Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Evaluation Bill--More Moratorium, a Sea Change, or Are We Missing Something?

It looks like the Senate and the Assembly will pass a bill that got stalled in the Senate last year. This bill will mean that state tests will no longer be required to assess teachers in NY State. It doesn't necessarily mean they won't, though. Evidently, this will be negotiated locally. I've got mixed feelings about this initiative.

One thing that never got much mention in the press, given the moratorium, is that high school teachers were not relieved, ever, from being judged by state testing. So to us, the moratorium has always meant nothing whatsoever. How will this change things for us? At the moment, it's impossible to say.

The problem, of course, is that tests don't really measure what we do. The American Statistical Association says that not only do teachers affect test scores by a factor of 1-14%, but that undue focus on test scores actually impedes us from helping kids, the most important thing we do. I know that I will spend a good part of next semester prepping kids for the English Regents, which will help them do noting whatsoever aside from, hopefully, passing one single test.

I'm currently rated by a test called the NYSESLAT that measures nothing I can determine, aside from how Common Corey my newcomers happen to be. This would be useful, I suppose, if it prepared them for life. Perhaps when boys meet girls somewhere, they say, "Hey, look how Common Corey I am," and true love ensues. Perhaps not. Perhaps Common Coriness is a qualification for an important job somewhere. I don't really know.

I kind of value my MOTP rating, as it comes from a supervisor for whom I have (I have to admit) great respect. For the first few years, the MOSL dropped me from HE to E, which meant one more observation a year. The matrix changed that, and last year I was observed only three times. That is the only thing that changed, other than being able to tell a Chancellor's rep I was rated highly effective at a recent grievance hearing.

I took a strong stand against this law, and against junk science evaluation, which I believe test score evaluation is. While I stand by that, it's also true that fewer NYC teachers got bad ratings under this crazy system. My friend, a high school chapter leader, told me that 30% of the teachers in her school got bad MOTP ratings, and that the MOSL was the only thing that helped them. I also know a teacher who was rated developing in the MOTP, but ineffective on the MOSL, and that brought her down to ineffective.

So do we embrace this system because it helps more people than it hurts? I can't really jump up and down in celebration when it's still dragging teachers into ineffective territory. Will the new bill somehow become an improvement? It really remains to be seen. For now, I'd like to see choice at individual schools in NYC. For example, my school does well on state test scores, but yours may not.

Will there be other options? Perhaps. Will they be supported by research and/ or practice? Almost certainly not. I know of absolutely no such practice.

The only thing that really makes this system work, despite all the stress and misery it causes, is that it rates fewer teachers negatively. But hey, bad ratings are serious shit these days. You could face a 3020a hearing where the burden of proof is on you to prove you are not incompetent. That's one mountain I would not wish to climb. No one should have to do that.

Why is there an elephant in that cartoon?

Every teacher knows. The reason this system works for UFT members is that city supervisors are so terrible, a crapshoot like this one means a crazy supervisor may not be able to rate us poorly and fire us for no reason. That's really a shame. My friend who has the crazy principal likes MOSL because it saves a lot of her colleagues.

My opinion is this--I value input from my supervisor, who was a long-term teacher in my subject area. If she makes suggestions, I will certainly try them. I look at the checklist rating sheets and if I don't get below effective I'm happy. But if she were left to her own devices, to write something, well I'd read it and thing about it. I'm certain that would be more valuable. If you have a good supervisor, the older system is absolutely better.

Sadly, many, many city teachers suffer under toxic supervision. There are so many walking, talking remnants of Bloomberg in this city that it's hard to fathom fixing the problem. No evaluation system will be valid, let alone productive, until we address that.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Moving Forward

I'm running for UFT Executive Board again, and this time I am running on the Unity Caucus line. I have not joined the caucus, but they approached Mike Schirtzer and me and specifically asked that we keep challenging them. Given our former caucus stabbed Mike in the back, and was surely not looking for me to run again, this was the best option for us, albeit one we did not at all anticipate.

It's sad when ostensible teacher groups chose to place narrow sectarian goals over real teacher interests. It's pretty easy to get up on your hind legs and shout about striking. Strike, though, is something you do as a last resort, after everything else has failed. In New York State, with Andrew Cuomo pretending this year to be Bernie Sanders, we have better options.

Strike in New York means losing two days pay for each day we're out. It also means coming back, as Norm Scott did, to be probationary employees for a year. That would give the still-Bloomberg DOE carte blanche to fire real activist teachers. While I'm not keen on that notion, I'd walk if times warranted. However, we are not up against the wall that striking American teachers found themselves facing. A strike would not garner public support today, and it would be easy for our enemies to beat back what support and alliances we now enjoy. Janus proponents would have a field day, at our dire long-term expense.

Teacher priorities are certainly not the priorities of fanatical ideologues looking to foment revolution and utilize our union as a vehicle. Teacher priorities, however, are my priorities. They are Mike Schirtzer's priorities as well. We believe empowering teachers is a fundamental social justice issue. We've made ourselves available to members who wanted to meet with us twice monthly for the past three years, and we plan to continue doing so. Even if that were not the case, I'm chapter leader of a very large school and I see teacher issues up close and personal every day of my working life.

Over the last year, Mike and I have been able to work well with leadership, and over this year alone, we've been able to move forth some important incentives for membership. First was parental leave, which means every UFT parent will be able to get six weeks of fully paid leave when giving birth or adopting. The system is not perfect, but demanding perfection is not a feasible way to move forward. UFT's priority was getting a leave that was fully paid, and that's why this one looks the way it does.

Mike Schirtzer brought Emily James to Executive Board, where she spoke of how important it was that we work toward this. Mulgrew got up, said he would get this done, and proceeded to do so.  Teachers in my building were jubilant at hearing about this agreement. It will get a lot of use in our building. Can it be improved? Of course. And now we have something to build on. I think the best improvement would be a national agreement, and there's nothing precluding our working toward that either.

I was very involved in the last Contract Committee, very much at the urging of UFT High School VP Janella Hinds. I was at first quite discouraged by the massively large group, but when Janella dragged me back we were in much smaller groups. We got to speak face to face with the DOE muckety-mucks. I was fascinated by hearing the muck from the very mouths of the DOE mucketies. I spent several summer days at 52 Broadway doing that, and also speaking truth to muck.

