Friday, July 22, 2016

On Union---I Like You, I Just Hate Your Family

Though I've never supported GOP policies, I kind of liked Bob Dole at one time. He's quick-witted and sarcastic. I have a weakness for people who can think on their feet, and I've always kind of felt there were too few of them. But one day Dole started attacking teacher unions. He made a distinction--not the teachers, but their unions.

I was more or less gobsmacked at this. I mean, who the hell did Dole think was in our unions? Space aliens? Crabgrass? Could someone as obviously smart as Dole not realize that teacher unions were groups of teachers? I took serious offense, and did not send Dole a Christmas card that year. It looks like teachers are once again targeted by the GOP. Baby Trump specifically condemned us, and Daddy, while a little more circumspect, was not much nicer:

We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice. My opponent would rather protect bureaucrats than serve American children.

What are "failing" schools?  They are always correlated with high percentages of high-needs and poverty, neither of which is addressed by either Daddy or Junior.  Who are the nameless bureaucrats? I'm thinking we are. School "choice" is about folks like Trump sticking their greedy little fists into public funds earmarked for our children. If they had to send their kids to public schools, you'd better believe they wouldn't be treated like the ones in Detroit.

I am not in love with Hillary, but you don't need to be a genius to see Trump adjusting the targets on our backs in preparation for a direct assault. On Facebook, I now see people rationalizing this by saying he isn't going after teachers, but rather the teacher unions.

In case it isn't absolutely clear, you are the union and I am the union. We are the union. Michael Mulgrew is the elected President of the union, but I happened to see him walk past me yesterday, and I can assure you he is one guy. I counted, and I was wearing my glasses at the time.

Regular readers of this blog know I have an issue or three with union leadership. I have issues with the way the union is run. I have issues with what passes for democracy in our union, and I may perhaps have mentioned this once or twice in this space. But, as a friend of mine used to say, "There are two problems with the union--the leadership and the membership." I agree, and if there are problems with OUR union, it's on US to fix them.

But outsiders don't get to say, "I have no problems with teachers. I just don't like the union." It's kind of like saying, "I have no problem with you. I just hate your family." Or, "I don't mind your family. I just hate your mother."

Sorry, guys, but it's OUR family. If you don't like our family, you don't like us. We call one another brother and sister, and it's not because we have the same parents. It's because we have chosen to stand together. When you attack our union, you attack us, and we stand together against you.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Happy Days Redux

Day 4 in Minneapolis and they've slipped the hotel bill under our door. $548.47 to stay at the Normandy Inn, which is kind of a cool place. Jonathan Halabi and I debated sending the UFT a bill as this is related to our Executive Board duties--we ought to know what the hell is going on--but have decided against it.

Normandy Inn has a great restaurant and a bar with local beer on tap. You have to pay for breakfast but the breakfast is amazing. I'm splitting the room and hotel tab with Norm Scott, but Norm can be difficult. For one thing, he strenuously objected upon locating various forms of pond life swimming in the puddle the shower somehow made on the bathroom floor today.

OK, that was my fault. I don't have a shower curtain at my house so I haven't quite got the swing of closing it. But Norm has his idiosyncrasies as well, For example, the night before last he went out bar hopping with a bunch of CTU people. He came back with half a bottle of Diet Coke. I tried to explain to him what bar hopping was all about but he couldn't seem to grasp it. (Some people don't understand anything.)

Minneapolis is actually a very cool place. Everyone has been friendly and there seems to be an abundance of great bars with great food and drink. I was pretty happy because I had no expectations. You can't be easily disappointed when you have no expectations.

The convention itself was a lot less interesting than I'd expected. You know, when you're an activist who's shut out of virtually all union activity you're curious about this stuff. But when the dominant Progressive Caucus held its meeting right out in the open for the whole world to see, all the mystery was pretty much gone. Some guy stood there and told everyone how to vote on everything, and all that passed after that was very little sound or fury, signifying whatever the caucus leaders said it would.

Now UFT Unity says they discuss this stuff behind closed doors, and I believe they do but only at a very high level. With all due respect, I do not believe a typical Unity chapter leader gets up and argues with the people who pay for the trip to Minneapolis or LA or wherever. That's kind of a shame, because people at our level are the ones who witness and experience what goes on each and every day.

If you only speak with people sworn to support you, you really get very little idea of what the hell is going on. That's why Michael Mulgrew can get up in front of the entire crowd, say virtually nothing of consequence, and assume he made a great presentation. I've no doubt there are 749 people here who will tell him his presentation was Brilliant Beyond Belief. Imagine that each of them comes here at two or three times what it cost me to, and that they come for the express purpose of doing whatever they are told.

The NYSUT event in NYC two years ago was a lot more interesting, UFT Unity decided to topple the popular sitting President, Dick Iannuzzi, along with his team. Secretary Treasurer Lee Cutler was much loved by virtually everyone with whom I spoke. I ran against EVP Andy Pallotta, and it was a great experience. The convention itself was fascinating, specifically because there was actually this ongoing tension as to who would win.

Of course it was an uphill battle, but here's the thing--UFT Unity is the big dog not only at AFT, but also at NYSUT. UFT had 28% of the state's teachers, but 33% of the NYSUT vote because small locals can't all afford the trip (let alone the NY Hilton). So while UFT had to recruit only 18% of the vote to win, we had to get 51%. Sadly we failed, and state leadership is just as timid as city leadership. Except, of course, when it came to making sure they had two pensions because Priorities.

This union needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Teacher morale is at an all-time low. This is not something we debate about for the next four years and hope for the best. This is a crisis. I'd love to just hang at Murray's, pictured above, and have the union pick up the tab for my silver butter knife steak, whatever the hell that is, but I'm gonna work to alleviate this instead.

First I'm gonna go home to see my wife, my kid, and Julio the Wonder Dog, who knows nothing but pure joy (except during thunderstorms).


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From AFT16--Mulgrew Demands Apology for My Little Pony (and says some other stuff)

I've been tweeting the AFT Convention for a few days. My style when I tweet things is to report what I hear. If I have any sort of commentary, I make it clear or do it here.

