Thursday, December 01, 2016

Class Size Shmass Size, Says Arbitrator

I went last month to see an arbitrator about the oversized classes at my school. Silly me, I thought when you violate contractual class size rules, the remedy was to fix the class sizes. But I was just naive somehow. I mean, why should the DOE abide by the rules when they could just make up an "action plan?"

The genius arbitrator, who gets paid $1600 per day for this incredible wisdom, decided it would be a great idea to have the teachers of oversized classes in my school do one fewer C6 assignment a week. The teachers in Forest Hills High School, for reasons that escape me utterly, get one fewer C6 for each oversized class. So if I have two oversized classes, I lose one C6 period a week. If a FH teacher has two oversized classes, she loses two C6 periods a week.

Why the discrepancy? Maybe it's tougher to have oversized classes when you're that far west. Or something. Funny how the DOE can be so preposterously arbitrary. Haven't they got a rubric?

Hey, maybe I can go rob a bank, and instead of giving the money back, I can make an action plan. I'll work as a teller one hour a week for ten weeks, and then I'll take all the cash and buy that chateau in the south of France. Works for me.

On this astral plane, unlike the arbitrator, who evidently knows everything, I'm just a lowly teacher. This notwithstanding, unlike the arbitrator and DOE lawyers, I have actually taught oversized classes. I know what it's like to have 50 kids in a room. I know what it's like when no one helps and you have to sit and wait. And you know what? The only way that got better was when they took the extra kids out.

In fact, this year opened with my co-teacher and I having several oversized classes. It's great to have a co-teacher. It's great to be able to discuss ideas, what works, and what doesn't with someone who's actually got a stake in what's going on. It's great to be able to add to what you do with a different point of view. It's great to try different approaches to things you've done before.

What is not great, though, is teaching over 34 kids at once. If what you value is participation, you can't really make it happen effectively in such a hugely populated room. The point of team teaching, I think, is to make things better, to model adult cooperation for kids, and to give them a little more than they'd bargained for. To use it simply to get around a class size rule ought to be criminal.

And for the edification of The Great and Mysterious Arbitrator, offering one fewer tutoring period a week does not alleviate non-contractual class sizes. It just means fewer resources for the poor kids you've condemned to class sizes higher than the UFT contractual maximum, which is already higher than class sizes anywhere else in the state.

What's the point of having a contract if the employer can cavalierly break it, toss you a marshmallow, give the kids nothing whatsoever, and then pay some arbitrator an obscene amount of money for this alleged service? Sorry, but I don't want oversized classes. I've taught in trailers and closets. I've seen sheets of ice on the floor. I've had no heat, no AC, and sometimes no floor. I've seen railing fall off the trailer like a medieval lance to be used for jousting. I've seen floods making it very tough to make it out, and ice making it very tough to make it out alive.

But I've never been told screw you, teach the extra kids, and we'll give you a period off from tutoring. What you need when you have oversized classes is NOT extra time. Extra time does NOT help you to manage an oversized class. You do NOT need more planning time. You do NOT need to do a little less tutoring. And let's not even try to pretend that less tutoring helps kids in oversized classes in any way whatsoever.

What you need, and let's not forget what the children in your class need as well, is a reasonable class size. 34 is already too high. Higher than that is not reasonable, especially when you're supposed to be jumping through hoops and doing all sorts of extra assessments.

Anyone who doesn't know that is not a teacher, and has no idea what teaching entails. And anyone who doesn't know that has no business doing class size arbitration. Honestly, I don't think you need to be a teacher to recognize how nonsensical this "action plan" is. I'd label it a "no action whatsoever" plan.

I hope the arbitrator sleeps well tonight. It must be nice to have a job in a nice clean office where you can do any damn thing, pat yourself on the back, cash your check and go to the next gala luncheon, or whatever it is these folks do when they, along with the DOE, aren't throwing our children to the dogs.
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