Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Don't Laugh at the Probationers--You May Be Juggling Portfolios Too, and Soon

 Mulgrew says that we'll hear about the new evaluation system any moment now. I'm going off that topic for a few paragraphs, but I promise I'll come back to it.

Our school sent 21 probationary teachers to a tenure workshop last week. They all went and listened to our superintendent, our third superintendent in three years, tell them exactly what she wanted to see in their tenure folder, or whatever it is they are supposed to do before they get it. I myself am not acutely aware because it's been a while since I got tenure. Nonetheless, I'm sure I'll be dispensing a lot of apologies if next year we get a fourth superintendent with a fourth and distinct list of demands.

In fact, it took me a lot longer to get tenure than it took my colleagues. That's because I started out as an English teacher, but spent very little time actually teaching English. My first semester I taught four preps of English, but my supervisor shortly gave me one ESL class, so that I had five preps the very first semester I ever taught. That was a pretty tough gig. I distinctly remember being asked if I'd like to teach ESL, asking, "What's ESL?" and being told, "Give it a try."

Of course I had no idea about anything regarding the UFT Contract, and my first contact with union was with the chapter leader, who approached me in the men's room, handed me a postcard and said, "Psst, wanna join the union?" At the time the principal of Lehman High School was Robert Leder, and teachers were leaving in droves. I wasn't a drove, but I left too, and in retrospect, I'm really glad I did.

Anyway, new teachers sometimes complain to me about putting together portfolios and of the extra work it entails. I tell them that I'm sorry, but they really have to do it. I know they have enough to do, and I know well how much harder it is to do the day by day of teaching when you have little to no experience. I remember spending hours after school writing lesson plans, and I also remember back then that we were required to write weekly capsule plans. I had to churn out 25 of those a week, and it was no fun at all. And then when I rejected my first English appointment and decided that I wanted to be an ESL teacher, I lost a few years toward tenure. I think I lost another waiting for the city to give a test, which was a thing back then.

Personally, I'm grateful I don't have to put together some tenure portfolio. I've paid my dues and I lived through the craziness of my first few years. I'd rather no one had to go through such nonsense, but I'm glad mine is over.

Or is it?

If we're gonna be rated by portfolios and/ or projects, we'd better polish up both of them. It's funny, right after Michael Mulgrew tells teachers he's had it with excessive paperwork, that we're gonna have to come up with portfolios, something we've never had to do. This, of course, is between meetings and PD and teacher teams and hoping not to get a drive-by observation from some Boy Wonder supervisor, we have nothing to do but collect lesson plans and put them in some folder. Thanks for filling all that free time I didn't know what to do with! What's better than more paperwork?

Who on earth knows what will be judged or by whom? Are we looking for pictures? Original ideas? Grammar? Who knows? You can't use the same old tests, because Mulgrew is against them this year. And to be clear, I'm not against tests. I'm against standardized tests, particularly those that don't measure anything resembling what I actually teach (like the one on which I was last rated).

Mulgrew speaks of "authentic" learning measures. He speaks of a great new evaluation system that, alas, none of us have ever seen. What will it be like? Of course the specifics have been top-secret so far, so I'm not privy to them. Do they consult with real working teachers who haven't signed loyalty oaths to support whatever Mulgrew tells them to? Who knows? Given my experience with UFT leadership, I suspect not.

But what if we now have to put together portfolios every year? I suppose, to someone like Mulgrew who doesn't teach and hasn't in years, that doesn't seem like much of an imposition. After all, he won't have to do it.  Nor will any of the UFT officers making the decisions. Nor will your district reps. They teach, at most, one class, and as such are exempt from the evaluation system. They get rated S or U, and have no personal stake in how it affects you or me.

And if it's not portfolios, maybe it's projects. And if you aren't rating them, someone else is. Who will that be? Only Mulgrew knows, and so far he hasn't shared it with us lowly footsoldiers.

Now I want you to imagine your 170 students, 200 if you have a sixth class, or up to 500 if you're a PE teacher on an alternate day schedule. There you are with your 170-500 portfolios, or maybe one big old portfolio containing continually updated records of your 170-500 students, and you now have to not only find a place to physically keep them, but you also have to monitor them and check that whatever the hell it is you are supposed to produce is in there. Sounds like fun, doesn't it? And if you're a probationer, you also have whatever they want from you for tenure to handle. Of course they could be digital, which means you'd store them on DOE computers, and as someone who uses them regularly, even with a Mac genius tech guy in my building, I say good luck with that.

Mulgrew also talks about teacher-created tests being used, but discusses how teachers grading their own tests is ridiculed. I have no idea what on earth he envisions, or what the geniuses sitting around 52 envisioned for him, but here's what I know for sure--it's not based on science, research, or practice. UFT leadership has a decades-long history of bad decisions and worsening working conditions for teachers. Every time I think morale has bottomed out, some new and baseless directive comes down the pike to make it seep even lower.

By the end of the week, or maybe even today, we will know what monstrosity Mulgrew has in mind. Again, he won't be rated by it and neither will any UFT officers, district reps, or special reps. If they teach at all, they're still rated on the old S and U system, you know, the one that didn't cause teachers to have nervous breakdowns and heart attacks. Though they claim to hate that system, they in fact negotiated so that they themselves would be rated by it anyway, because leadership.

And also because in today's UFT, some animals are still more equal than others.
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