Monday, November 18, 2019

UFT Executive Board November 18, 2019--UFT Celebrates Supporting Members. DOE Moving Backward

Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.


Barr—Shows photos of honorees—Carmen. Alvarez, Robert Astrowsky, Frank Caruccu, Leo Hoenig, Sandra March, and Shelvy Young-Abrams.

DA Wednesday, LGBTQ dinner Thursday for money for Danny Dromm scholarship fund. November 23rd Queens parent conference, same day middle school Thanksgiving Drive at 52, giving away coats and hats. Next EB 12/2.


Arthur Goldstein—We now have a cooperative chancellor. He’s spoken with us and I’ve seen him at a number of different events. He’s appeared publicly with the President on numerous occasions, notably in the video where he and the President encouraged healthy cooperation between UFT and DOE.

Yet we now have something called an Instructional Leadership Team. This team duplicates many of the responsibilities of the contractually mandated PD committee, yet the principal can determine the membership with no input or consultation with the chapter. Also they get $20-30,000 to fund this team, in contrast with nothing for the PD committee. I also sit on a School Leadership Team, where not only UFT, but the entire community was ignored. We are UFT. Do we or do we not have a voice in the work we do?

Can someone please explain to the mayor and chancellor that this seems much more a Joel Klein thing than a Richard Carranza thing, and further ask them to clarify the notion of cooperation for principals who view UFT chapters as an inconvenience to be avoided rather than a partner with whom to work toward a common goal?

—We will make sure we are part of this group. We need to push to make sure we have the PD committees in place in schools and districts. That’s where we have voice in what happens at school-based level. We are definitely going to push to see our voice is heard. We have a better relationship with chancellor. Some beneath him are not as good.

Reports from districts

Sterling Roberson—Saturday and Manhattan Art and Design, was drawathon, a day of gathering in the arts. We had all levels of schools represented. Was a great event, and thanks everyone.

Rich Mantel
—This Saturday is middle school Thanksgiving event, clothing drive for students with temporary housing. We give them food and clothing. Anything you can give is appreciated. Link on UFT website. Gloves, a hat, anything. 150 coats from district 26. Please help.

Mike Schirtzer—D15 middle schools have integration plan. Was a lot of worry, but no one left. Has been very successful. UFT won a grievance on Regents distributive scoring. DOE still not doing what they should when people are grading. Will make sure DOE adheres.

Rashad Brown—LGBTQ youth empowerment dinner. We want them to know we have a community of educators that support them. Want to raise funds. 75 for members. Can be purchased online.

Michelle Ferarro—Brooklyn parent conference Saturday. Over 400 parents showed up. Thanks to all.

Resolution in support of American Fed. of Musicians—Janella Hinds—I think about my favorite movies, and soundtracks. I think about themes of TV shows that make me focus. Corporations will be corporate, and what we’ve learned from local 802 is that Disney Plus told musicians that music was not important. They make up to 75% of yearly income from residuals. They’ve reached out to us for support, with this resolution. I ask for your support.

Passes unanimously.

President’s report—Michael Mulgrew—We should always remember that we take the time to honor those who have dedicated so much to the union. We are going to unveil major changes in lobby. Have been working all weekend. Thanks to those who designed and did all the work.

DOE on two major initiatives. All arbitration for class size will be finished by Thanksgiving. Thanks all who used new language in contract. Goal, if we do it right this year is to do better next.

We’ve been in some very focused discussions with DOE on lack of focus in Instructional Leadership Team framework. We are now in agreement with DOE and CSA. Tests and standards are changing. There’s been no training. Exec. superintendent says all staff are trained and we are ready. This is not true at all.

DOE is admitting now they have a lot of work to do in short time. They are pushing too much paperwork which is making this difficult. One superintendent did a PD and mandated that every school and teacher has to write curriculum. He put it in a powerpoint, which we got a copy of, and DOE denied knowledge of it.

Bureaucracy is a big challenge. Want to end by saying we will get to honor 6 people We are family community, and we respect each other and rely on each other at all times.

—Hope you are wearing solidarity button. Month of November very important in UFT history. We are the strongest, biggest and most forward thinking union in this country. Have a good night. Bar is now open.

We are adjourned 6:08

Sunday, November 17, 2019

On Writing, and Writing Recommendations

Unlike some of my colleagues, I don't write many recommendations. It's not that I don't want to--it's that I'm not frequently asked. This is largely because I teach beginning English language learners. Most of them are freshmen when they come to me, and three years later they have other teachers and other priorities.

It's too bad, because I'm pretty good at writing recommendations. Sometimes colleagues give me recommendations to edit. A few weeks ago I got one written about a student I know well. I was a little disappointed he didn't ask me directly, but I made his a little better anyway. I absolutely understand that students might not want to place it front and center that they are (or were) ELLs.

I've seen some overly flowery recommendations that were not altogether persuasive. I particularly recall one that commented on a student's perspicacity, and then went on to praise her perspicuity. This, among other things, led me to believe the teacher was sitting with a thesaurus when he wrote the thing. I'm not ashamed to admit that I didn't know what perspicuity was, and I had to look it up. (Of course, everyone's heard of Perspicacity and the Sundance Kid, so that was no issue.)

Last week I was very pleased to write two recommendations. The first one was for a girl who was in my class three years ago. This girl, however, spent a year revisiting my class one period a day. She was a great help. For one thing, she spoke Chinese. which I do not. She was able to make a few new arrivals feel much more comfortable.

I think this girl's school grades are not reflective of who she is. She's very clever and intuitive. She gets along well with everyone, peers and teachers, and is well-liked. A lot of my students tend to flock only to people who speak their native language. I'm always more impressed by students who get along with everyone, regardless of language. Personally, if I had to work with someone, I'd rather be with someone like that than the student who aced all the exams without those qualities.

I also believe that she, and a lot of people like her, will do better in a college environment. I believe that pretty deeply because I was not a good high school student at all. Despite that, I was a voracious reader in high school, always in the middle of a book or two. In my English classes, we sat and read books one page at a time. Only when the girl in front of me was reading page 152 did I have to scramble to read aloud page 153. In stark contrast to college, there was no discussion, no analysis, and the only benefit was to the English teacher, who got to sit on her ass and reflect on whatever actually interested her. Certainly it wasn't the book in question, which interested no one. My time would have been better spent alone with a book I'd chosen myself.

Nowadays there's not so much of that, but English classes have been seriously degraded by Common Core. I've written extensively about how crappy the tests are.  Students who've spent years on the Common Core hamster wheel tend to be seriously lacking in reading and writing skills. Last year I taught an advanced class of ELLs, most of whom had tested out of ESL and passed the English Regents exam. The last time I'd taught that level, we did novels. I tried to do that last year, and it failed utterly. I had students mystified at the idea of actual reading, and handing me college entrance essays that were utterly incoherent.

Some kids fall through the cracks somehow. I had several who'd somehow transcended the curse of David Coleman, the Common Core architect who decided no one gives a crap what you think or feel, and that you should write with no regard to it whatsoever. What Coleman failed to anticipate, or didn't care about, or didn't know about, was that writing without feeling or passion is crap. I read quite a bit of it last year.

Though I was mandated to teach the English Regents, I started to create my own topics. My students wrote about contemporary topics, e.g. whether teachers should carry guns to school. While I followed the same crappy Regents pattern, at least we were speaking on topics that related to their lives. I alternated those pattern essays with things from my students' experiences, the things Coleman thought they should never bother with. This was very tough for some, but came naturally to others.

One young woman wrote of a near-death experience, and concluded her essay saying you have to really go for what you want now, because tomorrow isn't guaranteed. You don't see teenagers making points like that frequently. Not only that, but she consistently wrote with great precision and clarity, the kind you don't see from a lot of adults. I took her out in the hall one day and told her she was a writer, and that this was something very special, a gift to be treasured.

Yesterday I was very pleased to find, in my DOE email, a request from her for a recommendation. I wrote it immediately. Any college with the foresight to admit her will have made a great decision. I'm very happy if I play any small part in helping her. Of course, students like her are easy to support. It's the ones who don't come to you with natural talent, full of Common Core Crap, who are challenging.

