Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Modest Proposal

Yesterday I gave some thought to leadership's request that I organize a committee to persuade people to continue being duespayers. UFT leadership has asked me to select three people to run this committee. I thought of two, and I approached the person I deemed best to lead. The first question she asked me (and I swear I did nothing to provoke it ) was, "Why don't we have our own union?"

I was pretty shocked. I blog all sorts of things but send out a newsletter that's a lot more tame. I try not to directly address union politics, though I guess my coverage of the Executive Board meetings, which I  share, reflects things like Unity curtailing our few privileges and making sure I don't get to speak. It's a good question. I think I picked a smart leader. Sadly for Unity, smart leaders think things through.

When you consider the fact that the person we chose as High School Vice President, James Eterno, is off, you know, teaching and stuff, it kind of grates on you. If you consider that not a single person we chose has voice or vote on NYSUT, NEA, nor AFT, it grates a step further. So our conversation didn't get too far. Back on topic, she said she was uncomfortable speaking in front of crowds, and I told her I'd happily help with that. She said she was better one to one, and that was pretty much what this job was going to entail anyway.

Then we came back to the elementary school teachers, the middle school teachers, the nurses and the retirees not only making decisions for us, but most definitely making decisions we did not. What the hell is up with that? How do you rationalize shutting 19,000 members out of decision making? The only answer I can come up with is that Michael Shulman went and won High School VP back in the eighties. I guess that makes it his fault. If only he'd have had the foresight to lose, Unity wouldn't have unilaterally taken our vote and choice away from us (for our own good of course).

Sure, that's bend over sideways and backward logic, but it's better than the real answer, which is that high school teachers exercise free choice and leadership cannot tolerate any dissent or debate whatsoever. They want it, they want it all, and they want it now. Anyone who disagrees can sit down and shut up, and they're prepared to rig the election if necessary to ensure that result. In fact, they've already rigged the election and that's why we have no representation on bodies to which we pay dues.

One UFT employee told me he was sorry I felt we had no representation. I'm sorry he felt I felt it, because it's simply the way things are.

Maybe dues should be proportionate. For example, elementary teachers have 100% of their chosen representation, so they should pay 100%. I don't remember how many names were on the ballot, but I do know I put an X next to MORE/ New Action. Let's be conservative and say there were 100 names. We got seven of our choices. Therefore, high school teachers should pay 7% of dues. Let's be generous and round it off to ten.

That means we should be paying $140 a year. That's maybe six bucks a paycheck. The other $1260 per member we could devote toward promoting our interests. We could pay people to negotiate separately for us. We could try to negotiate, for example, reasonable class sizes as per the C4E lawsuit. We could negotiate fewer observations for teachers who do well with two. We could take strong stands against abusive administrators, even though they're union members. All of those things are opposed by Unity, and that's a good part of why we voted against them.

We could start our own paper, New York High School Teacher, and cover stuff that our elected leaders do, as opposed to the ones the retirees chose on our behalf. And if patronage job holding, loyalty oath signing Unity picks told our reps at the Executive Board to sit down and shut up, it wouldn't matter. They wouldn't be making our decisions for us anymore.

What's the issue with that?

Monday, December 11, 2017

Are We Microagressors?

I'm fascinated by this blog, which suggests many of us are guilty of "microagression." (Here are some less ambiguous forms, but I'm going to focus on the first piece.) According to the blog, when we do things like tell students to take down their hoods, remove their hats, restrict their language, or even wake them up we may be infringing on their culture. I'm going to look at these things one at a time.

When I first started teaching, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I had no concept about hats being bad, good or anything. However, a supervisor told me that students shouldn't wear hats in class. It appeared if they did, I would get in trouble. I am not fond of extra trouble, so I enforced this policy. Over the years, it's appeared silly sometimes. It's especially ridiculous in the halls, where I see deans tell kids to remove their hats. Inevitably, they turn the corner and replace them. I say nothing about hats in the hall.

In the classroom, there are reasons other than social grace for discouraging hats. I don't want students hiding from me, and anything that covers their faces facilitates this. Hoods are worse in that respect. It's pretty easy to hide your earbuds in a hood. Fascinating though we may fancy ourselves, a lot of teenagers would rather hear music than us.

You could argue that workplaces don't allow hats or hoods, and therefore we shouldn't either. Of course, some do. A lot of tech firms foster informal workplaces. In fact, in New York City at least, there is no dress code for teachers. Nonetheless, I don't allow students to wear hats or hoods in my classroom. I make exceptions for religious garments, and I'd make an exception for a kid who was undergoing chemo. Maybe there are other exceptions, and when they happen, I'll know. Generally, though, if someone's going to get into trouble for a hat, it's not gonna be me.