I pushed for fewer observations and lower class sizes. While we won only one of two, it is significant. (I was pretty surprised to hear, from the head muckety's mouth, that the DOE doesn't give a crap about class size. Maybe that could be their new motto. Instead of, "Children First, Always," they could say, "We don't give a crap about class size.") The number one complaint I get as chapter leader of a huge school is the observation system. It's clunky and oppressive, and halving the number of observations cuts the oppression almost by the same percentage. Of course there is much work to be done. I want to be part of the team doing it.

Janus has been a game changer for me. I was horrified to see people, in my Twitter feed, quoting me and using the hashtag, "My pay, my say." I blocked them. I have always been pro-union, and I will no longer give our enemies fuel to attack us. Janus was step one, and there are further attacks down the road. We need to not only survive, but also thrive. We need to take this arrow aimed at our collective heart, forge it to be far stronger, and turn it against those who'd destroy us.

Janus appears to have been a game changer for leadership too. I'm encouraged that they would approach us to continue speaking out, even though they do not always agree with us. It's important that leadership hear our voices and that we be there to make them heard. It's significant that they were responsive to us last year, and it's important that we rep membership now and in the future.

Leadership has also asked us to go to NYSUT and AFT conventions, somewhere I've thought we should've been for years. I will report back from all, and you will know what goes on firsthand. We have not agreed to vote in any bloc, nor have we been asked to. I believe along with Mike Schirtzer and me, Mindy Rosier will be joining us. This is unprecedented and a step forward.

I have looked at everything going on this year, and I've determined this is the best way to move ahead. I've long stood with opposition, However, due to the dedicated efforts of a handful of disingenuous intransigent jackasses, opposition is going nowhere but backward. I've seen internal communications asserting one caucus does not wish to win, and that they're running only to keep their name out there. Maybe they're looking for ways to lose even more spectacularly in the future. Who knows? 

I'm going to work not only to preserve and grow our union, but also to help it move into the future. I'm going to try and save ESL students and teachers who face the blithering idiocy that emanates from Albany. I'm going to work to find better solutions to issues like insane evaluations, insane supervisors, rampant overcrowding, and hurtful class sizes.

I'm very happy that Unity Caucus has invited us to take part in these efforts. I very much look forward to working with them over the next three years.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly January 16, 2019--We Support LA Teachers, Federal Workers, Unionizing Museum Employees

Mulgrew speaks of weekend snowstorm, says too early in year to use our one snow day.

Welcomes us to first DA of 2019

National—Speaks of shutdown, how it affects country, working with advocates to support workers, in conjunction with AFT. No one knows where it’s going. Reported Mueller investigation is coming to a close. Uncertainty not good but we need period of uncertainty to get to better place. Workers being used as pawns. Why do workers always have to suffer? Why has it always been this way.

First and foremost, we support workers. Will work with NYSUT, AFT, NEA to support.

Betsy DeVos moving to stop protection against predatory institutions, and her family has tens of millions in these institutions.

LA—Major piece for us, knew LA was in trouble years ago. Was in middle of defund public education. They have a school board. Was very expensive election. Teacher unions spent over a million as Broad and friends spent multiple millions to charterize. Lost by one seat. Broad has decided not to invest as LA teachers haven’t had raise in ten years. The strike is inevitable as they had nothing else to do.

NY State averages 19K per student, LA at 12. Working with teachers, supporting. Message on target. Fighting for wraparound services, counselors, social workers. Our enemies say this is just about teachers hating charters, but about us serving community and children. Other side will try hard to change narrative.

About what happened last spring, saw it coming for years. When we had Bloomberg we had to deal with recession. We looked at how to preserve system and avoid layoffs. Not one UFT teacher was laid off. When we came out of recession was about funding public ed. In other places they just started starving public ed, so as to discourage it and turn it into market system.

Ten years ago, people thought we were crazy talking about this. Now, people are saying we were right.

When we came out of recession Bloomberg was leaving and Cuomo said we wasted money on public ed. Said we just wanted raises and didn’t care about kids. Before that we knew he was dealing with same people LA was dealing with. We got ahead of them, along with state union. Did not allow this scheme in NY. Had lot of action and activity.

Yesterday, at State of State, Cuomo said how proud he was that in last three years NY contributed more to ed. than any other state. That is our work, protecting profession.

When we look at LA, we have to help them because we can’t let these people succeed in scheme to privatize. We are good example of what happens when we fund ed. We have 75% grad rate, highest ever. Money matters.

You want people in office who take pride in supporting public ed. We worked to change Senate.

Women’s rights, medical and workplace, stressed, We want better voting possibilities so we become number one in participation. We want stronger laws to protect unionized workers in face of Janus. We want environmental protection, middle class tax cut. There are ten states that give more money to feds than they get back. We are number one in giving. Giving states all vote blue. Tax plan was attack on us.

NY State will finally pass DREAM act. Will be affordable housing, rent control regs.

Overall ed. number not satisfactory and we will fight it. They want to change funding formula based on need, not political leverage. Are you spending money where there is the most poverty? Not always the case in NYC. Whenever they say based on need, they are not talking only about NYC. NYC is not in big five. Rural districts are very poor. We have been advocating for this for years.

Now possible because Senate is controlled by pro-education elected officials. Elections matter. In past, we couldn’t include this in budgets. Senate liked charters. Now we can put out an agenda and get things done outside of budget.

APPR—Ten years ago test scores were supposed to be part of evaluation. Obama administration made this requirement for federal aid. Last year we finally had bill we wanted, Governor, who now loves us, said he would sign. We had everyone but six Senators. Senate would not put it on floor unless we lifted NYC charter cap and agreed to additional funding only for charters. We then opposed them in elections. They felt don’t worry, we’re only screwing NYC. On Friday afternoon at 4, Senate and Assembly introduced same bill, will go to Senate on Tuesday. We don’t want to wait—are hoping within two weeks we will finally have no mandated test scores in teacher evaluation.

We’ve made great gains in graduation rates. We don’t think a future mayor will reverse pre-K. De Blasio said he would work on this, and he will have added two whole grades to our school system. Huge undertaking, considering 100K students per grade. Most school systems don’t have 100K students.