It's a tragedy that New York State, via its abysmal pointless exams that value writer voice not at all, compels English teachers to practice precisely the opposite of what good writers need. If we keep moving in this direction, teachers themselves will mistake this crap for writing. That's when we're really going to be lost.

Friday, November 15, 2019

On Being Observed in an Unheated Trailer on a 21-degree Day

I'm just contemplating how I'd react to this. There are a few reasons that might not happen to me. One is, if I were in an unheated trailer on a 21-degree day, I'd probably say something like, oh, "HOLY CRAP IT'S 21 DEGREES IN HERE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE AND GO TO THE AUDITORIUM!" Now that's just me. Of course, if some teacher sees an observer come in, wearing a winter coat and a sweater and all bundled up, he or she might react differently.

A teacher might think, well, if this person is coming in to observe me, then it must be okay that I'm inside an unheated trailer on the coldest day of the year. The teacher might observe that every single student is wearing a winter coat, so probably no one will die of frostbite. Maybe the biting wind doesn't blow in the trailers because after all, the walls are still more or less intact.

Now if I were a supervisor, and I saw the entire class wearing winter coats, and I couldn't take mine off, I'd probably say something like,  "HOLY CRAP IT'S 21 DEGREES IN HERE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE AND GO TO THE AUDITORIUM!" Of course, I haven't been to principal school, so I lack the training and sophistication necessary to lead a department into glory. Maybe it has to do with the relatively basic way I think.

On the other hand, if you were to bring the class into the auditorium, where every utterance bounces off every wall and it's borderline impossible to teach, it could be the observer follows you in. Indeed, the observer could write you up as ineffective for not differentiating between the students who could and could not hear you. Who knows what could happen?

So you stay there, with your coat on, and the kids write the best they can with their gloves on. You ask a question, they raise their hands, and they answer. You marvel at how cooperative they are. You try to focus on their answers, but deep inside you wonder why none of the kids are saying, "HOLY CRAP IT'S 21 DEGREES IN HERE! LET'S GET OUT OF HERE AND GO TO THE AUDITORIUM!"

The supervisor leaves after ten minutes, so you say to yourself it's just one of those formative observations. You've gone through all that stress for nothing. No one has turned the heat on, and it drops dead around this time each and every day. What can you do about it? You can go to the chapter leader. He says, "My trailer was 99 degrees or thereabouts every day in September. I had a student who wore a hijab, and a robe from her neck to the floor. It was so, so hot, and I had no idea what that kid was going through"

"What did you do?" you ask him.

"I got the hell out of there and went to the auditorium. I filed a health and safety grievance that UFT decided not to bring to step two. And what if they did, anyway? Were they gonna build a time machine to go back and fix it?"

I'm not sure exactly what to do about issues like that. If I were the mayor, I'd knock the trailers down, get the kids out of there and put them in real classrooms. We're set to get an annex that might net us 12 classrooms the year after next. That will bring us down from 200% overcrowding to maybe 175%.

At least no one will be in trailers anymore.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Today's Grievances

I have a girl in my class who imitates me. Sometimes she stands behind my back and mimics my movements. Other times, she anticipates exactly what I'm going to say, stands up, and says it before I can. I have to say, I find this very disappointing.

The key issue, in my view, is having teenagers in my class who are smarter than I am. I mean, who the hell do they think they are doing that? Not only are they thinking faster than I am, but they have no reservations whatsoever about demonstrating it to the rest of the class. How disrespectful is that?

Now some of these kids are from a country in which students tend not to talk in class, ever. The teacher just stands up there like some mythical deity and spouts wisdom. They sit there and write down every golden piece of verbiage that falls from his mouth, like manna from heaven. Then they come here, get into my class, and talk faster and more cleverly than I do. What's up with that?

And don't get me started on the students who are taller than I am. I point out that I don't like it, and they nod their heads in agreement. But the next day they walk in just as tall as they were the last time I saw them. Sometimes they're even taller.

Clearly there is a breakdown in communications somewhere in our processes. We spend years carefully giving them tests that value self-expression not at all. We give them English classes in which we gloss over the great body of American literature it's taken us hundreds of years to build. Maybe we do The Road Not Taken. More likely we don't. Perish forbid we should go back to actual English literature, beyond perhaps a Classic Comics version of Romeo and Juliet.

No, we burden them with tedious essays. We make sure they read up on the history of cement, and they get to decide whether or not we should include rocks or shiny stuff among the gravel. These are the issues. We make sure to avoid discussing anything of relevance. Should teachers carry guns in schools? Should all Americans have health insurance? It doesn't matter, because you'll never see a controversial or contemporary topic that actually affects the lives of our students on the English Regents exam. In fact even if you did, there would be two prefabricated arguments and no room for students to create their own.

We do everything we can imagine to suppress their sense of curiosity and wonder and still they show up with eager minds and ready senses of humor. What more can we do to discourage their thirst for making sense out of what they see in this world? It's as though whatever meaningless soul-crushing tedium we inflict upon them has no effect whatsoever.

The only real solution, as far as I can tell, is to tempt David Coleman away from his job over at The College Board collecting an obscene salary for Whatever It Is He Does There. Sure, it will be expensive to lure him away, but he's the only person I know who can stand up in public and declare no one gives a crap what people feel or think. He managed to build that philosophy into a curriculum supported by Well Known Rich Guy Bill Gates. If Bill Gates supports it, it must be a good idea. Otherwise, why would he have all that money?

We have to take action now, and make sure school days have no relevance or meaning whatsoever. Also, we have to make sure students come here eager and willing to participate in activities that have no meaning whatsoever, beyond passing tedious exams. How else can we prepare students to work at Walmart or Target, with no benefits, no parental leave, and salary insufficient to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the crappiest part of town?

Otherwise, these smart kids will just keep showing up to my class with their humor and ideas, pushing their way out of the corrals we create to hold them, and there'll be absolutely nothing we can do about it.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Why Are Teachers Targeted and What Can We Do About It?

After reading yet another week of press coverage that shows little or no awareness of who we are or what we do, I have to take a moment and look at why we are where we are in the press. There are a number of reasons, and none of them are good. Fifteen years ago, crappy press coverage and too many conversations with people who didn't know what they were talking about caused me to begin this blog.

A big reason, as I said a few days ago, is that we still have union, something lacking in much of these United States. Ronald Reagan painted a big old target on union when he moved to kill PATCO, the only union that supported his election. Yes, he told the country, we will put you all out of work if you move to halt the transportation of the elite. What's more important, working people or rich people taking their vacations? Reagan let the whole country know where he stood on that.

This started a downward spiral for union in America. This is a big reason for the erosion of middle class. When I was a kid, the norm was one-income families. You could buy a home and support a large family if you worked in a factory. If you work in a factory nowadays, you probably can't afford a one-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country.

Teachers stuck with union, hopefully because we're well-educated. A few weeks ago, we faced a whole lot of pushback on a state law that gave us time to vote. Because we're union, many of us were able to take advantage of it. I brought my car into Toyota that morning to rotate the tires. They had no idea. They have no union. It was only the union that let me know about this, and it was me who mostly told the members in my building about it. The law, in fact, says it should be posted somewhere. What are you gonna do when you're an at-will employee? The best answer, in fact, would be to organize a union. (Easier said than done in many environments these days. It's on us to change that.)

Another factor is that we're a union dominated by women. Maybe you think sexism is a thing of the past, but I don't. Teachers and nurses are chronically underpaid, though our work is important to just about everyone. I can't speak much about nurses, but I've repeatedly read nonsense about just how easy it is to replace teachers. Just find an accountant and give him the math book. He'll know what to do.

First, find me an accountant who wants to be a teacher. Let's ignore the likely disparity in salary altogether and go with it. I can hardly thing of jobs more dissimilar. I like working with people, not numbers. I suppose math teachers like working with both. Still, it's a skill to capture the interest of 34 teenagers at a time, and here's something that doesn't occur to accountant advocates--people who work in offices all day are quite likely not to need, let alone have that skill.

Maybe the problem is that newspapers have had to deal with unions, and they hate them. Why should rich guys who own newspapers have to pay working people? That's a major inconvenience. The NY Times is supposed to be liberal. Not only does it have the worst education coverage in the city, but it also has run with reformy nonsense about us more than once. In fact, the supposedly left-leaning columnists have written blatantly ignorant nonsense that could easily have run in the Post. Of course, the Post runs more frequent anti-public-education editorials because the Times is so lofty it often can't be bothered worrying about the education of NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren.

