Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Does UFT Leadership Stand For?

We know that President Michael Mulgrew loves Common Core, because he clearly stated he'd punch anyone who tried to take it away from him. He then ridiculed those who said Gates had anything to do with it, though Gates clearly pumped hundreds of millions into it, several in the direction of teacher unions. While ridiculing Gates' involvement was juvenile and absurd, and while the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers disagree with Mulgrew, at least we know it's something he stands for.

Does leadership stand for parity with other city unions? Apparently not, since they all got raises in 2010, and it's OK for UFT members to wait until 2020. Perhaps leadership feels money is worth the same in 2020 that it is in 2010. Although a dispirited membership swallowed this contract, not everyone concurs. In fact, I just bought a car, and when I asked the dealer if I could put off payment interest-free until 2020, he didn't see it as a viable option. I won't publish his precise remark here, as this is a family blog.

Does leadership stand for unity, as in union? I'm gonna have to say no, since very worst aspect of the new contract is limited due process for ATR teachers. While Mulgrew stood up and said some teachers complained 3020a took too long, no one I know who's gone through it has complained he or she was given too much time to present a defense. ATR teachers will get one day, and according to Mulgrew, they can face dismissal if two principals complain they were shouting in the hall.

Does leadership stand for rational argument? I'm gonna have to say no, since the contract was sold largely via logical fallacies. One of the questioners at the DA (one who Mulgrew did not shout down), after telling Mulgrew what a swell guy he was, asked what would happen if the contract were not approved. Mulgrew launched right into an oft-repeated appeal to fear, that we'd have to get in line behind 150 other unions. He neglected to point out that would not be the case if he had not negotiated such a substandard contract.

A popular argument to those of us who opposed the contract was that we opposed teacher empowerment. That's a classic strawman and it's ridiculous. We opposed precisely what I said we opposed, and no matter how many committees there are to negotiate how junk science and teacher detention are conducted, those were the more pressing issues.

Does leadership stand for placing ATRs back in the classroom? A ten year contract suggests otherwise. Does leadership stand for ATRs having a chapter and a voice? I've seen absolutely zero evidence of that.

Does leadership stand for reasonable class sizes? As far as I know, class size, controlled by the UFT Contract, has not been renegotiated since 1967. It is the number one priority of NYC parents. It's further beneficial to both teachers and students to lower class size. What has UFT leadership done in the last 44 years to change this? I'm pretty sure they've offered valuable lip service from time to time, but the fact is, even with a mayor who appears not to be insane, nothing is being done, and it looks like nothing can be done until 2018. Doubtless the mayor, facing huge payments as a result of the current contract, will be less than eager to negotiate smaller class sizes (not to mention increases in salary).

We know that leadership has stood for mayoral control, and did so again after it proved a miserable experience in school closings. We know that Mike Mulgrew helped negotiate the APPR that judges teachers by junk science. We know we've not only supported charter schools and colocations, but additionally opened and colocated our own UFT Charter School.

We know that leadership does not believe in democracy. We know that because after Mike Shulman, at the time part of opposition, won the high school VP they changed the rules so that all VPs were voted at large. We know that because district reps, once elected by chapter leaders, are now selected by loyalty-oath bound Unity Caucus members. We also know that every single representative on NYSUT and AFT has signed a loyalty oath and must vote as told or lose not only the aforementioned vote, but also all union-related perks.

And we further know that perks fail to motivate our reps to do the right thing. Otherwise, why would we have scuttled the Zephyr Teachout attempt to gain the Working Families line? What purpose does a Working Families line even serve when people who support working families can't even get the nomination?

Our leadership stands for free trips to LA. Our leadership stands for patronage. Our leadership stands for absolute power.

And our leadership sorely needs replacement.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Teacher Detention

Many of my colleagues are being forced to stay after school today. The other day, a teacher pointed out to me it was nothing more than detention for teachers. She found this ironic, since students in her school are not given detention. Worse, none of the teachers had done anything to merit detention. This notwithstanding, UFT leadership managed to negotiate teacher detention on a twice weekly basis.

Every teacher (and a whole lot of other people) knows the Sunday night blues. Monday, despite your best efforts, it's time to get back into the grind. You have to get up early in the morning. When you were a student, your father told you one day you'd get used to rising early, and that, of course, is the biggest lie you've heard in your whole life. You'll have to wear shoes, which have always been an unwelcome lifestyle imposition. And your body, after a few nights of staying up late, refuses to cooperate.

Monday morning, you consume copious amounts of coffee. It's that awful French Roast your wife favors. Though it tastes and looks like mud, you know it's strong and hope for the best. You steal a Red Bull from your kid. Nothing works. You wonder whether it's viable to simply pump caffeine into your vein, and why no one has started such a business in back of a 7-11 somewhere. Nonetheless, you soldier on. You get into your car and not only maneuver to work, but also manage not to crash into anyone or anything.