Clothing sends a message. I was stuck teaching in moldy trailers for about twelve years. I'd always dressed in khakis and collared shirts, but when they dumped me in the trailers I began wearing suits and ties. This was to contrast with the crumbling walls and floors Mayor Bloomberg had given my students. Bloomberg's suit and tie couldn't compensate for his moral bankruptcy, but I hoped to send a different message to my students from me, at least.

I'm not that conflicted about language. I use what's considered bad language in certain situations. I almost never use it on this space. I'm not persuaded it's acceptable in the classroom. It's certainly not acceptable in mine. I don't write up kids who use bad language. I talk to them, and they generally understand not to use that language in class. I don't let them use racist, bigoted or homophobic epithets either, and I don't let them go unchallenged. In general, most sensible people adjust their language to fit different audiences and situations, and I hope to instill that in my students.

All in all, maybe I'm culturally insensitive. I don't know. If I am, though, I'm more culturally insensitive than most. Much of my job entails encouraging speakers of foreign languages to use English. I regularly restrict not only terms deemed socially unacceptable, but also entire languages. I don't know about you, but if I go to another country, I learn the language as best I can and use it. That's something I constantly and actively encourage in my students.

Sleeping is something else entirely. It's almost always a symptom of something occurring outside of the classroom. I've had students whose families would wake them at three AM to help them deliver newspapers. I've had others who worked in family businesses from the moment they left school until who knows when. Some will stay up until 4 AM playing Call of Duty on the X Box. There are a whole lot of reasons for this phenomenon, and my lessons, however mundane or tedious they may be, are unlikely to be among them.

There's one vital factor the blogger failed to consider, and that is self-preservation. I've read my share of observation reports, and I've seen notes about students sleeping and wearing hats. I've seen teachers get letters in file for using unacceptable language, and I wouldn't suggest that you be the teacher who lets it get past you while getting observed. I don't know exactly where the line is on preserving decorum and being a microagressor, but I'll advise my members to stay out of trouble whenever possible.

I wonder whether the author's arguments would be better addressed to administrators. We sometimes get a say in the rules, but certainly not always. There are some things against which I'd take a principled stand, like failure to enforce class size. There are rules I'll challenge formally. The rules discussed in this blog are not among those I'd put myself on the line for. Sleeping in class is especially troubling to me. If I were to tolerate it from some, others would get the message it was OK, and my class could rapidly become naptime. That's not what I come to work for.

What do you think? Are you microagressive? Am I? What are we going to do about it?

Saturday, December 09, 2017

HIgh Schools Unrepresented in Union

It's a daunting job to rep the high schools. Every two weeks we step into an art film. We kind of have to play checkers with Death. I know it was chess in the film, but I feel like we begin the game halfway through. We have half our pieces and they have all kings. We are over 25% of New York City teachers and our voice is limited to 5% of a largely dysfunctional body.

I'm not saying we don't accomplish anything. We support a lot of good causes. In fact, though they paint us as mindlessly contrarian, we support virtually everything Unity proposes. Are we going to oppose supporting striking workers somewhere? One week we brought up DACA at the same time they did, and the resulting resolution was a blend of our ideas.

The problem, of course, is that we are outnumbered 20 to 1. While it's true that some of those on the committee represent nurses and others, it's also true that they vote on teacher issues. So if we bring up class size, for example, they get to oppose our ideas even though they aren't affected by them at all. We can try to work out solutions with leadership. I held back on an already prepared class size resolution because Howard Schoor said they'd meet with us. I offered to meet over a week ago and have heard nothing but crickets.

It's significant that we have been prohibited from electing our own Vice President. This is because Michael Shulman of New Action, who I've gotten to know over the last year, once had the temerity to win that office. This was an unforgivable offense. What Unity did was wait until Shulman was out of office and then change the rules. All VPs would now be elected "at large."

Let's put that in perspective. Imagine that Donald Trump decided elections were not sufficiently rigged to please his discerning taste. Let's say he determined that New York's choice was too liberal, and that Andrew Cuomo was not frothing at the mouth insane enough to Make America Great Again. Let's say Trump therefore added Texas and Oklahoma to the pool of New York voters to insure that we'd elect a Republican.

Actually, I'm surprised at the number of Unity members I've said that to who've remarked how unfair it is. Nonetheless, that's our system. High school teachers have no elected representation in UFT officers. We are the only branch of UFT who did not vote for the current sitting officer, and the election is purposefully rigged to create that result.

That's not all, though. High school teachers, like all NYC teachers, pay dues to NYSUT, NEA and AFT. I don't remember offhand how many delegates we send to their meetings and conventions. I do know that New York City high school teachers, numbering more that the entire Philadelphia teacher union, have no elected representation in these organizations.

With Janus looming, I wonder how they explain that. In the highly unlikely event some door knocker shows up to my house, I'll ask about it. UFT now asks me, as a chapter leader, to organize some committee in my school to spread the word about union. I'm a strong believer in union. I will pay dues no matter what.