Now illegal to ask about citizenship in census. Its results are tied to 700 million in education funding in this state. Assuming this may be pushed to SCOTUS. If it doesn’t go to this session it will be too late. We have to help everyone in this census last time. We lost representation and money last time. 76% answer nationally, but in NYC only 61 answer. We should think about working to increase participation. Majority of community shows up every day in schools. Census designed to count residents. George Washington wrote we never want immigrants to feel they don’t belong.

Using operational part of contract. We already have resolutions. New but powerful tool. Already getting friction from CSA and principals. Don’t like to listen to us. This is major accomplishment, but useless if we don’t use it. Paperwork has helped 500 schools, but probably many more did not use process. All standards, including safety standards agreed upon. Will be going out next week.

Women’s march this Saturday. Breakfast in midtown. Now are three separate marches. We are holding breakfast for anyone who wants to come.

Public advocate race—Feb. 26 election, 23 candidates. Had three forums, but petitions not done yet. Will decide whether or not to move forward with endorsement. We never endorse before petitions certified. Earliest will be Friday.

LeRoy Barr—CTE awards 2/8 here. Black History Month film series—2/7—Anthem is Future, about Eagle Academy Schools. Pre-release chance to see it. People from film will be there. 2/14 story of Reginald L. Lewis. 2/28 Brother Outsider, 3/7, We Are Rising, about HBUs.

March 16 Early childhood conference. Paras luncheon March 23rd.

Women’s history brunch March 31. Nominating petitions downstairs.

Mulgrew—Bomb scare on Broadway right now. Just cleared.

Questions

Q—How will UTLA strike affect us?

A—We want to get out what’s happening with public ed—defunding. LA is second largest system, 600K. Why so neglected? How did it fall behind? What’s going on? Broads, Waltons, started trying to charterize city school system. Colleagues in LA have to talk about what they need to do their job. That’s what’s at stake. Other side will say ed. drains taxes and charters are better model. Yet LA charters don’t perform well.  We do this to help children. Think where we were ten or twenty years ago. Public thought we were all lazy, didn’t like kids. Took work to change. We must continue. Hard to roll back.

Fighting for future of public ed. That’s why we must implement contract. Bronx plan not about money, about saying when schools work as group of professionals they will get better results. This is what PROSE is about. We want to show people how things work. We need to change dialogue from DC.

Q—Bloomberg hates teachers. We would like to know what’s going on with his presidential aspirations. What do we do?

A—Hopefully nothing. Many asking for UFT comments. At this point, that election is far away. Our Senator starting exploratory. In terms of us, union position is what’s in our interests to protect profession and unionized workers. Clearly not DC, but Betsy keeps talking and doesn’t help herself. Do we really need another billionaire after this one?

Q—Chancellor Carranza second in row who is bilingual. What are we doing about students who are monolingual? Will they receive same training as bilingual? What’s union stance on how we move forward with multilingual population?

A—What are we going to do with monolingual adults? We screwed this up as country, starting language education in high school. Last chancellor place dual language in early grades. Embarrassment to country we don’t do better. Challenge to hire bilingual teachers. Challenge to hire teachers at all. Open to mutual agreements to have people switch certificates. Working at state level and with DOE. Good that NYC beginning to deal with this issue. We are most diverse city on planet. Most diverse space in Queens NY.

Q—Dean asked union stand on discipline code. Student got 6 day suspension for butterfly knife. Used to be 30. Dean fearful you have to kill someone to get in trouble.

A—Discipline code looks like a phone book. Size of knife makes difference in code, crazy that a half inch makes a difference. Safety standards are important. School needs to have conference with parent, but why is child bringing knife to school? Has to be conversation. We need to discuss what goes on in school. Zero tolerance means we suspend everyone. Sit in circle doesn’t work either. We need whole school approach. School must be positive place to be. Union offers training, and helps come up with plan. Can’t talk to everyone for three hours. A real plan can help.

Motions

Rich Mantel—resolution—support federal employees during partial shutdown. Urges GOP to stop insisting on border wall.

Placed on agenda.

Motion to make it first resolution tonight.

Passes

CL—Resolution for this month—to support New Museum employees to unionize, have living wage, UFT stands with employees.

Passes

Janella Hinds—Moves it becomes number two.

Passes

Resolution—to promote Democratic engagement of union members.

Point of order—Doesn’t believe it’s in order because materials already adopted rules, and Exec Committee passed.

Mulgrew—Constitution says election committee will adopt rules. Believes it’s out of order because it has already been done and adopted.

Point of order—DA is highest decision making body and would supersede.

Mulgrew—Can put it to body. Will rule if it’s out of order.

Ruled out of order.

Resolutions—

Supporting federal employees—Rich Mantel—folks not getting paid. No reason for that over stupid wall. Folks not getting paid. Please support.

Amendment—Would like to call wall immoral.

fails

Resolution passes

New Museum Employees—CL asks we vote in support. We should stand with them.

Passes unanimously.

Black Lives Matter resolution—Dermot Myrie--UFT should support as part of action for cultural institutions. We should implement restorative justice, have ethnic studies. Jia Lee will be able to teach this in her classroom. Week of action February 4-8. We have to rebuild union from bottom up. Resolved UFT will make demands on DOE to undo systemic racism.

Point of order—Last month this body approved resolution in support of economic justice, believes this is out of order. We did support BLM and supported activities through year. We reaffirmed support of initiatives including BLM, promoted respect and inclusion. Believes it’s moot and redundant. Asks chair to rule.

Mulgrew asks maker of motion to respond.

Myrie—Were you at NEA summit in July?

Mulgrew—rules Myrie out of order. We already support and will continue to support.

Training to CLs and delegates—CL—resolution to get DA training so we can learn how to write resolutions and use Robert’s Rules. Meetings powerful when people raise voices. Union based on solidarity. Gives chapters voice within this body. We need tools to make members feel they have voices. Please support.

Dave Pecoraro—As someone who’s done training, it is an empowering act to do it. Supports.

Passes

Serling Roberson—Resolution on Medicare negotiating drug prices. Will benefit many. NYSUT, NEA, AFT reiterate position that Medicare negotiate.

Supporter—Retiree—Would pay 200 for three month supply, when you hit gap you have to pay four times that much.

Passes

Mulgrew—We fight with drug companies and they can just raise prices 3X cost of living. Feds gave them blank check and we are paying.