You stumble into work, and your students are in a foul mood. It turns out their weekends are over too. They retreat into the world of their prohibited cell phones. You remind them that's unacceptable, but they take steps to conceal them from you. Smart phones are suddenly hidden under desks and behind books, in such numbers as to divide your already limited attention. You are outnumbered.

And then there's that kid who needs your attention every moment. She demands it repeatedly, in new and innovative ways. You try to focus on the task at hand, but she has a voice like a foghorn, a voice that cuts through everything and anyone. You can't focus on anything else, and neither can a single student in your class. You've already tried every trick and diversion in your playbook and she's devised a counter to each and every one. You are outshouted and outmatched.

Of course you are observed. Your supervisor shakes his head in disgust at this obstreperous student. He gets up to intervene, but doesn't know any more tricks than you. He fails to contain this 15-year-old threat to democracy and the American way, and does so spectacularly, in front of you and 34 other witnesses. The girl feels no one and nothing can stop her, her confidence soars, and she can and will be contained by no teacher. This week is gonna be tough for sure.

But for your boss, who studied for and took the AP job to get out of the classroom, it's a reminder that his classroom was always out of control. He couldn't wait to get that office gig, to sit and look at a computer screen, to sit in the back and conduct observations. It was an egregious error to confront that girl, that girl who's smarter than you and, of course, smarter than him too. After this very public failure, he jots down notes that will make sure Charlotte Danielson damns you straight to hell.

But he doesn't stop there, because at the end of the period it's time for him to run 80 minutes of PD. While he's got a list of crap to talk about, it's suddenly important for him to rationalize his miserable 15-minute observation. Naturally he does so at your expense, making invidious comparisons about data suggesting that some teachers control their class better than others. He coyly tries to avoid naming you, but manages to describe your age, your experience, your appearance, and your miserable attitude in excruciating detail. All of your colleagues know who he's talking about. It takes him 87 minutes, and everyone is fidgeting but afraid to get up and walk out until he finishes venting.

Fortunately, tomorrow you get 35 minutes for parental contact, so he'll only be able to belittle you for the other 35, assuming he doesn't go much overtime.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

When the News is Too Strange to Believe...

Dog Poop Mailbox 500x447

I'm sure you remember how Mulgrew popped up in the news last May when his private words to his caucus went public.  He had pushed for twenty-two domains of Danielson to "gum up the works" as one defensive strategy against the ed "reformers" in this ongoing war to protect our public schools and the teaching profession in general.  His words aroused the ire of Jenny Sedlis as well as some parents and provided the media with a field day or two.

So, now, I occasionally wonder if my union doesn't have more up its sleeve.  Will Mulgrew one day announce that the UFT only found the common standards of the Core user friendly in a bid to act as a double agent and steal some sweet grant money?  We've seen histrionics, fists shaking and threats wielded.  Will we learn one day that this was all for show?  Our Union only milked the Core for its millions, realizing it would crash and burn under the weight of its own unworkability and its unpopularity?  Is the Union trying to sweet talk the Core's Sugar Daddy before it all succumbs to inevitable decay?  Will the truth unfold like an Agatha Christie plot?

I know some of you are sure our Union has been bought off.  And it sure looks like that to me at times.  Laugh at my naivete, if you wish, to even imagine such a scenario.  I laugh too, that is, until I once again wake up and read more news that is too strange to believe.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cuomo, After Court Victory, Extends Supermajority Concept

In another great victory, Governor Andrew Cuomo has defeated a challenge demanding that votes that say "yes" to supporting public schools be counted with equal weight to those who vote "no." The judge suggested the one-person, one vote thing was outmoded and unnecessary.

The judge struck down the NYSUT lawsuit demanding that people who vote "yes" to school budgets have their votes count equally.

McGrath noted the Brenner case in Missouri where the U.S. Supreme Court authorized super-majorities, so long as the threshold was not set to discriminate against any specific racial, ethnic, or religious group.

Cuomo commented, "This is a great victory for not only the people of New York, but also for me, the student lobbyist. There's really no way I can help the students for whom I lobby better than by making sure that less money goes to their schools. With fewer teachers and huge class sizes, they'll learn that this world is a tough place, and that they have to fight for everything they want. Unless, of course, your dad is Governor of New York. For example, I've had everything handed to me on a silver platter, and my kids go to private schools where they won't have to put up with this crap."

Indeed, it appears the only crap with which Governor Cuomo has to contend is Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade, but who really knows whether she actually eats that stuff when she isn't on TV? I mean, with all that money they save when they refuse to pay taxes on home improvements, you'd think they could go to a restaurant once in a while, or even hire someone who actually knows how to cook.

In any case, after Andrew Cuomo's spectacular defeat of NYSUT, he's become emboldened to extend the supermajority concept to gubernatorial candidates. In fact, armed only with the big stick pictured above, he visited many undecided Senators and Assembly members, and beat the crap out of them until they agreed that any opponent would need to achieve a 60% supermajority to defeat him in the November election. Expedited legislation now appears inevitable.