But if leadership wants high school teachers to go the extra mile for them, it's time for us to have a genuine voice and vote.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

UFT Executive Board Takeaway December 4th, 2017

Executive Board meetings are getting more interesting, though I'd hesitate to call that a good thing. First of all, Unity is clearly hijacking the questions period to spread the word about how wonderful they are. Predictably, they're not doing a great job.

Full disclosure--I know and like Carlos, the first speaker. Alas, he was far from persuasive about PD. PD is what you make it, and the experience I've had with it is that it's 99% a waste of time. I have heard others sing the praises of useful PD, and I'm all for it if it can be delivered. But theory and practice are two different things.Until and unless you're part of great PD sessions, no speaker on this earth will persuade you it's worthwhile.

There's also the issue of CTLE, which means many educators will recoil at PD regardless of the quality. When the geniuses in Albany declare the PD has to be accredited or you'll forfeit your teaching credential, it's hard to sit and focus on how useful something is. You're thinking, "Holy crap, I  need a hundred hours in five years or I'm gonna be working at Walmart." If you don't meet that challenge it won't matter how good PD is.

The next speaker was a better story, but it was brought by a district rep who could easily have done so during reports from districts. Disgraceful though it is for Unity to hijack the very little time allotted for lowly members, it was inspiring to see a paraprofessional bold enough to take the position of chapter leader. It was great that they were able to fight back an abusive principal who wanted to dump her for doing the job.

We then went to questions. Mike Schirtzer got up and spoke of class sizes. The ones in his school were "equalized" only days ago, in December. (For those unfamiliar with the term, equalize does not actually mean we make class sizes equal. It means only that we come into compliance. So while you have 34 students, another teacher could easily have 25.) He said that students were crying when they found their programs changed so late in the term. The fact is we give them ten days to come into compliance. Many principals can't be bothered, waiting until the day of arbitration to fix things. I once sat at the arbitration until 5:00 while my administration worked on the program.

I've been writing and thinking about the Committee of 300. I had a question about it, involving several factors. One, of course, is the observation process that makes members crazy, which I'd like to see addressed. I brought a resolution about it to this committee and they took it down with blatant strawman arguments. Every single person in the room, aside from the high school reps, went along with this logical fallacy. I wanted to know why I should suppose that the committee of 300 would be run any more democratically or reasonably than the Executive Board. I wanted to know why we could not make robust public demands like PSC was doing.

I was in for a surprise. I kind of expect them to give a flimsy response, or no response at all. But this time, in a flagrant display of anti-democracy, they did not even allow me to speak. They're deeply offended when you refer to the fact that every single one of them votes alike. That's because it directly implies they've signed a loyalty oath and would support a piece of cellophane-wrapped processed American cheese for President of the United States if anyone on the dais instructed them to.

Given that I wasn't allowed even to speak, they managed to answer my question much more thoroughly than they generally do. The Committee of 300 is a sham, designed to persuade members that there is democracy involved in contract negotiations. There will be no representative democracy, however. Leadership will do any damn thing they please, and there will be 290 rubber stamps doing whatever they're told to do. There will be some token voices of opposition but they will be outvoted, shut out, shut down, shut up or all of the above. The top down mandate is alive and well in the United Federation of Teachers and, facing Janus, leadership revels in it.

Another factor in this I can't help considering is how out of touch they are with working teachers. I teach every day, and every day I have to deal with difficulties in my classes. The whole, "sit down and shut up" thing is about the last I'd consider. I try to get kids to work within the framework of the class, to find something they can do. If I ran my classroom the way leadership runs the Executive Board, it would be chaos. (Of course, I haven't got the luxury of making 95% of my audience sign a loyalty oath to support me no matter what.) 

Mulgrew appeared for five minutes and gave us a pretty gloomy view of the contract, saying DC37 was eagerly negotiating and asking for very little. At least it isn't us this time imposing a crap pattern on the entire city. It was certainly us last time, and as far as I can determine, the pattern we imposed, 10% over 7 years, is the lowest ever. However, if DC37 imposes a crap pattern on all of us they can put a thousand people on the 300-member committee and it won't make a golly goshdarn's worth of difference.

UFT Unity thinks they are the beginning, the end, and the total package. They have hundreds of patronage employees ready to nod, pat them on the back and tell them what a great job they're doing no matter what. In the era of Janus, by steadfastly refusing even to hear member concerns, they are doing favors to no one, themselves included. 

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

The Ever-Expanding Zero

I've been having a rough year. My PM class contained a lot of off-level students, including a few officially named SIFE kids and others I thought were SIFE even if their records didn't say so. It made for tough planning. Do I aim low and help the SIFE kids? (In case that term's unfamiliar to you, it means students with interrupted formal education. These kids may not be literate in their first languages.) Do I aim high and hit the more advanced ones?

