Friday, April 20, 2018

UFT and Janus--Can We Be Proactive Beyond Collecting Dues?

I couldn't make it to the DA Wednesday night, though I wanted to go. I understand this was the big release for the UFT app. I know that because I just got an email from Michael Mulgrew, asking me to install the app. I did an now can see Frankenstein, the Musical at a discount. I can get discounts at Heavenly Crumbs and Chatime Bubble Tea. You've got a whole lot of phone numbers at your fingertips. The possibilities are endless, and I'm sure it will be improved upon. Still, I kind of wish it hadn't taken a gun to the union's head to produce it.

Evidently, this isn't the same app I'll be using to sign up members in my building, but there is an app for that. I actually have to give UFT numbers of thirty or so of us who will be trying to sign up our 300 members. It's a big job, and I didn't love it a lot. Someone had to assign about ten members to each of the thirty plus, and despite my best intentions otherwise, it turned out to be me.

We will each get a list, and we will be able to sign up people as union via our phones. It's a good idea, I think. This is the first time I've actually collected phone numbers for the union, though I've been asked on multiple previous occasions. I don't mind the face to face, but the prep work was no fun.

For me union is a moral imperative. Though I've skipped a few nights this week, and though I've gotten more sleep than I'd had any right to hope for, I don't spend my free time running to 52 Broadway just for laughs. I don't do it for money either (though as an Exec. Board member they now reimburse my parking and tolls). So it's hard for me to respect people's decisions to say, "Screw it. I'm not paying." When these people don't pay, it will be my work and money (and yours) carrying them.

There is a new law in NY, though, and I wasn't sure it was going to be successful until Chaz said so. I don't always agree with Chaz, but when he makes a wholly unexpected statement like this I have to. A lot of people will kick and scream, but I'm not sure how many will be hiring lawyers to rep them when the principal says they threw that cheeseburger at a student. Also, I'm not sure how effective a lawyer would be, even if his tie turned out to be considerably nicer than mine.

I'm glad, though, not to have to provide services for people who reject the work that we do. It really makes me sad when I meet members who decide the entire UFT sucks because one decision didn't go their way. I negotiate a lot, and I go to a lot of hearings, and decisions don't always go my way either. I can't manually insert brains into arbitrators, and much as I wish they came pre-installed, they blather any way they choose and make ridiculous decisions. (Of course, sometimes they're right, and those are the times we hope for.)

So I have to say, even though I don't always approve of leadership, they made a good deal here. Of course, the timing was great, with Andrew Cuomo intent on convincing America he's the Second Coming of Bernie Sanders. Andrew Cuomo reminds me of a character called Mr. Haney on Green Acres. Mr Haney will sell anything to anyone at any time. Two years ago, Cuomo was calling us a self-serving industry that cared nothing for children. Now he's our best bud, but that too will change with any way the wind blows.

Here's my problem with this program, successful though it is. The upside of Janus, and another reason I'm willing to run around and organize, is that we finally have leadership reaching out to us. This is a great organizing activity, involving a whole lot of us. Alas, if this is as successful as I think it will be, they may decide to sit atop 52 Broadway and continue to look down indifferently on rank and file issues, same as it ever was. That would be sad for a number of reasons.

First, leadership only noticed we were a union in anything more than name when Janus reared its ugly head. That's when they started to get people to knock on our doors, though they're a long way from reaching all of us. I'm not holding my breath for a UFT doorknocker here in Freeport NY. I'd argue that leadership was perfectly content with a membership in which three out of four of us can't be bothered voting in union elections. That way, it's Unity now, Unity tomorrow, and Unity forever.

Leadership is still tone deaf to working teachers. Yesterday I spoke with one who's been rated Highly Effective three years in a row. She's much-loved by her supervisor, and likely by everyone else. Yet she hates Danielson and she hates APPR. She is terrified by the observation process even though it's deemed her universally excellent. Not a single UFT official has been through Danielson, and not a single one knows what teachers feel.

When we go to Executive Board and say we should have the state minimum of two a year for teachers who do well that way, we're told teachers do better with more. I'll bet you, though, that when teachers are rated effective, almost all will say good enough for me and hang it up until the following year. When we say we need lower class sizes, we're told we made sacrifices fifty years ago and we're forming a group you aren't in, so sit down and shut up.

I'm very happy that UFT can continue being UFT. Leadership moved quickly and decisively to assure that dues money would continue coming in. Now I'd like to see that sort of alacrity applied to the issues working teachers grapple with each and every day.