"I'm a reasonable guy," stated the Governor. "I could've made it 90%, but I won't do that unless my numbers drop sufficiently to make it necessary. I am the government, damn it, and after this I'm gonna be President. We won't have had all that nonsense about hanging chads when it takes 60% of the vote to defeat me. One man, one vote is obsolete. By the time I'm through, one man, one and a half votes will be the norm. At least for those people who vote the right way."

Friday, September 26, 2014

In the Darkest Times

Reforminess is everywhere. Every place you turn there's a Campbell Brown or Mona Davids crawling out from under a rock and blaming you for every ill in creation. The solution, they say, is for you to be summarily fired if the principal doesn't like your haircut. The proof, they say, is for kids to pass some test that is not only utterly inappropriate, but for which they are totally unprepared. The only way you should get a raise is if you are a miracle worker, overcoming poverty and special needs solely by means of your radiant smile.

The politicians are available to the highest bidder, and your union can't compete with the Koch Brothers. Were that even possible, the leadership can't wait to jump on the reformy bandwagon to show how flexible and reasonable they are. So what if everyone else got an 8% raise four years ago with no concessions? We can not only wait ten years for the money, but also throw our ATR brethren under the bus, seriously diminishing their due process. Our nominal leader, elected by a sliver of active membership, states publicly they can be fired if they shout in the hall twice. Your school is so overcrowded you can't envision communication during passing without shouting in the hall on a daily basis.

But in the classroom are dozens of kids who depend on you. They may or may not have role models in their homes, but you're their second best bet. And you can show them that life has beauty, humor, depth and possibility. You can do this even as you teach them English, math, history, music and show them the greatness of which people are capable. You are subversive, because the likes of David Coleman would have you read scripted nonsense and be nobody. But they haven't yet been able to pull the wool over the eyes of John and Jane Q. Public, so there you stand, showing another world to kids whose parents, likely as not, work 200 hours a week to keep up.

But those kids have hope, and it rests in you. Those kids have opportunities, and it's your job to let them know that. Those kids can grow up and be you, and inspire future generations, and you have to let them know that too. Not only can't you give up, but you can't allow them to give up either. If they want to be teachers, if they want to shine a light toward those who follow us, you need to let them do that. You not only need to encourage them to do that, but you also need to do what you can to enable them to do it.

I know that my kids, who've been here for two weeks or one year tops, can learn English, figure out what they have to do to graduate, and scrape together enough money to go to CUNY and take my job. One of my former students is running around my school as a student teacher and I couldn't be more proud. I'll do what I can to help her get a job and I'll even try to get used to her calling me by my first name.

If my kid wants to be a teacher, I will encourage her. I'm not going to tell her how awful it is. I'm gonna work to make it better for her, for my students, and for yours. The pendulum swings both ways and I will do everything I can to make it swing toward sanity and justice once again.

Join me. If you're a teacher, part of your job is helping future teachers. We can't just say, "Everything sucks," and turn our backs on them. If we do that, we're making it true.

That's not remotely why I do this job.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Neanderthals Dominate School Policy in 5775

First of all, Happy New Year to all blog readers (and don't forget to write 5775 on your checks starting today).  Let's get right to the deplorable state of affairs in our schools. After 12 years of unending reforminess, we finally have a mayor who shows signs of not being insane. And yet, we still have the cell phone ban that has had us shaking our heads since its inception.

In my school we don't scan all who enter, and a lot of us are grateful for that. My feeling is the less schools resemble prisons, the better we'll do. Of course we haven't been able to stop the imposition of Common Core, or its untested and baseless mandates, but it's one nation under Gates after all. But I've got a teenager at home, and I know well that teenagers without cell phones in 5775 are not happy. I believe in the happiness of teenagers, so I don't go out of my way to enforce crazy rules.

If kids don't bother me with their phones, I don't bother them. I generally ask them to keep the phones out of sight. Sometimes kids use them as translators, and sometimes I look the other way when they do that. More often they keep them cleverly hidden under the desks and assume I won't notice. I'm sure that sometimes I don't, but when I do I make them put them away. I hate seeing kids texting in class, but I guess it's the equivalent of passing notes, something I did in school back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

It takes a lot for me to actually confiscate a phone. One time, a boy's phone rang, and he answered it in a foreign language. That was brazen. He not only used his phone in my classroom, but concurrently managed to violate my cardinal rule that we speak English in English class. That boy's Mommy had to come to school on Friday and pick up the phone. He had to navigate the world for several days without it, an unimaginable task for a modern teenager.

Another time a student determined it was a good idea to use his phone to play music in the trailer bathroom. I don't know exactly what inspired that thought, but the class and I sat incredulous as he did it. The boy deemed it hilarious until he found his phone would sit in the dean's office until Mommy rescued it on Friday.

