Cuomo nor Common Core. I'm lately reading that they're beginning to blame members who didn't vote, and their local presidents for the latest electoral disaster. In fact NYSUT leadership had a hand in creating disgusted apathy, by helping deprive us of the great choice that was Zephyr Teachout in the WFP.

I’m grateful to our bold colleagues in Chicago who have thrown the bums out and created a real grassroots union. I’m hopeful things will not have to get so bad in New York before we realize we need to dump the heartless hacks and do the same. For me, my word is my bond. As I watch Revive NYSUT break promise after promise, I wonder whether their disingenuousness will become widely enough known that the people will vote them out. Of course, neither I nor anyone in my school gets a vote in NYSUT or AFT, and if we did it would be as rubber stamps for leadership that never met a giveback it didn’t like.

Like everyone,  I’m thankful for family and people I love, and tomorrow I'll tell them personally. I hope that you have a chance to do the same, and that whatever weight you feel from the abject nonsense thrust upon you by the fanatical ideologues who refer to themselves as “reformers” is lifted, at least for a few days.

The “reformers” will wither and perish, but we, the teachers, will be around as long as people are.

A joyous Thanksgiving to all. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Damn Unity

Last Sunday I went to the Rockaway Theatre Company where blogger Norm Scott was in a production of Damn Yankees. It was wonderful, with really impressive singing and music. The orchestra was mostly teachers and students, and there were also a lot of teachers in the cast. It's great to see that such talented people are working to help our kids. Particularly inspiring was the use of children in the cast.

As I watched, I kept thinking of parallels and contrasts with our clueless and counterproductive leadership. Clearly the unbeatable Yankees were the Unity machine, which allows no dissent and shuts out the voices of most working teachers. Would someone sell their soul to oust Unity? Probably not, because the prime mode Unity preserves power is already via a soul-sucking loyalty oath.

In contrast, Unity dissidents gotta have heart. James Eterno had it when he ran an uphill campaign against Mike Mulgrew, and so did Julie Cavanagh. Lauren Cohen had it when she spoke truth to 800 poorly-behaved members of the Unity machine, and Mike Schirtzer showed it when he followed her. Neither let the juvenile catcalls of the paid Unity supporters sway them. Beth Dimino, Brian St. Pierre, and Rob Pearl of the tiny PJSTA showed it when they resisted NYSUT's ouster of Dick Iannuzzi et al, tossed out by the machine for the unforgivable offense of belatedly having heart themselves. We all showed it when we came out for Zephyr Teachout even as NYSUT and UFT abandoned her.

When I was enlisted last spring to run for Executive Vice President of NYSUT, I learned whatever Randi wants, Randi gets. It was certainly an uphill battle. Statewide few people one knew my name, and though I attended every forum I could get to I saw a very small percentage of voters. I myself had no vote, and every single UFT voter, 34% of the total, had signed an oath to oppose not only me per se, but pretty much anyone they were told to. All through the state I heard tales of the statewide Unity Caucus offering patronage gigs and/ or additional representation, often directly via Randi, if they'd vote for Revive. I now regularly hear from patronage recipients what a great job Revive is doing, even though its candidates have now broken most of their campaign promises. That's neither here nor there if they threw you a gig, though.

Then there's the devil, Mr. Applegate. I won't name the insufferable hacks he epitomizes, but I see them fairly regularly. Sometimes they visit here and spout personal insults. In a way, I don't blame them. If I had no argument and felt compelled to say something, I might go straight to ad hominem too, I guess. I know some very smart people in Unity too, but I find them the exception rather than the rule, and that bodes ill for us. I'm absolutely persuaded that people who live 24/7 in the Unity cone of silence are those who negotiate the contracts and decide to get in bed with reformy types, to the direct detriment of teachers, students and communities.

It's not much of a secret that in the end of Damn Yankees. protagonist Joe keeps his soul. At least he was offered baseball stardom, rather than a few convention trips and a $30 an hour gig. I don't know whether we'll ever make inroads into leadership. After all, whatever Randi wants, Randi gets, and she's still out there, actively making cute little deals to keep opposition from making inroads toward actual representation.

But we are still role models, and it behooves us to leave the world a little better for our children and students. Selling out has gotten us nowhere, and we need to show our kids to resist hurtful nonsense. So whatever the odds are, you gotta have heart. And it's on us, the teachers, to lead the way.

That, in fact, may be our most important job.

Monday, November 24, 2014

On Starting From Square One--Every Year...



When you have a handful of years teaching already safely stored in your pockets, you may not take kindly to a system that forces you to start from square one every year.  The system is stacked against your professionalism.  Last year, I had to hand in "artifacts" to prove that I do what I do every day and I do every day what I have done for the last twenty years.  There are no "artifacts" this year, but I still must prove myself anew.  Those twenty years count for nada.  I am once again at square one and under the microscope of NY State.  I can no longer be trusted.