The answer for teachers, Toyota employees and everyone is union. It's getting involved and seen. It's being part of something larger than yourself and lifting up an entire wave of teachers. It's looking at the future and saying you want this to be a better place for our students and children.

Let them target us. We can and will fight back. We have the truth on our side. We have the numbers on our side. Women are more than half the population, and maybe one of them will be President soon. It's about time. The time to be afraid is over.

When the press attacks us we have to stand strong and tell them precisely how full of crap they are. Presidential candidates, including Bernie and Warren, seem to be listening to us. Even Biden, after years of sitting silent about some of the worst education policies I've ever seen, paid us valuable lip service at a recent UFT conference. His wife is a college teacher. Of course she didn't have to depend on it for a living or anything, but they didn't mention that in their comments.

We know what's true and what's not. We don't need to be shy about it. Teachers just tipped the governor's race in Kentucky. Let's do the same in 2020. Let's dump Trump and all his soulless minions, and let's send a message to those who'd mess with us--We aren't messing around anymore.

Monday, November 11, 2019

What Better Measures Student Achievement--Teacher Grades or Crappy Tests?

The NY Post is on the case of students who pass English and math but fail state tests. They ran an editorial about it too. Evidently the only conclusion they can reach is that this is grade inflation. As usual, neither City Councilman Robert Holden, the fraud-alleging complainant, nor the paper has bothered to examine what is actually on those state tests.

The assumption, as usual, is that the state tests are the gold standard. This is odd, since just a few weeks ago, the Post was calling the NAEP the gold standard and saying its results were "final proof" of de Blasio's educational failure.

It's not surprising when a paper's editorial staff is out of sync with its reporting staff. I see it all the time. Daily News and NY Times editorials are generally no kinder to us than those of the Post. But the more I read the editorials, the more I think people who write them just ignore current events and grasp at whatever to support their already well-established prejudices. Good reasons, bad reasons--who cares as long as the points they wish are made?

I don't know very much about math, and I don't know very much about state math exams either. Perhaps the state math exams are the best standardized exams on earth. I doubt it, though, since they're based on Common Core, exemplified by David Coleman's core philosophy, "No one gives a shit what you think or feel." I won't begin to speculate what that portends for math, but it's extremely hard to see how that philosophy motivates living, breathing students. (People are not very important in David Coleman's world, and I can see why. I, for example, don't give a crap what he thinks or feels, and I wouldn't be surprised to learn he met many people with that opinion in his formative years.)

I'm a lot more familiar with English exams. The NY State English Regents is total crap. It doesn't measure reading or writing. I know students who've passed it with scores in the high 80s. Teaching them, I learned they were patently unable to construct a coherent sentence in English. I know students whose strategy to ace the multiple choice sections is to avoid the reading passage altogether and simply hunt for the answers.

It's hard for me to lend credence to an examination that actively discourages reading. It's hard for me to imagine any worthwhile writing being created by anyone who followed the Coleman philosophy. I certainly wouldn't want to read any such writing, and I can't imagine anyone other than Coleman who would. In fact, I have no enthusiasm whatsoever for reading what anyone at all writes on the English Regents exam. It does not elicit student thought or opinion, both of which interest me greatly. It gives two arguments and asks you to pick one. Create an argument yourself? Exercise independent thought? Take a passionate position on something, anything?

Nah. None of that.

Now it's entirely possible that some rogue English teacher somewhere encourages students to express themselves. It's entirely possible, in fact, that multiple English teachers have a feel for what good writing is. Not only that, it's entirely possible that English teachers with a mindset like that actually encourage it in their classes.

This is dangerous for a multitude of reasons. One is that a student might think good writing is something to aim for universally. Such a student could be taking the English Regents exam, have an actual idea, and express it. It's not that unusual for teenagers to have ideas. Some have very active minds and are thinking pretty much all the time. Of course, that can be inconvenient in the world of one-way test prep. What if they decide that you, the teacher, are wrong, and they persuasively explain why?

That very same troublesome spirit, when applied to the English Regents exam, could result in failure. In fact, I'm hearing that teachers seeking certification are now failing the certification test by expressing their opinions. This is not at all in the spirit of Common Core, which all the papers agreed to be the best thing since sliced bread.

We'll see whether the new standards change anything. Meanwhile, as far as I can see, the only thing the English Regents exam measures is the ability to deal with a pointless task. I have to admit, as a teacher, that's not remotely what I want to encourage in my students.

It may or may not be that these schools are juking the stats. I'd argue, though, that state tests and their results are neither here nor there in establishing that premise. To measure that, you'd need a yardstick that measured distance, as opposed to David Coleman's demeaning tinfoil-helmeted theories.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Portrait of Half an ATR

A few days back, I wrote about another attack on tenure, quite similar to many that had preceded it. Someone sent me this piece on ATRs, which somehow eluded my attention. The headline screams, "DOE spends $100M per year keeping excess teachers on the payroll."

The word "excess" suggests these teachers aren't needed, which is far from correct. In my experience, though, article writers don't get to choose titles.

This piece, unlike many others I've seen, doesn't single ATR teachers out for eternal infamy. However, there's quite a lot unsaid. For one thing, this mess was largely exacerbated by Bloomberg and his wasteful, unproductive school closures. Every time that happened, the staff had to reapply for jobs. Had I not transferred from John Adams back when I did, I'd probably be an ATR. It's largely just a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time.

Bloomberg's goal was not building up the ATR, but firing teachers en masse. He was not what you'd call coy about it either. He's spoken publicly of his idiotic notion to create classes of 70 and have the very best teachers run them. (After all, his kids didn't attend public schools, so why should he care?) A major contract demand for him was that UFT set a time limit on ATR teachers. This would've left many to lose their jobs for the offense of being in the wrong place at the right time. I'm very grateful UFT hung tough on that. Bloomberg would've fired half the teachers in NYC just to give Cathie Black a tax break on her penthouse. 

Though I'd rather see them placed, ATR teachers can be very useful. For example, in my school a teacher suffered a tragedy I won't go into. Because there happened to be an ATR available in that teacher's subject area, our students got uninterrupted instruction. When the teacher returned, all the classes had been taught the same lessons consistently, as opposed to having been covered by five different teachers who may or may not have been at the same point.

Every single class taught by an ATR teacher would otherwise have to be taught by a substitute teacher. I'm not a math expert, but if you allowed for the cost of substitute teachers for every single class taught by an ATR teacher, I'll bet that 100 million figure would be considerably lower. NYC pays the highest rate in our area for substitute teachers. (They're worth every penny. I have to cover classes from time to time, and it's more challenging teaching kids you don't know than kids you do.)

For a long time, if a principal didn't like you, all she had to do was press charges against you, have you go through a pointless 3020a hearing, and then say she didn't want you back. It seems fundamentally unfair to be charged with something, beat the charges, and lose your position anyway. Of course that was the entire point. I'm told that Carranza and Randy Asher have halted this practice, and principals are just that much less imperial nowadays. Superintendents now make these decisions. I'm sure they can make bad decisions too, but either way, that's not the fault of the teacher.

Then there's so-called Fair Student Funding, Bloomberg's idiotic notion that principals have to pay teachers out of the school budget. It actually encourages principals to hire newbies at half the price of experienced teachers. Then there's Bill Gates' reformy notion that no teacher improves after the first three years, and who knows how many Leadership Academy grads have been spoon-fed that nonsense? I can't speak for everyone, but for better or worse I'm the best teacher I've ever been right now. I learn from trial, error, and experiences. In my line of work, teaching kids from all over the globe, I have new experiences every year, every month, and every day.

Hey, if the NY Post thinks all these teachers should be in classrooms, I couldn't agree more. Put each and every one to work instead of leaving them in this outlandish and unnecessary purgatory.  Let's reduce class sizes for public school students systemwide. To create space, I'd be perfectly willing to toss Eva Moskowitz out on her million-dollar ass. How about you, Governor Cuomo? Why not forsake a few suitcases of cash and pull that law that says we have to pay her rent? That's what a real education lobbyist would do.

