Friday, October 24, 2014

Parent Teacher Conference Notes

As chapter leader, I get one period off to deal with various and sundry crises, so I only teach four classes. As a matter of fact, since I teach beginning ESL I teach two double period classes, so I have fewer students than most teachers. Add to that the fact that many parents don’t speak English and are shy about coming to school and it’s a pretty slow night.  

I’m fairly amazed at the number of students who came in with their parents without having shown them their report cards. It’s particularly unwise since I’m sitting there with a laptop and can pull them up in an instant. Several students told me they didn’t have time to show their parents the report cards. That’s just hard to fathom. I mean, they are pieces of paper. You put them in your hands and move them to someone else’s hand. It takes no time at all.

I like to get bad news over with quickly, so I have the distinct impression that my kids would have been better off if I hadn’t been the one to do the first reveal. They looked at me as though I were treacherous, unworthy of their trust. Clearly they did not expect me to preface my discussion of how they were doing in my class with an overall view of how they were doing in others. Some were doing better in my class than others, and would probably never speak to me again if it weren’t for the fact that speaking is why they’re actually doing better in my class.

My entire department is in the library, and one of my former students has taken charge of the entire room. She’s concurrently running around like a madwoman and eating donuts. You can tell whenever she approaches because the donut smell somehow follows her around. My student aide is very impressed by that. He’s never met a girl who smelled like a donut before and quite clearly deemed her too good to be true. Aside from the whole donut thing, I’m impressed. When I met her last year she could barely sputter out a single word of English.

My student aide got very bored when the girl who smelled like donuts moved away and parents stopped coming around. He complained quite a bit, but we’re in the library. Why don’t you read a book, I asked. He said he couldn’t read books in English. I dragged him over to the manga section, where he rejected book after book until I pushed a Walking Dead comic in his face. He’s reading it right now. I learned to read with comic books, so why shouldn’t he?

I wonder whether I could effectively teach a comic book in my class. I don’t suppose I could do The Walking Dead. I’m not sure you learn much about character from zombies. I have to find something that the kids would find interesting but which wouldn’t get me fired. I suspect some of the kids’ parents would see me as a slacker, but it would be very cool to get my beginners to read just about anything authentic.

How were your parent teacher conferences?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

When the UFT Starts Looking More Like a Parasite...

We are not our union.  I haven't exactly figured out the relationship yet.  I know teachers need the UFT and the UFT needs teachers.  In defense of tenure, I feel the relationship is one of symbiosis, but at other times, as with the Common Core, teacher evaluation systems and treatment of ATRs, the parasitic relationship seems essentially harmful.

We pay our union dues, yet we are not our union.   On Long Island, PJSTA union leader, Beth Dimino, who spoke so passionately against the Core, actually teaches.  She is a veteran science teacher.  She is on the front lines every day.  She sees beyond theories that may look pretty when pushed along by millions of dollars.  She witnesses first hand the harmful effects of the Core.  She never forgets she represents teachers.  She never forgets she serves the kids.  And as such, she is a "mandated reporter" of child abuse--even if it's called the Common Core and its Sugar Daddy has millions to offer.

I realize the exigencies which make it preferable for our top UFT officers to be relieved from classroom duties.  Yet, this seems all the more reason why these same officers should encourage free thought.   This seems all the more reason why they should frequent the halls of schools not to sell contracts, but to pick up on the pulse.  Reps must come to see how membership can best be served and then they must start serving.

Chapter leaders are not our union.  Instead, Unity advises its members to toe the line.  Caucus members must cease and desist from any independent thought that might challenge official leadership positions.  They are advised to steer clear of anti Core positions.  The same Unity that holds the purse strings to lucrative double-pensions pulls the puppet strings of its own members.

Active members are certainly not our Union.   Only 17% of active UFT members bothered to vote in the last elections.  You might think the UFT would be actively concerned that this is a serious sign of illness.  Instead, Unity seems more focused on stymieing the voice of current members and guaranteeing its death grip on power by increasing retiree votes.  More than half of the recent votes in leadership elections came from retirees.

ATRs are not our union.  This one gets me worst of all.  We have let a class of people who worked in some of the hard-to-staff schools linger in limbo.  Many of these teachers are veterans, seasoned professionals, who deserve the best.  They are lumped together in a class repeatedly stereotyped by the media as derelicts.  When a resolution is presented to give ATRs their own chapter given their special interests and second-tier due process status, Leroy Barr has only to speak against it and all must follow.  The resolution is shot down.  Do you think Leroy Barr might feel differently if he walked in the shoes of an ATR?

NYC teachers must be the UFT.  But we are not.  Conditions are so bad today that many do not stick around for even five years.  As long as our dues keep coming, the UFT could pretty much survive without ever caring to ask what we want.  Sometimes it thinks it knows what we wants.  And, sometimes if does know.  But at other times, I'm pretty sure it doesn't care what we want.

Our union is separate from us.  We are besides the point.   I feel more kinship for the PJSTA than my UFT.  I pretty much want from the UFT what the PJSTA wants from NYSUT.  I want a union that is not separate from teachers.  I want a union of teachers, not a union controlling teachers.  And I believe it must start with veteran and career teachers and even some of the passionate recent retirees who understand life on the front lines.  If teachers want to win back education, it must  begin by winning back the UFT.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Small Game Hunting in Mr. Educator's Classroom.

