Sunday, September 16, 2018

Bad Leaders and What We Should Fear

I get a lot of complaints from all over. Sometimes I forward them to people I think can help. Sometimes these people get help. Other times, they ask me not to tell anyone. It's hard to help someone when they don't want anyone but me to know their issue. If it were in my building, maybe I could do something. Maybe not.

A lot of chapter leaders will tell you this is the number one issue--"I have this problem. It's the worst problem on earth. But I don't want to file a grievance. And when YOU complain about it, make sure MY name doesn't come up." Sometimes I can pull that off. Sometimes I can't. It depends a lot on the situation.

I once had a discussion with such a member. I can't file a grievance, he said. I asked him why he thought, then, that I could. Why is it I can do this but you can't? Because you're you, he told me. I can't argue with that. I'm me. I'm not sure, though, how that makes me special or unique. I'm not sure what any administrator could have done to that teacher that couldn't be done to me.

I know several teachers from several schools that complain endlessly to me about the awful things their principals do. I don't doubt what they say at all. Their principals are vindictive. They go after anyone who contradicts them. They impose things that violate the contract.

There are remedies for at least some of these things. Blatant violations in observations result in APPR complaints. You need to make them within five days of knowledge. Here's a list of things that have been successful. There have been successful APPR complaints in my building. Sometimes supervisors will think twice before doing things twice if they don't work once.

If principals won't honor the contract, you can file grievances. Grievances are a huge pain in the ass, because the process seems to go on forever. The first place they go is the principal, who likely as not made the violation personally. Some principals will read the contract, understand it, and honor it. Some will reject everything out of hand, and go right to step two. Others will call the clown car that is Bloomberg's DOE legal department. I recently met someone who used to work for that department. This person told me few if any of the lawyers there have even read the contract.

Legal tells principals they can do anything they like. Then you go to step two, where the DOE hacks reject absolutely everything no matter what. I've listened to some of them who knew the principal was wrong, but ruled with the principal anyway. That's their job, evidently, and after they do it these things are literally rubber stamped with the chancellor's name. I understand member frustration at this, particularly because last year I went to maybe ten step two hearings.

The next step is arbitration, and this year I'll go to ten or more arbitration hearings. Of course if contractual violations mount up the way they did last year, that will also be another ten step two hearings. That's not to mention the class size hearings I go to twice a year. I'm up for whatever. Not everyone is.

People sometimes tell me their chapter leaders say, "I can't take sides." That's absurd. I always take sides. I side with the member, and I side with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. If your chapter leader doesn't take sides, you need a new chapter leader. You could say, though, that it's risky to be chapter leader with a vindictive principal. It certainly is. But someone needs to step up.

Here's the thing--if you say it's too dangerous to be chapter leader, if you say it's too dangerous to file a grievance, if you say it's too dangerous to enforce the contract, you are right. You have given up and there is no contract. The contract exists only as far as it can be enforced. If you don't enforce it, for whatever reason, it's meaningless.

The first semester I taught I had four preps. I had no idea that was a violation. My UFT chapter leader approached me in the bathroom. " wanna join the union?" Why not, I thought, and filled out the card. One day my AP asked me if I wanted to teach ESL. "What's ESL?" I asked. The next day I had five preps, and one was ESL.

We all need help. We all need people to look after us. Sometimes, though, we need to get up on our hind legs and speak. The more of us who do it, the better. The principal can go after me if I stand up, that's true. It's true for you too. If all of us stand up, it'll likely take a lot of the principal's time to go after everyone.

You can also come to Executive Board and be heard. Sometimes that helps. Sometimes it doesn't. You don't really have guarantees of what will happen. You can blame me for that if you like. You can blame Mulgrew if you like. I always try to help. I do not always win.

Here's one thing I can guarantee, though. If you have an abusive principal who routinely violates the contract, and you do nothing about it, tomorrow you will have that very same abusive principal. And the days, weeks, months and years after that, you'll have the same. In fact, things can get worse. Why shouldn't an abusive principal be emboldened after seeing no one will stand against her?

Sometimes people wait until they're painted into a corner to act. This is what's happening in several red states where the teachers have risen up. I don't think it's a good idea to wait until we're backed into a corner with nowhere else to go. But, as a colleague told me, I'm me. Not everyone is.

It's my job to be me, so I do it. It's your job to be you, and it might be your job to organize your colleagues to help fight that terrible principal. Alternatively, you could wait for someone else to do it. If that's your choice, I have to advise you to sit while you wait. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen next year, or it could never happen.

The only person you can really control is yourself.
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