Mulgrew began by speaking about how the GOP is evidently hurling accusations that Michelle Obama was plagiarizing from My Little Pony. This, I think he said, proved to be mistaken. So he asked us to begin using the following hashtag:


Now that's fine, but Mulgrew himself doesn't use hashtags. He isn't on Twitter. He isn't on Facebook. In fact, he doesn't even answer email. If I want to send Mulgrew an email, I cross-post it to the blog because that way I know at least someone will read it.

He then discussed organization. I listened intently because I'm very interested in organizing. He basically said that if you showed people you shared their interests they would become more involved. He showed pictures of the UFT bus with a bunch of new teachers in front of it.

I didn't actually hear much beyond that. At least twice I wrote beginnings of sentences that he didn't end, and had to wipe those tweets. He did say this:

Being empowered doesn't mean yelling loudest about the thing you're mad about.

I wasn't sure who he was talking about. Was it us? Was it BAMN, whose elected leader had been tossed out? They were pretty upset with Randi, and repeatedly blamed her for this happening.

Hopefully, he was making a generalization. I also believe it doesn't pay to walk around screaming at everyone for no reason. When people who work for UFT scream at me for no reason, I often wonder why they're doing it. If, for example, 

But here's the question I left that talk with--what exactly does Mulgrew do to engage members? We are the most active members there are, and they spend an awful lot of time building brick walls to keep us out. It's one of the most unproductive and stupid practices I've seen in my entire life.

We know that everyone here in UFT, by far the most dominant force in the hall, signs a loyalty oath and votes any damn way he tells them. That's why they are here on our dime. We know that not one single person the high school teachers selected has a voice or a vote in this place. Do you want to organize? Give us a voice. Or don't, and we'll organize to get one. 

I'm ready to organize. I'm ready to engage the members right now. I'm gonna need something more than a picture of Mulgrew standing in front of a van with a bunch of teachers, though.

Social Justice Is for Everyone, Including Teachers

Norm Scott says it's hard to "out social justice Randi," and in a lot of ways he's right.  AFT and UFT leadership are certainly diverse. And Randi hits every note when she speaks. There is no doubt whatsoever that she's aware of racial inequality. She's a great advocate for the LGBT community. Communities are well-represented at the AFT Convention. In fact, the only community I know of that has no representation whatsoever at this convention is UFT high school teachers.

That said, social justice does not apply only to race, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. Social justice applies to all groups, and one of them is working teachers. Another is unions. I'll admit to being a little biased here, as I'm unabashedly in favor of both. I oppose things that hurt working teachers and unions, and I think it behooves us to fight them with everything we've got. And if we haven't got what we need to fight them, it's on us to go out and get it.

That's why I am mystified as to how Hillary Rodham Clinton can stand in front of us and babble nonsense about how we can learn from "public charter schools." I don't even know what that means, or what we're differentiating. The fact is every charter school is privately run, judged by different standards, and no charter is on a level playing field. For charters to boast of their stats when people like me are teaching kids who have been in the United States only five minutes is ridiculous.

I'm also mystified as to how my union, the most powerful in the country, can support things like mayoral control. How on earth do we support giving absolute power to a fanatical ideologue like Michael Bloomberg? And when we finally get a mayor who is not insane, why do we not fight tooth and nail when they demand he pay rent for the likes of Eva Moskowitz?

How do we not only support, but also have our President take part in writing a law that has us rated via value-added junk science? How does our President determine the reformiest man on God's green earth, John King, is a reasonable and unbiased arbitrator for our evaluation agreement?

How can UFT leadership attack the opt-out movement, a grassroots uprising of parents outraged about reforminess? How can those who control our union call allies of the movement "reckless and feckless," and make ridiculous arguments about how they cost schools money they don't even have?

I could go on, but here is the point---MORE fights for social justice for teachers. That's why we took the high schools, and that's why we will move ahead and win further. MORE opposes judging teachers by test scores. MORE opposes using our kids as puppets who sit for tests just to prove how much we suck. MORE believes teachers are under assault and need help.

We reach out with both hands to working teachers. We want to help, and we want to force our leadership, if necessary, to help too. I am an open book. I don't work behind the backs of Unity to thwart them when they are trying to support children. But I will fight them with everything I've got if they want to block social justice, say, for ESL students just because they can. MORE believes our working conditions are student learning conditions, and I couldn't agree more.

If Unity wants to play stupid games and write baseless nonsense to discredit us, that's fine. But we are standing up for teachers, we are standing up for children, and we are standing up for communities. We are not afraid, we will not be deterred, and we will not be intimidated by the usual nonsense.

We're open to working together, but we expect nothing. You can't have any social justice unless you include working teachers, and you can't put children first if you put teachers last. And you can't represent teachers if you sign loyalty oaths to leadership and vote as told.

Democracy is from the bottom up. UFT Unity is top down. We will fight for the voices of high school teachers and all teachers. Social justice applies to us too, we aren't going to forget it, and we aren't going to let UFT Unity forget it either.

Trump Jr. Shares His Insights On Public Education

Nothing like watching the GOP Convention.  It turns out that we teachers are to blame for almost everything. The whole narrative about money moving more and more to the 1% is completely false. Otherwise, how could Donald Trump Jr. say this?

The other party gave us public schools that far too often fail our students, especially those who have no options. 

It has nothing to do with the fact that politicians, likely as not Republicans, have cut funds to enable tax cuts for the likes of Junior and his orange Daddy. But the real whopper is below:

Growing up, my siblings and I we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.

Well of course they had choices and options with a Daddy who's known mostly for being rich.  Make no mistake, neither Daddy nor Junior is proposing that we be rich, and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. The vouchers the Donalds love so much are not going to enable the riff-raff, i.e you and me, to attend the schools their kids go to. You'll have a choice of a crumbling public school or maybe a Moskowitz Academy where your kids can pee themselves.

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class, now they’re stalled on the ground floor.