I had my initial planning conference yesterday. I selected option one, with the formal observation. I always think it's a good idea to plan with my supervisor. That way, if she says my lesson was awful, I can ask why the hell she asked me to do it like that. Now this may not work for you, because past earnings are no indicator of future returns. Nonetheless, that's my approach.

My primary concern, as a teacher of beginners, is the reluctance of a large number of my students to actually speak. Many of my students come from places where they sit in large classes,  listen to teachers and never, ever interrupt. It's a cultural thing. It also explains why, despite sometimes having studied English for years, they cannot speak it at all. Sometimes I think that foreign English teachers instruct kids to always look at the floor and mumble when using English so that no one will ever detect those troublesome errors. Very, very bad advice, say I.

A few days back I had a real issue with a girl in one of my classes. She does well on exams, but will not utter a sound for the most part. When face to face with a question, she will answer, but with extreme reluctance. She has been a little upset with me since I made it clear that playing with her cell phone under her desk would get me to bend sideways, look under her desk, and tell her to put it away. She's tried other subterfuge, like hiding it under a book, but I keep catching her. Perhaps I should just let her use it and hope for the best. But I probably won't.

In any case, on this particular day, she kept putting her head down, hiding under various items of clothing, and acting peculiar in every way. I don't speak her first language, so I called her guidance counselor, who does. Sadly, she was unavailable. After investigating several less desirable choices, I sent her with another student to the nurse, who sent her right back to me. I never found out what happened.

The following day she returned, and was a little more cooperative. She seemed to follow a little better. I didn't even catch her using the phone. But of course, there was a crisis. Another student detected a cockroach the size of a Buick walking along a bulletin board in front of the classroom. It was pretty gross. I didn't know exactly what to do, so I tried to continue whatever it was I was doing. But miracle of miracles, my quiet girl got up unbidden, looked right at me, and asked, "Can I kill it?'

I was pondering a reply when she walked right up to it with a piece of paper, grabbed it and knocked it from its multicolored construction paper perch. I thought she had it, but apparently she did not. A very shy boy who speaks, but only when questioned, jumped up and stomped the thing to death.

I wonder whether Danielson would have awarded me points for my students' enthusiasm and initiative.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The U.F.T. Unity Caucus Respects Parliamentary Rule


NYC Educator carried a post earlier in the month with a quote by Leo Casey of UFT Unity:

To honor their democratic decisionmaking processes, some parties and caucuses adopt an understanding that is known as cabinet rule in the British parliamentary system: Once a democratic decision has been made within the party or caucus, its members are obliged to not oppose it in Parliament.[2] If the matter in question is one of fundamental principle, one can always leave the party or caucus and oppose it. In my view, this understanding is essential for a caucus to function as a democratic body.

I couldn't agree more.  UFT members need to take loyalty oaths attached to the powerful purse strings of lucrative, double-pension earning, after-school positions in union offices, expense-paid trips to conferences across the country,  a host of additional perks and the good life in general.  If you can't shut up and toe the line or shut down your own independent thought, then in the best parliamentary fashion, "Depart, I say; and let us have done with you.  In the name of God," and your double pension, "go!"


Let Robert's Rules of Order reign in the discussion to admit a preponderance of your own speakers.   If any breathing soul should actually manage to acquire the unabridged version of Robert's Rules and bring a point to light from the back of a crowded room, the one that inconveniently recognizes the opposition is entitled to equal representation during debate, yield gracefully when your Parliamentarian admits the sad truth.   After all, you, too, are a parliamentarian at heart.

But remember it doesn't hurt to employ tactics of the bully pulpit!  Because when eight-hundred people are sworn to uphold what you do at the D.A., you can't go wrong.  Manhandle the opposition, if you like, and banish the thought that your own caucus could ever be emboldened enough to actually represent differing views of either conscience or constituency!  After all, who wants consequences when it could mean off with their second jobs and double pensions?


Since you are a true parliamentarian, democracy pulses through your veins.  It gives the life-blood to your caucus.  Increase the weight of retiree voting.  Who cares anyway if most retirees are out of touch with the current corporate-backed war waged against educators?  Send the ballots home instead of allowing voting in schools.  You can probably ensure that more than 50% of the voters will be retirees.  And, they love you.  Unity can sure look golden from a golf course or a rocking chair.  Just keep the cupcakes and bagels fresh in Florida and retirement sweet.  And, maybe, just maybe, the current rank and file will survive long enough to be served one of your cupcakes someday.  They sure look sweet from the vantage point of a "bare cupboard"!

When matters like the contract arise and all the cupcakes with which you've plied retirees in Florida no longer have meaning because they can't vote, then let the voting be done in schools.  Don't bother to send your reps to see what the rank and file want.  After all, you are a parliamentarian at heart.  Why would you need to do such a thing?  Just send out your reps after the contract is a fait accompli to purportedly answer questions, but really sell it.  E-mail your chapter leaders and tell them to pass down the line the words of demoralization:  This is the best that we can do.  The "cupboard is bare."  Do you want to go to the back of the negotiating line as #151?  Banish the thought and vote for the contract now!  Then, in the name of God, and the parliamentary system, go!