Paul Egan—expand voting rights—NY embarrassment in voting rights, many people can’t vote, long lines, people can’t change affiliation. When NC brought up for voter suppression, NY’s voting rules cited as defense. Bill will help a lot. One thing to pass, another to implement. Asks for support.

Peter Goodman—We can register 16 and 17 year olds. Untold numbers of students we can get to. Many of our people don’t bother. Will be part of instructional program. Supports.

Passes—unanimous.

Move to extend for last resolution—passes

VP Special ed.—Support our brothers and sisters in LA. Snapshot of entire country. Asks for support.

Passes.

6 PM We are adjourned.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The Grievance Monster

Today I'm going to a grievance hearing in Manhattan. It's not my favorite thing to do, but I love taking the train in. It's a great luxury for me to sit and read for a while. I rarely get to do that these days. The substance of the grievance hearing, though, is not something I particularly look forward to.

This is because the people who decide, at Step Two at least, may as well be the principal. Honestly, step one is the principal, and the principal is the person with whom you have a disagreement. Hence, the grievance. Now principals, like a whole lot of people, tend to think what they did was right. Otherwise, I figure, why would they have done that thing? Even if you or I thought the principal did the worst thing in the world, it's entirely possible the principal thinks you or I did the worst thing in the world. That's likely why we're sitting with letters in our files saying we did the worst things in the world.

Now here's the thing--the principal doesn't make these decisions alone. He gets help in the form of DOE legal. These are a bunch of Bloomberg remnants who sit around Tweed all day and tell principals whatever they've done is fine. You want to write a letter in file for something that happened over three months ago? Go ahead. The Contract is just a series of suggestions. You're the principal, and therefore entitled to do Any Damn Thing You Please.

Therefore, there are a whole lot of hearings that ought not to be even happening. I've been to maybe ten over the past year. At Step Two, you meet with higher-ups. The hearing is run by a representative of the chancellor, who decides. You're represented by someone from UFT, and the Superintendent has a rep who argues against you. Do you see any possibility of bias here?

If you don't, you should. It appears to me that the chancellor's reps are entirely prejudiced against UFT members. If the Contract says the principal has three months to write something up, and he writes it up six months later, you get a letter saying "the event was not an occurrence" and the grievance is therefore rejected. In other words, the thing that happened did not, in fact, happen, so the time line doesn't apply. And you get that back with the signature of the current chancellor.

In fairness, I'm told it's a rubber stamp and the chancellor does not actually read this stuff. In a way, I don't blame him. In a more substantial way, though, I do. I would not want my name affixed to an assertion that preposterous, ever. That's just one ridiculous decision I got last year, but there have been others.

In fact, I've been at hearings where the officer asks us to leave the room. We stand outside the room and hear everything inside. The officer basically tells the principal he has no case. We get called back in, but three or four months later that very same officer rules for the principal. Thus far, I've seen nothing remotely approaching reason out of Gold Street.

Terrible as that is, it's not the end of the line. You have a chance with an arbitrator. An arbitrator, supposedly, is beholden neither to admin nor the union. Here's the problem, though---because the DOE is full of lying, morally bankrupt scoundrels, a whole lot of black and white cases get sent to arbitration. This means, if the arbitrators want to please UFT sometimes, and DOE
 sometimes, the gray issues may be decided in favor of DOE.

One year, I grieved because our principal, rather than give us programs for the next year, simply cut up current programs and gave them to everyone. This was ridiculous, but the arbitrator was fine with it. The Contract does not say we will get new programs with rooms the penultimate day of the year so the principal can redistribute old programs. Were that true, the language would not be in the contract at all.

So here's the problem--even if your arbitrator collects the $1400 per-diem, even if your arbitrator graduated law school, even if your arbitrator appears to be fluent in English, there's every possibility the arbitrator can be, you know, stupid. Now I've got a pretty low tolerance for stupid myself. It's particularly disturbing when it comes from adults whose jobs, on the surface at least, entail being not stupid.

But what can you do? I'm hopeful that some facets of the new contract can replace the grievance process, which takes forever. I'm still waiting on six or seven from last year to go to arbitration. The grievance process grinds slowly indeed. We need to find a better way to resolve differences than putting them before rigged hearings at Gold Street and arbitrators who may or may not understand English better than the newcomers I teach.

At least my students have an excuse.

Monday, January 14, 2019

When Guns Come to School

One day last week I forgot to bring a book and some copies I needed to class. During my first class, I was giving a test. I guess I was preoccupied with that and forgot to bring what I needed. I was able to call another teacher to watch the class for a moment while I went down to get my things.

Every now and then, we forget things. Once in a while I forget to bring my phone or my laptop. It's kind of remarkable to me that when I started teaching, I had neither. My laptop has become my most trusted and used tool. I have no idea how I ever did without it.

Last week, in nearby Babylon, someone left a gun lying around. I guess the person took it off in the bathroom and forgot to put it back on. The superintendent writes that the gun was not loaded, and that, I suppose, is to suggest it was less of a threat.

Personally, I'm not altogether impressed by that. First of all, if someone can forget an unloaded gun, someone can just as easily forget a loaded one. Also, who knows who might have picked it up? While this time it was someone who saw fit to return it, there's no guarantee that would happen next time.

Lest you think this is an isolated incident, it isn't. In Arkansas, an officer left a gun in another bathroom, and as the article says nothing about this firearm being unloaded, I'm going to assume it wasn't. How do you feel about elementary students wandering around and finding firearms in school? I'm not particularly comfortable with it.

Of course I think bringing firearms into schools is a terrible idea. I wouldn't feel any safer knowing that armed people were walking around where I worked. I wouldn't want my kid attending such a school either. For me, that would be far worse than my being there. You know who else finds it an unacceptable risk? Insurance companies. Evidently,  they see heightened risk, not the reduced risk DeVos, Trump, and their fellow troglodytes blather about.

Accidents happen. People make mistakes. Having deadly firearms around means said mistakes and accidents can be a whole lot worse. It's pretty pathetic that the NRA has bought off so many politicians. What's wrong with making it more difficult for lunatics to buy weapons? Why on earth do I have to buy insurance for my car, designed to get me to work, when people don't need to buy insurance for their AR-15s, designed to kill people?