Monday night I will certainly bring another one to their attention. And if they say, "We'll get back to you." I won't need a psychic to tell me just how seriously they take it.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly April 18, 2014--We Have an App, and President May Talk as Long as He Wishes

by special guest Jonathan Halabi

We are welcomed by Mulgrew, who starts immediately talking about The App. Do not download the app during the DA, the WiFi would probably crash. (I did. It did not). There will be an instruction sheet handed out after the DA with exact instructions. Try it then.

The White House out of control, but Mulgrew won’t discuss today.

Because of states with strikes and walkouts, the “story” is now where we want it to be. In many of these states there were no teacher raises in the last ten years.

Mulgrew says to stop talking about education as an expense; it is an investment. We are glad this is happening. We are working with our colleagues in these states.  

In some of these states unions are barred from the political process. We see the results. This is the plot we are about to face with Janus.

The percentage of teachers in those states who file for bankruptcy is astounding. 

There is money flowing into NY to destabilize teachers’ unions here. People have been sneaking into UFT offices posing as members. There have been several fake Michael Mulgrew twitter feeds. Let them try!

New York
There is close to $1B in NYS for education funding. Mulgrew credits Lobby Day. We got Community Learning Schools funded. We go the Teachers Centers funded.

There are changes we wanted to the tax code (to undo the federal code removing the local tax deduction). We are waiting for a federal challenge.

The Independent Democratic Caucus (IDC) is now back with the Democrats, but the Democrats still do not have a majority. (Mulgrew seemed to purposefully not name Simcha Felder, the Democrat from Brooklyn who gives the Republicans control). There is a tight special election coming up in Westchester.

The state tests have started. “Untimed testing” has meant some kids are sitting forever. We are going to the Board of Regents with this one. Outside of the City there have been huge problems with computerized testing. We are having conversations with NYSUT – the State is doing it all wrong. We will ask for a statewide committee for guidelines before we start computerized testing (and the UFT delegation will propose this at the NYSUT Representative Assembly in Buffalo next week).

May 19 is the Spring Conference. 

Who’s met the Chancellor? (very few hands go up). Mulgrew told him that if he visits one school per day, he would get to 10% in a school year. Carranza has this mindset….  We are getting reports that Department of Education people want to convince the new Chancellor that they support teachers in schools and that they have a good relationship with the union. 

What would you do if you were appointed with three months left in the year? Go around. Meet people. Wait for the summer…

Tuesday at 7:30AM there will be a City Council press conference in support of paid parental leave and paid family leave.  The only city workers with paid parental leave are the city managers, and they got ripped off. The City can allow us to join the State plan (parental and family).

We are not officially negotiating yet. The last 400+ Negotiating Committee meeting was Monday. We are having discussions, not negotiations. 

Chapter Leader elections – please hold them early this year – May. The Election Chair must certify the election. And you cannot be the Election Chair if you are running.

Safety. Who got an e-mail saying their school has had zero safety incidents? (a good number of hands go up, maybe 5-10% of the room) You must have the safest schools! (with sarcasm). There are principals who don’t know what they are doing. Members must report. You are a school in NYC. We cannot fix the problem if we do not know there is a problem. And by the way, there is no such thing as “you may not suspend a special education child.” They just don’t want you filing the incident reports. 

Door knocking – there will be another class, the biggest yet, this weekend. We were ahead, now we are slightly behind [he didn’t say what we were ahead of or behind – UFT Central must have some target for how many members they reach each month].

Membership teams – “Who has them?” (about 40% of hands go up). Who doesn’t have them? (About 5% of hands go up). Should I believe this? (not much response, a little nervous laughter). Membership teams are not just a team of one. You can’t do it by yourself. 

We are not Oklahoma, in desperate straits, where everyone was ready to walk out.

We have 9000 members of our membership teams. We need to make sure the conversations are happening at all of our schools.

The App
Brian and Keith show off The App. Really Mulgrew spent the next few minutes clicking through it, with special attention devoted to the discounts page.

Editorial note:  It became clear through the responses, and by looking around, that the DA was full of people who don’t normally sit through this meeting, but were there for a meeting of RA Delegates after (with food in between). The level of interest in the discounts was not the first sign of this.

After showing off The App, Mulgrew returned to Albany. He briefly discussed the new state law. Apparently the DoE has to give us the names of new hires more quickly (within 30 days) – so we can talk to them.