If I am held up to Danielson each year, perhaps 4d will rear its head again.  I might need to volunteer my time and energy to volunteer service to the school or attend functions that have little to do with my teaching.  If I have done all these things in the past, but now find myself busy with children at home or, perhaps, a pressing medical condition, my past record cannot be used in my defense.  Teachers are currently asked sometimes to chaperone student events.  It is a desperate situation because there is no money in it.  So, the sign indicates: "FULFILLS DANIELSON REQUIREMENTS!"

If my students fail miserably on a high-stakes test any year in the future, it does not matter that I once had AP kids average a 3.828 out of 5 (with 91.4% lined up to receive college credit).  If I helped countless kids get Regents credit in the past, all is washed away.  All the kids who achieved personal victory with me in years past in one form or another are now discounted.  If my kids do well, but not as well as an arcane formula demands from them, I may also be royally wrecked as Dr. Lederman in Great Neck.

I cannot control the things that may suddenly make me appear inept.  If I have 39 students and another teacher has twenty, it doesn't figure into the formula.  If my students are living in poverty and my classroom is underfunded and another teacher has a classroom filled by well-fed children with lots of supplies, it doesn't matter.  If my kids stepped off a plane and cannot tell me much more than their names, and they never attended a school anywhere in the world, it makes little difference.  Sometimes I really feel the people who invented this spiffy system in a seeming vacuum are the ones who really need to be schooled.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Loyalty

I travel a lot, so I spend an awful lot of time in my car. I think bluetooth is a gift from heaven. I bought a new car that has it, and I can't believe how much easier my life is. I gave my old car to my daughter, who spent $200 putting a bluetooth receiver in it. I feel like a total fool for not having consulted her years ago.

The great thing about bluetooth is you can get all your phone conversations done while you're driving. No more interrupting all the Important Stuff you do at home. One of my favorite people to talk to when I'm in my car is Mike Schirtzer from MORE. He's got boundless energy and enthusiasm for almost everything, and as far as I can tell he never stops working. He's also a compelling speaker even when not on the phone with me.

The other day I called Mike from the Throgs Neck Bridge, and he spoke about how people in the union made 50 bucks an hour working for UFT. I told him he was wrong, and that it was only 30, at least in my case. I was once on an 18D committee in Queens. For some reason, someone at UFT decided it would be good not only to train me for the committee, but also to have me work on it. I did 8 hours.

It was really interesting. I'd expected to have to fight for teachers who were already in the building, but not a single teacher from the building applied. I also expected to have to fight for experienced teachers over newbies, but the principal announced at the first meeting she only wanted to hire experienced teachers. I was confused. What were we supposed to fight about?

There really wasn't a whole lot, in the end. This school had a special philosophy, and the qualifications asked for a familiarity with it. I read hundreds of applications, mostly generic, that failed to mention it at all. Some said things like, "I am very intelligent." First of all, if you want people to believe you're intelligent it's better to either a. show you are intelligent, or b. have someone else say it for you. More importantly, if you're looking for a job and the requirements are right there for all the world to see, why wouldn't you take a minute and Google the philosophy so you could write how wonderful it is, how interested you are in it, or even that you think it's awful? That's better than telling me how smart you are and failing to even acknowledge it.



I told Mike I loved doing that work, and he told me he'd love to work for the union too. I told him that most UFT jobs were meted out for loyalty. He said he was loyal. When they ask him to go to a march, he goes to the march. When they ask him to wear pink, he wears pink (there's an image I don't much want to contemplate). When he's not sure who to vote for, he consults the UFT endorsements. But wherever they ask him to be, there he is. I frequently go as well. I even made calls to keep the Democrats in control of the Senate this year, for all the good it did.



But Mike is loyal UFT. And so am I. No one believes in union more than we do. Sadly, that's not the sort of loyalty valued by our union. A friend of mine ran against and defeated her sitting chapter leader, who was apparently not bothering much with the whole doing her job thing. The defeated CL was very upset to lose. But when she found out she could still keep her UFT job and go to all the conventions, she was delighted. No more of that time-consuming representing the members. No more sitting through meetings she couldn't care less about. No more phone calls, emails, and getting stopped in the hall about all the things she was failing to do.

And the new chapter leader was never asked to be part of the proud, the few, the loyalty-oath bound Unity Caucus, which supports mayoral control, APPR, charter schools, and any damn thing they are told to.

Mike's a delegate in his school, where they have a well-established chapter leader. I know he'd make a great CL if he ever chose to be one. I know he could be of great service to the union.