Since you're a parliamentarian at heart, have no compunction for shoving the contract down throats.  Force feed the M.O.A. past your Contract Committee, Executive Board and D.A. before most have time to make much sense of it.  You are a parliamentarian with eight-hundred caucus members hoping to keep their cupboards filled by your generous union offices.  Let the undigested contract pass through the system.  You'll never be an ATR.  After all, you're a parliamentarian.  So what do you care?




If the Opposition gains power, find further ways to silence them.   There are always solutions for parliamentarians.  Make a stab at co-opting New Action.  No longer allow chapter leaders to elect UFT District reps.  You might lose another seat.  Let voting for high-school reps be done at large and thereby further crush dissent.  And, if Unity Executive Board members "sit and listen.  Some never speak.  Most rarely speak," so much the better.  You are a parliamentarian.  So, who cares?  Go eight-hundred strong and cast one vote eight-hundred times.  Subvert the voices of the rank and file in NYSUT and then the AFT.  Let your caucus members do the important work of holding places on line in L.A. for your big hitters.  After all, the more people you can intimidate with your fists, the merrier, so long as you have the parliamentarian rules of merry, old England in hand!

With such wonderful democracy in play at our UFT headquarters and such great policies in place, including mayoral control and V.A.M., why would anyone consider antiparliamentarianism?  It's too hard to spell.  And, besides, it's not even a word!

So, someday if you play your cards right,



you may get your own statue.



and one can always hope that time and the truth do not take its toll.

Monday, October 20, 2014

MORE and the Mission from God

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with MORE since its inception. Though I ran a few times with ICE in ill-fated union elections, I was never completely sold on MORE. As they were the only non-Unity endorsed option, as I knew and respected some of their candidates, I supported them in the last election, and asked members at my school to vote for them too. But my name didn’t appear on their ballot.

There are some people I admire intensely who’ve worked very hard for MORE. I’m not going to name them here, as I’m certain I’ll miss someone pivotal, probably the person I admire most. I'm sad to disappoint some of them. I've been to 3 or 4 meetings. At the first, I saw factions within the group, and it was simple for me to determine where I stood.

My friend James Eterno was quite frustrated at their September meeting, which I suppose I was blessed not to have attended. Apparently the lion’s share of it was devoted to the crucial issue of whether or not to retroactively endorse the Staten Island march to protest the death of Eric Garner. James found that absurd, as did I. If you wanted to endorse it, you went. If you didn’t, you didn’t. I saw 15 or 20 reps from MORE at the march, and honestly I didn’t see many more from Unity.

James held an ICE meeting last month in Manhattan. He proposed that MORE, with limited resources, focus on issues that actually effect those of us working in the schools. I agreed strongly with him that whether or not MORE retroactively endorsed the march was not one of those issues. Issues important to us are things like class size, reasonable evaluations, fair contracts and better treatment of and placement for ATRs.

I went to the MORE meeting  last Saturday. James introduced a resolution that MORE focus on member issues. Preceding that resolution was one to propose UFT endorse Howie Hawkins, the only pro-education candidate on the New York ballot. I made the egregious error of speaking in support of that resolution. I had not anticipated that the chair, eager to break into groups or something, would make it a point to give precedence to people who had not previously spoken on the next issue, which was Eterno’s proposal. Alas, that proposal was the main reason I went out and bought an LIRR ticket to be at the meeting. I felt we needed to save ourselves before we saved the world, but I never got to say so.

I listened to people comment on how bad racism was, how badly people are treated, and how we had to fight it. I’m not really sure what to say about that. My household is two-thirds Latino, far more diverse than the MORE meeting. My full-time job is teaching and helping newcomers to this country. I can’t help it if I happened to walk into a room full of white people. I don’t know why the room had that makeup. But there were the repeated cries about the importance of social justice, with grudging acknowledgement that teacher issues were also important.

Actually, while I have major issues with the Unity leadership, racism is certainly not among them. It’s ironic that, for all the talk I heard at the MORE meeting, Unity is considerably more diverse than they are. I take people one at a time or I could never be an ESL teacher. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in the last 30 years, teaching kids of every color, nationality, and religion is this—there is absolutely no stereotype that holds true.

If MORE wants a more diverse membership, they can achieve it by appealing to a wider group of teachers. But as I listened to them say they need to talk about the motion more, they need to vote on whether to talk about it more, they need to table it so they can break into groups, they need to send it to the steering committee, they need to vote online, they need to have a retreat, they need to go to happy hour, and various other priorities, I realized those objecting were on a mission from God. I’ve learned repeatedly that you can’t reason with people who are on a mission from God.

Though no one said so outright, there was clearly no room whatsoever for the Eterno proposal in this mission. It had to be discussed, analyzed, sent to this committee and that, scrutinized, t's crossed, i's dotted, studied, considered, placed online, tabled, and forgotten at the earliest opportunity. Pedestrian concerns must never be allowed to interfere with missions from God.

I have a much more modest mission. My mission is to introduce real democracy to the UF of T. My mission is to get a voice for the members I represent. My mission is to break the half-century monopoly on power held by a flabby and complacent leadership that finds two-tier due process acceptable. My mission is to improve not only the education of my students, but also their future prospects.