There he may be right. In Detroit the schools are rat-infested and falling apart. In Chicago a Democrat, Rahm Emanuel, closed 50 schools because he could. Kids understand what it means when you send them to a place that looks like a pile of trash. When I started teaching in the trailers, I started wearing suits to work. I wanted to send kids the message that even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks this pile of junk is good enough for you, I think you're important.

Now maybe it's a Trump family tradition to plagiarize, and Junior just wants to get in on it too. Maybe it's OK for them, and maybe it's OK for Republcians, as Chris Christie says, if you keep it at seven percent. Maybe he got away with it in his elite private school. Could he have paid off the teachers? Who knows? Were Junior in my class, I'd give him an F. Maybe someone did and that's why he hates us. Anyway, let's see what other words of wisdom he has:

 They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students. 

Yes, teachers are having a big party. There's nothing we love better than being observed and rated on a checklist. And best of all, we get judged on test scores! What teacher doesn't love being judged by a system that has no validity whatsoever? All we care about is ourselves, and that's why we took this gig! We're all fabulously wealthy, do nothing whatsoever, live in mansions and drive obscenely expensive cars. Okay, that's a joke. I'm not describing teachers, but rather the Trumps. 

You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school.

You know why other countries do better in K through 12? Because, unlike us in the US, 51% of their kids do not live in poverty. Because they have nationalized health care. Because they have day care that parents don't have to work second jobs to pay for. In fact, we made one minor move toward health care for all, and Orange Daddy wants to kill even that.

That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears.

That's called an outright lie. No country has a successful voucher system and those who've tried it are not jumping up and down about it. In Finland, regarded by even Bill Gates as the best public education system, everyone goes to public schools. There are not even the elite private schools that Junior went to. I'd argue that if folks like Junior had to go to public schools, there would be none that look like those in Detroit.

They fear it because they’re more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.

Wow. What planet is this kid living on? I live in New York, supposedly a bastion of liberalism, and we have a Democrat Governor who pushed an evaluation system specifically designed to fire more teachers. When that system didn't work as designed, he called it "baloney," and proceeded to push a new system, which hopefully will fire even more teachers. That's what Democrat Andrew Cuomo considers a victory.

Every teacher I know is acutely aware of this. That's why we're all so fidgety. We don't mind doing our jobs. Let me tell you something--this guy is stereotyping teachers just like Daddy stereotypes Muslims. In fact it's not teachers who are stalling the progress of the middle class. This started with Saint Ronald Reagan, and now Republicans are all about cutting taxes for the wealthy.

Who picks up the slack? We do. We teachers pay what people like Trump and Baby Trump used to pay. Our children pay what they used to. If Baby Trump gave a golly gosh darn about folks like us he'd have been out on the streets working for Bernie Sanders instead of driving his Lamborghini to gala luncheons.

It's absurd and obscene that we who devote our lives to helping children are vilified by the same people who make it impossible to fund their schools. It's even worse that their remedy for public schools is making it easier for zillionaires to profit from them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In Which a UFT Unity Member Lectures Me on Democracy

Here's something I posted on Facebook:

They just voted a dues increase for AFT. There are exactly seven people chosen by UFT high school teachers to represent UFT high school teachers. I'm one, and another, Jonathan Halabi, is seated at my right. Five are in New York. Zero got a vote.

A Unity person took exception that that, saying that the union selected other members to represent us at the convention.  I pointed out that the high school teachers did not choose those people. As James Eterno points out, UFT high school teachers number more than the entire Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The number of people at this convention selected by UFT high school teachers, again, is precisely zero.

I'm pretty sure that represents taxation without representation. In certain circles that has been referred to as tyranny. My Facebook friend pointed out the name of one person I know who voted for him, but did not seem to grasp that one person, sadly, does not constitute a majority when we're looking at a pool of 20,000.

Not only that, but since he brought it up, I watched the controlling AFT Progressive Caucus meet last night. I'm not exactly sure why they chose to meet in the same room as the actual convention, why that's appropriate, or why they didn't choose to meet in private. But what the hell, I was there, Randi was talking to people in the press, and I listened.

The man running the meeting promised it would be short. He said we're voting up on this and down on that. He said this thing, we have no position, and therefore you may vote as you wish. It was unbelievable.

Truth is stranger than fiction. but it is because truth is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't. ~Mark Twain

I wasn't paying attention that closely, but another thing the leader mentioned was that UFT had 100% enrollment. Think about what that suggests--that our alleged representatives have not only signed a loyalty oath to do whatever UFT leadership instructs, but that they also sit at AFT and do as they are told as well.

So this guy, who is not a high school teacher,  is suggesting to me that he represents us. Sorry, but in a democracy, we choose the people who represent us. I watched the President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers speak in support of Hillary today. We, the high school teachers, who number more than his entire union, have no vote or voice in the national union we support with our dues.

In fact, even the High School Vice President we chose, James Eterno, is not our Vice President.

You tell me how that remotely resembles democracy.

Clinton at AFT--Let's Learn from Public Charter Schools

I listened intently to Hillary yesterday. She hit a lot of notes that were clearly aimed to resonate with teachers. We need to pay you more. We need to fix crumbling schools. We need to support unions. You'll have a seat at the table.

I think Randi also mentioned the seat at the table thing. I am bone weary of hearing about that seat at the table. I mean, why the hell are we even at a table with the likes of Bill Gates, who places millions of dollars behind every baseless whim that crosses his mind? Why are we subject to the caprices of a man who sends his kids to a school that uses none of the methods he inflicts on our children? What the hell is this man doing at the table and what qualification does he have besides all that money?

Here's one thing that's already on the table--Hillary Clinton supports charter schools, the preposterous competition to our public school system. She makes a ridiculous distinction--that she supports "public" charter schools. Now what the hell are public charter schools? Charters, by nature, take public money and then do whatever the hell they please. If you allowed a kid to pee her pants in your classroom you'd be subject to CR A-420, corporal punishment.

