Friday, December 05, 2014

Class Size, Shmass Size, Sez UFT

In our school we had a music class with 37 students. It was a brass and wind class. Because it was not a performing group or a required music class, it was deemed oversized by an arbitrator. To remedy this, our school sent a substitute teacher attend the class every day. Therefore, with 2 teachers, the class wasn't technically oversized.

This was a little silly, as it was ridiculous to expect a sub to know brass and wind. So we had an SBO, recapped the single class at 37, and relieved the music teacher of his C6 assignment. It was a win-win. The school could save a few bucks in coverages, and the music teacher could spread joy and love through music for an extra 45 minutes each day. (Just between us, I happen to know this music teacher is surreptitiously doing his C6 assignment, maintaining instruments, anyway. Don't tell anyone.)

However, there are other schools with dozens of oversized classes who haven't done SBOs. I personally know of two, but there are likely as not many more. They simply agreed to relieve teachers of C6 assignments. Now it's entirely possible these teachers are overjoyed, what with lunchroom duty, potty patrol, and all the other nonsensical and unprofessional things the 2005 contract blessed us with. On the other hand, 40 kids in a Spanish One class is not particularly conducive to hablando el espaƱol.

I wonder what parents would say if they knew their kids were in classes that violated the only instrument that controls class size, to wit, the much maligned UFT Contract. I'm a high school teacher, I've been one since 1984, and not once has the UF of T moved to reduce class sizes. Nor has the city, of course. Despite Mayor Bloomberg's reformy talk, his bright idea was to fire half of all teachers and make class sizes of 70. Of course, his kids didn't go to NYC schools anyway, so why the hell should he care?

I'm a language teacher. I'm fortunate in that I sometimes have smaller class sizes. Last I heard, NY State recommended that funded ESL classes be capped at 25. I think that's reasonable. I'm really amazed that all the reformy folk crying crocodile tears about saving our children, often not their children, never say let's reduce class size. For them, it's about spending less. It's about degrading the teaching profession. It's about getting rid of those unions that are always demanding safe working conditions and prohibiting child labor and all that good stuff they had back in the much-missed 19th century.

Last year, like this year, I taught two double-period classes. I like to arrange my classroom in a U-shape so as to promote conversation. But one of my classes had a chemistry that rendered it virtually off the wall. I'd go in daily, prepared for battle with a little girl with a big mouth and a quick wit. She was a formidable opponent, and because she was in this particular group, with potential allies everywhere, I pushed the kids back into rows to discourage conversation. I managed to avert utter chaos, but only by the skin of my teeth, and only by frequent phone calls and perpetually rearranging the seating. Were there 40 kids in that class no one would have learned anything. 

Personally, I'd rather have a C6 than an oversized class, but it appears not all my colleagues agree. And that's rather dangerous. We already have the largest class sizes in the state. Making them larger is a disservice to both the kids we serve and their parents. I'm a parent, and while I don't think teachers should be doing potty patrol in the first place, it would really piss me off to think my daughter was sitting with 39 other kids just so the teacher could get a period off.

Wouldn't it be better for us to work toward dumping idiotic C6 assignments rather than making deals with the devil? For the life of me, I don't know why anyone voted for that stinker of a contract in 2005. Of course, that set the stage for this year, when we showed ourselves to be sheep, going along with whatever, because it's the best we can do.

Nonetheless, it's disgraceful that we as a union, already saddled with the largest class sizes in the state, can condone even larger classes. It makes the Contract seem like it isn't worth the paper it's printed on. Sure, give me a marshmallow and I'll work through lunch. Sure, I'll let you dictate a preposterous lesson plan format if you give me that room I want. I don't mind having 5 classes in four different classrooms, just please don't hurt me.

That's bad enough. But it's an absolute disgrace that we'd sell out our kids to save 40 minutes of the potty patrol we never should've agreed to in the first place. It's an awful precedent, and we ought to know better. Lately I wonder whether we ever know better.
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