Some members in MORE are not primarily interested in that mission, or the simpler one of representing member interests. They will go along with it if it doesn’t get in the way of their saving the world, eradicating racism, and promoting the Revolution, but it’s clear to me their priority to save the world, and if it doesn’t occur in any of our lifetimes, that’s fine too. Make no mistake—I also believe in saving the world, and I’ll contribute in some small way if I can.

But I work in a school, I represent hundreds of people, and the most they ever approach me and ask me to save the world for them is never. It makes me very sad that MORE and I will not work together. They’ve spent years promoting their brand. Were they willing to help working educators with what they really need, I’d back this brand 100%.

What's even sadder is that the failure of MORE, an ostensible labor union caucus, to focus on labor union issues means there is not much hope that anyone is. There's New Action, which met with Randi Weingarten and agreed to endorse her and her successors in perpetuity for a few seats. There's another guy Randi met with who, by sheer coincidence, created a new caucus and nominated himself for President two weeks later. I don't think Mulgrew's losing a whole lot of sleep over potential opposition.

I like the idea of a brand people know. But this brand is problematic, because there are a lot of people with overarching goals that dwarf mere interests of teachers, students,  parents, and education. You can't dwell on such petty details when you're on a mission from God

I once had a student teacher who I asked to bring in pictures to help teach present progressive. You know, The people are walking. The girl is singing. He brought in pictures of Jesus healing the sick and people kneeling before Jesus. Of course he too was on a mission from God and was not particularly receptive to my response (which I'll spare you). I was there to teach English, not to proselytize. There's a time and place to proselytize, but it's not during my English class.

Teachers are desperate for representation. Teachers need someone to speak out for them and inspire them to speak out for themselves. It's high time to stop appeasing Bill Gates and do what's right. Our union leadership has failed at that, repeatedly and spectacularly. If MORE wishes to succeed, they need to drop the mission from God and focus intensely on these three things:

1. Represent the members.
2. Represent the members, and
3. Represent the members.

That's a prerequisite for not only success, but also relevance.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

MOSL and the Ten Commandments

Every school needs to determine precisely how junk science is utilized to determine teacher ratings. In our school, we tried to make measures as broad as possible. Wherever we could, we did not tie teachers to ratings based on their individual students. We felt this was unhealthy. For example, if some kid came to me asking for extra help, it would probably be less than optimal for me to say, “Screw you, kid, because you’re in Miss Grundy’s class.”

I probably wouldn’t say that in any case, but I would never want to be in competition with my colleagues. This places me in opposition to the prevailing reformy winds, which cry, “Fire the lowest 5, 10, or 90% of all teachers.” That’s also nonsense. But the entire notion of MOSL is nonsense, and if you’re involved you have no alternative but to choose the nonsense that suits you best.

The trend in my school was highly effective ratings in the building. This left a lot of happy teachers. But alas, most of us, myself included, were dragged down to merely effective after our junk science scores were averaged in. On the flip side, a lot of developing ratings were pulled up to effective.  As chapter leader, pissed off though I was about my rating and those of most of my colleagues, I felt we had more or less done the best we could.

My school, though, tends to do well. I’ve spoken to other people who’ve seen highly effective ratings dragged down to developing, and there are a few cases I’ve heard of that went from highly effective to ineffective. Hopefully cases like those will be corrected on appeal. Most appeals will go to the chancellor, where precedent from Klein on has been a rejection level of almost 100%. Our new agreement allows UFT to present 13% of cases to independent arbitrators, who will hopefully be more reasonable.

The consequences of poor ratings can be dire. Developing is not all that bad, though not all that good either. The primary consequence, aside from damage to your pride and such, is a TIP, or teacher improvement plan. Theoretically, the teacher and admin will collaboratively work out a plan to improve whatever needs improvement. Should that be the junk science portion of the rating, it will be an uphill battle indeed. Reliable studies suggest that teachers effect test scores somewhere between 1 and 14%. And of course if your supervisors are insane, the TIP could be torturous.

You may not appeal a developing rating. However, you will not face 3020a dismissal charges based on such ratings either. Ineffective ratings are quite a bit more threatening. Should you get one, you will be visited by a dementor validator who will decide whether or not you suck. Should the validator decide that in fact you do not suck, your principal can still bring you up on 3020a dismissal charges the next year. However, the DOE will have to prove you suck.

If the validator gives you a thumbs-down, saying yes you do suck, you will then have to prove that you do not suck. This basically robs you of that whole innocent-until-proven-guilty thing, which can be more than a minor inconvenience, what with poverty, health care, homelessness, and minimum wage employment all out there to welcome you.

So the decision of your MOSL committee can be a very serious thing. Do you know what your school’s MOSL committee decided? Did it work last year? Was it changed this year? What has worked for you and your colleagues? What hasn’t? And why on earth are we asked to make such high-stakes nonsensical decisions in the first place?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What if You Have to Skip Town Before You're Observed?

You never know. Maybe Cathie Black finally read those awful things you said about her and the DOE has put out a hit on you. Maybe your rich uncle in Tasmania is sick and needs you by his bedside. Perhaps you've finally found a killer deal on that chateau in the Ozarks you've always dreamed about. Who knows?