I was covering someone's class once. I politely asked a boy to put away his iPod touch. Remember them? He complied, then took it out again. After the third time he defied me, I called a dean and had his device confiscated. When I went down to the dean to check on what happened, the boy's mom found me, and was apoplectic. She screamed that it was his "enjoyment," and demanded that her son never be in my class. Though her son would never be in an ESL class anyway, I silently agreed with her, as I didn't particularly want him in my class either.

The notion of benign neglect toward cell phones is a reasonable one. While don't ask don't tell didn't serve the military well, it's probably the best current approach toward phones. A more reasonable approach would be to have students simply keep their phones concealed and silent during class. That's my approach, with a few exceptions. The first day of class I usually ask kids for their phone numbers. It saves me the trouble of looking them up on the computer, and often gets me more current numbers than the computer carries. It also tells me a lot about the student who deliberately gives me a phony number, or her own phone number.

But one of the side effects of the ubiquitousness of cell phones is that many of us don't know our family phone numbers any more. If I don't let kids look up numbers on their phones, I'll probably never see them at all.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


You don't really know what will happen when you place kids together. A kid who's troublesome in one group may be a valuable addition to another. Last year, I had one kid moved from my AM class to my PM class, and I knew it would be a disaster. He was kind of the last straw. The PM class was on the edge and I was absolutely sure his presence would push it over. Surely enough, it did just that.

There are only so many trouble spots you can keep your eye on at one time. That's why so many people will tell me, "I don't know what to do with my 6th period class," or something like that. I'm sure John King would simply conclude they were ineffective and move to have them fired. After all, he taught one full year of public school before his two years in charters, and he knows everything. Surely he could control anyone. Except an audience of parents and teachers with real questions. And they're special interests anyway. If they weren't, they'd send their kids to Montessori schools just like Reformy John.

On the other hand, these teachers are doing just fine with their other four or five classes. So maybe they aren't so ineffective after all. If they were, wouldn't all their classes be bedlam? How do you know where the tipping point is? It really depends on who the kids are. Last year I was in the trailer and I placed the seats in a U shape to encourage communication. After they moved that last kid in, I moved the seats back into rows to discourage communication. It was a lot of work teaching that class.

There's really only one solution to the problem of class chemistry, and no, it isn't Common Core. Kids will be kids no matter how awful you make the curriculum. In fact, if you make them analyze things to death until you squeeze any and all potential enjoyment out of it, you'll likely make things even worse. Teenagers have all sorts of things running through their bodies and minds and that 17th reading may be just the thing to push them over the edge.

But you know how to avoid the dreaded miserable chemistry, don't you? I'm not Bill Gates so I can't promise you a silver bullet, and none of his actually work very well anyway. So what we're left with is lower class sizes, which seriously reduce the possibility that you will be stuck with that dreaded chemistry issue. The fewer kids you have, the more each one can express him or herself, and the less likely it is said expression will be a problem.

Of course it's much easier to vilify teachers and say they all need to be replaced. As long as you're firing teachers and pretending to improve things, you don't have to bother hiring more of them. Regular readers of this blog know I was just a little bit disappointed in the latest contract. Things like two-tier due process and waiting ten years for the raises everyone else got in 2009 don't make me jump up and down.

But another thing that neither I nor anyone squawked a whole lot about was the failure to negotiate reasonable class sizes. I've been teaching since 1984 and they haven't changed at all. It's funny, because we hear a lot about how we have to evolve, how we have to accept this or that, of course it's true, and some changes aren't even insane. This notwithstanding, parents have been saying for years in the city survey that their number one issue was class size.

If parents want it, and teachers want it, what on earth is keeping New York City government from moving on it?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

When Zephyr's Away, the Rats Will Play...

Nowhere is the craven opportunism of Andrew Cuomo more evident than in his own words. When he was facing opposition in the Working Families Party, he was a liberal, a progressive, a true blue Democrat. He was gonna reign in those nasty independent Democrats, the ones who acted like Republicans, so our bold UFT and NYSUT leadership made sure that scary Zephyr Teachout didn't take that mantle from him.

And when Teachout mustered the temerity to run against him in the primary, we heard not a word from him. Except that this deal to appease progressives in WFP? Forget about it.

Of course, he spent a few millions fighting Zephyr in court, claiming this Fordham law professor who's been working in NY since 2009 commuted to Vermont or something. This is the sort of sterling judgment we can expect from our fearless leader. Now that she pulled over a third of a vote from him in the primary, and things look safe, he can tell us what he really thinks.

The governor also noted how he took on the teachers union to bolster accountability in public schools.

We all know how that's worked out. Aren't things in your classrooms just humming now that you're being observed 200 times a year? Don't you feel valued, trusted and professional? And isn't it a fine thing that teachers are being evaluated by test scores even though there is not only no evidence to demonstrate this is a valid measure, but there is also quite a bit of evidence that teachers are a minor factor at best in such scores?