I'm not sure how many more Americans will have to die before we apply the same common sense we saw displayed in Australia, where they managed to cut down on the sort of incidents we see occurring here. What do the NRA-purchased politicians say? They offer "thoughts and prayers." Let's move away from guns, keep them out of our schools, and use thoughts and prayers to build the wall for the orange Idiot-in-Chief.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

DOE Can't Walk and Chew Gum--I Volunteer to Do It for Them

I frequently wonder why, when UFT is flexible enough to allow the chancellor the Bronx Plan he so wants immediately, that the DOE can't grant teachers fewer observations immediately. I have been in meetings where I''ve heard that the system is broken. UFT thinks so. DOE thinks so. The observations are wasteful, they say. Some supervisors wait until the end of the year and just do them all in May, though I have no idea how.

Given that, it makes sense to determine that bunching them all up at the end, to use a word with which DOE is familiar, is ineffective. Now my understanding is that word represents the scourge of western civilization, and that therefore whatever it represents must be avoided at any and all costs. Yet we plod on, doing it this way, as though we've never done it any other way.

The rationale, they say, is that they've already designed Advance. You know, it's there, it's what it is, and any change would mean it would be something else. It would be, you know, different. Oddly, that's exactly the difference every working teacher would like to see. Not only that, but I'm personally acquainted with administrators who would dance and sing if the observation requirement were to be decreased immediately. Would you like to watch administrators dance and sing? You wouldn't have to if you didn't want to.

Anyway, to change a program you have to, you know, write stuff. Now I'm an English teacher, and I face a whole lot of teenagers each and every day. Few people understand better than I the aversion people have to writing stuff. Hell, I write every day, and some days I sit and wonder, "What the hell am I gonna write today?" It's not easy.

Here's the thing, though--if you're a teacher, you can't just say, "You know what? I just don't feel like writing stuff." After all, you have to write plans pretty much every day. You have to do all kinds of paperwork. You have to fill out forms. You have to think ahead. So imagine you're in charge of teachers. Ever hear of leading by example?

I doubt that's a popular concept over in Tweed. I can't imagine the educrats actually doing what we do. I imagine they sit around in Tweed all day planning where they'll go to lunch. There are a whole lot of places to eat downtown. You could go somewhere different each and every day. You could take long walks down there. I've been downtown a lot over the last few years and I love it. Of course, I don't go until after I've taught, usually, so I haven't got the same level of time the Tweedie birds do.

So how dare the United Federation of Teachers ask that they write new stuff? How dare we ask that they alter a program. Do you know how many hours they spent writing that crap, or paying other people to write the crap for them? Do you know how unpleasant that must've been? Clearly they were planning to get back into their offices for the rest of the year, and not think about doing anything new until the summer. After all, in the summer they're probably on vacation, and maybe they can play banjo players in Tennessee $15 an hour to do the work for them,.

If that's the case, why not pay them now? Banjo players don't really have busy seasons in the winter. Or in the summer, or ever. If they can't find a banjo player, they could hire me. I might charge a little more, but I could write a better program in one day. They could sit in their offices, go out to lunch, perform unnatural acts in their offices, or do whatever it is they do in Tweed. I don't even need to come in. I'll write it on my little Macbook and email it to them.

It's not hard to make a deal if neither party is Donald Trump. I wonder if Trump is running the DOE in his spare time.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Team Teaching and Its Discontents

The other day I heard about someone who wants to quit because of team teaching. You don't hear that every day. I mean, I get complaints about team teachers fairly regularly. This one's crazy. This one is awful. This one doesn't understand anything. Then you talk to the partners and likely as not, they say the same things about their counterparts.

Some people just don't get along. To assign such people to a veritable marriage is beyond idiotic, but inevitable in a system in which the standard is something like, "I need two volunteers. You, and you. Now you are team teachers." As chapter leader, I get sucked into the middle of these situations, and that's the very worst place to be. It's particularly inconvenient if your job happens to be representing both of the feuding parties.

I'll tell you a secret--I don't like everyone. I'm courteous to everyone, but I don't want to team teach with everyone. We complain that there's no training, and that's an absolutely valid point. But I've been to training, well before I ever co-taught, and what training I've seen is woefully inadequate. There's this model, where one person instructs and the other assists. There's that, where you take turns. There's some other, where you do something else. But hey, if  you hate me and everything I stand for, there's not gonna be any particularly great model.

This notwithstanding, I don't oppose team teaching. I'm sure I've written this before, but I had a great experience with a team teacher. She and I had very different personalities and inclinations. We had very different approaches to teaching. But I think we were good influences on one another. We got along well in front of the kids and I think that, in itself, made us good role models. She has endless patience while I have almost none whatsoever, but we found ways to work around that.

None of this, bad, good, or otherwise, would likely cause someone to want to quit teaching, Even if I'm in the worst pair-up on earth, I can look forward to June, If things are truly that awful, few administrators would be stupid enough to give it another year. Some would, but that's probably not why people quit.

The person I heard about was an ESL teacher, like me. Since the geniuses in Albany determined we were around not to teach English to people who, you know, don't know English we've had a pretty tough path. Now our job is to make students pass core subjects, important stuff like math and science. Who cares if a person has no knowledge of basic English structure as long as she's passed a test?

What this has entailed in schools all over the state has been ESL teachers standing around in classrooms while students learned about enzymes and hormones. Or the Civil War. Or Othello. You see, while newcomers may not understand this stuff at all, having an ESL professional in the room makes that okay. While the subject teacher shows the native English speakers what's important, the ESL teacher is supposed to magically provide the English component. There's no extra time to do it, so magic is the prime methodology.

And if you can't do magic, you can go screw yourself. Oh, and when you get a Danielson observation, it's your fault the kid who's been here six weeks can't characterize Atticus Finch.

Imagine you're in five classes like that with five different teachers. I know a high school teacher in that situation, and he's one of many. Imagine you're an elementary school teacher with nine different classes, in which you have no input. I know someone like that too. You are not really a teacher. You're a body, placed somewhere to do a job that is impossible.

You stand there and wonder why you took all those courses. You wonder why you worked to be a teacher and you aren't one. These feelings eat at you, and as time goes on, they expand. They multiply. You wanted to be a teacher, but you're no one.