But the union would rather have the failed CL from my other friend's school, the one the school voted out for incompetence. That's who UFT chooses to represent you, me and everyone. Why? Because that person will vote as told and never, ever question the wisdom of union leadership.

That's what passes for leadership in the UF of T. And that's who represents you in NYSUT and AFT too. Who the hell else would not only support the spectacle of Bill Gates as keynote, but also ridicule those who see fit to protest? Who the hell else would applaud Biden after four years of abusing our dignity? And who else would applaud President Michael Mulgrew as he called opponents of Common Core lunatics and threatened to punch their faces and push them in the dirt? People with that particular brand of loyalty.

Mike and I would love to work for the union, and not just for the money, which is not all that great anyway. But if it takes the sort of loyalty that means applauding for things that hurt working teachers and the kids and communities we serve, count us both out.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

When a Reformy Governor Takes Control of Mayoral Control

 by special guest blogger Harris Lirtzman

       If you picked “321” a few days ago, get to your local deli for your $500.  You won.

        But, unfortunately, someone else lost because that’s the number of days it took for Andrew Cuomo effectively to take “control” of the City’s schools out of the hands of our current mayor.  Of course, Mayor de Blasio technically still “controls” the schools until June 30, 2015 but now he does so in name only. 

Last spring, our new mayor ran into a buzz-saw named Andrew Cuomo on a number of education policy issues.  During his campaign for mayor, de Blasio advocated a tax on high income earners to fund his plan for universal pre-K in the City.  Governor Cuomo disagreed.  The mayor put a large pile of chips that he’d earned in his sweeping victory on his proposal.  Andrew Cuomo picked up the chips and announced that he would provide funding for pre-K programs around the state through the State budget process. 

Andrew Cuomo is a man who doesn’t step back from a fight. A few weeks later, our mayor put a few more of his chips down on a plan that gave the go ahead for the expansion of a raft of charter schools previously approved by Mayor Bloomberg, but blocked the co-location in over-crowded public schools of three Success Academy schools run by the formidable Eva Moskowitz.  Moskowitz closed her schools for a day and bused thousands of her students and their parents to Albany for a rally that was billed as a field trip to observe how State government operates.  Governor Cuomo announced at the Moskowitz rally that he disagreed with the mayor, pledged his firm support for charter schools and picked up the pile of chips the mayor had put down. 


Andrew Cuomo is a man who means what he says. Just before the last election he announced that the public school system in New York State “was one of the only remaining public monopolies” and that he would break it.  Andrew Cuomo is an impatient man with both eyes firmly planted on his legacy.  Just after the election, he announced “What I will have thus far: marriage quality, gun safety, on a different level pension reform, fiscal reform and education reform, teacher evaluation, performance,” Cuomo said. “These things are profound changes that 50 years from now will have made a significant difference in this state.”  

Andrew Cuomo is a man who likes putting chips that belong to other politicians into his own pocket. Last week, Cuomo’s Education Commissioner, John King, demanded that the City provide a plan for remediating 94 low-performing city schools.  A few days later, the Mayor found a few more chips behind the sofa cushion in his office and announced to much fanfare a “School Renewal Program” that was hailed as a repudiation of the school-closing policies of the Bloomberg era and the beginning of a new approach that would turn troubled schools into community schools with “wraparound” social services provided by local organizations.  Teachers at schools in the “Renewal” program would be required to reapply for their jobs as part of an agreement worked out with the United Federation of Teachers that puts teachers displaced from any of those schools into a gray middle zone between assigned teacher and ATR. 

But that wasn’t enough for Andrew Cuomo because the legacy he wants people to associate with him fifty years from now is breaking the “public education monopoly” and the teachers union that has been desperately placating him since 2010.  On Monday, Andrew Cuomo began to execute his plan.  He had Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, announce that the part of the mayor’s “Renewal” plan that involved teachers didn’t go far enough.  She said, “From the state’s perspective, if we do not see movement with these lowest-performing schools in terms of their ability to retool their workforces by the spring, we will move to close them….It depends upon what they do with the money... There needs to be the capacity to manage how and where we place our teachers….You gotta give the new principals and assistant principals the ability to hire the teachers that they want and fire the teachers that they don’t want.”

        No one thinks that Boys and Girls High School and the 93 other schools in the “Renewal” cohort work well or that every teacher who teaches in one is a genius.  But the new principal at Boys and Girls was given a $25,000 bonus to take on the job for one year, with an option to return to the “school where his heart is,” while working one day a week at his old school.  That new principal immediately began to do what every principal has done for twelve years: he started to pick his own students in order to “goose” his numbers by forcing those with low credit accumulation, including the president of the junior class, to transfer out of the school.  