Actually I varied my aim and didn't really catch anyone the way I wanted. This went on for a few months. Last week, though, my supervisor moved all the lower-performing kids to the morning and the higher performing kids to the PM. This was a very good move, though it's certainly a lot more work for me.

The students, all in all, are happier. My PM class has become a little goofier. I can't tell if that's good or bad. They have this unexpected tendency to applaud at odd times, sometimes for no reason. I'm not sure whether or not it comes from me. I have this thing about zeroes. Whenever I hear teachers say, "You do this and you get a zero," I want to laugh. So I never gave zeroes until a few years ago. I started writing zeroes on pieces of paper and quasi-randomly giving them to students, slamming them down on their desks and shouting, "ZERO!"

Actually the shout wasn't my idea. One year a girl decided that my job was too important to dispense zeroes, so she took it upon herself. Her shouts were spectacular and mine are just a pale echo. Still, they tend to surprise kids who don't expect it. Now some kids you can't do that to. For example, I have a rather shy girl in my PM class who didn't talk enough. In fact, sometimes she speaks Chinese in English class when I want her to speak English. But I told her how things were. "If you speak Chinese in English class, I'm giving him a zero." I point to a boy in back of the classroom.

The boy objects. "Why do I get a zero if she speaks Chinese?"

"She's not supposed to speak Chinese," I tell him. "There have to be consequences for her actions."

The girl finds this hilarious. I see her smiling a lot lately, something I almost never saw before. The guy is a little confused, but he found a way to avenge himself yesterday. After I gave him a zero, he walked right up to me and slapped the zero on my desk. "ZERO!" he shouted, and the class erupted in applause. This went on for a while. I know they're trying to put off doing classwork but it's so funny I can't stop them.

I like to see goofy behavior in my class. I like to see happy kids in my classes. I can see more happiness all around now that I'm teaching at appropriate levels. I can't promise you that these kids will excel on some standardized test, but I can assure you that kids who are happy in English class are likely to learn more English more easily. There's a line somewhere at which the goofiness becomes too much, and you have to really look carefully to make sure you don't cross it.

But I can live with that.

Like everyone, I fret over the evaluation system. If I hit the magical E, I'm happy. My supervisor actually gives me ideas that are worth following, and could likely do that without all this Danielson nonsense, probably more effectively. I still remember the best feedback I ever got from anyone. It was from my former principal, who swore year after year he was gonna write up an observation but never did. He watched me teach a class. When he walked out, he said, "Those kids love you."

On this astral plane, if you ask me, there's no higher praise.

Monday, December 04, 2017

UFT Executive Board December 4th, 2017--UFT Unity Cowards Afraid to Hear My Question

Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us. 6:02


Carlos Oliveri—The word PD has endured unfair rep. Some see it as obligatory, but I hope to rouse support. My school has struggled with what quality instruction looks like. Came together through PD committee and could advocate for students. We had discussions around best strategies. We want to change narrative about PD.

Jasmine Hunt
—Excited about this year. Union more visible. People coming to visit, Members can get questions answered. May play role when we ask them to stick with us. We are coming out  of the woodwork. Thank you.

Dermot Myrie
—Proud to stand here knowing UFT stands for racial justice. Many hardships by students of color. We as educators of conscience ask UFT to join in cultural organizations, including BLM week of action. Urges UFT to call members, have forums, pool resources and affirm racial justice. We urge you reverse disappearance of teachers of color.


LeRoy Barr
—CL weekend, full house. Reviewed Con Con victory and work that needs to be done pre-Janus. Door knocking campaign going well, engaging people, updating records. Goal is to bring this to members multiple times in multiple ways to stick with union. Will be door knocking training this weekend.

Today was Bolwing Green rally for Promesa. Protested Puerto Rican debt crisis, strangling economic prosperity of island. AFT Latino Caucus running Operation Agua. Event at ACRI cafe 6 PM Bronx 12/11. 30$ buys water system for household.

Kwanzaa celebration Dec. 14th here. DA Dec. 6. EB Dec. 18.

President’s Report—6:12 Mulgrew not here


Mike Schirtzer
MORE—Any update on Tottenville?

—met with DOE on issues, no resolution. Looking into legal case on barring from SLT.

Schirtzer—We spoke about class size, my school was 7th worst offender in NY Teacher. Up against larger high schools. Ratio-wise we may be worse. On Friday, principal equalized. Already MP 3, children crying. Teachers teacher 40 students until December 1st. What can we do further to prevent this?

Schoor—management issue. Should’ve been removed in September.

Schirtzer—What can we do to hold principals’ feet to fire?

—We are having discussions. High percentage settled on arbitration days, so they use them up. We hope some places can be resolved. Some have space problems.