And then Mulgrew summarized. We have 9000 membership team members. We need to have 100,000 conversations. Mulgrew thanks all of us for our hard work. Report ends at 5:18.

Staff Director, LeRoy Barr
The High School Awards Ceremony was last Friday. The Association of Teachers of Social Studies luncheon is this Saturday at 52 Broadway – we need a full house – Letitia James is being honored, and you get CTLE credit. He mentioned the prom boutique, and the 5K run/walk (and please participate). The next DA is May 16. And go Yankees. (And Mets).

5:20, back to Mulgrew
I stopped going to Yankees games.
We are having major fights with the DoE – he praises school communities for fighting closures, and reiterates that DoE officials don’t’ “get it.”

May 1 is coming up.  It is May Day. There is something coming up on the agenda. 

Question Period
Giraldo Maldonado, Chapter Leader Manhattan Comprehensive Day and Night
Caranza’s visiting schools. Our AP says he wants to extend the school day. 
MM: Extended Day usually refers to after-school activities. There will be no extra work without extra pay. I believe that’s what the new chancellor is talking about. (then a long tangent on snow days)

Yonah Dika, OT/PT functional chapter
Letters are being written that sound disciplinary, but are not, and are being filed somewhere. What can we do?
MM: gotta be more specific (then quick back and forth). You mean letters that look official but do not say “for file”?  Crumple them and throw them in the garbage. It’s just meant to intimidate. Please share any letters like those with Mulgrew or LeRoy Barr.

Spencer One, Pathways to Graduation D79
Have not seen additional funding in our schools. Where is the money? Will we get it? With interest?
MM: There was a funding transparency bill (to see where ed dollars were going) but it was for NYC only, which makes us nervous. We explained that. Then they proposed the same bill, but for all of NY State, and it passed easily. Funding is not getting to the schools. When Bloomberg left, they lost 5 deputy superintendents, but added a new layer of bureaucracy. We think there should be a 50% cut in all out-of-school funding, and that money should be sent into the schools.

Peter Burkeheart, Queens Vocational
Any update on Janus?
MM: We think it has no merit, and trying to get it dismissed. Try to appeal, or go forward.

Thomas, International HS at Union Square
What are the specifics of the new state law? Even my membership team members may not want to pay dues.
MM: We are currently reviewing the services, to see what will the effect will be. We are not ready yet. (Pension consult – no. Representation inside of the contract – yes. Representation beyond the contract – no.) Every local around the state is reviewing it. By the way, Cuomo signed the law here (motioning to the stage). 

Sean Ahern, East River Academy (D79)
Trump and DeVos did not get the cuts they wanted. And we have a supposedly progressive mayor. Do we need a blue state revolt? We went through years with Bloomberg and Giuliani. What do we have to do?
MM: NYS is still bleeding money, but does that mean we should never negotiate because something bad might happen? No, but if something bad does happen, we will help. (I wrote down words, but they don’t make much sense. The flow was sort of – the state might be in financial trouble down the road, but that’s not a reason for us not to push for the money we need now. Later, if we need to pitch in, we will)

Barry Smith – Retired Teachers Chapter
The App seems wonderful – but what about hacking? Concerned.
MM: No private personal info is on the system (that stuff is kept on the old system, with a ridiculously good firewall). This was our biggest concern as well.

As Mulgrew called on the next questioner, time was called. Motion to extend (Jonathan Halabi). I should have said “five minutes” but I didn’t, and the chair interpreted that as “motion to extend for the last speaker”. Passes. Tellingly, there were scattered hands against. Were the RA delegates getting hungry?

Alicia Morel? – missed the school – District 25
Our custodial budget is being cut. We have one custodian for 1100 students.
MM: We are trying to convince the city council

Motion Period
Anthony Harmon asked to put motion on supporting 2018 May Day Rally for workers’ and immigrants’ rights. Approved.

Specials orders of business.
Brian Cohen, Brooklyn Collaborative HS motivates resolution to reserve 50% of the meeting time for questions, discussion, and resolutions. (I’m sending his notes as a separate file – you can quote his motivation at length if you want to).

Geena Bozman, PS239 D24 opposes. I come here for two reasons 1) learn stuff for members, and 2) business of the union. We do not have to hear every voice. If you have questions, you can e-mail.

Marty Plotkin, Retired Teachers Chapter. Calls the question.