Where there's a will, there's a way.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

The Accursed DOE Webinar

Once again, we're mandated to take the sexual harassment webinar dreamed up by the geniuses at Tweed. You see, once Harvey Weinstein watches this he will completely alter his attitude and behavior. Once Donald Trump watches it he will no longer spout unspeakable vulgarities about women and publicly fantasize about dating his daughter. In fact, if only they had shown this webinar to all teachers a few years ago, the Post would not be writing about outrageous outliers and trying to tar the rest of us in the process.

Okay, that's not true. I took the webinar last year and I got the message. Report them. Report everyone. Call up and give names and numbers. While I hate seeing members rat one another out over things that are relatively meaningless, I don't have an issue with reporting outrageous behavior. Hey, if President Trump were my colleague, I'd report him in a Mar a Lago minute. Why wait until the Post puts up a piece about how some pervy teacher plans to grab women?

I got in very early today and tried to log in. I waited and waited, and nothing happened. A colleague tried the same. He got some message about timing out. You'd think they'd have learned something from the miserable rollout last year, but evidently the great minds at Tweed can't be bothered analyzing their mistakes from last year. Anything they do is Good Enough, if not Highly Effective. Teachers, generally assumed to be superhuman, are held to a higher standard.

That's not true only in the feeble minds of Tweedies. I myself figure if I have a job to do, I ought to get out of bed in the morning and do it. Not only that, but if I screw up, I look at why I screwed up. I either adjust or eliminate the lesson in which I did that, depending on whether or not it can be remediated. The DOE, on the other hand, is the Great and Mighty Oz, that must not be questioned.

After all, if your mother got you that cool admin job after you taught for two years, you must be smarter than I am. I mean, look at me. I've been teaching for 35 years now. Not only have I never attempted to become an administrator, but I've further never even bothered to go to administrator school.

If the people who ran this had a brain between them, they'd create options for us. They'd offer to show it to groups during PD sessions. That way, people could get it over with. They could get through it in one sitting, as opposed to depending on DOE bandwidth, up, down, in, out, gone and whatever. No one would have to start over again when the webinar failed to keep your place.

The ineptitude of this rollout, along with the total failure to analyze, let alone improve on what happened last year is inexcusable. If I screwed up on a task at work on this scale and decided to do it again, I would not be receiving a letter of commendation from my AP and principal. They would not tolerate it, and indeed they shouldn't. Likely they'd find someone else to do it next year, and they'd be entirely justified in doing so.

It's intolerable and unacceptable that the NYC Department of Education lacks this fundamental level of basic introspection. However, along with tens of thousands of my UFT colleagues, I'm entirely accustomed to it. I sent them an email:

Like last year, like my colleague across from me, and like thousands citywide, I am unable to log in to the required sexual harassment webinar. Last year it took me several months to get in. It's very disappointing we have to waste so much of our time trying to open a link. It's further disappointing you make no allowance for us to watch this in groups during our PD sessions.

Very sincerely, 

Arthur Goldstein

I got a form letter back, just like last year. It did nothing to resolve the issue, just like last year. I'll try and try, waste my time, and maybe complete this thing months from now.

We have a new chancellor with a new vision. But until the mayor allows him to make all the Bloomberg leftovers walk the plank, this is going to remain par for the course.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Another Day, Another Vilification of Teacher Tenure.

Sometimes there's so much to say, I'm puzzled just how to begin. I'll say this, though, We have a President of the United States who dozens of women have accused of rape, virtually wiping his ass with the US Constitution, attacking the free press, and the New York Post is attacking teacher tenure.

Here's the argument, which I've heard a million times, from Giuliani, to Bloomberg, to Campbell Brown and who knows who else--we found a few teachers accused of outrages and not fired, and therefore no teacher should have due process, otherwise known as tenure. This is akin to suggesting that Americans ought not to have trials or due process because sometimes guilty people go free. (Except for the guy in the White House, of course, who denies everything and anything and ought not to be charged with anything, let alone tried for anything. You see, any argument against him is "fake news.")

Here's part of one of the Post's awful stories:

The alleged victim recanted, officials said, but the city feared Miller enough to bar him from the classroom forever. His pay rose to $127,333 last year.

With no case, evidently, the city was expected to fire the teacher for no reason whatsoever. Nonetheless, it's an unpardonable sin that the teacher is getting paid. The fact that there's no case against him is neither here nor there.

Here's what you won't read in the New York Post, or from Campbell Brown, or from any local paper who prints these stories--there are a whole lot of teachers brought up on charges for little or no reason. I'm personally acquainted with some of them. Usually I can't write about them, but I did here. Most people facing outlandish charges don't want publicity. They're more concerned with protecting their livelihoods.

How many people lost their jobs for no reason? I'm thinking of one right now, and I can't tell you her story, even though I wrote it years ago. She's still fighting it and doesn't want it to come out until it's finished. Of course, I can't blame her. You won't be reading her story in the New York Post anytime soon.

I've been teaching for 35 years, and since my first, no one's ever accused me of being a bad teacher. Of course, if I were to call myself a pain in the ass, I don't think there'd be a whole lot of pushback from my current principal. Other principals are far more sensitive than he is. For example, at CPE 1, principal Monika Garg placed the chapter leader and delegate up on charges, likely for doing their jobs. Months later, after heroic pushback from the community, they were reinstated.

Do you know how many chapter leaders, delegates and teachers have been put up on frivolous charges without being reinstated? Do you know how many were suspended without pay for no good reason? Do you know how many paid thousands of dollars and suffered for months in rubber rooms for no good reason? Of course not. That's not Campbell Brown's beat.

I was not always an activist, and I was not always a blogger. However, I've been an ESL teacher for a long time. Once I had two students who were fluent in English, but illiterate. I happened to mention this to then-NY Times education columnist Michael Winerip, who mentioned it in a fax he sent the DOE. This placed a former principal of mine in a frenzy. He ranted about how ungrateful I was, though in fact he'd never lifted a finger to help me with anything whatsoever.

He then began a campaign of harassment, demanding I repeatedly meet him at the end of the day to discuss nothing. He dragged me into meetings where the sole topic was whose asses happened to be covered after my unspeakable transgression. (That would be everyone's, except mine. The two boys, in a spirit of cooperation, both dropped out of school, still illiterate, shortly thereafter.) He refused to buy books for my students. If he could have fired me, I have no doubt he'd have done so. I'm very grateful to be union, and I'm very grateful to have tenure. If people like the ones quoted in that article had their way, my career would have been over decades ago.

It's disappointing but predictable that the tabloids write the same story, over and over about the perfidy of teachers. How dare we not only show up every day to teach the children of New York City, but also demand not to be fired for no reason? We aren't perfect, but I make no apology for the job protections I have. I need them. Every teacher needs them.

It's beyond disappointing to see how poorly we're represented in the press. If Americans were smart, they'd make us a model for all, as opposed to vilifying us at every possible juncture.

Monday, November 04, 2019

UFT Executive Board November 4, 2019--A Lesson for an Arbitrator, and a Founder Speaks

6 PM Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.

Speaker—Walter Rendone—As teacher I career changed, went into it for love of learning. Taught 15 years. At PS 24 in Riverdale. Was brought up on 3020a. Told I was not performing well. What changed from being a great teacher to being pushed out?

Aside from creating science curriculum, I was critical of principal, who was gambling on school hours. Principal only taught two years of HS, got AP principal, charged with corporal punishment and became principal.

I started to get written up. Left prep to move car. Small things were accumulated. They now tell me, after giving me G and T program, that I’m not doing well. Not sure what my position is, as I now make photocopies and carry boxes.

Have letter of support from 60 parents. Not sure what I’m supposed to do. Came here to pose question—is this normal? Should I sue this man? I want to protect other teachers. All of a sudden our school is constricted and hands are around my neck.

Once I touched a smart board during an exam by accident. Yet he then placed me in two testing grades and had me conduct state science exam. I read what they’re accusing me of, but I also know what the principal has done.

Does anyone have a similar story, or support? How can I exonerate myself and make my school the great school it should be?

Barr—Thanks speaker. This is not a Q and A session. Your borough rep is here. She will guide you through this process.


President is not here tonight.

Barr— Make sure you vote and encourage others to do so. Members have rights to be released up to three hours. Some misinformation out there. If anybody notified by close of business Friday, they should be released. If that is an issue, please let us know.