Arthur Goldstein
MORE—We hear a lot about this 300-member committee, particularly when we propose changes to the way we do things. I’ve never been on a 300-member committee before, but it seems like an awfully unwieldy way to accomplish anything. For example, there are 300 UFT members in my school, but when we negotiate with the principal we try lower the number so we can have more focused discussions.

The notion of this committee is troubling to us in the high schools. We regularly come here, make proposals, and at one word from the dais, absolutely everyone in the room, without exception, votes against us. Sometimes these things are debated, and sometimes they aren’t. When we debate things, like for example reducing the minimum number of observations, people get up and argue about losing other things, though we’d never advocated, let alone mentioned giving them up. People say that we’d have less chance of doing well even though our resolution specifically said that fewer observations would be utilized for people who’d already done well.

Last year the President told the Delegate Assembly that UFT had lobbied for fewer observations. I follow education news closely, particularly locally, and despite the 300-member committee, I had never heard that before. I was pretty shocked, I now know UFT had lobbied for not only then, but also, according to Chalkbeat, at the inception of this new evaluation system. Chalkbeat says the DOE also wanted fewer observations, and that John King insisted on more. So it’s odd to me that, after UFT twice pushed for fewer observations,  it’s painted in this room as the very worst thing in the history of western civilization.

At this point I am interrupted. A UFT Unity patronage employeee brings up a point of order and claims I am not asking a question. Schoor tells me to ask a question but I refuse if I am not allowed to give background. I tell them they can read my question tonight. Unity, evidently, does not like when you refer to their loyalty oath and its obvious effects. This is what I’d have said if I were not interrupted:

Barbara Bowen, President of PSC, just told her members that she was lobbying for a significant compensation increase. In fact, they were demonstrating today outside the Board of Trustees meeting over that very issue.

Why aren’t we telling members our demands? Why are we keeping them so top secret? Personally, given the near inevitability of Janus, I think members would be happy to hear that the number of mandatory drive-bys were decreasing. I think members would like to know that we were making robust demands.

Is there any reason for us to expect that the 300-member committee will be any different from this one, in which one word from the dais kills any idea it finds remotely inconvenient?

Marcus McArthur
MORE--Speaks of disappearance of Black and Latino educators. What will we be doing about this?

Janella Hinds
—Will partner on these issues.

Howard Schoor
explains what he thinks I was talking about. Says LeRoy Barr will now answer question I didn’t get to ask.

LeRoy Barr—talks about team. Says debate is good (which I deem ironic since I am not permitted to ask a question). Repeats that debate is good. Says we need to have those conversations. Says we will work through things. Says there should be more than 5 people. We are looking forward to meetings. Everyone in this room is on it.

Mulgrew arrives 6:25

Thanks people for CL training.

DC37 is negotiating. Not looking for much.

Continuing sessions on paid family leave. Will be focus for next few weeks. Will try to get financial dealings done as quickly as possible.

Should be team at every worksite dealing with Janus. Unless something dramatic changes, will be May to June. We can finish preparing. Most perilous place we’ve been in long time. This is a plan to systematically stop working people from having leverage. Invited Pres. of Wisconsin Teachers Association to come in February. They don’t have collective bargaining. This is endgame. This is what enemy wants to do to us.

Mulgrew ends. 6:30, leaves

Debbie Poulos—paperwork—We continue to resolve issues. DOE reacted negatively to our page of shared resolutions. Angered principals. Do not like that CLs hear of resolutions and try to advocate for same.

Central paperwork committee met today. Many issues direct result of PPO and Quality Review. Raising with DOE that members should not be required to do redundant paperwork for principal’s rating, like curriculum mapping, pacing calendars. When we know, we help CLs. We ask that if you are aware of any issues, result of PPO, file report, indicate that it’s result of PPO.

—One page handout was great success. DOE went nuts. CSA put out “clarification.” Our agreement is with DOE, not CSA. We say DOE has to implement our agreement. Our contract is with CSA.

Report from districts

Eliu Lara
—With CL—report that CL was told he could replace her with ten years seniority. We got her reinstated.

CL thanks everyone. She is paraprofessional. It has been challenging. Had to deal with a lot and learn a lot. Glad for collective action, when we work together for common cause protects all our rights. We can accomplish our goals. Thanks Eliu and others. Thanks union.

Karen Allford—Thanks Mike Schirtzer—understands budget woes, but thanks him for helping with theater production on weekends. Did amazing job. Thanks Camille Edy—DOE wanted to put charter elementary in existing elementary. We organized. We beat them back.

Ellen Driesen
—12/13 wants to invite us, but Tom Brown’s event is sold out. Protection in retirement—need for this sort of thing.

