Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fear Is a Luxury We Cannot Afford

If the intent of the APPR law, which our union leadership boasted of co-writing, was to freak teachers out continually, I'm pretty sure they've achieved their goal. Though we're already on the second year of the Junk Science Express, I see little sign that anyone is used to it. Teachers are afraid to let out a peep. I hear from teachers all over the city asking me, "Can my principal do this?" and I send back chapter and verse suggesting, "No, absolutely not."

Yet these teachers are often afraid not only to file a grievance, but often to even contact their chapter leaders, who they suspect or accuse of being in cahoots with admin. One teacher reported her chapter leader said, "I can't take sides on this issue." In fact, when there are contractual violations, it's hard for me to figure how a chapter leader could not take sides.

The thing is, people are afraid. They're terrified. If I grieve those four classes in a row, will my small-minded vindictive supervisor come in and trash me in an observation? If I complain that I have five different classrooms on seven different floors, will I be condemning myself to two years of ineffective ratings and get the fast train to Palookaville?

One argument you'll get from the union is that ratings were completely subjective before this, that a principal could simply say, "You stink," and that that would be it. The problem is, though, there were not necessarily such dire consequences. The DOE would need to prove you were incompetent, and if they didn't do so, you were back in your job.

Things are a little different now, and we're finally seeing the first lawsuit over the insane law that punchy Mike was so happy about. Apparently junk science can be problematic, particularly when someone's got outright evidence there's no basis for it whatsoever. But what if you haven't got incredibly wonderful test scores to use as evidence?

If you're a New York City teacher and that's the case, you are in a heap of pain. One ineffective rating brings you a few visits from a peer evaluator. If this person, who jumped for extra money to sit in judgment of brother and sister UFT members, declares thumbs up, the DOE will have to prove your incompetence. However, if this fine upstanding citizen votes thumbs down, it will be on you to prove a negative, something that will be an uphill battle.

Of course it may not come to that. UFT has arranged that 13% of ineffective rating appeals will go to an impartial arbiter rather than the evil DOE. I suppose those 13% will have a better chance. However, 87% will go straight to the DOE, and it isn't a large leap of faith to determine where the DOE will tell those 87% to go.

This is not how you treat people you want to inspire children. This is not how you treat your dog, if you love your dog. So in 2014, NYC teachers fall somewhere below the status of beloved dog, and people shake their heads in wonder that half of us walk away before hitting five years. APs dream of pliable young teachers and wonder why they can't hold onto them.

I think there's something wrong with me because I stopped being afraid at some point. I have no idea why. But I love being a teacher, and I want others to love it too. Placing guns to people's heads is simply not the way to make that happen. Personally, I don't believe that the demagogues who push this nonsense give a golly goshdarn about teacher quality.

They just want to drag it down to the lowest common denominator, and make us as replaceable as Walmart associates. Do you think it's a coincidence that the Walmart family spends so much supporting reforminess? I don't.

The only people who can save our job and our kids are us. If we let people walk all over us, they won't hesitate. Don't give up your rights and expect to be rewarded for it. Whether or not I'm crazy, we simply can't afford to be afraid.
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