Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Why I Will Never Get Merit Pay

As you no doubt know, "reform-minded" union boss Randi Weingarten has endorsed a new merit pay program. Of course, she says the merit pay program is not a merit pay program, just as she says the sixth class most high school teachers give is not a sixth class.

Why don't I qualify?

It started twenty years ago, when I was a rookie. I was teaching summer school in Queens, when ping--a small pebble pierced my window. Then came another, and then another. I told the kids to pack up their things, and we walked down the hall till we found a vacant classroom. The supervisor was outraged. He called me down, bawled me out and explained that the custodians had already cleaned that room for September. How dare I sully it with my presence.

I explained to him that the pebbles could have put a kid's eye out, but there were rules, and I should have called. Perhaps he's one of the supervisors who decided teachers need approval before calling 911.

More recently, after having lobbied for months to get soap in my trailer, the custodian grudgingly placed bars of Ivory over the heavily stained stainless sinks, bypassing the liquid soap dispensers. Unfortunately, the stains staining the stainless crept up to the bar soap and flourished, growing several millimeters of a black substance that neither the kids nor I would touch. I picked it up with a paper towel, brought it to the AP admin's office, and walked in on a meeting to show how my kids were expected to clean themselves. I received much flak about how I'd disturbed an important meeting to discuss this matter.

As if that is not enough, I refuse to quietly accept unsuitable rooms for my kids. When I am placed in a half-room, with 34 kids, and a cardboard wall through which I can hear every comment made by every kid in the next class, I scream. I complain every day, to everyone, at every opportunity, and I don't stop until I get a suitable classroom (or trailer). The meek teacher who sits in the half room and accepts the unacceptable is far more likely to get merit pay.

When they put me in the worst classroom I'd ever seen, my kids stayed maybe a week.

I once had a class with a door that did not lock. And every day, a kid ran by, opened the door, and shouted "Puta madre!" to my largely Spanish-speaking class. As this was an unsuitable distraction, I complained to the custodian, who sat on the complaint for a month. I'm told you can be fired for doing custodians' work, so two teachers sat by that door, one repairing the lock and another watching for administrators. Naturally I have no notion as to the identity of these teachers. But six months later the custodian angrily rebuked me for reporting a broken lock when the lock actually worked. He complained to the principal, who asked that I not waste the time of our custodial staff (The custodial staff was very busy painting the auditorium. They painted over the crumbling, chipping paint so that the new paint was crumbling and chipping as soon as it was dry).

I work with a teacher who's a very skilled typist. I once walked into her class and a wet paper object loudly hit the board with a plop. She kept writing on the board. I rebuked the kid, screamed at the kid, took the kid's ID, wrote the kid up, and she didn't turn her head. The kid was shocked at being written up for such an everyday occurrence. Though the teacher had only twelve students, her class was bedlam. However, she dutifully reported every day after school to type for the principal, gratis. She was made "Teacher of the Year" that year.

She will get merit pay. I won't. Thanks, Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein, for introducing yet another "reform" that makes the tabloids happy, but fails to address the blatant dysfunction in New York City schools.
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