Let me ask you this--what would you do if a teacher allowed your kid to pee her pants for test prep rather than go to a bathroom? Me, I'd want to throw that teacher out a window or something. I don't send my kid to school for that. In fact, I'd be upset with you if you caused my dog to have an accident.

But Hillary doesn't have these issues. After all, her campaign manager is a longtime reformy. Beyond the whole pants wetting thing, don't believe for one minute that "public charter schools" take the same kids we do. I teach beginning ESL students, and you won't see them at a Moskowitz Academy anytime soon. You see, kids who don't speak English tend not to achieve the test scores around which the Moskowitz Academy is built. Nor do special education students, for the most part. Eva can take kids with mild special needs, but you won't see her taking the alternate assessment kids my school accepts as a matter of course. Not on this astral plane anyway.

Charters can make all sorts of demands on working parents. You have to show up to help every now and then. You have to take the day off and come to Albany to lobby, along with your kids. And if you don't show up, they can toss your kids. If your kid is too much trouble, they can be placed on a got to go list. I mean, I guess you can sue the Moskowitz Academy if they do that to your kid, but why should you be placed in such a position at all?

Reformies used to push vouchers, but communities almost always voted against them. They quickly learned that charter schools were easier to sell. And they've done a fantastic job of selling them. Who'd have expected Hillary could push "public charter schools" without a whimper from the AFT crowd?

There was just a little hubbub during the speech. At one point, a group behind me started chanting, "Black lives matter." A larger group started chanting, "Hillary." During the back and forth, Hillary kept speaking. For a while I couldn't hear her, but I kept wondering whether she heard the protestors. After a while the protestors changed their chant to, "Stop the deportations."

I can't say whether or not it would have been a good idea for Hillary to engage the protestors. What I can say is that Hillary, who sent her own kid to an elite private school that does not embrace reforminess, said a test of a good school, for her, was whether or not she'd send her children or grandchildren there. The fact is she had exactly one chance to choose a school, and chose one that was not public, that most of us could not afford, and that certainly did not embrace programs famously used by the "public charter schools" we could "learn from."

And what can we learn from them?

I think Jim Horn is right on the money here, and I'm not inclined to learn that. I treat kids I teach better than that, and all kids deserve better than that. How we in the AFT can look the other way while Hillary blurts out such outrageous nonsense is beyond me.

UFT Folk Do the Darndest Things

Yesterday, someone from the UFT, someone whom I'd never met before, approached me at the Convention Center and started criticizing me for not attending meetings about Part 154, which cripples the instruction of ELLs. There had been two, she said, and I hadn't gone.

This was a pretty remarkable coincidence, because last week when I sought help to reach out to the Regents, a friend of mine told me that I was just complaining and that I had no right to complain because I had missed these two meetings.

The most recent of those meetings was at the end of the school year. UFT sent me an invite the day before it was to happen. It was very short notice and I can't remember exactly why I couldn't go. Here's what I do remember--I went to my AP to tell her about it and she knew before I did. That's a blatant breach of protocol, as I'm the chapter leader. It's my job to represent UFT in the building. In any case, they invited my AP without my knowledge, and didn't find it worth their time to give me a heads up. So I went in to see my AP talking about something that had already been arranged. There's nothing quite like being undermined by people whose job it is to support you.

Part 154 is a funny thing. It cuts direct ESL instruction more or less to the bone. But, after the kids test out of ESL, via tests that don't actually measure language acquisition, it offers them additional instruction. UFT leadership, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to focus on the additional instruction for those who've tested out rather than the draconian instruction cuts to beginning, intermediate, and advanced English Language Learners. So they're gonna do a study.

Here's what I have done about Part 154. I brought it to the attention of leadership, and got the meetings started. In fact I actually attended two meetings that the UFT person who criticized me was invited to but didn't show to.  (I guess this didn't merit a mention when that person was trash talking me.) I was also on Univision talking about it with Aixa Rodriguez, and if you think it's easy to place a story on TV, you are mistaken. It would have been a whole lot easier if UFT leadership helped in any way, shape, or form. I further proposed and wrote the first draft of the resolution to UFT to get our students more instruction.  This resolution was ultimately passed unanimously at the DA.

I've also proposed to UFT that we write a joint editorial as a follow up. I proposed this to someone who had demonstrated skill in writing, which, you know, is kind of a good thing when you're writing something. But for whatever reason, it got passed on to someone else. I thought it would be good if UFT stood up for children and did something that not even our enemies could criticize. I wasn't doing this to get my own stuff published and didn't need their help with that. I thought we could translate it into Spanish, Chinese, Korean, and other languages and let parents of ELLs know what their kids were up against.

So I sent 200 words to get started. I figured that was a good point to begin. UFT leadership did nothing. I sent them 400 words. Nothing. Then I sent them 800 words. Nothing. So now I'm waiting for this person who's never reached out to me except to complain about how I never do anything.  Perhaps she'll get in touch with me in a large convention hall full of thousands of people running around doing 500 things.

You'll forgive me if I sit while I wait. Below you can see Aixa Rodriguez and me on Univision actually reaching out to the public about this.

Monday, July 18, 2016

From AFT 2016--Resistance is Futile--Prepare to Be Assimilated--Or Maybe Moved a Little

I'm here at the AFT Convention in Minneapolis. When Norm Scott and I arrived, we were met by several unionists from Chicago and Boston. They were very excited about our modest victory in the UFT. They, of course, have had more significant victories.

They're kind of in awe of the machine that runs the UFT. They can't believe it when I tell them retirees control around half of the votes in the UFT. (In fact, in 2013 they represented over half the voters. In 2016 they were a little less.) How can retirees vote on who gets to negotiate contracts for working members? Do they care about what working teachers go through?

I still can't believe we placed that little crack in the monolith that is UFT Unity. We worked very hard for around 16 months, in and out of the MORE Caucus, and managed to get the word out enough to squeak out a victory. We were very fortunate that New Action finally came to its senses and worked with us. We would not have been able to pull this off without them.