CTU strike is over. Settled. Congratulations to our Chicago brothers and sister. We will meet November 18 and change Wall of Honor. We will have an event here. Suggesting we start at 5:30.

Moved, seconded. Passed.

Hall will open at 5:15 or 5:30. We will end early and move to lobby. People honored are Leo Hoenig, Carmen Alvarez, Frank Caruchi, Sandra March, Bob Ostrowsky, and Shelvy Young-Abrams.

Bronx parent conference Saturday 9 AM. Brooklyn parent conference Saturday 16 9 AM.


Arthur Goldstein—The new class size process has worked very well for our school. In fact, the only classes remaining oversized were music classes, which had been oversized for years. The arbitrator ruled that performing groups could remain oversized, but that music classes renamed “required music” for the purposes of the hearing were oversized.

Though we have a new process, the arbitrator still determines what we can do if the class sizes are not resolved. In our case, he directed that our teachers of oversized classes would be relieved from their C6 assignments two days a month.

Does anyone here know of a principal who would correct an oversized class rather than give C6 off two days a month? I wonder why an arbitrator would find that a reasonable remedy. I wonder whether they have any idea what it is to teach a class of 50. I’ve done it, and I think the arbitrator’s remedy is a cruel joke. I’m being kind when I use those words.

Can we make arbitrators teach classes of 50 before allowing them to make decisions on topics about which they clearly know nothing?

Barr—David Campbell is here.

Campbell—There is a change in remedies. Previously, the school would be given 5 days to comply, and then there would be a meeting where the DOE would offer an “action plan.” There were some discussions, but if they were found reasonable they were accepted.

Now the arbitrator, when they issue decision, gives remedy. One advantage is action plans didn’t amount to too much. Now they are rendered earlier. Yes we would like stronger remedies. They are tricky to find. C6 suggests teacher needs more time. That’s one way. We were disappointed with that outcome. Didn’t seem adequate. We want to fight for stronger remedies. Are open to ideas.

Reports from districts—

Rashad Brown—Youth empowerment dinner LGBQ students. Please purchase tickets.

Hector Ruiz—Latino caucus had fundraiser for disaster relief. Everyone had good time. We raised $5,000.

Camille Evy—Thanks boroughs for participation in aiding Hurricane Dorian victims. Have more items than we can ship.

Janella Hinds—On Thursday, had Future and Focus, 500 students and chaperones spoke with people from 40 different unions. Had fantastic time learning about labor movement collective bargaining, and pensions. Really good day.

Barr—Moment of silence for Lila Ezro. Worked for MAP for many years. Did a lot of work for UFT. Passed Friday.

David Kazansky—Was director of school safety, worked with her for 3 years. Was backbone of victim support program. We had many traumatic events. She also directed MAP, helped countless members with suicidal thoughts, drug and alcohol addiction. Made union and world better place.

Legislative report—Janella Hinds—Yesterday, pres. delegate workshop hosted by UFT and other unions. Tried to ID people who’d serve as delegates. Gave info. Fantastic turnout. Proud of work. Will bring people together for census November 18. Important for UFT and labor. Will have more info soon. Don’t forget to vote.

Barr—Resolution commemorating UFT strike.

George Altomari—Thanks us for remembering. 1960 strike started with fight for money respect and dignity. 1953, three young men and one woman in 126 Queens, went to begin careers. Al Shanker taught math. Thought we’d be supported.

Door opened and in came a tyrant. He opened the door and asked why there was so much noise, in a perfect classroom, full of participation. Called me out into the hall and complained. We decided we couldn’t stay and be treated this way. Same principal harassed Shanker. Asked him to pick up papers on floor in front of kids.

We decided they wouldn’t drive us out. Went to local 2, Teachers Guild. Told story. They said join the union. We did, that same week. Most schools didn’t have one member. We started organizing. Had details of strike. We knew nothing of importance is given—it must be taken. We fought for dignity.

I went on to high schools, organized Franklin K. Lane. We got help. People wanted us to be ready to help ourselves. District reps came from district chapters we organized so we could have a strike. Our number one demand was collective bargaining. We prepped in 1959. When you go that far, you don’t turn back easily.

November 7, 1960, day before election of John Kennedy. We used Delaney cards to organize. We used enemy’s ammunition. Red book had every district, school, principal. They were our computers.

We got money, yes, benefits, yes, but also dignity. I was strike chairman then. We were proud to be able to get so many people to fight for what they believed in. We got 5600 on strike and 2000 who called in. We had no safety net. Today you’d have a pension. Then you’d have nothing. They risked everything and the UFT is here. We now pass that on to you, and hope you don’t have to strike. But you’re ready to do it again. We know that. We are in solidarity, live it together, have to thank giants of the past that will be on the wall.

Barr—George is the last of the original officers of the UFT. I always learn something new from these stories. Never really put it in context of day before Kennedy was elected and what country was going through at that time. Had elected one of the most progressive presidents of all time. Asks founders to stand.

Resolution carries unanimously.

We are adjourned 6:42.

Sunday, November 03, 2019


We all suffer through Danielson and her nonsense to one degree or another. Some of us have supervisors who aren't crazy, and honestly you can't ask for more than that. All of us feel the pressure regardless. Then there are the grades and tests. Not enough are passing. It must be your fault, says the supervisor. Well, it isn't my fault. All I do is walk around and pass judgment on you, so I have nothing to do with what those children experience.

It's tough, though. You want to be kind to everyone. You want to be kind to the boy who doesn't feel Fridays are an appropriate day for school. When he shows up to one of the two classes you teach him, you try to pay him some attention. The topic is what jobs are worth having. He tells you it doesn't make a difference as long as you make a lot of money. You tell him what if you wake up every morning and dread going in? Wouldn't that make you unhappy? Wouldn't it make a difference if you had a job you looked forward to?

You see him thinking. You've made a point he will consider. But he'll still cut your next class, because that's what he does. It's your fault. Sure you've called the phone number the school has, but it's actually his number. It's not like you have anything new to say to him about his attendance, and it's not like anything you say will alter his behavior. He may wake up and decide to do something differently at any moment, but it's likely not one coming soon.

Then there's the boy who used to be in special education in his home country. Who knows what they do in special education in that country, but every paper he hands you is either blank or filled with random words, likely as not copied from somewhere in the room. You wait for months while they evaluate him, or look for someone who speaks his language to do so. When students work in pairs, you hope there's an odd person out so you can pair with him. You know no one will get any work done with him. You wonder what happens when you get observed and he isn't participating. Of course it's because you're ineffective. There could be no other cause, even though you haven't got the remotest notion about his abilities, and knowing almost no English, he can't show you. Still, you get along with him, and hope someone who knows better than you can help him.

There's the girl with the Problem She Won't Talk About. She functions. She gets good test grades. She smiles. But she's absent. She shows up with a social worker. You haven't got a clue. But she can answer questions. She has good grades. When she's around she does the work. She's excellent. You must be highly effective. But what the hell is going on with this girl? Likely as not, you will never know.

Teachers come up to you every day. "Oh my gosh, they put a new student in my class and it's NOVEMBER." You find that funny, because you get new kids each and every day, up to and including June. People don't move to a new country while planning for the school year. Go figure. Your class starts out with 20 and ends up with 34. If you have a co-teacher, maybe it goes oversize. After all, there are 2 teachers.

There are still great kids who have amazing advanced senses of humor, and however limited their English they manage to express it. You look forward to seeing them every day and encouraging and appreciating them. Of course, this won't get you points on the observation. Of course, this won't help them to pass the tests that measure nothing of value.

Meanwhile, the geniuses in Albany sit in their thrones and make rules. Their new plan to decimate English instruction is working perfectly. Not only do they need fewer ESL teachers, since they've declared direct English instruction to be unimportant, but the kids are all passing the tests! It's a WIN-WIN! Thank goodness they had the foresight to design tests that measure nothing!

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teachers Should Write Education Editorials

The NY Post gets you coming and going. A few weeks ago, they were saying that the notion of dropping Regents exams represented a total lack of standards, and that the whole state was going to turn into the Wild West. Everyone was going to pass no matter what. That was the only reason they could imagine for moving away from these tests.