But, but doesn't the APPR agreement say you've got to be observed four times? Well, not necessarily. On page five it says this:

d) When a teacher is unexpectedly absent for the remainder of the school year (e.g., extended leave), the teacher shall have a minimum of two (2) observations, which shall fulfill the observation requirements set forth herein.

Is that reasonable? I'm not really sure. What if have to I leave today, before Cathie and the Tweedies can find me? Should I tell my supervisor to observe two classes and then make a break for it? And what if she rates me poorly. After all, here I am running for my life, and I may not be entirely at my best. Let's look at another scenario, though.

What if you get pregnant? Are you "unexpectedly absent?" How could you be when it's common parlance to say you're "expecting?" Is it in any way reasonable to load you up on observations in a short time? Let's say that today you suck, and you're leaving at week's end. Shouldn't you have more time to improve before you get tagged with a rating that says you sucked for the year?

And what about the 40% of junk science that's added to your rating? Since it already has no validity whatsoever, is it worse when you haven't actually been in the school? I suppose not, but even those who argue the validity of test scores in your department, or others as the case may be, will have a hard time saying that the kids did so poorly because of you. After all, you weren't even there. In fact, you could argue that the kids could have done much better if you were there. Who could argue?

So here's what we know. You must be observed at least four times by admin, unless you are highly effective, in which case you must be observed at least three times by admin and three by your inferior colleagues. Unless, of course, you leave unexpectedly. Then it is perfectly fine to be observed only twice, not matter what your rating. Because it is perfectly valid to judge you based on two observations if you leave.

The question then becomes why the hell isn't it good enough to observe you twice if you stay. The answer, of course, is because the MOA says it isn't, and that ought to be good enough for anyone.

It's important that APs and principals do 200 observations a semester, because Whatever It Was That They Did Before was a complete waste of time. Besides, as teachers, it's not our place to question the great and mysterious APPR agreement.

After all, who the hell do teachers think they are, running around and demanding logic? Next thing you know, students will be demanding it too, and then where would we be?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Lost Boys (and Girls)

I didn't need 35 minutes on Tuesday to make home contact because home contact has become part of who I am. I was once instructed to teach special education, and though in addition to being totally unqualified I was not very good at it, I learned a lot. The first thing I learned was that home contact was not optional. I've carried that with me, and my kids know that whatever language they speak, someone who speaks it will call their home if they break my heart. I'm very sensitive, so that happens often.

I hate it when kids come late to my class. I think that's something left over from my years in the trailer, when the bell would ring and I'd have to run like hell. I (almost) always made it, so I don't feel all that sorry for 15-year-old kids in better shape than I am who can't manage. Actually, once in a while anyone can be late. But when it's regular, I don't buy it. If I can do it, so can you.

Sometimes I discover odd things when I call. I find that kids live with guardians. Sometimes it's an uncle or a sister, and that's usually not a problem. Other times it's someone who's paid to care for the kid. What's odd in these cases is that people who take money to do this job often fail to find the job interesting enough to do. People ask, "What can I do?" I suppose they could stop taking money. It's tough to deal with teenagers. If you can't do it, you shouldn't take money for it.

Sometimes I find that kids are in group homes run by religious institutions or religious leaders. I'm particularly horrified by this because it seems to me if you're presenting yourself as religious you ought to have a higher standard. I've called places like this that simply do nothing, and are shocked when I call making demands on them. I've spoken through translators with lackeys, who tell me about all the important things the religious leaders do and how they haven't got time to bother sending kids to school, or checking where they go when they leave the place.

But whether the place is religious or not, it's pretty basic that if you take money to care for kids, you care for kids. Some people will say well, the kids are grown and ought to take responsibility. That's fine. But what if they don't? There's a reason we don't call kids adults until they're 18, and like it or not, plenty of kids fail to magically turn adult on their 18th birthdays.

I understand that there is this concept of the American Dream, and that a lot of people come here for it. I honestly do not understand sending your 14-year-old daughter to live with strangers and hoping for the best. I know a lot of people pay a lot of money for such services. But unless their kids are incredibly mature and intelligent, it's an awful idea.

I feel like calling up the parents in their home countries and telling them they aren't spending their money wisely. I wonder whether I'd get in trouble for that.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If You Liked Philly Teachers Losing Contract, You'll Love Astorino in NY

Teachers in Philadelphia recently had their contract pretty much tossed in the trash. Step-raises were abolished, and teachers will be forced to pay into health care. This is ostensibly because the district is desperate for money. Why?

The SDP faces a $300 million budget shortfall largely created by slashing state education aid by $1 billion, and abandoning a state school funding formula designed to increase resource allocations to the highest need schools and districts

Yet they've got $400 million to build a prison, in case their priorities are not yet clear enough. It's illegal in Philadelphia for teachers to strike, just as it is in New York. But in New York, where UFT just went six years without a contract, we have the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law. This amendment keeps existing contracts in place until and unless a new one is signed.

Rob Asorino doesn't much like the Triborough Amendment. He says it's choking the government. This, of course, is the very same government that refuses to tax the wealthy BFFs of folks like Astorino and Cuomo, preferring to drastically cut education and, among other things, send police out on missions to ticket  dangerous people like you for much-needed funds.