In a few hours Hillary is gonna be here, and it's quite clear that she is the star of this particular convention. Not everyone is enthusiastically on board just yet:

Of course that was just a rehearsal. I will try to tweet the speech as it comes, and if you want to read it, I'm @TeacherArthurG.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not in love with Hillary. I have not been persuaded at all by friends of Hillary who've beseeched me to vote for her. Usually these efforts at persuasion entail telling me how stupid I am and that I don't understand high school civics.

I don't expect Hillary to change my mind today, but I am coming around for two reasons. The second best reason came from Fred Klonsky, who lives in Illinois. Like me, Fred could vote third party and have no effect whatsoever on the general. But Fred wants to pile on against the odious Donald Trump.

The best reason I've seen to vote for Hillary came from two conversations I had on Facebook. I was bemoaning Trump's vile bigotry, particularly his decision to ban Muslims. Several people argued with me. One defended the Japanese Internment, which I thought one of the most shameful episodes in American History. Then he said we'd banned German and Japanese immigrants during World War II. I thought the fact that we were actually at war with those countries was a fairly good defense. Banning Muslims would be almost waging war against a major religion.

Another Facebook friend said that Trump no longer took that position, and that he now only wanted to ban people from certain countries. That didn't much impress me. The thing I really don't like about Hillary is that she talked school closings. Yeah, I know, she explained it, it was a mistake, it was out of context, whatever. The fact that her brain could formulate the words that came out of her mouth, saying she would not keep any school open that wasn't above average, well, that was too much for me.

On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who likes right to work, who has actually ruined lives of working people in Atlantic City and elsewhere. You have this guy who wants to bounce countries from NATO if they don't pay, and if they don't pay all what they've owed in the past. On the other hand, he's personally had multiple bankruptcies and bounced back to the point he may be President. He wants to do something similar with our national debt, and that's pretty odd, since one thing the US has never done is default on our debts.

But the ban Muslim thing is beyond the pale, more beyond even than teacher issues I hold dear. For a nations Presidential candidate to stereotype an entire religion is an atrocity. For folks to tell me it's a good idea to practice active discrimination is even worse.

Those are the people who are now pushing me toward voting for Hillary and piling up against the execrable bigot Donald Trump.

Best Parental Contact App

I saw a headline saying that on Twitter. I like apps. I like new things. Now maybe you can find an app that will do all sorts of stuff. Maybe it will send emails. Maybe you can check off a list of stuff you want the parent to know. Maybe you can make one report and send it to ten parents at a time.

I can imagine all sorts of possibilities. But no matter how good they are, I wouldn't use any of them. Since I began teaching, we've had paper checklists we could send out. I've never much trusted them because when I was in high school, I went through the mail and tossed them all in the trash. Once or twice, when supervisors insisted on it, I may have used them. I don't even remember.

In our school we put all grades online, so any parent who's interested can see a kid's grades at pretty much any time. That's fine, but alas, a whole lot of the parents we wish to get in touch with couldn't be bothered. I've sat with parents at conferences and shown them step by step how to use it. I've watched as they installed them on their smartphones. And yet, often things don't change.

So now I come to my favorite app. OK, the one in the picture is pretty old. It's been a while since I used a dial. But I still find that to be the very best way to get in touch with a parent. I mean, sure, it's inconvenient. Email and texts are much cooler, because I don't need to look at them right this minute. I can look at it when I get out of class, off of work, out of the car, out of the bar, off of the plane, or away from wherever I am now. I can look at it tonight, tomorrow, next week, next year, next millennium, or whatever it takes.

But hey, when your kid has a problem, I want to talk to you right now. I don't want to leave you a message and wait until you feel like getting back to me. I want to let you know that I'm worried about your kid, and that I know you are too, even if you aren't. I want you to know that I have great faith your kid can do better, and that I'm sure you do too, even if I'm not at all sure you do. Mostly, I want you to know that we can work together to fix this, and that we'd better do it right now.

I can't wait until you sign in to some program, check your kid's progress, consult the tea leaves, or whatever it is you need to do. I need to let you know that I'm really concerned about your time, and that I know how inconvenient it would be for you to come in during work hours. That's why we need to work out this situation. Oh you can't come? That's too bad. I would hate to have to complain to ACS. That would probably be even more inconvenient than coming in. Oh, you'll talk to him for me? Well thank you very much, I knew we could work this out.

Actually I don't usually need to have those conversations, though I have had them. Mostly I just ask parents to give good advice, and they agree. Mostly I see positive effects, and if I don't I call back. I really believe the phone is the very best app there is for contacting parents, and I've yet to see one that improves on it. Sure, it's time-consuming, but it cuts down tremendously on time I'd have to spend dealing with nonsense in class.

Now nothing is perfect, and this won't always work. But so far it works better than anything else I've seen or tried. If you have a better suggestions, I'm all ears.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Teachers--Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The NY Post knows a failing teacher when it sees one. Anyone who wasn't hired back at John Adams, to the NY Post, is a "failing teacher" and "inept." One good thing, for the NY Post is this--they make these assertions with no evidence whatsoever, and evidently the libel laws in this country are lax enough that they do so with impunity.

I worked at John Adams for about seven years. I transferred because my supervisor gave me an ultimatum. She had a Spanish teacher who threw kids out of the class all the time and I never did that. So she wouldn't have to be bothered with the kids being tossed out, she wanted me to teach all Spanish. Otherwise she was going to give me a schedule late enough that it would preclude the second job I had taken to pay my mortgage. I left on a UFT transfer.

If I hadn't done that, the NY Post would likely be calling me inept and failing. I don't think anyone with a choice would hire me as a teacher. While I don't get complaints about my actual teaching, I am fairly confident my principal would back me up when I say I am a pain in the ass. Seriously, who wants to deal with the likes of me when you can pick and choose anyone you wish? It's a lot easier to run a school when you can just ignore the contract and do whatever the hell you like.