This is no way to feel good about yourself. Meanwhile, the ELLs are learning nothing. They're failing. They're discouraged. What are administrators to do? Probably blame the teachers. But even if they don't, it's pretty darn depressing to know you're being paid for a position that essentially serves no purpose.

I've been pretty vocal about the degradation of our profession and the innocent children who are going down with us. But I'm fortunate in that I happen to have multiple certifications and thus do not absolutely have to co-teach. Many of my colleagues, and many of their students are not remotely so fortunate.

That is nothing short of a disgrace. We're wasting the time of children and teachers. And this teacher isn't the first I've heard who's contemplating a career change over this nonsense. We're wasting desperately needed teachers as well. In the era of Donald Trump, NY States ELLs need all the support we can give them. Instead, they have the myopic NY State Regents. If they knew nothing about language acquisition, it would represent an improvement.

Monday, January 07, 2019

UFT Executive Board January 7, 2018--We Support LA Teachers and Discuss Election

Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us..

Speakers—

Betty Godfried—retired Adult ed. CL—After 7 years, Rose Marie Mills has been removed (applause) and is being reassigned. Third time an unsuitable admin has been dismissed in recent years. Only teachers or paras are discontinued. Admin is moved around. Rank and file made these things happen. Current fight was in service and retired members who were victimized.

Ended illegal test procedures, articles published, met with reps, spoke here. Documented activities, will prepare packet. Thanks Schoor for giving it to Mills, thanks Mulgrew for meeting, would’ve liked more support. Carmen Alvarez also supportive. Still long way to go, issues need to be resolved. New superintendent may need guidance. Union may need to negotiate. Thanks teachers for all the work they did, thanks for applause, thanks for those who do listen, says coming here has made a difference.

This ten minute mike one of last bastions of true union democracy. Giving voice to voiceless is doing something good.

David Price—CL Bard HS Queens—Teachers at school want to know what UFT will do in solidarity with UTLA. Happy to see resolution in favor. Concerned that DA is after the 10th. Proposed resolved.

Schoor—Only members may propose resolutions.

Price—Urges members to add resolved that UFT invite UTLA leaders to speak before elected bodies, and that we publicize UTLA campaigns. Has members who want to donate to strike fund, would rather contribute to that than COPE. We are in solid position to show strength.

Schoor—At last meeting I called on non-member of Exec. Board. We need to know who people are who come in so we are now requiring sign-ins. We welcome all members and retired members. We need to know why people are here if they are not members.

Minutes—approved

President’s report—Michael Mulgrew—Wishes us happy new year. Had Bronx plan rollout. Wants to thank staff. Was great event, with over 400 people. Idea of us saying we have challenged schools that will come up with their own plan is better, supported by UFT and DOE. Around country people just get rid of people. We have a better idea. Being part of contract says a lot about our values.

APPR number one issue in state negotiations. You would think 8301, the bill we wanted, since it was passed by Assembly, since Governor said he would sign it, you would assume it would be easy. There is a bit of a budget problem. State has 2 billion shortfall. Next year there will be major drop. We want state money for community learning to go to community learning. We want to put in safeguards. We want more money dispersed based on need. Governor argues for this, but we could argue he doesn’t do it. It’s now part of conversation.

Will probably be strike in LA. We’ll send things out to membership. We should wear red for them. We will send it out and move forward.

We will have fun this year, and thank you for being here.

LeRoy Barr—We will hopefully pass resolution on LA strike. Town Hall meeting on public advocate coming. 1/19 women’s march UFT will hold breakfast forum. We will send invite with address. Next Exec. Board 1/28, date needs to change. Next DA 1/16.

Schoor—Conflict on 1/28. Have two alternatives. 1/14, one week from today, or 1/22, day after MLK day. Suggests 22nd.

Shelvy Abrams—Move to have meeting on 22nd. Seconded.

Passed

Questions

Arthur Goldstein—I have two questions today. My first is recurring. Every teacher I know wants fewer observations. Every administrator I know, at least the ones who are not insane, wants fewer observations. Since the UFT and DOE seem to agree that our current system is broken and pointless, why can’t we agree to less of it now that we all agree?

A fair compromise, if we need one, would be to agree to one more observation for the second half, so as to get a fair view of what we did all year.

Secondly, I was shocked to read the DOE has something called a charter school space request form. I understand that Eva Moskowitz wants space. While I’d like as much space as possible between Eva and myself, and my students, I’m hard pressed to understand why her needs are more important than those of my sorely overcrowded school.

I appreciate the support we’ve gotten from leadership, and I appreciate that in a few years we will have more space. But we are a real school. Unlike Eva, I don’t just hire my kid in college to teach AP courses. Unlike Eva, UFT schools don’t grab just anyone and pay them minimum wage to teach children. Unlike Eva, if I were to make a kid pee his pants in class, I’d be up on charges.

If there is a charter school space request form to a board full of charter advocates, why don’t we press for one for real schools, with real training, real requirements, real jobs, and real teachers, like the one my students attend? Could we have a public school space request form to a board full of public school advocates? I’m a public school advocate and I volunteer for the board.

Schoor—will bring this up to chancellor and report back. Will ask Evelyn to speak to it.

Evelyn de Jesus—We are meeting internally. I know Michael spoke about contract. We are meeting internally, will have members on it. We cannot do it mid-year. Right now, this is not possible. We want to make sure that it rolls how we need. We will take it back to the committee, but it’s not going to happen as fast as you like.

Mike Schirtzer—Out of all new members that joined DOE, how many have joined? We are hearing that there is a shortage of special ed. teachers and that is causing compliance issues. Are there stats on that? Is DOE doing anything?

Schoor—We had 3000 agency feel payers in September. There are now fewer than 300 who have not signed. We signed up most of new people. We did outreach. Some people signed multiple cards, but only take dues once.

Mary Jo Jenice—Shortage is across the board. You can only be appointed under one license, so some are hard to detect.

Mike Sill—Of course we know there are issues. We have some people in excess, but very few. License is mostly absorbed every year. Of course this causes issues.

Kate Martin Bridge—In reference to compliance, curious about how registration happens. In small school, we’re projected to have 343 students, as always, but we get 380. Principal feels she can’t hire teachers she needs. You get OTC and you’re out of compliance. Why does DOE do this if it happens year after year?