Mulgrew made some comments about the body getting to decide what they listen to, and the question was called, and the sea of Unity members and RA delegates called the questions, and then defeated the motion (by I’d guess 75% - 25%)

Anthony Harmon motivated support for the May Day rally. Approved. 

Adjourned. Time was 5:40.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blog or Dog?

For me, it's not much of a choice. Dog before blog, of course. I'd been dreading this week, because I was scheduled for meetings four nights in a row. Monday was the 400-member Contract Committee. Tuesday School Leadership Team. Tonight is the UFT Delegate Assembly, Thursday is the ELL Focus Group.

However, my wife came down with the flu, and is really floored by it. If I don't go home, my noble little dog will suffer. Toby is a survivor of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, and how this little guy pulled that off I have no idea.

Monday morning I took him out in the miserable wind and rain, and he decided to Be a Tree. Probably he has bad memories, or maybe even PTSD. I dragged him around a little, but he would not move at all on his own volition. After a few minutes I gave up and brought him back inside. After not having been out since 7 the previous night, he declined food and drink and waited until I got home at 4 PM. I surely would have exploded or something, but he's made of stronger stuff than I.

Tonight is the DA. They're going to talk about the new UFT app. I've actually downloaded it. (Correction--I now realize I'd downloaded another app they offered to promote recruitment.) I followed the directions given me and it simply does not work. I wrote back and it turns out you can't yet follow the directions. You need further directions, which I presume will be given tonight.

I hate to miss the DA, not because it's such great fun, but rather because I can usually get two blogs out of it--first the actual notes, and then an analysis. Sometimes it makes people crazy, and part of my role as blogger is to make people crazy. But I can't allow Toby to suffer so I'm giving it up and going home. My New Action buddy Jonathan Halabi has agreed to take notes in my absence, and I will post them here as soon as I get them.

I'm glad, though, because I get to walk Toby. Toby is crazy to walk. He will walk anywhere and everywhere, and he doesn't care how long it takes. Walking him has become my Zen, my center, and half the things I write come to me while I'm talking to him. Good walk Toby. No, don't eat that thing. No, we're not visiting that big dog. He might not scare you, but he scares me.

Toby is amazingly friendly. He wants to greet every human and every dog we come across. It's good because my tendency is to keep to myself. I now have multiple regulars I see on the Nautical Mile in Freeport, both canine and human. Alas, I don't allow him to chase random felines, but he loves them too. When I adopted him, he was living with a cat who was bigger than he was. I wonder whether or not she gave him orders.

He's become my constant companion. No matter how boring I get, even if I spend all day writing, he will hang out with me. In fact, he'll guard my laptop until I get back to it. Lots of dogs will sleep on your clothes, or your bed, but he's the first I've seen who's become attached to a piece of metal.

On the brighter side, like many people, I'd really rather walk the dog than go to meetings. But there's a balance somewhere. Maybe you have to go to a whole lot of meetings before you appreciate what a luxury it is to walk the dog.

Anyway, I hope my wife gets well soon, even if it means more meetings for me. The flu is terrible. I used to get the flu shot most years. Whenever I forgot, I got the flu. Ten years ago. I got the flu shot, and almost immediately thereafter was diagnosed with  an oral cancer, which was no fun at all. Out of sheer superstition I haven't gotten another shot since. My wife, who is generally smarter than I am, got the shot this year, but also got the flu. Go figure.

Toby is with her right now, urging her to stop being sick and to come play with him instead. He hasn't got a medical degree, but he knows what he likes. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Last Straw

Mr. Green was excited about how his class was going. He had never taught English Language Learners before, but they were great. The kids were enthusiastic and eager to learn. He was surprised at how much he liked teaching them. Many of them picked things up as quickly if not quicker than the native English speakers he'd been teaching for most of his career.

He co-teacher was young and smart. Not only that, but she knew all the new stuff that he hadn't paid particularly strong attention too. Danielson? Who knows from Danielson? Well she did, and she was always making little suggestions that would get you extra brownie points when the muckety mucks surprised you with a visit.

"Whatever you're doing, when they come in, ask some question and then make them turn and talk. Make sure you do it at least once or twice a week so they know what you're talking about."

Well OK, he thought. That makes sense. It doesn't really, but hey, if it gets a few points and you can easily pull it off, why not?

"Make sure after you ask a question you make the kids hold up those red and green things to say whether or not they understand," she said.

"Do you think they will really tell us?" asked Mr. Green.

"No, of course they won't," she said. "But after the supervisors leave we can walk around, look at their work, and find out whether or not they really understand." 