But what Andrew Cuomo really cares about is breaking the union that provides the monopolist teachers who staff the last great monopoly.  He wants to close those 94 schools in six months just as schools have been closed for the last twelve years rather than support them with the extra resources and services that the mayor wants to give them.  The problem with those schools is not principals who don’t want to run them or a long-standing lack of support for some of the most disempowered communities in the City.  Once again, it is those monopolist teachers who are to blame. 

Andrew Cuomo wants to make sure that the progressive mayor of New York City and its teachers union can’t “control” the schools that rightfully belong to the investment bankers and charter companies that funded Cuomo’s reelection campaign.  And the truly wonderful thing for Andrew Cuomo is that he doesn’t have to do something messy like change the law that provides for mayoral control of the City’s schools.  He can just take effective control out of the hands of this mayor by fiat through his complacent Board of Regents while reserving the right to give back control to some other mayor who looks more like the City’s last mayor.

Mr. de Blasio, we hope you enjoyed your time “controlling” the City’s schools. But the next time you walk into Tweed to meet with “your” Chancellor be sure to bring an ID card.  You’ll be asked for one.  As for those last few chips you still have, hold onto them tightly and use them for something you really do control, like the Parks Department.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What Do You Do Every Day?

That's a simple question, but it isn't always so for my students. One of the toughest things for them to get their heads around is simple present, like, "I go to school every day," or, "She likes her job." That little s in the third person singular is what really gets them. A lot of newcomers figure, "Well, they only use it a little bit, so really who will notice if we just forget about it altogether?"

Unfortunately for them, that would be me. I notice my beginners don't get it right, and I notice that at every level afterward ELLs tend not to get it right either. So I make it my mission in life to shove it down their throats no matter what. Yes that is me crying, feigning a heart attack, and playing the tragic violin solo every time some kid utters, "He like to go to the beach." And don't get me started on simple present vs. present progressive. But I digress.

Yesterday, I gave a pretty simple activity and asked the kids to write. Write about what you do every day. It was a straightforward activity I stole from a book. The model was written from the point of view of a college student, which was kind of cool. They learned what a dormitory is and about a different kind of student cafeteria. But there were problems. One of the sentences said something like, "Every day I shave and brush my teeth." I was surprised how many girls wrote that they shaved every day. I had to use a lot of gestures to make the point that it's best to know what words mean before using them.

The thing that surprised me most, though, was what the kids wrote when they weren't copying the model. There was a lot of talk about morning activity, taking a shower, eating breakfast, and whatever. Then there were a number of responses like this:

I go to school from 7:30 until 3:15.

I mean, what does that even mean? It sounds like the kid just sits rotting away in some dark corner until the bell rings. One girl wrote a sentence like that, and then explained that after school she takes a bus and a train to Manhattan where she works every day. This explains why she looks so tired all the time. She also wrote that she eats breakfast, lunch and dinner at work,  I wasted a few minutes urging her to eat breakfast in the morning. She politely nodded but I'm certain she won't change anything.

I questioned several kids who wrote those sentences. Don't you ever do anything when you're in school? To them, it was a strange question. Why are you asking me this? Is it a trick? Are you gonna call my mother again like you did when you caught me playing music from my phone in the trailer bathroom?

But I really wanted to know. Is school just a big inconvenient block cut out of your time so you can't play Call of Duty for a few hours? Is it just a bunch of time set aside for no good reason? Is it torture? I mean, some teachers are so extreme that they won't let you speak your native language in English class. How unfair is that?

Once, when I was teaching a college class, a girl asked, "Why are we doing this?" And another student, a gynecologist from Macedonia, stood up and said, "Because it's a class. You have to do something!" I have no recollection of what we were doing, but I loved his answer. In fact, I like to believe we do things in my class.

But I might be mistaken. I could be a small part of a vague sentence in a paragraph about someone's typical day. And perhaps that kid can't differentiate me from the science teacher, the social studies teacher, the health teacher, or even the PE teacher who makes her put on a uniform and play basketball.

And that shouldn't be frustrating only to me. At the very least, it should be frustrating to the PE teacher too.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On Being Unhindered by Inconvenient Reality

It must be great to be Joel Klein. You can simply blame the UFT for everything. There's that awful contract that restrains you from doing all the wonderful work you aspire to. Never mind that you signed it and had a hand in writing it. And the best thing about it is that even if stuff isn't in the contract, you can just make it up and get it printed in the Atlantic. There's prestige for you. And in fairness, why should New York Times columnists and editorial writers corner the market on reforminess?

Klein laments that he could not meet with teachers because the contract prohibited it. I find that odd because I teach in the largest school in Queens and for his entire eight-year tenure the Kleinster did not see fit to set foot in our school even once. I've read the UFT Contract and I haven't seen the part that says a Chancellor may not enter the school building. In fact, both Cathie Black and Dennis Walcott visited my school and I didn't even file a grievance. Walcott and I actually spoke on several occasions.