Janella Hinds—We know office of enrollment makes decisions about which students go to which schools. We know some schools are left out. Some schools get very high percentages of SIFE students, newcomers, coming from incarceration. We are engaging with new admin about what this should look like.

Jonathan Halabi—When will we find out which schools will be included in Bronx plan?

Rich Mantel—115 schools showed up, 127 invited. We will see who applies and let you know.

Halabi—Tuition reimbursement for nurses has been changed. Are we doing anything about this?

Schoor—We will check. Send me email. We will fix if we are entitled.

Halabi—Contract implementation—Regents and program committees—Are they being formed?

Hinds—Will be formed after February 14.

Halabi—Having hard time understanding why my friend isn’t sitting with me today. Would like those I invite here to sit with me.

Schoor—You don’t want a visitor’s section?

Halabi—I would like people to sit with me.

Schoor—We will discuss this. We have to make sure we have security here.

KJ Ahluawala—One of our members is seriously ill. What is rationale for 2 to 1?

Schoor—No contractual agreement Board decided this. Has never come up in negotiations.

Ellen Fpx—guest—Interested party in new arrangement. I am a 12 year CL, 20 year delegate, 8 year Exec. Board member, 50 year UFT member. Shocked when we were asked to produce credentials. Listened very carefully. Seems there should be a better way to distinguish between outside forces and UFT members. Seems extremely disrespectful and strange. Respectfully request that UFT members can go back to do what they’ve always been doing. Press and others can use visitors section.

Schoor—Thank you. We will take that under consideration.

Report from districts—Rashad Brown—I gave flyer about Pride committee workshop—pathways to parenthood. Will be attorneys to talk about ways to have a child, including non traditional 1/26 4-6

Paul Egan—God exists and is an Eagles fan. Was great weekend. Chelsea won third round 2-0. Eagles won 16-15.

Mayor announced Public Advocate race 2/26. 23 people in race. Mark Viverito first one in, got first place on ballot. Third forum Brooklyn Thursday. Mulgrew will moderate. Will be panel. Filings finished 1/11. We can have conversation at DA on 16th.

Special order of business—Paul Egan—NY State is an embarrassment in terms of how elections are conducted. NC was sued for voter suppression, and Secretary of State used NY voting rules as defense for why there was not voter suppression in NC. That is an embarrassment. We are light years behind in voting and access. We have a number of ideas to open up and expand voting rights, early voting, automatic registration.

We have 2 million unregistered. Could be done via tax return, ID, driver license. Flexibility to change party should not be over a year in advance. Want permanent restoration of voting rights written in law, consolidation of party primaries. Same day registration, well-designed ballots. We want to encourage voting and make it easier. Polls open at different hours statewide, we should change that. We want ranking rather than runoffs. Would save money and make sure there is only one election.

Mike Schirtzer—Amendment—First whereas says malfunction—would like to add, “Working voting machines.” as request. Out of four where I was, three didn’t work.

Add resolved—“That the UFT will call on the NYC Board of Elections to implement these reforms.”

Paul Egan—Suggests we add NYC and NY State Board of Elections.

Passes as amended

LeRoy Barr—Rising to report you have two documents. Report that there were proposals.

All caucuses will get ads regardless of whether they have enough candidates to form a slate.
2. Caucuses may submit different material if they wish in two issues.
3. Camera ready material due on 2/5 and 3/5.

Second packet—would need to modify and add second date.

There is also candidate statement piece, and nominating petitions.

Arthur Goldstein—If Mike Schirtzer and I decide that we want to run as a caucus, can we get 2 pages in the NY teacher for Schirtzer Goldstein caucus--is that what I'm hearing?

Barr—Those who don’t meet requirement want to have representation in NY Teacher. If you are saying you have two, will assume that is correct.

Washington Sanchez—In essence, what Arthur said is correct. The committee did not want to prevent this. We didn’t think that would happen. Committee reserved right to come back and revisit the issue. Was lengthy discussion, many different views. Because of Janus we did not want anyone to feel slighted.

Michael Shulman—Basically, what LeRoy laid out was essence of discussion. Was not unanimous. Some raised same concern Arthur did. Decision was any caucus would be allowed two pages. We will follow the practice of allowing space. Independents were given space in NY teacher. Perhaps individuals will get space allotted in line with what has taken place in past.

Schoor—Any other comments?

Passes

LeRoy Barr—Next item is resolution in support of striking LA teachers. Our brothers and sisters are getting ready to strike. Want to make it clear we are in solidarity. Ask that we wear red on Thursday in solidarity. That would include telling them what’s going on. We can do that. We have at least two AFT VPs here. We are in contact with them. Our President will be in contact with what they specifically need. These people will decide. Wouldn’t be the best thing to hamstring them. Asking you support resolution before you.

Arthur Goldstein—amendment—add--Resolved—UFT will immediately publicize progress of the UTLA contract campaign to rank and file.

Resolved—UFT invite UTLA leaders to speak before January DA.

Resolved—UFT donate to UTLA strike fund.

Jonathan Halabi—Rises in support of original motion. This country had very strong union movement. Has been crippled. Public sector unions, particularly teacher unions are bulwark for us. Would hope maker of original motion and amendment can find common ground. Speaker already spoke to publicizing. Perhaps we could get video message. Not sure about donation, but sends important message. More we do publicly, the more we say that we take this very seriously. Hope we can bridge gap.

Evelyn de Jesus—I’m torn. Agree with Jonathan. Want to go to original motion. We have three AFT presidents. Don’t wish to tie their hands. We wish to speak to them. These amendments are not possible, but we may do them later on. Support original motion.

Rashad Brown—Calls question.

Debate closed.

Amendments fail.

Original motion passes. We are adjourned. 7:24.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Donors Choose to Keep Us Broke

The existence of Donors Choose is a blight on the landscape, a national disgrace. This is an organization that exists solely so we, teachers, can beg for things we need in our classrooms. My students need a video camera. My students need seats. We need a microscope for our science class.

It is simply unconscionable that we don't provide classrooms with these things as a matter of course. How can we claim to be providing an adequate education when kids don't have the necessities? Is the solution to send teachers out to ask donors to help? I'd argue it isn't, and that this is a fundamental shortcoming of our society, like lack of health care.