Legislative report—Paul Egan
—football talk—fight next is budget. Senate passed budget that needs to be reconciled. Priorities of this admin are—bill that gives billionaires tax credit for yachts while removing $250 tax credit for teachers. Good for GOP donors. Hatch said we didn’t have money for children’s health insurance. Speaks to morality of this administration. Next year is a midterm election. 2014 we were 49th in voting in NY State.

Special Order of Businesss
—three vacancies. One HS, two elementary. First meeting we announce, second nominate, third vote, if necessary.

We are adjourned.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

My Friend's Door Gets a UFT Knock

I got a funny message today. My friend was home, doing home stuff, when she got a knock on her door. The person at the door knew her name and said he was from the UFT. She was pretty surprised by this. He said he wanted to talk to her about Janice. She said she didn't know who Janice was. Then he said no, it's Janus, not Janice, and it's a what not a who.

So she said she didn't know what Janus was. The guy said OK, and then he left. So I told her what Janus was. She thanked me, because she didn't know. I'm pretty sure that meant she hadn't been reading each and every letter of my staff emails, so I guess it was a good thing that guy knocked on her door. Except that he didn't tell her anything.

So really, what's the point? This guy, whoever he was, went for a weekend of training, and when somebody says she doesn't know what Janus is, he doesn't even bother to tell her. Is that why we're sending people out knocking on doors? Hardly seems worth it.

Actually, it's extra work for chapter leaders like me who are available to talk to members. What are people supposed to think when UFT reps knock on their doors, mention Janus, and then go off on their merry way? It appears to be a total waste of time.

Of course I'm just a lowly teacher. I didn't design the protocol. What do I know? If they think it's a good idea to knock on doors, mention Janus, then walk away when members don't know what it is, well, they should know. After all, I haven't even got an office, let alone the time to plan these clever informational sessions.

I wonder when they're gonna knock on my door. I don't know, but I have a strong feeling it's gonna be never. Has anyone knocked on your door yet? What happened?


I have no idea how we've gotten to this point. The GOP just passed a tax bill that screws every homeowner in our state. It robs thousands from blue states to subsidize red states and gazillionaires. It removes deductions for teachers and musicians.

Because corporations need a permanent tax break. For goodness sake, they can be taxed at a rate of 35%. It's important that we reduce that to 20%. This is because a whole lot of them have contributed to GOP senators and congressmen. It looks like they were gonna cut them off if they didn't pass this.

I know some Trump voters. In another life, I played fiddle in bluegrass bands. I correspond with a banjo player from Kentucky who just loves Trump. A few days ago he told me that anyone who was a real American loved Trump. He backed off from that statement after I gave him a long list of people he was insulting (including my dad who fought in the Battle of the Bulge), But he still loves Trump. He believes Trump cares about people like him. A lot of people believe that. When they kick children and working people off of health care, well, it's all for the greater good I guess.

I don't watch Fox News, but a whole lot of people do. One of the things Ronald Reagan did was kill the Fairness Doctrine, which insisted that news be fair and balanced. Ironically, Fox News became a propaganda outlet for the GOP, and then adopted the slogan, "fair and balanced." While Reagan was President in 1984, I haven't felt like we were living the Orwell novel until very recently. Trump gets up in front of God and everybody and talks about grabbing pussy, and the good Christians everywhere make passionate arguments that he should be President and a pedophile should be a US Senator from Alabama.

In early 1984, I was in Europe. I had a friend, Klaus,  in West Berlin who I visited. He decided we should visit his friend, an English teacher from East Berlin. Klaus wanted me to smuggle eastern money in a gum package, but I told him forget it. It was a good thing because the police searched me on the other side of the border. It was pretty scary. I remember the English teacher didn't speak much English, and he showed me English books that said things like, "We need to practice our English because our friends from South Yemen are coming to visit."

It was surreal being in the east before the wall came down. There were stores the eastern residents shopped in, and then there were special stores just for us visitors. If you had western money, you could buy fresh fruit and vegetables, or Levis, or anything you wanted. The official exchange rate was one mark for one mark, but you could buy like 14 eastern marks for one west mark on the western side of the wall.

TV in East Germany was pretty boring. It was the Russian diplomat shaking hands with the East German diplomat pretty much 24/7. They had some TV tower the people called der spargel (the asparagus) which was some monstrosity designed to block western broadcasts. Still, a whole lot of East Germans managed to see TV from the west, which painted a very different picture of what was going on.

They were taught that Russia was pretty much the center of the universe. A visit there was a great luxury. You could buy all the vodka you wanted, though other things may have been in short supply. The thing that stuck with me the most was when the English teacher told me they sold Pravda on every corner. If you aren't familiar, Pravda is the Russian word for truth, and was the official communist party newspaper. He also told me that nobody ever bought it.

The problem here is a whole lot of Americans are lapping up Fox News like water. They believe the crap they spew, they accept the concept of "alternative facts," and they believe the crap that comes out of Donald Trump's twitter feed. It's pretty scary.