But Joel Klein is different. He has deep and abiding respect for clauses in the UFT Contract, even if they do not exist. That's just the kind of guy he is. The union was completely uncooperative when Joel tried to reach out. Just look at how hostile then-UFT President Randi Weingarten looks in the photo above. You can just sense the absolute enmity between the two of them. Clearly she isn't cooperating with him at all.

Odd that Klein was so respectful of the Imaginary UFT Contract,  but had multiple issues abiding by the actual UFT Contract. If I'm not mistaken, one year he decided to deny all sabbaticals. I believe that was taken to arbitration and he lost. Odd that someone absolutely willing to unilaterally ignore the real contract would be so upset by clauses hindering his options under the imaginary one.

What's truly odd to me, though, is that several times I directly spoke to Klein at the PEP. Not only did he fail to utter a single word in response, but he appeared to be playing with his Blackberry and utterly ignoring every word I said about the then-massive overcrowding at Francis Lewis High School. I watched him do the same to James Eterno as he spoke the outrageous conditions at Jamaica High School. In fact, though Eterno emailed Klein about the false assumptions used to close Jamaica High School, that didn't stop Klein from going ahead and closing it on those very assumptions.

But of course that is reality, and Klein can't be bothered with such things when telling his story. That's what enables reforminess, actually. You can't get up and say there are billions of dollars in education and Eva Moskowitz needs to get her taste. You can't say you want to close neighborhood schools and make profits for your BFFs. You can't get up and say you're determined to ignore poverty and cut taxes for people who don't send their kids to public schools. Really, you can't get up and say, "I'm Joel Klein, or Mike Bloomberg, or John King, and I choose not to send my own kids to the schools I make up rules for."

Rather, you can write books about the way you choose to remember things. Because Eva Moskowitz, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and the other people who read such books are highly unlikely to fact-check or read blogs like this one. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Let the "Reformers" Re-Form Themselves


The facts and formulas we instill in kids are secondary in importance to the manifold other purposes of public education.  We need individuals who can think outside a test bubble.  This has traditionally defined our greatness.

When it comes right down to it, most of us probably remember only a small fraction of what we learned in school.  Yet, we succeed in life because we are able to think creatively and confront positively the problems that appear in life.  These are the problems that you will never find on a test.

I judge my education a success because I gained a love for learning which propels me past the confines of my college and graduate-school years.  I do not deed my learning over to classrooms or workshops for PD credit.  I motivate myself to learn and my students and children further motivate me to self-educate.

In school and at home, I gained confidence in my ability to address new problems.  If the Common Core had repeatedly smacked me down and branded me as a failure, I might have started off with the supposition that I cannot do it.  It might have caused irreversible harm.  How many children are suffering harm today?

We need something more than good test takers.  We need good citizens.  We need emotionally and intellectually healthy people as threads in the fabric of our society.  We don't need beaten-down masses labeled as failures by a test-crazed, self-appointed set of reformers.  We need individuals inspired to achieve their very best.  We need to teach the principles that encourage kids to love learning--and it may not be the same principles for all kids.

We don't need a "common core" to kill individual initiative in the name of standardization.  Greatness is rarely, if ever, achieved in any nation when it becomes set in its ways.  And, we certainly don't need Common-Core testamania to promote incessant prep and then punish students and their teachers.  Maybe what the ed. "reformers" really need to do is re-form their own thinking.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

The Silent Majority

That was the term then-President Nixon used to describe his supporters. They weren't all those dirty hippies protesting the Vietnam War. They were the good, solid Americans who never spoke out and put up with whatever nonsense the President saw fit. And it was indeed a few years before they rose up and tossed him out on his presidential keester.

For teachers and unionists facing uncertainty, there's another question. What will it take for us to rise up in significant enough numbers to have an impact? Union has been on the wane since Saint Reagan busted the air traffic controllers, the only union with the peculiar lack of foresight to have supported him. The trend has been exacerbated as we've elected demagogues even in states noted for union support.

Here in NY, for some reason, we elected Andrew Cuomo, a man who clearly has no principled interest beyond the advancement of Andrew Cuomo. I don't know a single person who was enthusiastic about him, but people who bother to actually speak politics with me are not necessarily members of the silent majority. The silent majority sits quietly as our rights are eviscerated.

Andrew Cuomo shocked me four years ago by running on a platform of going after unions. As a lifelong Democrat, I labored under the misconception that we supported union and Republicans opposed. The new paradigm, I guess, is for absolutely everyone to oppose those of us who actually work for a living. I was amazed, yesterday, to see a television commercial boasting new business in NY pays no property, corporate or sales tax. No wonder there's no money left for working people.