Actually I was not such a pain in the ass when I worked at Adams. My then boss had no reason to be upset with me. But the fact that I love teaching English, as well as the fact that I am much more competent in English than Spanish meant nothing. I was gonna teach Spanish, because it was convenient for her, and that was it. Decisions like those don't factor into the equation, as far as the NY Post. So what if teachers are assigned where they are not their best? Administration is not to be questioned, and anything wrong in the building is the sole province of the teachers, who suck and must be called out for it.

Naturally the Post enlists the opinions of pro-charter folks. Their opinions are of paramount importance because they, unlike us, know how kids should be treated. Clearly children should pee their pants doing test prep and not be subject to namby pamby liberal gobbledygook like bathroom passes.

“Shuffling ineffective teachers from one school to another isn’t a sign that the administration is willing to prioritize students above the bureaucracy,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, a charter backer.

Isn't it cool that you can say stuff like that with no evidence whatsoever? In fact there is an agreed-upon standard for declaring a teacher ineffective. Well, there's one in the public schools. Charters aren't subject to that, opting to do any damn thing they please. They aren't subject to chancellor's regulations about corporal punishment, verbal abuse, or pretty much anything. They can dump students, not replace them, and not include them in their stats either. And despite their claims, lotteries are most certainly not random. A parent has to be proactive enough to apply, and agree to whatever extra demands the charters have.

But hey, FES says we suck, and if that's not enough for Post readers, they round it off with some predictable blather from the same Students First NY mouthpiece who seems to comment on everything.

In fact, public schools take everyone, every kid, every special need, every kid who doesn't know a single word of English, every kid with interrupted formal education. They are then subject to the baseless and abusive comments like those of Mr. Jeremiah Kittredge, likely as not taken as gospel by readers of the NY Post.

I'm fairly confident that John Adams wouldn't want me back either. Maybe I'd be an ineffective Spanish teacher, though I'm appointed to teach ESL. And even if I weren't, I would fight to enforce our Contract. Well, who needs that? Not charter school supporters, who generally can't be bothered with union. Here's what the NY Times says about Moskowitz Academy teachers: 

For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring, by principals who make frequent visits, and by databases that record quiz scores.

Why are they usually just out of college? Doesn't that suggest that their predecessors didn't last? Doesn't that mean, by NY Post standards, that their predecessors were failing and inept? And if the new teachers don't last, as history suggests, aren't they failing and inept too? Heavens to Betsy, how can that be, with the high standards FES and all the reformies hold so dear?

We're on a merry-go-round of arbitrary standards and random vilification. If we want people to become teachers and hang around longer than they do at the Moskowitz academies, we're gonna have to start treating them like human beings rather than convicted felons.  By their standard, I'm as failing and inept as any teacher labeled by the Post, and so are we all. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

PROSE and Its Mysteries

Politico just did a feature on the PROSE schools. After reading it I have no idea why they are an improvement over the SBO feature of the standard contract, which allows schools to change class time, rearrange schedules, and basically do whatever they need to achieve their unique goals. I also see no advantage whatsoever in allowing the program not to sunset at year's end. What if it turns out to be a disaster?

I can only suppose it's an effort to compete with charters in doing things differently. Unsurprisingly, those representing charters decline to sing its praises: 

The program has been largely dismissed by the city’s influential charter sector; its leaders call it an unproven strategy that has not yet shown tangible improvements for schools.

Of course, "tangible improvements" are open to interpretation. Last I looked, charters had not only failed to show them, but in NYC were also not subject to Chancellor's Regulations that prohibit, for example, allowing children to pee themselves rather than granting the fundamental dignity of allowing them to go to the bathroom.

A Daily News story from last year has some less than encouraging words on the PROSE program, from none other than sitting Chancellor Carmen Fariña:

“You see something here that in some other schools would raise people's eyebrows,” she said. “You have one teacher with almost 40 kids in the class and you have another teacher with eight kids in the class. And no one is saying this is how many I have, this is how many you have. They're saying in order for me to do my job here, you're gonna do your job there.”

I'm not sure when it was that Carmen Fariña last worked as a classroom teacher, but I still do, and I also represent over 200 working teachers. I can tell you with 100% certainly there are a whole lot of things teachers don't tell their immediate supervisors or principals. The likelihood they would tell such things to the school chancellor hovers somewhere below nil.

So we have 48 kids. Eight of them, according to someone or other, require individualized attention. 40 of them evidently do not. In this scenario, over 80% of the students are in an oversized class and we're supposed to celebrate that because the teachers, as far as Fariña knows, aren't complaining. That's not the most persuasive argument I've ever heard. Why couldn't there be two classes of 24 without the PROSE initiative? In fact, if she feels so strongly about it, why doesn't Fariña ante up so all those kids could work in groups of 8?

In fact, an SBO could be used to enable an oversized class. We had a strings class in our school that was one over the limit, and we had an SBO to allow it to stay that way throughout the year. In exchange, the teacher was relieved from his C6 assignment, repairing instruments. Admin agreed not to overbook the class in the future, and it seemed a better decision than removing a kid at that point in the year. The teacher even did his C6 assignment, as no one else was gonna do it if he didn't.

If the PROSE programs are so fantastic and innovative, why are oversized classes their calling card? How about letting us see, now, each and every program so we can assess them? How about letting us know why these things could not be achieved via a regular SBO process?

Are these programs just a propaganda tool to show that public schools can do new things just like charters? For my money, that's nothing worth aspiring to in the first place. Also, the UFT has already kowtowed sufficiently to charters. Not only did we drag the trash talking Steve Barr and Green Dot to NYC,  but we also opened and colocated our own charter. Just how far backward do we need to bend in order to prove a point?

If it's about showing we are flexible with the contract, I absolutely don't believe the contract favors us. In fact since 2005, I've seen it favor us less and less. This notwithstanding, it happens to be constructed by both the union and the city. I've seen it work in favor of UFT members, and I've seen it work in favor of administration. I don't think we need to hold it in contempt, and show our enemies we're willing to push it aside to show how open-minded we are.

If there is some great value in the PROSE schools, I'd like to hear about it. What exactly is it they can do that a general SBO cannot?  Why are they better than the UFT Contact, and if they're so wonderful why isn't everyone using them? When are we going to see exactly what goes on in these schools rather than vague allusions in Politico?