It doesn't matter to Astorino that we don't have the most basic tool of unionism in our repertoire, the right to strike. Astorino thinks we sat around like zillionaires for six years, laughing at Bloomberg as he denied us our contract. But Astorino can't have it both ways. If he wants to change the reasonable Triborough Amendment, let him repeal the draconian Taylor Law.

If he doesn't want to do that, he may as well be Scott Walker, who happens to be his enthusiastic supporter. Actually, no one in Wisconsin knew Walker was going to decimate union either. But Astorino's insistence that we have an advantage is an outright falsehood. Triborough is simply a small compensation for a fundamental right that we don't have. There are draconian penalties for teachers who strike in NY.

In fact, I wouldn't put amending Triborough past Andrew Cuomo either. Cuomo pretends to be a "student lobbyist," but he maintains a Gap Elimination adjustment that strangles districts of state aid, while concurrently preventing them from raising taxes for than 2% or rate of inflation, whatever's lower. Essentially, he's ensuring worse service in public schools even as he stands up for Moskowitz and privatization.

Cuomo is awful, unacceptable. But it's quite clear he has to, from time to time, at least pretend to be a Democrat, rather than the self-serving opportunist he is. Cuomo was the first Democrat for whom I declined to vote, and I'm not changing my mind this time around. But any teacher who votes for Astorino may as well be voting for his BFF Scott Walker. Teachers can ignore who Astorino is, and vote for him anyway, but they're deluding themselves. I see no labor policy that differentiates him from his BFF Walker.

The only acceptable candidate for those of us who actually support education and working people is Green Howie Hawkins, already endorsed by Diane Ravitch. Maybe you think you know better than Diane.

But, having read three of her books,  I've yet to meet anyone who knows better than Diane. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Tweed Selectively Enforces Contract and Enables Teacher Bashing

In the Daily News today there's a story about a teacher who lost his job. That in itself is interesting, since renowned legal expert Campbell Brown asserts it never happens. Also interesting is the fact that what this teacher is accused of appears far worse than the few cases Brown is constantly blathering about.

It seems reasonable that the story recalls the recent case of the Brooklyn Tech teacher who's sitting in jail right now. But I'm a little surprised by the concluding sentence of the story, which involves the Brooklyn teacher rather than the story's ostensible subject:

 Education officials have acknowledged it could take up to a month to fire him — and he’ll continue to collect city checks in the meantime.

There's not really any good reason for that. First of all, assuming the teacher is guilty of the charges, he's not in a classroom, and that ought to be what's important. Second, I'm pretty surprised that no one has sought to find out how anyone guilty of such charges could get a job in the first place, let alone maintain it. Most notably, no one has bothered to point out that there's no reason whatsoever for this teacher to be drawing pay. Here's an excerpt from Article 21 of the UFT Contract:

The parties agree that certain types of alleged misconduct are so serious that the employee should be suspended without pay pending the outcome of the disciplinary process. Serious misconduct shall be defined as actions that would constitute:

  • the felony sale, possession, or use of marijuana, a controlled substance, or a precursor of a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia as defined in Article 220 or 221 of the Penal Law, or
  • any crime involving physical abuse of a minor or student (crimes involving sexual abuse of a minor or student are addressed in paragraph 6 below.),...
Given that, why on earth has the DOE not acted upon it? A reliable source tells me that Tweed says this does not apply to untenured teachers. It's ridiculous to assert that contractual clauses do not apply to untenured teachers. If the city chooses not to exercise its contractual rights, it ought not to assert contractual issues that restrict them.

I'm tired of stories framing the contract as a culprit, particularly when they suggest things that are patently untrue. I remember this clause of the contract, and I remember objecting to it. Basically, we're talking about charges which are as yet unproven. In America, at least theoretically, you are innocent until proven guilty. Being suspended without pay or health benefits based on unsubstantiated charges is not reasonable, in my opinion. I believe there was at least one Queens teacher who was suspended on false charges a few years back.

However, they can't have it both ways. If they city and media wish to complain about the contract, they can't blame us when they, through ignorance, incompetence, or simple malice toward working people, choose not to use it.

Who Is UFT Making Calls For?

I'm a little surprised, not only by the volume of email I've received, but also by the message I'm getting from leadership. In numerous ways they're asking me to come out and make phone calls. But not once have I gotten a message about who exactly we're supporting. In fact, I have no idea. As for why, specifically, we should come, the only message I see is this one:

The following will be the schedule of what food will be served on these days.

Mondays – Chinese
Tuesdays- Italian
Wednesdays- Bens Best
Thursdays- Chinese

I'm afraid that's not enough to motivate me, let alone get me to drag others along. I'm happy to help candidates that merit our support, and I'm glad to encourage further support if I can. But I need to know who I'm supporting and why. It would be great if I trusted the union to decide, but I'm afraid I can't. After all, our union was instrumental in making sure Zephyr Teachout didn't get the Working Families line. Randi Weingarten made robocalls for Cuomo's running mate as opposed to Tim Wu.

I made calls for Grace Meng and Tony Avella. I was very proud when Avella managed to win after his quixotic bid for mayor. Of course he broke my heart when he joined IDC and put his lot in with folks who support vouchers, charters, and killing LIFO. But I haven't got a crystal ball, and I can only suppose the more trustworthy people are the less likely they are to enter politics. Is UFT making calls for him this year? Who knows? But I'm not joining them.

