Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Part 154 Police Visit Our School

I've written in the past about Part 154, the newly revised regulation that effectively cuts direct English instruction and reduces ESL teachers to support staff for teachers of other subjects. In New York State, learning the English language is subordinate to mastering things on which you can be tested. Therefore, in the same time American-born students are studying Macbeth, ESL teachers are supposed to stand around and make sure students who don't understand English acquire the language via studying a form of it no one uses anymore.

Last year, the state was rather benign about enforcement. This was a good thing, because it was a huge stinking mess. Small schools with one ESL teacher would expect said teacher to be everywhere, teaching everything. As you can imagine, that's not a task that can be easily accomplished. What actually happened was that these teachers ran around like headless chickens accomplishing little or nothing. That's too bad because on this astral plane, it's actually kind of important to learn the prevalent language of the country in which you reside.

I know of other small schools in which the ESL teacher is treated as an annoyance. There's the social studies teacher, teaching about the Spanish American War, and that pesky ESL teacher is always interrupting, handing the ELLs vocabulary sheets and stuff. How are they supposed to pay attention to the lesson? How are they supposed to grasp what the social studies teacher is offering when the other teacher is continually interrupting? And how are they supposed to teach not only the subject, but also the language, when newcomers have the same 40 minutes as American-born kids to learn in?

On the other hand, I work in a large school. Aside from the issue of concurrently teaching the subject and basic English, the demands of Part 154 are equally impossible there as in any setting. There are a whole lot of things that just don't make any sense. For example, students are not allowed to be more than one grade apart, so it's virtually impossible to make up classes based on language level rather than grade level. You can, of course, run one section of 4 students and another of 44 students. While that might not make sense to any teacher or administrator who hasn't eaten LSD for breakfast, rules are rules.

The geniuses at Tweed, of course, have the answer. What you do, you see, is you hang up bulletin boards with student work. Also, you make sure a rubric is attached. You see how that fixes everything? Also, you make sure there is a library in the back of the classroom. You also make sure that every ESL teacher does all this stuff, because of course they have nothing else to do. This helps everything. Those are just a few things I noticed in 23 pages of rubrics and demands the DOE helpfully sent us last week.

To further help us, they're gonna visit us six times this year and rate us on said rubrics. That's great. Because just last week, a whole lot of UFT members were approaching me and saying, "Hey, you know what? I don't feel enough pressure on myself as a teacher. I'm just not being micromanaged enough." So naturally, we're all glad the New York City Department of Education, which knows absolutely everything, is coming around with a ponderous and detailed document that no one has ever seen before and demanding we do absolutely everything on it. Because a day without rubrics is like a day without sunshine.

I guess if I were an effective teacher I'd make up 23 pages of rubrics for my students and demand they tow the line. Instead, I've been limiting my focus every day trying to make them learn English so they can, you know, communicate, have lives, and maybe be happy. The truth is I have never seen any of those goals on any rubric detailing college and career readiness, so they must be frivolous and unnecessary. Only the NYC Department of Education, which actually has a PowerPoint somewhere that says acquisition of English is strictly for the purpose of excelling in academic subjects, has the answers. Otherwise, why would they be in those air-conditioned offices in Tweed while we just hang around having big fun in classrooms?

Me, I'm just glad they're coming. I know my colleagues are delighted. Like all teachers, we haven't got enough pressure on us. Being visited and judged six times by people wielding an incomprehensible rubric designed by a bunch of bureaucrats with no idea what we actually do, or how impossible it is to meet their regulations, is just what we need to keep us on our toes. And naturally, as our jobs are so breezy and easy, we have plenty of time to sit around and incorporate their demands into what we do each and every day. Evidently, the DOE thinks we sit around each day and wait for them to tell us what to do, so they are performing a great service by swooping down like the Spanish Inquisition.

The Sword of Damocles that is the APPR system isn't enough. The huge exodus of new teachers isn't enough either. So lets focus on one single department and support them six full days. Let's amp up the observations and judge the teachers on not one, but rather two distinct rubrics. Because Danielson, while it's on par with the Ten Commandments and never to be questioned, cannot truly assess quality even though it assesses quality perfectly.

Oversized classes? Not our problem. Kids never been to school in their first language? Too bad for you. School at 214% capacity? Deal with it. We're from the Department of Education and we're here to help.
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