This didn't make much sense. But she was keyed in and he wasn't.

"Make sure you don't spend more than three minutes on the DO NOW," she instructed. "I'll bring in an egg timer."

This didn't make sense either. If there was good conversation going on, why should he stop it? What if one thing led to another, and something really spontaneous happened? He spoke to his co-teacher about it.

"I'll bring the egg timer tomorrow," she said.

Well, that was that. Three minutes for this, eight minutes for that, and you're a highly effective teacher. At this point, Mr. Green wanted nothing more than to be a highly high teacher. Of course you don't get Danielson brownie points for that. On the other hand, a principal at a school three miles away just got caught snorting meth in his car. Maybe it's OK for principals. Mr. Green decided not to find out how it was for teachers.

The next day, Mr. Green decided to alter the aim.

"Yesterday we covered metaphor. Today we are covering dramatic irony."

"You can't write that," said his co-teacher.

"Why not?" asked Mr. Green.

"Well, we have the Common Core goal on the lesson plan. If you write about what you did yesterday, it doesn't jibe with what we're doing today."

That didn't make any sense to Mr. Green. Why couldn't he remind them of what they did yesterday? Certainly it would come up again in conversation, on a test, in their lives, or in any random combination of above. He decided to go to his supervisor and ask about it.

"She's right," said his supervisor. "If someone were in your classroom and rating you via the Danielson rubric, you could certainly get an adverse rating for that."

Mr. Green still wasn't satisfied. He went to his co-teacher's supervisor. She was pretty smart. She would know for sure.

"Well," she said, "If you really wanted to refer back to yesterday's lesson you could do it orally, and not write it on the board. That way, if someone came in, they wouldn't know you had done it."

That was one way to do it, thought Mr. Green.

That was when Mr. Green decided, on the spot, that this would be his last year teaching. He retired in June. He adopted a dog, joined an acting group, dropped 25 pounds, and never once looked back.

Monday, April 16, 2018


One of the most despicable practices in the city is that of discontinuance. In case you're unfamiliar with it, it applies only to untenured teachers. A myth about tenure is that teachers have jobs for life. The truth is that teachers have jobs until and unless charges are brought and sustained. That process is called 3020a, and that process is due process. However you may feel about it, that's what has to happen in NY State to fire a teacher.

Untenured teachers don't have due process. They may be fired for a bad haircut. Of course no one really wants to be fired for a bad haircut, so untenured teachers have to be very careful about where they get their hair cut. Beyond that, they have to somehow please their principals, who may or may not be insane.  It's a tough path to walk, considering what I see.

If you're not cutting the principal's mustard on your tenure year, there are a number of options the principal can pursue. One is extension of tenure, which is always big fun. Your best friend is getting tenure and you aren't. What can you think about that? I suck and she doesn't, for whatever reason. Maybe there is something you have to do. Ask more questions. Ask fewer questions. Be nicer. Stop being too nice. Who knows? And you may or may not find out.

Of course, if you suck so much that, in the principal's view, there is no viable remedy for said suckiness, you will be discontinued. That means, for one thing, that you are fired. For another, you lose your health benefits. You'd think that would be enough. But in NYC, it isn't. There is also a mark, or a code, or something, that basically alerts anyone who thinks of hiring you that you suck. I have heard of one or two people overcoming the Scarlet Suck, but it's rare. A principal would have to really go above and beyond for that. What are the chances of you walking into a school with a Scarlet Suck on your chest and persuading a principal to hire you?

I'm thinking: not good.

There are things you can do. For example, if you have the Scarlet Suck on your chest for math, you might get an English license. I mean, just because you suck at math (like I do, for example) it doesn't necessarily follow that you suck in English. (I endeavor not to suck in English but we all have good days and bad.) Still, I have to think any new principal would see your work history and note that you sucked in this subject. That doesn't bode well for your chances of getting hired in another subject.

Now you could go out of district. I'm not sure how easily you'd get a gig in Long Island with a crappy history and no good references from NYC, but I wish you luck. You could get a charter school gig. Maybe you like hanging around the house with a school cell phone on weeknights waiting to give homework help. Maybe you like being told you will travel around and visit every student's home. For some reason, charters always need people. If you're suspended for six months without pay, or if you're discontinued, your prospects are still good at charters. Of course there's a high burnout rate, but there you go.