If they are as good as Mulgrew and Fariña say they are, they have nothing to lose by showing us the full picture.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Shocking Teacher Shortage

It looks like Governor Cuomo's plan of painting targets on the backs of all teachers has not worked out as well as planned in NY State. Evidently there is a shortage, and to ease it, the geniuses in Albany are relaxing standards. Their thinking, evidently, is people from other states will be anxious for the chance to judged by Governor Cuomo's matrix, and potentially be guilty until proven innocent. After all, there aren't many opportunities like that in the United States.

Another point of view, of course, is that Governor Cuomo is bought and paid for by Eva Moskowitz's BFFs at Families for Excellent Schools, and that he pretty much jumps at their beck and call. Maybe that's why he was so happy to appear at Ms. Moskowitz's field trip, you know, the one where she boarded all her students on buses and dragged them to Albany to lobby for her own political cause. If you or I did that, we'd be fired. But of course we didn't, so that's not why there's a teacher shortage.

There's a teacher shortage because we're tired of being used as punching bags. We're tired of being vilified in the press, and by every tinhorn politician that takes suitcases of cash from DFER and FES. We're tired of hearing people like Cuomo enact rating plans to fire teachers, call them "baloney" when they fail to fire enough teachers, and revise them for the express purpose of firing more. We're tired of being judged by test scores which the American Statistical Association correctly asserts have little or no validity.

We're tired of being told the only way to teach is like this, like that, or like whatever Bill Gates wakes up and decides children other than his own must be taught. We're tired of endless testing and being forced to teach nonsense that does not help our children. We're tired of underlying assumptions by people with no credentials or credibility that the children we serve lack "grit" and must be treated with "rigor."

I'm particularly tired of so-called leaders who create problems and then try to solve them in ways that don't address the problems at all. When I started teaching, pay was particularly low. The city didn't bother addressing the huge disparity in pay between the city and surrounding suburbs. Instead, there were ads in the subways and on buses to try to attract teachers. There were intergalactic recruiting campaigns. It turned out, though, that people from other countries and universes just couldn't afford to live in NYC.

And then, of course, there is the issue of quality. I was one of the people who saw a subway ad and took a teaching gig. I had no idea what I was doing. On my ninth day of teaching, my supervisor wrote me up and said I had no idea what I was doing. But I had told her I had no idea what I was doing when she hired me. To this day I wonder why she expected more. She wrote that I should try to be more "heuristic" when I taught. Naturally that cleared up everything for me. Doubtless with excellent advice like that every teacher will become instantly excellent, no matter how much they raise or lower the standards.

Cuomo is an empty suit, with loyalty to no one but Cuomo. He just said he won't support his party in its effort to retake the State Senate. This is they guy Hillary's people have representing the DNC for New York. He has no moral center whatsoever, does whatever the people who pay him say, and happily supports whatever the privatizers tell him to. And, oh, if the people rise up and say screw your ridiculous tests, he can always make some empty gesture, like a partial moratorium, and say, "See? I care what you think, sort of."

This is step one in addressing a teacher shortage created by Albany. There will be more. But until they start listening to teachers and learning why people no longer pursue this job, they will be empty gesture after empty gesture, likely helping no one but those who see education as an opportunity for profit.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Fork in the Road

I don't know about you, but I'm horrified when I see racism coming from people who teach children. I didn't plan to go to the Garner march a few years back, but when I saw the comments on the UFT Facebook page I knew I had to stand up. Our job is to serve children, not white children, not black children, not green children, but all children. It's beyond the pale that people with our job should judge others by their skin color.

It's atrocious what's going on in our country today. No one should live in fear because of their skin color, and no one should be shot for being a police officer either. I can't see how any reasonable person believes otherwise. To stand up those who lose their lives for no reason is in no way a critique of police who do their jobs. To attack all police for the actions of a minority would be to condone what the reformies do to teachers. I'm kind of used to being stereotyped and I don't love it one bit. That's why I try really hard not to do it to others.

On this blog, if you post a racist comment, I'll delete it with a warning it's unacceptable here. If you do it twice I will ban your ass. You can go somewhere else and spew your vitriol. I'm not going to argue with you. One of the things I love about my job is that I see stereotypes disproven each and every day. I once had a boy in a beginning ESL class who was very smart. He further thought all people from his country were very smart, and told me so. But smart as he was, I remember a young girl from Colombia who outscored him on each and every test.

That didn't fit at all into the boy's worldview, what with her speaking Spanish, and being a girl, and he complained bitterly to me about it. But the Colombian girl couldn't have cared less. She did what she had to, achieved what she needed to, and didn't surrender one solitary moment of her young life to thinking about that guy. Her smile lit up the room and she was happy wherever she was. The guy, not so much. He could've learned from her but opted not to.

I don't know what UFT is planning, if anything, in response to recent events. But I won't hesitate to join them. I grew up the only Jewish kid in a Catholic neighborhood, and I got to experience discrimination as a child I will never forget. That was bad enough. Living in fear for your life is something else altogether.

When I see people murdered for no reason other than their appearance I'm not inclined to blame the victim. I'm inclined to blame the perpetrators. There's a great book by the late Jimmy Breslin called World Without End, Amen. Spoiler alert---If you're planning to read it, skip the rest of this paragraph. It's about an Irish cop who discriminates against children of color. As I recall, he goes to Ireland, where he finds he is the victim, then comes back to New York, evidently having learned little.

We need to learn all the time. Jack Nicholson said, "The minute that you're not learning I believe you're dead." I agree. If we are to inspire children to learn, we need to set an example. We need to be open to other points of view and we need to stand up and admit when we are wrong. In fact, by doing that in front of the kids we serve we're setting an example. There's simply no better way to deal with being wrong. And if you are judging children by skin color, religion, sex, language, or country of origin, holy crap are you wrong.