So the question, again--how bad must things become before the silent majority speaks out? In our own union, the ATR teachers have finally begun to organize, against the wishes of the leadership that very publicly approved not only their second tier due-process, but also denied them a functional chapter. Leadership doesn't want this chapter--clearly their votes will be less reliable of those of retirees. No one's sending Mike Mulgrew thank you cards for second-tier due process rights, and his punchiness over Common Core does nothing to help ATRs leadership has sold out when other unions had no givebacks.

The best model for organization is Chicago, but there are factors there that really differ from those in NYC. For one thing, their equivalent of ATR teachers are eventually subject to being fired. Though ours are placed in a rough position, UFT has managed to hold the fort on at least that aspect. I doubt many non-ATR teachers realize how demoralizing being an ATR can be, and the fact that they're kept on payroll may make people think it's not such a threat. But we are all ATRs, and it's sad leadership doesn't know that, and sadder we don't realize it.

Another significant factor that differentiates Chicago from NYC is that retirees in Chicago do not vote. Here in fun city, people unaffected by new contracts form the majority of those deciding who negotiates them. I believe retirees should have input on retiree issues and working teachers should have input on working teacher issues. It's nice that UFT has a Florida HQ, but it's ridiculous that more than half of UFT vote comes from retirees.

On bigger picture issues, we have a governor who's publicly threatened to break what he calls the public school monopoly. It's amazing we have an ostensible Democrat governor and he uses such extremist terms. Of course he sends his own kids to private school and happily takes money from DFER, so privatizing public schools means little to him. Is that enough to wake up the over 80% of teachers who can't be bothered even to select their own leadership?

How bad will things have to get before we wake up? Only time will tell.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Unrepresentative Leadership

I read with interest Principal Carol Burris' column on whether education groups are really listening to their members. It's interesting that the statewide PTA is deaf to the concerns of regional PTAs. When parents see their kids suffering from overtesting and preposterous high stakes, they tend to object. This is something Reformy John King learned when he actually went around the state and heard from people not contained in his particular cone of silence.

Unfortunately, the state PTA leaders appear to be precisely the sort of people Reformy John hangs with, the ones who tell him that everything is wonderful and he is unconditionally a prince. And while it's clear he believes that, I'm not at all certain readers of this blog will concur. So what do you do when you have a leadership that doesn't represent you? According to Carol Burris, you vote the bastards out.

That makes sense to me. Of course, for those of us in the UFT, it's another story. So few of us deem it worth our time to vote that it's very tough to compete with avid patronage recipients. To make things worse, more than half of all voting is done by retirees, who have limited skin in the game. But the very worst aspect of our voting is it's winner take all, and all dissenters, bar none, are shut out. Were that not the case, you certainly wouldn't have a UFT President not only supporting Common Core, but also publicly threatening to beat the crap out of anyone who doesn't.

And whenever it appears there's some slim chance opposition may break a little sunshine into the monopolistic one-sided regime, action is taken. When Mike Shulman won UFT HS VP, they waited until he was out of office and changed the rules so those meddlesome high school teachers couldn't elect anyone who actually represented them. Now the elementary and middle school teachers help us, which ensures a Unity VP even if we choose otherwise.

But that wasn't enough. Randi Weingarten reached out to Shulman's party, New Action, and struck a deal. If New Action would only endorse her, she'd let several seats on the UFT Executive Board go unopposed. At that time, when New Action members like James Eterno refused to buy into the deal, they formed ICE, contested the seats and won them. As opposition voices were completely unacceptable, Unity then cross-endorsed the New Action candidates and made sure that no one they didn't have a deal with got any voice whatsoever.

More recently upstart caucus MORE has gotten a little traction, and that apparently could not be tolerated. So Randi Weingarten met with a teacher who's now formed yet another caucus, a teacher who's already running a campaign for UFT President in 2016. So just in case MORE should catch on enough to threaten even the high school seats New Action now holds, Weingarten and this teacher have made it just that much more difficult. In my opinion, buying out New Action was one of the most effective steps our union has ever taken against democracy. Perhaps this new caucus will prove the second best.

Since absolutely everyone who represents us has either signed a loyalty oath or struck a deal with the UFT Unity Caucus, there is not one single person who represents us at a significant decision-making level. Sure, we can bring things up at the DA, but we're overwhelmed by people who need to vote as told at risk of being ejected from not only their patronage jobs, but also the glitzy free trips to conventions where they reliably say nothing and represent no one.

And then, of course, there is NYSUT and AFT, where we also have no representation whatsoever. I keep hearing ostensible leaders claim teachers support this and that, but they never ask me or anyone I represent. Their bad decision-making and short-sightedness threaten our very survival as union. We all hope our enemies won't kill tenure, but we have to know that whether or not that happens it's far from the end game.