Governor Andy has declared himself to be a "student lobbyist," but he's enabled a system in which people who vote no to supporting public schools get more of a voice than those who vote yes. In New Paltz, 59.5% of voters said yes to a budget and it went down. That's the sort of thinking we get from our pal Andy, and the leader of the AFT actually made robocalls for his conservative running mate just to make sure Zephyr's partner Tim Wu didn't actually capitalize on that NY Times endorsement.

Don't forget Andy's Gap Elimination Adjustment. Not only is it virtually impossible for localities to raise money for public schools, but they're concurrently receiving a whole lot less state aid. That's a recipe for disaster. And lest you're thinking about Astorino as an alternative, he says Cuomo's tax policies don't go far enough. We don't need Cuomo, and we especially don't need Astorino, the second coming of Scott Walker.

There are no good choices from the major parties, and we as unionists are partly responsible, by enabling leadership that shoots down a shining star like Zephyr.

If you support public education, support the only standing candidate who shares that sentiment--Green Howie Hawkins.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Big Fun Interviewing in Charter Schools

by special guest blogger Job Seeking Teacher

I interviewed at about three different charter schools this summer. All of the interviews took place in late late August or (in the last case) mid September. Lots of vacancies on their websites. It appears that teachers peace out of charter schools quickly.

The first school I interviewed at was recently in the news for calling ACS if the parents picked up their kids late. I don’t really care if they read this, as it seems like they interviewed so many people I doubt they remember who I am.

The second charter school I interviewed was in a small, dingy building that looked like it had become a garbage dump over the summer. Junk everywhere. Not books, just junk. Empty boxes, old computers, stuff piled on top of old stuff piled on top of older stuff. Forget about the lottery — I saw several parents walk in with their kids. The lady in the office gave them an application and voila! They were enrolled. The interviewers themselves were fairly professional — two assistant principals who said that the charter school was doing poorly in state tests and needed to improve. I didn’t get the position, but I saw a few weeks later on the website that two assistant principal positions were now open. The AP’s who interviewed me had peaced out at the end of the summer.

The third charter school was a place where I had put in for the job in July. Heard nothing back, assumed they weren’t interested. In mid-September I got a phone call. “Can you come in for a demo lesson?” I did a little research online and saw that the highly touted principal of that school had also suddenly peaced out at the end of the 2013/14 school year. The school is in one of the roughest neighborhoods of NYC — imagine a place where all the delis have bullet-proof windows and it’s 9:00 in the morning and people are wandering around the streets in some kind of drug/alcohol stupor. The building itself is very nice though, and built in the same style of the Harlem Children Zone building. Maybe they had the same architect?

The lady who interviewed me said that they ‘really needed ____ teachers’ as they hadn’t had teachers in my subject area in, well, a long time. I did my demo lesson, and then was led around a tour of the school. They showed me the “student lab,” except it looked like it had been converted into a janitor’s closet because no students had actually stepped foot inside the lab in forever. I really didn’t want the job so I asked the interviewer, “I saw on the website that all the teachers only have 10 month contracts. Does that mean they are let go at the end of the 10 months?” The interviewer paused, and said, “Well, it doesn’t necessarily need to happen that way …” She then mumbled something about teachers being “accountable” under that system because they knew their contracts wouldn’t be renewed otherwise. I didn’t say anything but I kind of thought that the opposite might happen: if teachers know that their contracts aren’t likely to be renewed at the end of 10 months, won’t they peace out?

Everyone talks about Success Academy and KIPP and the wonders they achieve. The charter schools I interviewed at were all small, rather depressing places in which student achievement was no better than the average public school and in some cases worse. Turnover is extremely high — you can probably walk into any one of them and find vacancies at any time in the school year. I actually can’t think of a single reason anyone would want to work in one of these places.

And that, in short, is my summer charter school tour.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rolling With the Punches in an Age of Educational Deformity

For those teachers who think that there once was a golden past of teaching before the era education deformity, let me assure you, you are right.  I had the privilege to teach for a full ten years before the deformity struck.  While things still seemed good, we tightened our belts and I took five years off to raise some kids.  When I returned to work the landscape had turned barely recognizable.  My colleagues warned me, but they could not have prepared me.

The amazing thing about it all is that many of the people in the building were the same or similar to those whom I had left, students, teachers and administrators.  Good people.  

Yet, everything else was different.  Let me explain.

When I returned, I confronted Smart Boards and learned they had some advantages.  My students showed me how to use them.  They help visual learners and make learning multidimensional by adding pictures, films and audio clips.  Moreover, there's no nasty chalk dust to cough up. 

But, even the kids tell you the Boards are far from flawless.  The technology fails, projectors overheat and shut down, computers "glitch."   Students will also tell you that all too often the teacher talks while they copy board notes and so much is lost as the ears and eyes fall out of sync.  They neither hear well or understand the notes they write.  The best schools abroad seem to use minimal technology.