UFT leadership made an all-out bid to support Thompson for mayor, four years later than they should have. Mulgrew loudly ridiculed a commenter at the DA who criticized that decision, saying he didn't believe in democracy. I suppose it was too much effort to get off the stage, punch the guy in the face and push it in the dirt. I have to say there wasn't a whole lot of dirt at the Brooklyn Marriott that day, so it may have made little difference.

I declined to work for Thompson, given that A. He'd told the Daily News editorial board that it was too costly to give teachers the raise that all other city employees had received, and B. Bill de Blasio was surging by the time they'd made that push. It turned out to be yet another bad call from UFT leadership, and I can't help but wonder whether de Blasio would have been better if we'd made the right call. But there's nothing we can do about it now.

Fortunately for leadership, they've got hundreds of Unity oath signers who will support whatever they're told to support. They'll wave the flag for mayoral control, APPR, VAM, two-tier due process, more work for less pay, or whatever. So clearly leadership will be ably represented this election season.

It's too bad, though, under our current system, that absolutely no one represents rank and file.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

McEducation

It seems that in running schools like businesses, many corners have been cut.  Recently we've heard of food providers who won City contracts.  Perhaps they seemed like the best option, but in reality it seems they were cheating their workers.   

Schools have also tried to scrimp and save on sanitation.  Witness the bedlam created in Chicago.   There have been similar stories about situations in L.A. juxtaposed against the iPad fiasco.  Some NY City schools have seen years lean on sanitation, with garbage sitting for days in classrooms, emboldening even the most timid mice.  I once knew a teacher who brought her own broom and disinfectants to teach.  How much more highly effective could one hope to be?

If you've worked at a charter school, you may have seen your school operate more like a business than a public service.  Your school may be a prep machineget great publicity and shower millions on supporters in Albany while those students who can't cut it get short shrift and shown the door.  Fired without even two-weeks notice!  You may even find time to stage protests during normal school hours with those students who remain.  It's cost-effective!

I'm pretty sure some business-minded individuals would cut corners, de-professionalizing teaching by creating a drive-through education in which "teachers" flip tests for minimum wage, no benefits, and the likes of Pearson rake in the big profits.  Over one billion tests served, but is humanity well-served?

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Best Laid Plans

Yesterday I planned to give a practice test to my students, so I could give an actual test on Monday. We have an agreement in our school that my department gives tests on Mondays and Thursdays, so that kids don't have to cram for 15 tests a day. But it turned out that Monday schools are closed, which kind of put a crimp in my plans. Being adaptable, I considered the situation for many hours, did extensive research, and determined the best course of action would be to give the test on Tuesday, agreement or no agreement. Let them give me a counseling memo. It wasn't my idea to close the school.

But alas, when I got to work yesterday I received an envelope of PSAT forms. Apparently, my students, who barely speak English, can take a long time to fill in such forms. I was therefore nominated to help them so that they didn't hold up all the quick form fillers. But I was supposed to do this immediately, and how was I supposed to give and review this practice test I had while filling out forms? I'd do my best, but I couldn't promise anything. Let them put a letter in my file. It wasn't my idea to give kids who'd been in the country for 6 weeks a PSAT exam.

I worked up some activities that I thought the kids could do without a whole lot of my direct input, and figured, OK, this will work. But then there was a totally unrelated crisis (and no, I did not create it intentionally), and I actually had to miss my first class. This put everything out of kilter. So I decided I would put it off for one more day. I would give my practice test on Tuesday, and then give the actual test on Wednesday. Let them dump me in a rubber room, which of course has been abolished and doesn't even exist. It wasn't my idea to have a crisis.

But then I realized we were giving the PSAT exam on Wednesday. My classes were not all going to meet, and those that did would be shortened. Would it be fair to the students who just took the grueling PSAT to take another test? Would they be able to do it in what would not even be a full period? And would the students who hadn't just taken the PSAT have an unfair advantage?

There was only one possible solution. I would have to delay the test yet again, making it Thursday. Would my students be broken-hearted at having to wait so long? Would parents call in complaining their kids weren't tested enough? Would there be marches and demonstrations? I determined the answer was most likely negative. Also, Thursday is a designated testing day for my department, so I wouldn't get the counseling memo, the letter in file, or the trip to the rubber room that has been abolished and doesn't even exist.

So perhaps there is some degree of harmony in the world after all.

Friday, October 10, 2014

If it's Tuesday, Parents Must Be Waiting to Hear from Me

In an unprecedented stroke of genius, Carmen Fariña and UFT decided that Tuesday was the optimal time to call parents. To paraphrase Wimpy, "I'll gladly call you Tuesday about an incident today."

Because the best way to encourage or reinforce something positive is to call the parent a week later. Perhaps it will have more significance as it fades from your student's memory. And if some troublesome thing occurs, it's best to let it mellow until Tuesday, since there's no chance any student would repeat troublesome behavior simply because there were no consequences.

Clearly there's no such thing as urgency in the UFT Contract. The important thing is to go down some list, call parents A, B. C and D whether or not its merited, and if calls are indeed merited, to hope for the best until call time on Tuesday. Timing's important in music, perhaps, but means nothing in human relations.