Here's the thing, though--discontinuing someone is draconian and unnecessary, always. Different schools have different needs. Just because I suck at this school (which, given the percentage of insane administrators, may or may not be the case), it doesn't follow that I would suck at another. Maybe one has smaller classes. Maybe one has an accent on whatever I'm good at. Maybe I learned something from experience. Who knows? Many things could happen.

But placing a mark on a teacher forever is never a good idea. School culture varies from building to building, from department to department, and from class to class. We have a Danielson rubric but if you think this means every administrator sees everything in the same way, I can easily find a bridge to sell you.

Maybe it's time we find a better way to deal with struggling teachers than ruining their lives.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Cynthia Nixon, Andrew Cuomo, and the UFT Learning Curve

I've got mixed feelings about actress Cynthia Nixon and her foray into politics. On the one hand, I'm really excited to see a true progressive looking at the governorship of my state. I have to say, though, that I was not happy with some of her remarks about unions.

“With the deals that [unions] have now, you can’t hope to make improvements to the trains in a fiscally responsible way,” Nixon told amNY, not specifying the unions to which she was referring. “Everybody’s got to pull together, and everybody’s got to make sacrifices.”

I don't know what deals the unions have now, so I can't comment on that. I was sorely disappointed, though, to hear a nominal progressive criticize union. It reminded me of no one more than Andrew Cuomo himself, whose first campaign platform entailed going after unions. This opened my eyes a lot, and made Cuomo the first Democrat for whom I declined to vote. I voted for Green Howie Hawkins for Governor these last two rounds.

Nixon, though, is very good on education. Unlike Cuomo, who takes suitcases full of cash from charter folk, she won't be doing that. She has an entirely different POV.

Now here's the thing about Andrew Cuomo--he's making an effort to look good to us, and has been doing so over the last year or so. Cuomo observed the 2016 election, and read the tea leaves. They told him that America wants a government that fulfills its needs. Some of those needs are universal healthcare, affordable college, and a living wage. I repeat that often. Another, of course, is a decent  K-12 education for all of our children.

Cuomo has indeed made concessions. He's moderated his tone over firing all of us because of highly flawed test scores. He's created a program that will make it easier for some New Yorkers to go to college. He's stepped back on the IDC, which kept the Senate in GOP hands even though Democrats held the ostensible majority. Even though that thwarted a whole lot of improvements for New Yorkers, Cuomo can now say he's stopped it so as to disassociate himself from them.

The problem with Andrew Cuomo, of course, is that he has no moral center. He sways whichever way the political wind blows. He is for sale to the highest bidder, so long as whatever the bidder is buying will aid him toward reaching his Prime Directive--the advancement of Andrew Cuomo.

And that's when we come to our own union leadership, clearly poised to endorse Cuomo this time around.  A NY Times headline declares key unions are leaving the Working Families Party, which has now endorsed Cynthia Nixon for governor. You have to scroll down quite a bit for specifics, but when you do, you see this quote from UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

“My only concern is some reckless behavior that will have an unintended consequence of us ending up with a Republican governor,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “When these elections are over, we will judge any decision we have to make off your behavior if you caused bad things to happen — even though it was not your intent you are responsible for them.”

Let's focus a little on reckless behavior. Our parent union, the AFT, endorsed Hillary Clinton well before we saw any teacher voice at the polls. There was a kabuki dance of deciding the endorsement, but we ultimately got behind a candidate who did not support universal health care, a living wage, or affordable college. We got behind a candidate who mustered the audacity to lecture AFT about what we could learn from "public charter schools," whatever the hell they may be.

And just in case you hadn't noticed, Hillary Clinton lost that election. So by Mulgrew's logic, even though it was not our intent, we are responsible for Donald Trump. That's quite an albatross to hang around our own necks. You'd think we'd learn something from that, but you'd be wrong.

Rather than embrace a progressive candidate who holds causes dear to our hearts, we condemn her for one thoughtless comment. We might try to talk with her, negotiate with her, but instead we dismiss her out of hand, back a man with no integrity whatsoever, and hope the progressive wind that's blowing him this week will not change direction any time soon. We ignore mountains of evidence that Cuomo will do whatever is expedient for Cuomo, and brush away Nixon just as we brushed away Bernie Sanders.

This is an egregious error. I'm sure that UFT leadership will disagree, since they know better than me, they know better than you, and making a potentially fatal error in the 2016 Presidential campaign has done nothing to persuade them they are fallible in any way, ever. But it's not a huge leap of logic to say that Cynthia Nixon's philosophy more closely resembles that of working teachers, just as Bernie Sanders' did.