Another notable change I faced when I returned was a new obsession with data and "credit-recovery."  Faculty meetings turned into explanations of school report cards and the necessity of meeting guideposts, lest the school be closed.  In the Bloomberg era, graduation rates had to be made to climb, one way or another.  The fears were very real.  Academic discussions took a backseat to survival skills.  We were and still are confronted with the data generated and the very real sense that this data can make or break us.  Data is king, not teaching.

I also witnessed a tremendous decline in the amount of teacher-choice money.  Whereas now, we're supposed to be rocking with some more dollars in our wallets, we used to get two hundred.  I used to buy scholarly books, references, and read them, now my money goes toward board markers which are far more expensive than chalk, seemingly noxious to breathe, and in terribly short supply in our school.  

Then, there's the new testing craze.  We are asked to punctuate our teaching on a regular basis with uniform quizzes to ensure we're prepping at the same rate towards that Regents.  But, we don't all teach at the same pace or in the same topical order.  I feel no longer trusted as a professional to get my students to their destination by Regents day.  With so much emphasis on meeting the baseline of the Regents, we also hold back our highest-achieving students by only holding them accountable to the same uniform standard.  

Now, we are subject by law to repeated and often practically unnecessary observations, adding stress wasting the limited time of APs.  Their time could much better be spent in other pursuits, including helping teachers who need help and checking on any of those about whom revolve repeated complaints.  And what about more time to help students with questions?  Teachers are demoralized.  Since I have returned to work, perhaps, the biggest change I have witnessed is a sense that we must roll with the punches. It's a shame to be the punching bag of "reformers."  But I comfort myself with the thought that every action has an equal an opposite reaction.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Where Are We Gonna Put Those Kids?

Mayor de Blasio, to his credit, has stated he'd get rid of the trailers. I envision getting a bunch of lawn chairs, a barbecue, a large party, and blowing them up. But, you know, we'd do it the safe way, like they do with outdated casinos in Vegas. They sort of implode. That's kind of anti-climactic, but there's nothing that says you can't follow up with a fireworks show, or the Rockettes, or something festive.

I've been expelled from the trailers. It's odd to be in the building, to hear the bell ring, and not instinctively run like hell out of the building. I can now be just about anywhere, and make it to my classroom without too much of a struggle. Of course, after my decade of exile, I kind of feel like I no longer belong in the building. I haven't got a tattoo or anything, but I kind of feel like I deserve one.

Despite Mayor de Blasio's good thoughts, he still hasn't told our school, or any really, what the hell it is we're supposed to do after we blow up those trailers. I mean, sure we'll clean up after our barbecue, and whoever blows up the trailers can haul away the debris. Sure we'll salt the ground to make sure nothing ever grows there again, and it's my fond hope they name the site for me. Nonetheless, there will still be a problem.

The problem, of course, is those darn students. Where are we gonna put them once the trailers are gone? In our school, the trailers represent 8 classrooms. In Richmond Hill High School, they have an entire yard full of them. I've never counted, but it looks like an entire civilization out there. And all over the city there are trailers here, trailers there, trailers everywhere.

Will they build extensions on the buildings that host trailers? There aren't any plans to do so. Personally, I'm not persuaded the "Let's do whatever and hope for the best" line of thought is the most productive. And yet that appears to be the plan.

Unfortunately, that sort of thinking ought to be left with Mike Bloomberg, Joel Klein, and the other abominations we've suffered though over this last interminable decade.

Mayor de Blasio can and must do better.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How About a UFT Cut-the-Strings, Free-the-Puppets Caucus?

Handmade puppets made in the traditional Old World way are the pride of Prague
I didn't start out criticizing our Union.  I started out with a sincere concern for the current state of affairs in education and the loss of respect among "reformers" for my profession.  This will always be my bottom line.  I thought my Union would always be with me, but I soon learned this was not the case.  I learned that my Union silences its own members who might differ in opinion.  I learned that something as simple as questioning the Core might be dangerous to one's career in Unity and it might even get you punched in the face and pushed in the dirt.  I learned Unity strikes deals and accepts grants that ultimately seem to put it at odds with so much that I hold dear.  And, I learned that a UFT Unity loyalty oath makes a mockery of the fact that teachers teach people to think.

The question naturally arises:  What kind of person gladly obeys a UFT Unity loyalty oath and unquestioningly votes as told?

1.  People who don't have time to think?
2.  People who don't trust their judgment?
3.  People who like to follow orders?
4.  People who just don't want to know?
5.  People with no time or desire to query constituents?
6.  People who believe Unity is infallible?
7.  People who believe this is the best we can do?
8.  People who primarily want to collect union paychecks and double pensions?
9.  People who want to hang with a prestigious in-crowd and attend conferences in spiffy settings via the union dues of the people they don't really represent?
10.  People who are afraid of being punched in the face and pushed in the dirt?

If there are any people who fit the bill for one to five above, I'm guessing they hope the fact is never publicized.

If there are those who believe that Unity is infallible, then they follow a dogma of blind obedience.  It must be awhile since they've looked around.  If Unity's ideas could stand on their own legs, there would be no need for a loyalty oath to assure triumph.