Meanwhile, our most prestigious press outlet, the New York Times, writes features about lovable nazis next door, and stereotypes ATR teachers as a danger to children. These are interesting times we live in.

What will it take to awaken the people of the United States of America?

Saturday, December 02, 2017

PTA--Pass Them All

It's remarkable to read about how you get all your seniors admitted to college. If you're a charter school, of course, you simply dump every student who isn't making it back into the public schools. If you're a public school it's a little more difficult. Fortunately, it's more or less the Wild West over in DC.

First of all, you have this ridiculous evaluation system. You can rate teachers ineffective and get rid of them. Anyone who doesn't play ball is thrown out of the game. In NYC, we worry about vindictive administrators. In DC, that's probably true too. But if you factor in Campbell's Law, which basically says the more pressure there is, the more corruption there is, it's easy to understand how admin bows to pressure and allows any damn thing to happen.

NYC has been a little more progressive on this, though Sue Edelman at the Post is always turning over rocks to find sleazy principals who cheat to juke the stats. For those who bother following rules, it's a little more difficult to paint failure as success. I recall online nonsense being substituted for class time, including PE. I marvel at how you can answer a bunch of questions, or get your smart girlfriend to answer them for you, and earn credit.

I'm sure there are still makeup rules, and they're still nonsense. But they aren't anything compared to this DC scam, in which everyone passed no matter what. Basically, you didn't have to go to school until they threatened to take you to court. Pretty sweet deal if all you want to do is come in now and then to say hello. In fact, it's a pretty sweet deal even if you don't. Just drop in once in a while, graduate, and somehow get accepted to college.

I'm not sure how well you'd do in college if your work ethic entailed showing up only when the alternative was going to court. I'm pretty sure you just flunk out and lose your tuition if you can't be bothered to show up and do work. There aren't any worksheets or online programs to help with that.

Actually, over the years I've had some remarkably low-performing students who did better than I'd have expected in middle school. I teach ESL, and I usually teach beginners. I've had students who knew virtually no English (and absolutely no Spanish) who received 65 in ESL, ELA and Spanish. I sometimes wonder whether the NYC middle school teachers are pressured as intensely as those DC teachers. It's incredible for me to see kids who clearly know nothing about these subjects passing them.

I've been called in to administrators over the years to explain why I failed students. Usually it's not so hard for me. This one was absent 200 times in one month. That one failed every test. I don't fail students just for fun. I'd actually like to see them pass. It's tough, though, when the students  only come in two or three times a week, or month, or whatever. When you look at their grades and see that this is what they do in every class, it's even tougher.

You can call homes. I'm a great believer in calling homes. But once you do this four or five times with no change in behavior, it becomes an empty exercise. It's ridiculous to rate teachers for student performance. We are all humans. We do what we want. If what a student wants does not entail going to school, it's not the teacher's fault.

This lunacy was largely fostered under the Obama administration with all that Race to the Top nonsense. Arne Duncan and John King bought every reformy notion under the sun. Now you see them on Twitter, mustering the audacity to criticize Betsy DeVos simply because she's as incompetent and unqualified as they were.

I certainly play a part in what goes on in my classroom. I take responsibility for that. But until my job entails going to student homes, waking them up, getting them out of bed and dragging them to school, it's ridiculous to blame me for their grades. I can wake them up when they nod off in my classroom. But I still can't make them go to sleep before 3 AM.

There are a lot of factors in education. The American movement to blame the teacher for absolutely everything is short-sighted. While it satisfies the blood thirst of those who hate us and everything we stand for, while it makes some people feel good to punish us for the offense of devoting our lives to the welfare of America's children, letting kids and families completely off the hook for this behavior is not productive. When mom and dad have to work round the clock to make ends meet, it's hard for them to look after their kids.

As far as I can tell, we're moving farther away from offering help where help is needed. Just look at the insane GOP tax bill that rewards those who least need it, kicks children off of health care, and makes it even harder for working Americans to reach or maintain middle class.

But hey, let's forget all that and blame the teachers. It's the American Way.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Eva Gets a Small Whiff of New York City

I'm really flabbergasted to read Eva Moskowitz crying and moaning that she hasn't got enough space. She holds galas that earn her millions of dollars, and spent years with the Chancellor of NYC Schools in her hip pocket. Now she trashes Bill de Blasio because he won't give her what she wants. And make no mistake, she wants it all and she wants it now.

Eva is more important than you, and more important than me. She cannot wait. She has to have everything right away. And her students are more important than my students. Otherwise, why would my students be in a building at 200% capacity? Why do they have to struggle through the hallways to get to their classes? Why would they need to go through a 10-period day simply because there isn't enough space to accommodate them in a more reasonable fashion?

