Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why Don't Teachers Trust Joel Klein?

Sure the local editorial boards are mesmerized by the Chancellor's rhetoric.  First, several of them are in the mayor's pocket.  Some have unions of their own.  And none can be bothered to examine anything whatsoever beyond the relentless Tweed spin.

There are a number of reasons working teachers might feel otherwise.  As editorial boards don't bother speaking to working teachers, they have no notion of such things.

There's the year Klein denied sabbaticals to virtually everyone, against contract, until the UFT took him to court.  There's the fact that he rails against the ATR clause in the contract, though he's a signatory to the contract that enabled it.  There's the fact that he doesn't consult teachers when making decisions.  There's his boss, Mayor Bloomberg, who has respect for neither the courts nor the law.  There's the "fair student funding" boondoggle that blatantly discourages principals from hiring senior teachers.

But mostly it's that anyone who pays attention knows what Klein would do if he had his druthers.  For years, he's been complaining about tenure, seniority, and pay steps.  Everyone knows he'd do away with all three in a heartbeat.  Teachers would then be at-will employees, subject to being fired for any reason, or indeed no reason.  Raises would come at the discretion of Klein and his minions, who have been consistently hostile to teachers.  We'd be like a bunch of waitresses at a diner, hoping for tips.

In DC, we can see the results of "empowering" autocratic administrators like Michelle Rhee--apparently talented teachers fired at the whims of her staff.  In the test-prep factories these short-sighted tinhorn dictators envision for our children, love of learning is valued not at all.  Inconvenient personalities are dumped by the wayside and no respect whatsoever is given to wisdom or individuality.

Of course you need not travel to DC to find such thinking at work.  Right here in NY, the Merrick Charter School, facing unionization, simply fired rabble rousers who wanted to unionize.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew says he'll sue if he can prove that's why they did it.  Of course, Mulgrew sued to prevent the closure of schools, won, and then allowed Joel Klein to muscle his new schools into the "saved" buildings even as the incoming classes were so small the schools were clearly being phased out.  Klein clearly respects the court no more than Mayor Bloomberg does.

Perhaps Mulgrew was under the thrall of anti-teacher, anti-union Bill Gates when he decided to further appease Joel Klein, agreeing to colocations that will certainly leave hundreds of UFT members without regular positions.  Or perhaps he thought the appeasement strategy, having not worked when we gave the ATRs, the extra time, lunchroom duty, the extra class that isn't an extra class, the various iterations of merit pay that aren't merit pay, and all the givebacks we've wrapped up in a bow and given to Joel Klein, would succeed if given yet another chance.  Perhaps he thought this time, Klein would not simply turn around and make even further demands. Who knows?

But every deal Mulgrew makes with Klein is a display of confidence that the overwhelming majority of teachers I speak to do not share.   We all know Klein would just as soon step on us as look at us.  It's not as though he's coy about it.  His boss, after years of insisting on pattern bargaining, demanded we take less than half the pattern.  Then he unilaterally announced, to save jobs, he'd give us nothing.  Then, based on information he already had when he made that announcement, he said he might lay off teachers anyway.

In fact, until and unless we're offered a fair contract, it's unwise to give the chancellor anything at all.   And once we have a contract in hand, it still won't mean we can trust these folks.  The toxic atmosphere between administration and teachers is something they've created, something they prize, and it's clear to all who pay attention they'll do everything within their power to make things worse.

Joel Klein's vision is one that doesn't benefit teachers, and if our children don't happen to be independently wealthy, it clearly will not benefit them either.
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