If there are people who believe that this is the best that we can do, then I suggest they step aside to make room for people who believe we can do better.

As to people who follow the Unity line for the pay, perks and double pensions, I'm betting they're not proud of the fact.  They're little more than company yes men.

If you watched any of the open debate at the AFT Convention last July, you probably noticed the "big hitters," Mulgrew, Casey and Barr, jumping to the front of the mic line.  I heard their places were held by Unity members, earning either brownie points or exercising their right to be lackeys.  Why didn't the placeholders dare speak?  Had they nothing to say?  Did they fear to say the wrong thing?  Did they feel in their gut it'd be a mistake?

Were the pro-Common-Core words spoken by Unity leadership at the AFT Convention golden?  Far from it.  We heard physical threats of violence (which I can't take seriously), praise for the possibility of classrooms across America marching in lockstep and charges that "anti-Corites" must be Tea-Party conspirators.  If this is the best that leadership can muster, please bring on an average Joe or Josey.

Jonathan Halabi of New Action painted a similar picture for me of the September UFT Executive Board meeting.  In his notes, one can very clearly sense his frustration with Unity Board members who "sit and listen.  Some never speak.  Most rarely speak."  Are Unity members men, women or mice?  Is there not something which seems at least mildly pathetic in all this?

The same picture was once painted for me of the Delegate Meetings.  When a Unity member speaks, other members may eye him with concern over his potential loss of patronage.  Texts may even shoot back and forth to that effect.  If you put your foot in your mouth, you may get the boot.

How could any living, breathing Unity member who is not brain dead accept this sorry state of affairs with equanimity?  Scariest of all, the elite Unity leadership uses its patronage-machine-driven band of zombie rubber stampers to control NYSUT and the AFT.  The fate of Unionism in the America is controlled by a band of mindless puppets.

I have a novel idea.  What if democracy in the U.S. applied to our UFT?  What if the puppets and their allies press for a real voice, the freedom to vote their views or those of their constituency?  What if the puppets rise up en masse in rebellion and demand the dignity of exercising their rational power of thought?  Educators teach people to think, not blindly obey.  History teaches us the same.  Do I dream big?  Free the puppets!  Form a Cut-the-Strings Caucus.  Let the world know.  Liberate minds!  Liberate our union!  Let teachers think for themselves!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Teacher Torture

That's what a Queens chapter leader called the 80 minutes of PD most city teachers are subject to every Monday for the foreseeable future. Of course UFT leadership deems it a great victory, since there is now a committee that will sit around and figure out how to inflict plan this. The idea, of course, is that with teacher input everything will be much better. Of course, I've been to teacher-planned PD sessions for years, and I can't see a whole lot revolutionary about it.

Mulgrew asked the city chapter leaders last week whether it was PD or faculty meetings, and there was a moan that very much suggested the latter. After sitting through decades of meetings planned by administrators, almost all of which I'd have done just as well without, it's kind of tough for me to understand just why Carmen Fariña determined it would all be different this year. Did she think that because her PD was perfect in every way that it would be magically replicated citywide? Did she think that administrators everywhere would finally discover the secret sauce and motivate all the teachers who'd reluctantly sat through years of tedious and unnecessary meetings? Did she think that teachers, who supposedly never had any voice in PD before, would all wake up experts in administering it?

Of course this innovation was a great victory for the UFT, just as the small group instruction was a great victory for the UFT. Of course, when this great victory was over, it was just as great a victory to get rid of it. It must be fabulous to run the UFT, go to gala luncheons, and declare victory all the time no matter what happens. We achieved a great victory. Now we dumped it and that is yet another great victory.

One teacher told me they spend their extra time writing curriculum, you know, the one that was supposed to be in place this year so we could have Common Core and Mulgrew wouldn't punch you in the face. Another told me she sat through 80 minutes of lectures about Danielson and wanted nothing more than to slit her throat.

And that's not to mention Tuesdays, with 35 minutes of parent contact, because the only time parents ever need to be contacted is on Tuesdays, and if anything happens on Wednesday they can just sit and wait six days to hear about it. Then there is another 35 minutes for OPW, other professional work, which I've heard referred to as OFS. (We'll call it Other Frigging Stuff for the purposes of this column.)

One of the great things about teaching is you're never tired after a full day, so what's better than sitting for another 80 minutes on Monday? And surely all principals are ethical, and none would ever have teachers do extra work for which they should be paid. Nor would they ever give a dull, wasteful meeting. Doubtless teachers are jumping up and down for chances to discuss the new educational programs the geniuses who dream up such things have concocted. And next year, when the same geniuses discard those programs for new ones of equally dubious value, teachers will be equally excited to discuss them too.