Evidently, these tests ranked somewhere near the Ten Commandments, and were so perfectly formed that any criticism of them, let alone movement away from them, was absolutely out of the question. The Post showed no evidence they were actually familiar with the tests.

In our school, we have an election day PD by some company that’s visited us before. The first time they came, they showed us two essays. One was written by some spoiled young woman who complained her parents sent her to Europe. Evidently it was boring. Another was written by a young man who made burgers at a beachside stand that summer and milked the experience for all the humor that could be found in it.

There we were, challenged by highly paid PD preppers to discern between art and crap. It was my distinct feeling that anyone who didn’t recognize the crap for what it was, well, that person ought not to be teaching writing. I understand why the school is engaging them, though. A lot of students cannot write their way out of a paper bag, and many are native English speakers.

Actually, I place the blame for that on the English Regents exam, which we’re urged to prep kids for. The English Regents exam is Common Core based, and thus formulated on David Coleman’s brilliant theory that no one gives a crap what you think or feel. Since we teach students to write based on that foundation, it’s no surprise whatsoever that they produce writing no one wants to read. The truth is, no one gives a crap about writing that has no heart, passion or feeling.

I’ve actually been told that some of our highest-performing students have written college essays that were not particularly impressive. Someone who works at a college told me when she read good essays, she had no idea whether students wrote them themselves. When she read bad ones, she knew they were real.

Given all that, the Post now cries and moans that the NAEP exams are the gold standard, and by that standard de Blasio has made no progress whatsoever, and that this is "final proof."  Given the state standards are crap, something that’s utterly eluded the Post, I’m not surprised. I’m also not remotely persuaded this is de Blasio’s fault. After all, it’s the geniuses in Albany who write the tests, without which our students can’t graduate. Instead of teaching kids how to write, let alone how to appreciate reading, we’re forced to teach them to deal with crap that will serve only one purpose—helping them pass the crappy tests.

If Michael Bloomberg were mayor, the Post would be praising him to the heavens. He’d be a genius for raising state test scores. The NAEP would be ignored. The thing that really gets the Post’s goat is all that “social justice” stuff.

Perish forbid that students like those I serve should be treated with dignity as a matter of course. No, let’s go on our merry way as the geniuses in Albany cut direct English instruction. Doubtless the NY State Regents and the editors of the NY Post could go to China tomorrow and ace their standardized tests with no help whatsoever.

I’ve had it with reading education editorials and op-eds by people who not only haven’t got the remotest notion what they’re talking about, but then go the extra mile and say any gosh darn thing that will reinforce their obvious and blatant prejudices.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Time for Voting

In case you live in a cave or just hadn't heard, there's a New York State law that says you can take up to three hours off from work in order to vote in your local election. There's a form that's been made available to chapter leaders.

You can find further info and download the form you need right here. 
There are reasons why you ought to do this, whether or not you think you actually need the time. I mean sure, you can wake up at 4 instead of 4:30 that morning, go to your local polling place, and hope that you're the only one who had that idea. Maybe you won't have to wait on line. Then you'll be able to go to work and not miss a moment of whatever PD administration is offering that day.

On the other hand, this is now your right. It's a right that wasn't handed down from Mount Olympus by Zeus. Like the right to vote, it's a relatively new development. Now here's the thing about rights--if you don't assert them, you haven't actually got them. For example, a lot of people have the right to vote, but a whole lot of people can't be bothered. Your vote really matters. Look at the recent Queens DA race that came down to the wire.

Not persuaded? Look at who's President of the United States. Admittedly, he won the election fair and square by every possible measure (except votes cast). But a lot of people who'd voted for Barack Obama didn't bother to get off their keesters to vote for Hillary. And why should they have? The polls all said Hillary was a shoo-in. I didn't love Hillary myself, but with a choice between her and Trump, I voted for her. If I hadn't, I'd feel guilty.

Look at the UFT Contract. There are schools Bloomberg started that are still full of untenured teachers. The principal says everyone's C6 assignment is doing teacher teams five days a week, and poof! You have an entire building full of teachers, all of whom are already frazzled and overworked beyond, doing something they universally detest five days a week. Sure, the contract says you can choose a C6, and the menu needs to be negotiated by the chapter, but maybe there's no chapter leader.Or maybe the principal picked someone and said, "You are the chapter leader," and no one ran against that person. Who knows?

Nonetheless, in a building where no one asserts or defends the collective bargaining agreement, there may as well not be one. In a building ruled by fear, there's not a whole lot of teacher voice. I'd argue that teacher voice is one thing that really makes a building special. Even the best principal can't clone everyone in his own image and expect good results. In fact, the best principal would know that and actively interact with disparate voice. It's the worst principal who treads all over everyone no matter what, and that's why we have checks and balances written into the contract.

Are the checks and balances perfect? Do they always work? Of course they don't. But they are there, and it behooves us all to use them. Do you want to be in good physical shape? Then you have to exercise, one way or another. Do you want to enjoy the rights you have? You have to exercise them too.

If I were you, I'd copy and paste the form below and submit it to my AP. Then I'd have the AP give it to the principal. Also, I'd do it by Friday, because unless you're coming in Sunday, that's the only way to get it in two days before the election. I already submitted mine last week, the first time I saw it.

Don't say you don't need it. You don't need to vote either. But every single one of us, every time we look at the news or turn on the TV, is acutely aware of what happens when we don't.

This is your right. Use it or lose it. There's no middle ground.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Failure Breeds Contempt, and Less Work

I was talking to a friend from another school who was outraged that he had to write IEPs and one of his acquaintances did not. This was by instruction of the supervisor. Did the person have special privileges? Was he related to the AP?

Actually, he just did such a terrible job of it that the AP didn't want to bother. The problem, of course, is that once something like that becomes public knowledge, maybe everyone will do it. That didn't happen, in this case. What happened was everyone sort of began to hate this guy for not doing the work they all busted their butts over.

In case you don't know it, special education teachers have a whole lot of extra paperwork issues in the form of IEPs, which I believe stands for individual education plan. Kids with special needs are not all the same. Some need one thing, some need others, and it's up to special education teachers to write and collaborate on these plans. It's a big job, and it's generally the C6 assignment of all special ed. teachers. Of course, they have other issues as well, including co-teaching. A special ed. teacher might have two co-teachers, requisite co-planning and still have to write IEPs.

Years ago, I was assigned to do lunch duty, which I did for a full year. The dean who ran the lunchroom placed me at the front door to do all the work. He placed himself at the back door and did almost none of the work. It was one fun-filled year. I remember reading an op-ed in the Times saying how lunch duty is wonderful because you can really get to know the kids. I got to know the ones who had fake programs, the boys who brought in girl's programs, and the ones who'd lie to me and say they needed to leave early.

Actually it was perhaps the single most unrewarding experience of my career, on par or worse with proctoring exams of students I don't know in subjects I don't understand. Because I took the job seriously and actually challenged the students who didn't belong there, I was not much-loved by the more troublesome students. This job became the opposite of fun, and I really never wanted to do it again.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the good job I did inspired administration to reward me with it twice in a row. At that time, there was a regulation that you could only get lunch duty once every six years. Evidently the union knew how teachers felt about regulating food fights and wrote that in. While I wasn't chapter leader, and while I wasn't yet active in union issues, I knew the rule. I told them they couldn't place me there again.

They moved me to the dean's office. There was certain paperwork the dean didn't like doing, so he passed it off to the school aide assigned to his office. My job, evidently, was to assist the school aide. Why they thought that necessary I couldn't tell you. She looked at the work the dean passed off to her, and passed it off to me.

I dutifully filled in whatever crap I was asked to, but it turns out my handwriting is so awful no one could read it. People asked me what things said for a while. Sometimes I could read it. Other times I couldn't. After a while they stopped asking me to do the work the aide was supposed to do for the dean. I sat there the rest of the year and wrote lesson plans.

Sometimes I don't understand why we're placed in these situations. Other times it looks like everyone is in them sometimes. Why does common sense remain among the least common of all the senses?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Too Much Testing? City Has Simple Solution--More Testing

CPE1 is a progressive stronghold. They have a vibrant school community that stands up to nonsense. When an abusive principal started pressing charges against UFT activists and banning activist parents from their children's school, they screamed, and continued doing so. The principal was reassigned. For all I know, she's twiddling her thumbs at Tweed, in the company of other highly-compensated thumb-twiddlers.