This is on par with "separate but equal." Why is it that Ms. A. has adequate seating while Ms. B. does not? Is Ms. B. a bad teacher because she didn't go out on Donors Choose and ask for financial help? Should signing up to get people to support fundamental classroom needs be a requirement for teachers? And if it is, are teachers who draw more money more highly effective?

Under that scenario, I'm a truly terrible teacher. I'm in half a room, and no matter how I arrange the seats it will remain inadequate. Should I contact Donors Choose and demand a fund to demolish our school building and redo it so as to accommodate the number of students who actually attend? I need, say, ten million dollars. 100 million dollars. I don't even know how much I need.

If you're wondering why red states are up in arms and on strike, look no further. If you're wondering why LA is about to strike, ask yourself why teachers need to ask strangers to support their work. It's the job of the community to support education. That means not only paying teachers a fair salary, but also providing adequate space and facilities. Red states have turned their collective backs on education, bleeding schools and teachers dry for revenue. They've gone past the breaking point and just can't help themselves.

You could argue that Donors Choose is just a philanthropic organization looking to set things straight. You could argue that their mission is one of charity, or helping teachers to do what they need to, since the government has abandoned us. Were that the case, I'd argue that it behooved Donors Choose to take an activist stance against the abandonment of public education. They ought to be devoting their resources to not only buying chairs for Ms. A's class, but also ensuring that Ms. B. had them too. In short, they ought to be working to ensure their existence not be perpetually necessary.

Of course, you could also argue that a charitable organization ought not to be political. You could argue that no, the idea is to help those who need it and not get in the middle of political disagreements. You could say the best position for an organization like Donors Choose would be political neutrality. In fact, it would be hard to argue with you if you said that.

Of course, the problem is that Donors Choose is not politically neutral. When the execrable film Waiting for Superman came out, Donors Choose promoted it. In fact, it offered moviegoers a $15 credit for seeing the anti-union, anti-public school propaganda piece. In fact, right now you can agree to get updates from Waiting for Superman, and Donors Choose will give you $15.

Here's what Diane Ravitch said about Waiting for Superman and another pro-charter film in her piece, The Myth of Charter Schools:

The message of these films has become alarmingly familiar: American public education is a failed enterprise. The problem is not money. Public schools already spend too much. Test scores are low because there are so many bad teachers, whose jobs are protected by powerful unions. Students drop out because the schools fail them, but they could accomplish practically anything if they were saved from bad teachers.

It's all our fault. There's no inequity. There's no poverty. There's no lack of opportunity or health care. The sole reason students suffer is bad teachers, along with their crooked unions who exist only to enable them. It's ironic, to say the least, that an organization whose existence depends upon inadequate school funding would propagate such a message. It's particularly ironic that they'd embrace a message that the problem is not money when their very existence hinges upon providing needed money.

Nonetheless, that's the message they endorse. If I needed to raise money, I'd find some other way to do it. I won't participate in an organization that promotes nonsensical reformy propaganda. Let Betsy DeVos and her wealthy BFFs get more wealthy some other way.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Killer Lettuce

Could you ever have imagined such a thing? Here it is, America 2019, and just a few short months ago no one could eat salad. In some circles, that might be cause for celebration. After all, who wants to eat a salad when you could just as easily grab a pepperoni pizza, or fried chicken, or any number of things that will make you feel like, yes, I deserve this.

On the other hand, we're right in the middle of an obesity epidemic, caused at least partially by our incredibly poor eating habits. I certainly understand why people don't want to eat salad. I'm thinking salad for lunch today, and it makes me a little sad. But hey, we all have to make sacrifices here and there.

There were very few things I liked about Michael Bloomberg's tenure as mayor, but I'll tell you what they both are:

1. He pushed unconventional seating and allowed us to place seats in arrangements other than rows.

2. He made all the city lunch use whole grains instead of white bread.

That's it, actually. I can't think of anything else he did to improve anything, and almost every working teacher and in service student is still feeling the effects of his seemingly endless tenure. I was surprised he didn't find a way to buy himself a fourth term and inflict yet another charm offensive upon us. (Of course, now he's looking at buying the White House, perish forbid.)

I lost a bunch of weight maybe eleven years ago. Then I got cancer and decided, the hell with it, I'll eat what I want. I did that for around ten years until my doctor told me I was borderline diabetic. I decided that was a line I didn't want to cross and started eating a lot more carefully. Hey, I ate whatever I wanted for ten years. I had a good run. Now I'm down to a better weight, but it's really hard to stay there.

It's actually easier when I'm working. One reason is, that unlike most high schools, our school has a teacher cafeteria. While Bloomberg was focused on nutrition in school cafeterias, his contempt for us was so intense that he closed every teacher cafe that wasn't making money. As chapter leader, I sent an email to staff saying if our cafe didn't improve its numbers, we'd lose it. A lot of us started patronizing it more after that. To Bloomberg, nutrition was key, but not for public school teachers. He hated us with a vengeance, and I certainly hope that's made clear to primary voters if he runs.

Even if you're fortunate enough to have a cafe, once the killer lettuce thing happened, you weren't getting salad. In our cafe, you can buy a small chef's salad, or you can choose tuna fish in a cup with salad and a vegetable on the side. That's better for you than the frozen (perhaps thawed) chicken and fish patties covered with canned sauces or processed cheeses. It's better for you than frozen pizza, burritos filled with chicken nuggets and Lord only knows what else.

Last week there was no tuna, and no salad. The salad made an appearance yesterday, but who knows how long that will last? The American food business is about as clean as American politics, and we could easily have another killer lettuce scare.

It's a disgrace that Bloomberg closed teacher cafeterias. We need a place to sit and talk, we need a place to unwind, and it's shortsighted and cruel to deny it over a few sheckels in a city that's got three billion dollars to give Jeff Bezos. The craze for inquiry teams is short-sighted and pointless, and judging principals by them is idiotic. We are adults. We know when to reach out for help and advice. Forcing it upon us just makes us hate it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio continues the Bloomberg policy of packing schools to the gills, with no regard whatsoever for potential ill effects.  You'd think one of his highly paid, highly educated assistants might say, "Hey, you know what? Maybe if we treated teachers with respect, they'd do a better job."

No such luck. Healthy options? You have to show up on the right day. A place to eat, to informally meet and discuss what you do every day? You don't need that. We're busy finding space for Moskowitz Academies.