The blanket condemnation of Nixon is precisely the same as that of Sanders. The blind support of sure thing corporate Democrat Cuomo is precisely the same as that of sure thing corporate Democrat Clinton. Now I'm reading that union leadership may set up their own ballot line to make sure Cuomo wins and the progressive gets no traction whatsoever.

What has leadership learned from the debacle that was the 2016 election?

Nothing I can determine.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Christmas Call

Mr. Fisk had a very good class in general. They cooperated and he had a good rapport with them. In fact, they often took him off on tangents that were as interesting, if not more so, than whatever he'd prepared. He figured if he ever got observed at one of those moments he'd be highly effective for sure, but alas his boss was always observing his other classes. They were okay too, but they didn't quite do what this class did. It was the day before Christmas break and he was going to surprise them by giving no homework whatsoever.

So you can imagine his surprise when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, one of his best students started behaving like a 14-year-old. In fairness, the boy may have actually been 14 years old, but he had not really achieved the stereotype until this very day. What precipitates a cry for attention like this? Mr. Fisk tried talking directly to the boy, in a friendly tone, but the boy was simply not having a friendly day.

On this particular day, Mr. Fisk could achieve very little. Though interruptions came largely from this one boy, when they were directed at other students they responded somewhat less diplomatically than the teacher. This caused multiple conflicts, because some of the students who weren't being directly insulted were amused by the show. Now things were coming to a head.

Mr. Fisk didn't want to call a dean or anyone because he never called a dean or anyone. He thought doing that made him appear weak. Still, why were they all gathered in one place if all they were going to do was insult each other? It was getting as though they were all on Twitter and Donald Trump was one of the students.

Mr. Fisk suggested that the student in question might be more comfortable sitting in the department office and cooling off for the day. But the student was not happy with that suggestion.

"Why should I have to leave?" he asked.

Mr. Fisk suggested it was a good idea. He didn't want to call the boy's house the day before vacation.

"Go ahead," said the boy. "My father won't answer the phone."

To underline that he meant business, the boy took out the phone, set it to dial his house, and handed it to Mr. Fisk.

Mr. Fisk was a little nervous. He wasn't in the practice of calling homes in front of the students whose homes he happened to be calling. But he was up for a challenge. He figured if the boy directly asked him to call, he couldn't effectively complain about how bad he felt when it actually happened.

Mr. Fisk began talking to Dad. The boy's face changed completely. He listened as Mr. Fisk spoke. No, he couldn't send him home right now. No, he was just hoping that Dad could give him some good advice. Well, Dad knew best what to do. Yes of course he could come in for a meeting whenever he liked.

It turned out the boy was from a multi-religious home. Dad was Catholic and Mom was Jewish. They made a big deal out of celebrating both Hanukah and Christmas and Dad had decreed that not only would there be neither for his son this year, but that also the boy was grounded for the entire break.

Mr. Fisk hadn't actually wished anything bad for the boy. But he didn't feel particularly guilty about it either.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Can UFT Leadership Wake the Sleeping Giant?

Yesterday I heard someone speak on how we need to be activated. I heard about how we are powerful, and capable of much more. On that I agree absolutely. We are large in numbers and could be a force to be reckoned with.

And yet we are afraid. We are all afraid. Why is that?

I'm a bad example, but that's only because I'm not afraid. I'm not sure when I lost my fear. When I first started this blog, it was anonymous. Though I haven't specifically attached my name to it, you could now click on the Twitter button and find out who I am in less than a minute. I don't remember when I changed my mind about this, but even when I was anonymous it seemed to me that anyone who really cared knew who I was anyway.

What is it that causes us to be this way? I think a lot of readers will argue that we're following in the footsteps of leadership. NYC Educator actually appeared a little before the 2005 Contract. My goal in putting this up was to counter the anti-teacher spin I saw so frequently in the NYC papers. But the 2005 Contract, full of extra time, goodies for Bloomberg, and particularly the ATR, made me turn a critical eye toward leadership.

What happened to militant unionism, or even speaking up? It's not simple, but it's largely attached to 2005. I remember 1986, when as a new teacher with a temporary license, I drove to work one day in September only to find I didn't have a job anymore. I decided to look for a job in Queens rather than the Bronx so my next stop was the Queens hiring hall. A secretary there showed me a room full of teachers in folding chairs and told me she needed to place every single one of them before she could place me.