CPE1 is among a small circle of city schools in which opt-out is a popular option.  They have over a 70% opt-out rate on state tests. The parents at CPE1 do not appear to believe that pointless testing, let alone teaching to pointless tests, is the way to help their children. Having spent a good part of last year teaching students, half of whom had already passed, how to deal with the abysmal English Regents exam, I understand completely.

The state, of course, overreacted. It rated CPE1 a "struggling school," despite appeals otherwise from the Chancellor. Yet the city, evidently in response to this rating, has decided to give more tests to CPE1 and Brooklyn Collaborative studies, which also had a high opt-out rate. I'm not sure that's a logical response. If my daughter refused to eat broccoli, my first response wouldn't be imposing the all-broccoli diet. Of course, I'm just a lowly parent and teacher, not among the few, the proud, who do Whatever It Is They Do at Tweed.

This comes in the wake of an effort to enact more testing citywide. I understand the chancellor's concerns, and I understand his interest in knowing how our students are progressing. What I really do not understand is exactly how a standardized test will be able to measure this, or why, given the low, low quality of tests written by "experts," anyone would believe they would show or tell us anything.

As I mentioned, last year I had a class of students, half of whom had tested out of ESL and passed the English Regents. Many of the students who'd managed that proved unable to compose a coherent sentence in English. This, evidently, is the kind of test produced when a bunch of geniuses get together, consult experts and psychometricians, and spend huge sums of money that could otherwise be used to create space for students to learn in reasonable class sizes. I'm in the most overcrowded school in Fun City, and even with an annex that may be completed within my lifetime, I don't expect we'll see significant easing of the situation.

Even if the state tests were excellent, which they are certainly not, there's no way to ensure they're aligned with what my school, your school, or any school is learning. The Regents exams, along with the 3-8 exams, are given at the end of the year. There is no possibility of remediating the alleged shortcomings of our students. Even if there were, given the meaningless nature of the tests with which I'm familiar, it hardly seems worth it.

Now we're faced with the possibility of facing quarterly "formative assessments." That's a way of saying it's a nice assessment, that you won't find it particularly burdensome or unpleasant. Call it what you wish. If the results come in and say that your students aren't doing well, you'd better believe scores of principals will be forcing teachers to get better test results.

This will, of course, lead to more teaching to the test. I can tell you, from years of experience, that teaching to the test does not lead to love of learning, passion for the subject matter, or much of anything beyond better passing rates. For years, I was tasked with teaching English Language Learners how to pass the English Regents exam, back when it actually measure writing. I spent the year having kids write until their hands were about to fall off.

My friend, a Chinese teacher, overheard and translated this:

I don't know what I can do. I can't pass the English Regents exam.

Maybe you should take Goldstein's class.

Why? Is it good?

No. It's horrible. But if you take it, you'll pass the Regents.

I can believe that. I never enjoyed teaching that class, and I understand that students wouldn't have enjoyed taking it. But its sole objective was showing students formulaic ways to meet the four writing tasks the test then demanded. Even having done so, these were particular writing tasks. I was acutely aware that I was teaching students how to pass the test, not how to write.

Other things I didn't teach were English conventions, since the Regents exam placed them at the very bottom of its writing rubric. The issue for them was passing a test, without which they couldn't graduate from high school. I really don't want to teach another class like that ever again, but you never know.

With quarterly city exams, it's entirely possible every single class will be like that. Given Danielson, test-prep classes could be a death knell for teacher ratings. I hope the chancellor reconsiders this initiative and chooses to rely on teacher grades. Studies show teacher grades are a better indicators of college success than standardized tests.

We're ready and willing to share our grades with you, Mr. Chancellor. Trust us. Just because the state deems us unfit to grade our own students doesn't mean we're a bunch of crooks. If we were a bunch of crooks, we're surely have higher salaries, you know, like the people from the state who make the rules.

Stop taking advice from the overpaid ex-principals at Tweed, Mr. Chancellor. We're the ones actually doing the work, and we know better.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Realizing A Vision

I've watched the Mulgrew-Carranza video five or six times. What they want is the moon, the sun, and the stars.

Now don't get me wrong--I want it too. I want it all. The issue, though, is how do we get there from here? How do we establish healthy working relationships with New York City supervisors, many of whom received training directly from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy?

Joel Klein most certainly didn't want to sing Kumbayah with the likes of me. Klein wanted to close my school and make me an ATR. As it happened, I'd already transferred to a school that got better grades than the one in which I used to work. I'm not stupid enough to think that was because of my sudden presence. It had a lot more to do with the neighborhood kids, who tended to get higher scores. Had I stayed where I was I'd be an ATR.

I transferred simply because my boss wanted me to work hours that would've precluded my second job teaching college. My transfer had nothing to do with school quality. It had to do with the transfer school being close to Queens College and having hours that would let me leave in time to do my second job. That way I could make the money I needed to pay my brand new mortgage. I happened to be very lucky, luckier than I'd imagined.

You see, my then-supervisor didn't care whether or not I could pay my mortgage. She told me that the Spanish teacher threw out too many kids, and I never threw out anyone. Therefore I was going to teach Spanish, not throw out kids, and she would spend less time dealing with kids who were thrown out. If not, I was gonna be on the late shift and lose my second job. The fact that I love teaching ESL, the fact that my English is way better than my Spanish--these were of no importance whatsoever. She needed her "me time," I had the Spanish license, and that was that.

As you surely know, there are plenty more where she came from.

When I became chapter leader, a teacher gave me all the emails for the department. After I sent the first email, another teacher in the same department approached me.

"I feel like I've been RAPED," she said.

"Oh my gosh,"  I said. "What happened?"

"You sent me an email, and I never gave you my address."

"I'm so sorry," I said. "Someone gave me a list. I'll never send you another email again."

"That's okay," she said. "You can send me more email."

That was taking passive-aggressive to a new level, I thought. Shortly thereafter, of course, she was promoted to supervisor.

As chapter leader, you see things other people don't. You ask questions.

"Why did you observe Ms. Finch on a half day when there were almost no students in the building? If you want to give her a chance, don't you think it would be better to see her when she had, you know, an actual class?"

Then the supervisor just says no, I'm not gonna do that. What's the point of even talking to people who think like that?

Tweed is full of people who think like that or worse. Schools, also, are full of Bloomberg leftovers. I know supervisors I trust absolutely. I know supervisors I trust almost absolutely. I know others who are good in some aspects, but funny in others. Then there are the ones who never, ever should have gotten those jobs.

Carranza and Mulgrew have a great idea. Still when Carranza fired or reassigned four people, the media was in a frenzy. What would they do if he suddenly decided that insane individuals ought not to be supervising teachers and fired them en masse? How many people who hate teachers and everything we stand for are still sitting in Tweed, drawing a salary for Whatever It Is They Do There? How many are working as supervisors of teachers?

Let's work together, improve our practice, and help the 1.1 million children who need our help, say Carranza and Mulgrew. How could anyone even begin to disagree with that.

There are a few people standing in the way of that vision.  How many do you know? Can we simply begin hiring people who aren't crazy and wait them out? Or do Bloomberg leftovers and Leadership Academy grads, like cockroaches and Rudy Giuliani, simply survive everything?

Can we work toward improving our craft, as opposed to living in perpetual fear and loathing? I certainly hope so. It's something worth striving for, worth fighting for. Is it gonna happen overnight? Of course not. But I figure a hundred thousand people who can teach 34 students at a time can do just about anything. We build a house brick by brick.

We just have to place them very carefully.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

This Year's Model

It's inevitable. Another new year, another new reformy trend. You need to give a mini-lesson that must be exactly ten minutes, NOT nine, NOT eleven. Then the children must sit on a rug while you read them a book. Never mind whatever that rug happens to be crawling with.

Also, you must have an aim on the board. It must be phrased as a statement. Also, it must be phrased as a question. You see, students are so dim that they cannot possibly understand what is going on unless you reduce it into eight or nine words.