Moskowitz makes it a point to call her business a "public charter school," but all that means is she takes our money. takes our space, and demands more of it. She can call her school high-achieving, but that only refers to test scores. It fails to take into account Charter 101--you take a hundred kids, end up with forty, and all your kids are excellent. The other 60, the ones in those awful public schools, are not doing well at all. Clearly it's the fault of those pernicious unionized teachers.

Her "public charter schools" can't be bothered with any stinking rules. When de Blasio had an agreement that every pre-school signed, Eva decided she wasn't gonna make any agreement and her hedge fund backers fought the city in court. Now Eva can open any damn grade any damn way anyhow she feels like. "Public charter schools" don't need no public accountability, thank you very much.

My school has been overcrowded for well over the nine years I've been chapter leader. For a while we were able to control it but it's once again burgeoned out of control. Here's the thing--when you are really a public school, you take the public as they come in. When you are really a public school you take everyone. It doesn't matter if they just arrived from El Salvador yesterday and don't speak a word of English. It doesn't matter if they have disabilities so severe you know they will never graduate from high school.

How many of those students does Moskowitz take? Zero. Maybe she takes some ELLs that are advanced enough to sit around and test prep until they pee their pants. And maybe she takes students with IEPs, but there are IEPs and there are IEPs. Some students have IEPs simply because they need more time on tests. Some have a period of resource room for extra support. Others need to be in self-contained small classrooms. Some are labeled alternate assessment. At our school we bring them to worksites to learn trades.

It's nice that Eva can write editorials about how awfully victimized she is. What I'd like to see is Bill de Blasio, or Carmen FariƱa, or someone in charge write about what it's like for the real public school children of New York City. Alas, the papers are all full of trashing the ATRs and there's no space for that.

Eva's line is ridiculous. Her students aren't more important than my students. They don't deserve better space than my students. Shame on the public servants who bow down to her preposterous demands and ignore the overwhelming majority of city children.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Alice in Reformyland

I don't link to the 74, but the reformy Gates-funded make-believe teachers over at Educators 4 Excellence are making a stink over the ATR. It seems they and their reformies care a great deal about students in so-called failing schools, the ones full of poverty, health issues, and homelessness. Since their Dear Leader, Bill Gates, has already decided to ignore those problems, the former untenured teacher who runs E4E has decided to go a different way. the same way StudentsFirstNY went.

They're asking all sorts of questions about the ATR, like which ones were removed for disciplinary charges. You see, in Reformyland, charges are the same as convictions. It doesn't matter if said charges led nowhere, and by the way, all of them did. Otherwise these teachers they want to know about would've been fired rather than retained. This is mentioned nowhere in the 74, which is just one more reason there's no link.

Why are the former teachers who run E4E all in a tizzy over the ATR? I can't read their minds or look into their souls (which have likely as not been sold for Gatesbucks anyway). They're probably all excited for the same reason Klein was--this is a key to breaking union and putting us out on our own. One thing UFT leadership did right was hanging tough on giving ATRs a time limit so they'd face dismissal. That happened in Chicago, if I'm not mistaken, and has been a disaster.

We are all ATRs, whether or not you know it. It's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time. I work just a few miles south of Flushing High School, and just a few north of what was Jamaica High School. Am I a better teacher because I happen to work at Lewis? Of course not. In fact, I came to Lewis from John Adams High School in 1993. Back then there was a UFT transfer plan and we could pick a new place. Had I stayed at Adams, I'd have had to reapply for my job and quite likely would've become an ATR. It can happen anywhere. You never know. The only thing you can be sure of is that the teachers will be blamed.

There's a reason why reformies are harping on ATRs, and that reason is they want working conditions for union teachers as tenuous as possible. That way they can build more non-union charters and make more teachers work 200 hours a week with no rights. You don't want to teach the extra class? Screw you. You don't want to take parent phone calls until 10 PM? Screw you. You don't want to take a bus trip to Albany in which you teach a lesson on the bus? Screw you. You have no tenure and you're fired. We can always open up another can of teachers, especially now that we don't have to bother with that pesky school certification.

Getting rid of the ATR means fire at will, folks, and it's likely as not that you and I will be the ones fired. Don't buy into the stereotypical nonsense about ATR teachers. It's not their fault their schools were closed. It's not their fault there are cute little academy schools full of newbie teachers where no one wants to take on a veteran salary. It's not their fault that whatever nonsensical charges, likely as not pressed by Bloomberg and his flunkies, failed to stick.

It's certainly not their fault that publications, up to and including the NY Times, choose to baselessly stereotype them. I'm not sure what's happening over at the Times. They just did a feature on a lovable, pasta-cooking Nazi next door type. I do know this, though. We need to protect the ATR with everything we got, because whither they go, so go us all.

That's exactly what the reformies are counting on.