It's a great thing we're using the time like this, rather than frittering it away by adding to class time. How horrible and wasteful it would be if we were actually teaching instead of going to meetings.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The First Test

Yesterday I wrote a test to give my beginners on Thursday. It's mostly easy, I think. I'd like them to do well. But you never know. Today a kid walked in who appeared to know absolutely zero English. If he blows the test I won't count it. The thing is, kids walk in every single day. He's missed maybe two weeks. He can catch up, though.

But he's far from the last. I will get new kids in month two, three and four. I'll get new kids in May and June. And while they talk about differentiating instruction, you can only go so far. You can't, for example, go back to day one a hundred times. Differentiating, to me, is a function of treating students as individuals. You can't just address them as though they are a room of potted plants, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Gates Foundation funded a study investigating that possibility. After all, Bill thinks teachers should be replaced with DVDs.

You never know what to expect when you're teaching beginners. Kids are very different. The number one predictor of success, or lack thereof, is generally whether or not the kid wants to be here. Imagine you were 15 years old and your parents dragged you to China. Imagine you didn't want to go there. How would you feel, with all these people speaking some strange language, eating weird food, while all your friends and loved ones were on the other side of the world?

Kids who don't want to be here tend to flock to people from their own country. They're terribly annoyed by crazy teachers like me who insist they use nothing but English in my classroom. What a wasted opportunity, with dozens of people who speak their perfectly good language sitting right in the room with them. Why can't this crazy teacher just shut up and leave me alone?

I can't do that because the only way to learn a language is to use it. In their homes, with their friends, and quite frequently even in bilingual classes they speak their first language. Who is going to be nasty enough to drag them kicking and screaming, if need be, into the United States of A.? Me, that's who.

I predict the overwhelming majority of my kids will do well. Only a small handful will fail. Those will be the kids who haven't been paying attention when we've reviewed this stuff, and possibly the kids who walk in this week.

But anyone who tries can learn English. And I'll be in the faces of each and every kid who doesn't, until they not only pass tests, but also begin speaking with me and others. A great thing about teaching this is I can assure all the kids that I'm teaching them skills they will use each and every day of their lives.

I should know, because I use them each and every day of mine too.

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Astorino--Seeing the Forest for the Trees

There's not a whole lot of controversy over the fact that our esteemed Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is pretty much a loathsome reptile. After all, he's maintained a Gap Elimination Adjustment over public schools while concurrently imposing a tax cap that's made it almost impossible to compensate for lost funds. He's called himself a student lobbyist, but supports giving no votes to school budgets more weight than yes votes. And he circumvented NYC mayoral control when it appeared the mayor was no longer going to kowtow to Eva Moskowitz.

Perhaps it should be no surprise that on Twitter I see a few working teachers flocking to Cuomo's GOP opponent, Rob Astorino, because they think he's an improvement. Granted, Astorino opposes Common Core. I watched him speak to a group in Comsewogue about that. But Tea Party stalwarts, like Scott Walker, also oppose it. So if you're going to support Astorino, you have to look a little more deeply before you assume he's supportive of public schools. I mean, if that were the case, why would teacher union public enemy number one (or at least close, as there are so many nowadays) Scott Walker be raising money for him?

For one thing, Astorino opposes the Triborough Amendment. This is very important to NYC teachers, who just went 6 years without a contract, not to mention Buffalo teachers, who are still without one after a decade. The Triborough Amendment mandates that existing contracts remain in force until and unless they are renegotiated. In Astorino's NY Post op-ed, he suggests this gives us no motivation to negotiate. Its repeal or "reform" would certainly cripple our ability to bargain collectively, and this places Astorino sqaurely in Scott Walker territory. And for those who complain the Post piece is from 2012, here's Astorino challenging Triborough in April 2014. He also supports changing work rules and reducing pension benefits, according to that piece. Could he be alluding to eliminating collective bargaining, like his BFF Scott Walker did in Wisconsin?

It's pretty well-known that Astorino supports charters. I haven't heard quite as much about his support for vouchers and tax incentives for contributions to private schools. This is clearly a man who supports privatization rather than public schools. I'm seeing a right-wing GOP Tea Party guy here. And as for Cuomo's tax cap, Astorino not only supports it, but in fact does not think it goes far enough. And he's "cautiously supportive" of anti-tenure lawsuits.

Several people have commented to me both here and on Twitter that Astorino's wife is a teacher. They say he's a great guy. I watched the documentary Journeys with George and went away persuaded that GW Bush was a great guy too. I'm afraid that did not mitigate his positions. There are teachers who support Astorino, and I don't doubt that his wife is one of them. But Astorino as governor will hurt most of us, as well as those we teach. As far as I'm concerned, this real Republican not only represents no improvement over faux-Democrat Andrew Cuomo, but is potentially much, much worse.

I'm seeing November's election as largely a lose-lose. I don't vote for anti-public ed. candidates anymore. Cuomo was the first Democrat for whom I declined to vote, and this November I'll likely support Green Candidate Howie Hawkins once again.

It's a disgrace that neither major party offers a candidate who supports public education or working people.