I called the union. A rep told me there was nothing they could do for me, but that when I was a more senior teacher I'd be glad of this policy. Of course, that changed in 2005. Now, if my principal puts me up on nonsensical charges, I'm not terribly likely to be fired. But there is this DOE policy of splitting the baby, which means I'll almost certainly be found guilty of some minor thing or other and be fined a few thousand bucks. When that happens, the principal who brought the crazy charges can generally make you an ATR.

I would hate to be an ATR. Teaching is a big part of my life, and I take it seriously. I would have a lot of trouble doing that if I were a wandering sub. I see this do bad things to people, and I understand completely. I see people who've found ways to cope. Blogger Chaz has decided to acknowledge and celebrate the oddness and humor in his situation and is the healthiest-minded ATR I know. I hope, were I ever to be in that position, that I'd find the courage to meet it the way he does. I have no idea, though, whether or not I could.

I find myself in conflict with some of my ATR friends, in that I'm absolutely keen on preserving union. For all my complaints about leadership, they hung tough against Bloomberg and declined to sell out the ATR for the raise other unions got. This was the right thing to do for multiple reasons. One is solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the ATR. Another is we're all just a school closing or 3020a from being ATRs ourselves. Opening up the ATR with a time limit would mean DOE could manipulate the system to fire almost anyone.

This notwithstanding, teacher morale is in the toilet. Few are inclined to take a stand. Why is that? One factor is certainly the ATR. We used to be placed in schools when we were bumped. Another is the evaluation system. Leadership can talk till they're red in the face about how few teachers get rated ineffective. That's a thing. Another thing, though, is how working teachers feel, and they feel afraid. There are a lot of crazy vindictive supervisors all over the city, and uprisings here are not happening spontaneously, despite what we see happening in Oklahoma, West Virginia and elsewhere.

I have a supervisor who is not remotely insane. I don't expect to get bad ratings. But I certainly understand the feeling of hatred for this system. I know and I feel that it was borne of a desire to fire my brothers and sisters. I heard Cuomo say so. Later, I heard him call it "baloney" because so few teachers were fired. I watched him and the heavy-hearted Assembly vote for his new system. Like all teachers, I know and I feel what this system is intended to do. Though it's a large failure, as would be any system conceived in junk science, it's hanging over my head, and all our heads, every moment of our lives.

Of course there are powerful forces right now trying to destroy our union. They absolutely wish to push us into the same corner in which WV and OK find themselves. Maybe if they're successful, they can ruin us. Maybe, at that point, we'll take a stand city or statewide. But there's one big impediment to activism, and that impediment is leadership.

It was leadership that told us we must be smoking something if we thought we could do better than a contract that raised maximum to 25. Back then we had a streak of self-preservation, voted it down and got it reduced to 22. It was leadership that told us we needed to accept the crap we got in 2005, and we no longer had it in us to say no. It was leadership that posted an idiotic piece suggesting the crap 2005 contract "scraped the skies."

It was leadership that sold the last contract via fear, telling us if we didn't accept it we'd move all the way back in line behind 200 unions, and that there was no "God-given right" to retro pay. It is leadership right now loudly telling us we do not make public demands. Leadership tells us there is a 400-member negotiating committee and only they have the sacred right of negotiating the contract. In fact, the last such committee passed the leadership proposal before even having seen the Memorandum of Agreement. My expectations for rank and file voice on the current committee, of which I'm a member, are not high.

It was also leadership that sold us Danielson and junk science with the question, "Do you want to go back to the bad old days when principals controlled 100% of your evaluation?" For one thing, no, no one's ever said that. It's a strawman. For another, the days were not so bad when the principal also held 100% of the power to leave you alone if she so chose. But mostly, it didn't feel so bad back in those bad old days. These days, the fear is palpable.

Leadership manipulates us with appeals to fear and is shocked when teachers are fearful. I'm not. Leadership can maintain we need not be afraid because of union, and that's potentially accurate. This notwithstanding, I'm not afraid, but I feel it's mostly in spite of union leadership. I've developed my own voice and I've had to think out of the box to do it. Meanwhile, almost all the people UFT considers activists have signed  loyalty oaths. These people, on pain of losing perks and jobs, will not utter a public word that contradicts leadership. Some of them are outright ridiculous. But guess what? They're acting out of fear too.

Hey, if leadership wants to groom and build an activist membership, I'm all for it. I'll help. But to do that, they themselves will have to stop indulging in fear tactics. I'm up for it.

Now show me.