In fact, if we've gotten to the point where we are professional teachers and can't think any more clearly than bigoted galoots like Donald Trump or Rudy Giuliani, we need to take really close looks at ourselves and find jobs more suited to our talents. Despite all the crap foisted upon us by the reformies, teachers still deal with people.

Hey, it's part of my job to defend teachers who get in trouble, and I'm ready and willing. If you're in trouble, I will advise you as best I can, do whatever research I can, represent you to the best of my ability and absolutely enforce the contract. I'm not in love with Danielson, I don't believe there's a bit of objectivity in using rubrics, and I have as little respect for incompetent supervisors as anyone I know. But between us, if you can't judge kids based on what they do rather than who they are, you ought to find another line of work.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mediocrity Rules

 Sometimes I think we need to teach our students what logical fallacy is. Lately I think that more and more. I often find myself debating with adults who quickly resort to ad hominem and strawman arguments. I'm really amazed that adults, teachers, and union leaders jump to name calling and nonsense so quickly.

It's like junior high school all over again. I thought I was past all the rank out sessions, but I'm not, evidently. As life is short, I cut these conversations as quickly as I possibly can.

But politics is kind of a third rail.I've gotten a lot of flack about my decision not to vote for Hillary. Thus far, no one's really addressed my reasons, but rather I've been accused of supporting Trump via my lack of support for his opponent. That's simply ridiculous, as is Trump. Trump is amoral and reprehensible, for my money absolutely unacceptable. On the other hand, I've long felt a whole lot of GOP pols were pretty much the same as Trump, but found little weasel words to avoid saying outright what Trump does. Trump shouts the bigotry other Republicans know to only hint at.

Were I in Ohio or Florida I'd think twice about it, but if Hillary's NY race is competitive enough that she needs my vote, chances are she's lost anyway. Our Electoral College system is bizarre and undemocratic, and votes in my state are just not worth that much.

I'm a public education advocate, and if you want my vote you'd better either share that priority or be so good on everything else that I'm willing to overlook it (as was Bernie Sanders). I'm sorry that people are so upset about this, and I fully expect UFT to run an all-out, no-holds barred push for Hillary over the next few months. I believe that Hillary will likely not be as awful as Trump, but I fail to understand why we didn't extract significant concessions before going all in.

I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, he broke my heart, and I made a personal decision not to vote for reforminess anymore. When Cuomo ran on a platform promising to go after unions, I voted for Green Howie Hawkins. In 2012, I voted for Green Jill Stein for President, and I expect to do so again in November.

But I'm really shocked at some of the pushback I've gotten lately. A local union President from somewhere or other got on my Facebook page and called me names. That's not argument at all. I mean, if you can show me that Hillary will really work for us, you might persuade me. Personal insults are the province of people bereft of ideas, and we need to do better. You know, we're teachers, role models. Are we raising our children to thoughtlessly insult one another?

That's not the first time I've heard such nonsense, and I'm sure it won't be the last. Though there are a handful of people I really respect in leadership, I'm not seeing that as a rule. I have no problem engaging people, and I respect people's opinions. What amazes me is people approaching me with no argument whatsoever and absolute conviction that they are right. Why are they right? Well, they went to a meeting and someone told them this was right, and that's good enough for them. How can they be like that?

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. ~Upton Sinclair

When people tell me what a threat Trump is I understand. He would be an awful President, full of bluster and baseless ideas. And those who follow him blindly are really dangerous, as they could follow him into some pretty bad places. I found it ironic that someone, in defense of Hillary, would call me a "loser," as that's what Trump calls everyone and anyone who disagrees with him. What does that even mean anymore?

But I wonder how a leader of teachers can skate by with an inability to muster an argument that rises above juvenile name-calling. What does that say about us? I've met a whole lot of chapter leaders who got the job simply because no one else wanted it. I see places where the gig appears to be passed around like a hot potato. That's kind of understandable. Who's crazy enough to argue with the principal?  But someone has to do it.

Why can't we get good people? There are reasons, of course. One is that our system kind of encourages and perpetuates mediocrity. I mean, UFT leadership takes a stand, sort of. They supported mayoral control. When it came up for renewal, they asked for changes, didn't get them, and then supported it anyway. Now Mulgrew says they support it, but not as is. What does that even mean? If they don't support it as is, why the hell did they support it ever?

Leadership sort of sits on the fence on testing. Mulgrew's gonna punch all our faces out if we don't support Common Core, but they complain about the rollout, which is the same nonsense Cuomo rationalizes it with. They're against excessive testing, but when opt-out actually does something about it, they spout the same crap as Reformy John King. When opt-out places fear into the alleged heart of the Cuomo, and inspires him to make a few superficial changes, they declare it a victory (and take credit). But as they declare absolutely everything a victory, that's got kind of a hollow ring.

They attack everyone and anyone who disagrees with them. If they can't think of a good argument, they dredge the bottom of the barrel, and spit out whatever they come up with. Who cares if it's accurate or not? Anyone who's signed a loyalty oath will believe it or lose their free trip to Schenectady next year. Or maybe an after school gig. So they don't contradict it, and just as likely don't even bother to think about it.

What is the quality of representation you get when you hire people who won't and possibly even can't think? What is the quality of representation you get when no one is allowed to question the Great and Powerful Oz, and everyone just runs around pretending how mysterious he is?

Sadly, you get what we've got now. You get some very good people, and a lot of others who blindly do as told and fully expect never to have to explain it. When put in uncomfortable positions, they blurt out whatever nonsense comes into their heads.

If you read this blog I have to assume you know that we, teachers, are under assault. We are the last vestige of vibrant unionism in these United States and as such folks hate us. Some of those folks are Eli Broad and the Walmart family, and they donate heavily to candidate Hillary Clinton. Well, if Hillary is so great for teachers, why the hell are the reformies-in-chief donating to her?

Hey, if you want to vote for Hillary, go right ahead. I won't call you names. But if you want to be a leader, if you aim to persuade, you'd better be prepared to stand up and explain why you do what you do. There are certainly plenty of capable people. But we're not gonna inspire them to work with us if we're represented by those who behave like 12-year-olds.