Leadership, in the vain hope that appeasement will keep our enemies at bay, has given in to major reformy initiatives, including mayoral control (which apparently exists only for reformy mayors), charter schools, value-added junk science, and deterioration of seniority rights and due process. Evidently, this leadership is up for just about anything. Personally I don't know one single teacher who supports any of this stuff.

Carol Burris offers a great closing line:

I suppose it is always nice to have a seat at the table. It is important, however, to be sure that those you represent are not the main course.

The question remains--with leadership like we have, and a blatantly rigged election process, how do we go about changing it? How do we achieve a real representative union?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mr. Mulgrew and the Improved Improvement Program

Hi folks, it's me, "Punchy" Mike Mulgrew. As you know, we have a new chancellor, and because of this we have a new deal for the next two schools that are being reorganized. Now under that mean old Mike Bloomberg, a bunch of new schools would've come in and everyone would've had to reapply for their jobs eventually, if they wanted to stay. But under our new improved agreement, the school will stay the same and everyone will have to reapply for their jobs right now.

But that's not the only improvement we've worked out. Under the old agreement, the school would've had to hold up to 50% or the positions for qualified applicants. Now that was a problem because sometimes fewer than 50% of the staff would get hired. But we've solved that problem by eliminating this requirement entirely. So now whoever gets hired, gets hired, and whoever doesn't, doesn't. We just spin the wheel and see what happens. So you don't have to worry about that either.

As you know, our new contract has a clause for expedited 3020a hearings for ATR teachers. This was, of course, a great improvement over those hearings which went on forever. People got tired. How tedious it was to call witnesses in their defense when they were facing loss of their careers. So we gave them only one day, and that improved things. And now, to improve things even more, we didn't do it this time. Another great improvement was the rotation, week to week and month to month, so ATR teachers could meet so many more people and have so many more opportunities. Anyway, that was such a great improvement that we didn't use it this time, which was also a great improvement.

Here in UFT leadership, we always make changes for the better. For example, it was a great victory when we got all 22 components of Danielson, because that bastard Bloomberg only wanted 7. It was also a great victory when we reduced it to 8, which just about anyone will tell you is a whole lot better than 7. After all, think of that Beatles song, 8 days a week. Who the hell would've listened to it if it were 7 days a week? What's special about that? I defy you to find one person who wants to work 7 days a week. 8 is always better.

So let me make it clear--this new program will not make the teachers ATRs. They'll stay at new schools for a full year. Unless, of course, the principal doesn't want them there and then they won't. That's what we call mutual consent, and it's much better than those bad old days when teachers would just transfer to new schools. Where's the romance in that? Be a gypsy, I say, and travel from place to place. You don't see me just sitting in one school all year round. Sure, I visit, but I'm in and I'm out. That's the best way. That's why we changed the ATR system from a year, to a week, to a month, and then back to a year, and dammit, each and every time we changed it was an incredible improvement.

You know, back in the bad old days, teachers couldn't transfer easily. So we initiated the UFT transfer plan, and then after a few years people could, and that was a great improvement. Then we gave that up and if principals didn't want you, you could go to hell. That was mutual consent and that was a wonderful improvement. This was clear because more people transferred, and that was great. Except for the people who couldn't. But they could go to hell and that was also a great improvement.

So don't worry. There are no more school closings, and that's a fantastic improvement. Unless, of course, de Blasio decides to close schools. Rest assured that if he does, we will come to an agreement about it and that will be a fantastic improvement too.  If you don't believe me, just ask any Unity Caucus member. They've supported me each and every step of the way, and if they didn't, I'd throw their asses out and it's no more jobs or conventions for them, those ungrateful bastards.

So remember, on task, great improvement, working forward, making things better, empowering members. And oh yeah, don't you lay one stinking finger on my Common Core or I'll punch you in the face and push you in the dirt.

Fraternally,

Mike

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

You Don't Need the Amazing Kreskin to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

A lot of people are upset about paying union dues. After all, it's a thousand bucks a year or so, your roof needs fixing, and that could make for a hell of a night out. And there are legitimate complaints. For one thing, I'm paying NYSUT and AFT to represent me, but in fact they do not. I represent the largest school in Queens and we get no voice at all. In fact, the only way I could get us a voice would be to sign an odious loyalty oath promising to support whatever I'm told, and if I did that we still wouldn't have a voice.