Perish forbid teachers should decide how to spend their time. Doubtless they'd choose to go drinking or making trouble, because no teacher has ever contacted a parent until Mulgrew and Fariña instructed them to. Thank goodness they finally decided that parent need to be contacted for 35 minutes every Tuesday afternoon. Otherwise some teachers would spend 34 minutes, while others spent 36. Worse, some teachers might make a several calls one week and none the next simply because they thought they knew what was best. How the hell would teachers make such decisions? What could they possibly know about classroom management?

Now that they have Mulgrew and Fariña to let them know that parents are only home and interested in hearing from them on Tuesday afternoons, teachers can set aside their silly notions that children were unpredictable, had free will, or other such nonsense. I, for one, am going to instruct my students to make trouble and progress only on Tuesdays, since it's been decided that this is the time their parents wish to hear from me. The rest of the week, I'll make it a point to avoid breakthroughs, and make sure that the teenagers I see behave predictably.

I thank goodness our leaders have such insights. It would never have occurred to me to set aside one period of time per week for parental contact. Thank goodness they didn't simply trust teachers to do what they thought was best. It's gratifying to know we have leaders who always know what we should do and when we should do it. After all, once they start treating us like adults, who knows what could happen?

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Talk About Low Standards

Teacher-basher and former New York City Emperor Mike Bloomberg has been granted an honorary knighthood by the Queen of England. Apparently she'll do anything to get an invite to his palace, which doubtless makes hers look like an outhouse. Emperor Mike is a great philanthropist, investing not only in reforminess, but also political candidates who support his philosophy of buying office outright and changing laws to thwart democracy, otherwise known as term limits enforced by direct vote.

We interviewed Bloomberg, who was typically pissed off. "It's a bunch of crap," he told us. "I can't use the title Sir because I'm not a British citizen. The racist bastards. Do they know how much money I have? Them with their socialist medicine? I could probably buy the whole damn country with pocket change. The whole damn country!"

Mayor Bloomberg is a political independent. Having been a lifelong Democrat, he found the field too crowded with actual experienced politicians and decided what the hell, he'd run as a Republican. He later decided he didn't want to be identified with either political party, but was advised, despite all his money, that he could not actually run as a Certified Deity. He then relented and ran again as a Republican, or an Independent, or some such thing, and managed to buy himself a third term.

His proudest creation is Eva Moskowitz, who managed to get Cuomo to do any damn thing for her even though Cuomo refused to do it for Bloomberg, feeling threatened by All That Money. Moskowitz pulls in a piddling half-mil a year, and everyone knows you can barely buy a house with that nowadays.

Bloomberg plans to create a huge mosaic of himself to hang in a stadium he names after himself. He has not yet determined whether said stadium will be erected in Britain, America, or North Korea, but he plans to bestow his own knighthood on himself, after which he will be called Sir Emperor Supreme Leader Mike.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

De Blasio, Trailers and Vision

I worked for Bill de Blasio's election. I contributed and froze my butt off at his inaugural. I was pretty pleased to see Governor Cuomo sitting there with no role and had kind of hoped that would continue. Cuomo is good at doing nothing, and his other talents have thus far eluded me. Of course he and the assembly stabbed our new mayor in the back by giving the city to Moskowitz, and our union did not lift a finger to stop that.

But de Blasio has since gotten into line with our self-serving governor, helping, along with union leadership, to make sure the Working Families Party did not provide an alternative for working families. He also helped to thwart Zephyr Teachout's bid to have the Democrats run a real Democrat. As if that weren't enough, his chancellor Carmen Fariña has shown a propensity for the absurd, in dumping PD on teachers rather than instruction for kids. She now says there will be a snow policy, which I suppose can only be an improvement. The current policy appears to be checking whether Macy's is open, declaring it's a beautiful day, and hoping no one notices the ten feet of snow or the ten hour commutes.

A pledge de Blasio has made to the city is to get rid of trailers. That's a worthy goal, and I'm told there's a bond issue on the ballot to help do that. However, common sense dictates that getting rid of the trailers be accompanied by a program to make space for displaced students. Well, no such luck. Apparently it's an expense to simply remove the decrepit structures, and that's what the city is gearing up for.

I'm also hearing that targeted trailers will be those that are unused. While it's always a good idea to remove an eyesore, that's not the issue with trailers. The issue is we ought to be providing suitable space to our children, and that we are not doing. In fact, we haven't done so for years. And inconvenient and costly though it may be, it's important we provide suitable space for children, even if they aren't in Moskowitz Academies.

So here is what I propose, Mr. Mayor. Make sure every public school child is placed in a reasonable facility. Make that a priority. Let it be known that every kid in NYC merits that consideration and push it through. Governor Cuomo fancies himself a student lobbyist and owes you a huge favor. Don't focus on getting rid of something. Focus on building something for public schoolchildren.

And the trailers?

Give them to miracle worker Moskowitz. Since she's allowed to dump kids who don't contribute to her myth-making, let her dump them into welcoming and improved facilities. Since she is superwoman, let's stop giving her our precious space and allow her to continue to fabricate her miracles in the trailers.

It couldn't happen to a nicer demagogue.