Now don't get all uppity and start thinking. We don't do that here. Sure, if you have the best aim in the world and your lesson is total crap the aim won't help. And sure, if you fail to write an aim but your students find you totally enthralling, your lesson will be excellent. What I'm looking for here is the opportunity to walk by your classroom, not even set foot inside, and decide whether or not you suck. Aim? Doesn't suck. No aim? Sucks.

Also you need to begin with a DO NOW so that everyone is focused. They must sit down and get right to work. The DO NOW should take no more than five minutes. If it takes longer, not only does it suck, but you also suck. If I wanted to look at things that suck, I would've kept my job at Dunkin Donuts instead of having my mom get me this gig.

Also I've had it with that "reading" stuff. No one wants to sit and read, so let's not even pretend about that. From now on everyone will read no more than two paragraphs at a time, and when they do, they will answer at least five questions about whatever it was you made them read. And none of that fiction stuff, because we don't want them thinking deeply enough to empathize with fictional characters. Who knows what that could lead to? Next thing they'll be asking me questions at the Christmas assembly instead of singing along with whatever trite song I favor that year.

Also, it's of vital importance that we get some of those answers to questions on bulletin boards. And for goodness sake don't forget to put a rubric on the bulletin board, because no one can appreciate a bulletin board that doesn't have a rubric on it. Okay, maybe I exaggerate. I won't look at the frigging rubric, because it bores me to tears, and neither will anyone else, But if you don't put a rubric on the bulletin board, I'll put a letter in your file, bro, and that may lead to further disciplinary measures up to and including termination.

And now let's talk templates. What are templates? They're a combination of plates and temples. Or something. And I want you to follow the templates, because if you don't, you will be OUT OF COMPLIANCE and that means a disciplinary meeting. JESUS, WHY CAN"T YOU TEACHERS GET WITH THE PROGRAM? SHOW SOME FRIGGING INITIATIVE AND FIGURE IT OUT!!! AND I WANT EXIT TICKETS!!! DON'T GET ME STARTED ABOUT EXIT TICKETS!!! ANYONE WHO DOESN'T HAVE ONE WILL BE RATED SUPER DOUBLE SECRET INEFFECIVE!!!

Anyway I hope that clears things up. Portfolios? Yeah I know I said we needed them last year but portfolios are out. Let's get those templates happening. What are they? I don't know, okay? Just look them up on YouTube. That's what you do for everything else, isn't it? And have them on my desk in the morning.

That will be all.

Monday, October 21, 2019

UFT Executive Board October 21st--UFT and the Presidential Race

6:00 PM Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.

No speakers


Barr—Shortened November 18th to observe changes to Wall of Honor, changed from November 4th. Starting at 5:30. All are welcome.

Adjust calendars—January 6th EB moved to January 13. Manhattan parent conference this Saturday. SI parent conference November 2. 8-2. Thanks us for coming out to Teacher Union Day. 

Question period—

Arthur Goldstein
—Yesterday at Teacher Union Day we watched Joe Biden promise us a grab bag of goodies. I can’t imagine any teacher not wanting to enact the programs he described. Yet he never mentioned privatization, which threatens so many public school districts. And though he frequently refers to his part in the Obama administration, he failed to do so yesterday.

Working teachers still feel Race to the Top, which imposed charters and test-based ratings on much of the country. While I’ve seen such ratings here help teachers, it’s only because so many city administrators are so wretchedly inept that a crap shoot is preferable to their judgment. Diane Ravitch wrote Obama gave GW Bush an extra term in education. Arne Duncan famously said Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to NOLA education. We remember the near complete privatization of the city, and the virtual destruction of union there, pretty much blazing a trail for Betsy DeVos.

Maybe Joe Biden didn’t play a part in it, and maybe he didn’t support it, but I’ve never heard him say so. The Daily News referred to us as his supporters. Personally, I’d support him against Trump, but that doesn’t make me his supporter. The fact that we’ve thus far invited him and no one else lends credence to the paper’s assertion. The Times today, in a piece on Warren’s new education plan, says, “Ms. Warren and her Democratic rivals are vying for endorsements from teachers’ unions, which generally oppose the expansion of the charter sector.” I’d like them come and do their vying right here.

Is the United Federation of Teachers pursuing opportunities for members to hear from the other frontrunners, Sanders and Warren?

Barr—Daily News got facts wrong. We were clear that because Biden was available it no way means we are endorsing him. This in no way means we don’t want others to come. As soon as we can get them here, we will. We will have a report about the debate party. Goal is to make members as informed as possible. AFT wants people to work with people they want to work with. We want people’s time and talent devoted to any candidate they choose. It’s still early, many people on stage. Michael wants us to wait until the field narrows a bit, see who can be elected, who can beat Trump. Daily News did not get it right, and Arne Duncan was wretched.

Rashad Brown—Are we taking a position on city charter?

Barr—Will let Michael or others speak to that.

DeShanna Barker—Re—smaller schools—how can we support them? Often they are charged with same things as larger schools, and it doesn’t always work out. Prep periods and workloads are the same, but often times don’t have manpower. How can we support them?

Barr—These were created by Joel Klein to break up large schools. Found many members applied to specialty schools, wanted to be there, have had same issues for years. Many who signed up were willing to do some of that work. Difficult to lay foundation until school grows large enough. In terms of budget, these can be conversations between entire campus. Principals and CLs there can discuss how to put things back together and make some things work. We will talk about strategies and techniques they’ve been using.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew
—Thanks everyone for UFT events, ELL conference, AFT teacher leader group, Strides, and Teacher Union day, which went well. We are not endorsing anyone. Trying to reach goal we did in mayor’s race. We’re moving toward working with campaigns and telling them what we want on national level. Over weekend we were in contact with Warren campaign. They were waiting for K-12 plan to come out. When we do endorsement, we look at education, worker policy, health care, pharma, looking for more support and development of unions. We should be expert on that.

Most times, it’s not who you like the best. After that, you have to figure out who can actually win. Team and apparatus in place important. That will take a lot of our time. Going to AFT this week. UFT largest local by far, will play significant role, but decision will be based on criteria I said. Important that leading candidate came to us, and that public sees. Trying to find dates and times for others.

You have right to leave early or come late for election day. You must inform them it is state law, only for NY State residents. 3 hours. You have to have a race happening in your district to get release time. If you live in an NYC district, public advocate is up. Not sure about other counties. Make sure there is race in your district. Let us know if principals object.

We should be done with all class size arbitration by Thanksgiving. Planning what to do about curriculum and DOE. DRs and field reps will be trained. Talking to CEC reps about this and the census. Thanks everyone who volunteered last weekend. Good people saw UFT working with community and pushing public school system to greater heights.

Barr—Will send voting info to Exec Board and CLs.

Reports from Districts

Rich Mantel—I need winter jackets. We bring students from temporary housing here to UFT, for Thanksgiving, give them food, games, and when they leave, every one gets new winter jacket, gloves and a scarf. They cannot be more appreciative. This year our biggest sponsor can’t help up. We are behind. If you can help with clothing or money we would appreciate it. Bring to my office or borough offices. Mail, or we’ll pick it up. Must be new.

Serbia Silva—Thanks volunteers, coordinators, all who made it to two different events on Sunday. Thanks borough reps, leadership and everyone.

Sean Rockowitz—At last exec board I spoke to retiree sanitation workers, who offered to help with Thanksgiving drive. Will collect coats, hats, toys. SI UFT hosted event for PreK center new hires. Very well attended. Donated $1500.

Rich Mantel—Thanks SI retirees who’ve donated dozens of coats.

Rashad Brown
—First LGBTQ youth empowerment dinner, Corey Johnson and others, $75 for scholarship fund. Nov. 21.

Barr—wants everyone to participate. Wants Danny Dromm fund to have 30K. We want you there to come out and celebrate.

Legislative report—Brigitte Ryan—On behalf of political dept., thank you for yesterday. All was beautiful. Congratulates honorees. Ballot proposals—no position, but if you have questions, refer to political appointees in borough offices. Hosting a session October 23 9 AM, will talk with labor movement about census, child care crisis, rank and file services.

Will have presidential delegate training, Sunday November 3rd. Refer questions to Cassie Brugh

Resolution to support NYC Transit Workers—MaryJo Jenise—5 months without contract. Asks for support for our brothers and sisters. Strike would have terrible impact on people.

Passes Unanimously.

Motion to adjourn 6:38