NYSUT put up a poll asking what we'd like from them. I told them I'd like democracy. My union brothers and sisters from PJSTA essentially said the same thing, but in far greater detail. After all, their locals can't pick who they'd like to represent them because of the UFT's massively huge rubber stamp. UFT-installed President Magee and her newly double-pensioned pals know if they support local representation they'll get booted out just like their predecessors. If it's a choice between democracy and going back to that classroom, we can guess pretty accurately where they're headed.

And yet there is a necessity for union. Though ours is inept, falling for one reformy thing after another, though they've watered down our Contract time after time to save their ridiculous seat at the table, it still protects people, and we still can have a voice where we work. Just about any day I'd rather be union than depend on the tender mercies of Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, and their merry band of fanatical ideologues.

So when I see things like this on Facebook, I know what they really are. How could the union use my money for politics? In fact, it's the union's job to try to influence politics. Anyone who thinks otherwise is nuts. Our union, of course, does a terrible job, picking Thompson four years too late, after he demonstrated his utter lack of conviction by telling the Daily News editorial board that the city couldn't afford to give teachers they raise everyone else got. And in the end, by delaying the raise ten years, the crack negotiators of UFT managedto make sure we didn't get it. They sold out our brother and sister teachers in the Absent Teacher Reserve, managing to give back without even getting an equitable contract. As if that weren't enough, they managed to dump the worst pattern in my living memory on every city union. Anyone remember how we felt about DC37 when they dumped the zeroes on us? I do.

What the article is pushing, and it's not at all subtle about it, is right to work, and in California no less. This is a system in which you pay union dues only if you feel like it. While those who push it will tell you it's about your individual freedom, it's really about decimating union so they can do whatever to you and your brother and sister unionists, along with the non-unionists who want representation without paying for it. They don't like all those stinking rules, and would just as soon fire you over a whim as look at you. But some people will be fooled.

Now me, I still pay into COPE, even though I have grave reservations over what the UFT machine does with my money. And I'd probably continue to pay dues even if they became optional for as long as the union could hold out. But that would likely not be very long. UFT members are not like CTU members, and won't hit the streets en masse to support a union President who wants to punch us in the face and push us in the dirt if we touch his Common Core. Few are inspired by people more interested in free trips or patronage gis than doing their jobs, and there are all too many such people.

Since the UFT has enabled mayoral control, since it's enabled junk science and two-tier due process, since it sat silently while almost every comprehensive high school was closed, since it did nothing when Cuomo and Eva Moskowitz betrayed mayoral control under de Blasio it hasn't got a whole lot of street cred with the reformies. That's why they're coming full speed ahead after tenure. 

And don't fool yourself. They'll push right to work in NY in a New York minute. It would be nice for UFT and NYSUT if the most active members in the city and state would stand with them and support them. But it's a two-way street and our leader is not Karen Lewis, but rather a guy who will punch us in the face if we fail to support his favored corporate reforms.

This notwithstanding, it would be smart politics if they simply stopped building brick walls around activists moved by conscience rather than perks. People looking for free trips will not inspire the membership, dispirited and discouraged from decades of nonsense from these very cynical hangers-on.

Are our leaders so juvenile they cannot bear to entertain opinions that vary from their own? Do they really need to conceal themselves inside some massive echo chamber in which their notions are never challenged or even openly discussed? I find when you listen to others, you sometimes learn they're right, adjust your opinion accordingly, and do better.

Look where the echo chamber has gotten us. You don't need to consult the tarot cards to see where it's headed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

If You See Something, Say Something...In a World Without Tenure?



I frequently find myself standing on platforms for public transportation.  I often see the words, "If you see something, say something."

When teachers see something in their school, such as the denial of services to special-ed. students, one would hope that they would say something, too.  But the truth is that in a world, even one in which teachers have tenure, they are easy targets for administrative retribution.  In its most familiar form, one might say something and find a supervisor sitting in the back of one's room the following day.  In more extreme situations, one might find a supervisor possibly  fabricating letters accusing a teacher of pedophilia.

We have all heard stories from across the City of vindictive administrators.  In these days of tight budgets and high-stakes testing-based accountability, there is more cause for administrative abuse.  It may involve tampering with parent surveys.  No matter what whistle you're blowing, you may be given a most difficult program and a very hard time, if not the boot.  Without the protections of tenure, there may be storms that few can weather.  You may witness the grinding of your career "to dust."

I cannot believe in this world in which abuse is so rife, real "reformers" would want to strip teachers of tenure.  We are stuck with a set of "reformers," it seems, who would favor a system that rewards turning a blind eye to the misuse of power and the public trust.  If teachers see something and say something in a world without tenure, they will put their careers at risk.  Although they may not be reporting an unattended, suspicious suitcase, perhaps, ready to explode, nonetheless, they may be reporting harmful and widespread injustices.  Without tenure, teachers may become, more than ever, the victims of a different kind of administrative-led terrorism.