Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Zombie Plague of Bad Teachers in Press--Real Ones Just Go to Work

Someone put the bat signal on my Cory Booker post and I've gotten a few status quo questions. I've responded to them, but I really hate answering questions like that.

What would you do about all the teachers who suck? We'd respect the union more if it didn't defend all those bad teachers. Why are all city schools so terrible?

These questions are not new to me. For years I've read newspaper editorials and op-eds that sprang from these assumptions. I've been writing this blog for almost 14 years, and I don't really love moving back to square one. Nonetheless I've responded to a few of them.

As I write this, I'm finished teaching for the day, waiting on a School Leadership Team meeting. I'm in the teacher cafe with a bunch of people who are prepping lessons. I've already done most of what I've got to do, and the rest will wait until morning. I've set this blog to pop up at 4 AM, and that's around the time I'll be popping up too. I have a little quiet time in the morning, then I walk my dog and come in.

I'm in an hour early every morning. Because my job as chapter leader is basically insane (I'm not complaining--I love this job), it's the only way I can make sure I have time to do actual schoolwork.  There is a group of us here early, and I'm the only one who's chapter leader. Everyone else is doing extra, off schedule unpaid work too. They're prepping lessons, writing PowerPoints, making copies, stapling papers, and doing 500 other things. But that's not where the real work is.

The real work is on the classroom when you're with 34 teenagers, some of whom may be smarter, or even crazier than you are. I can't really guarantee I'll always be the smartest. You never know when some kid will get all arrogant and have a better argument than you do. But you can always work on being crazier than they are. However, no matter how unpredictable you fancy yourself, there's always some kid even more so, and that kid might be in front of your face at this very moment.

In that case, you'd better be smart, because that's a very delicate situation. What can you do or say that might make the odd behavior before you cease, improve, or better yet, become productive? For me, the answer is conversation first, and if there's a later, home contact more often than not. A lot of teachers don't like to call. I don't blame them because I don't like to call either. The question then becomes just exactly what, and how much of it, are you willing to tolerate before you do something?

It's tough because I'd like to see my kids right on the edge, on the line somewhere, but not over it. I'm thinking now of a girl who's very smart, very quick, but also very loud. Almost every day I consider calling her dad, but I've only done it twice. The first time I really blew it. I spoke of how smart she was, a lot, and dad took it as a compliment. He ended up thanking me.

But it's a tight rope. You have to be very careful how you respond to kids. They all have different things they like, different things they don't, and it's very tough discerning. There are some kids I can be very loud with. These kids will give it right back to me, too. There are others who I'd never raise my voice too. They strike me as very delicate.

Teachers who fall off the tight rope can get in trouble. Kids become unresponsive. Sometimes they become very responsive and report teachers. Depending on what happens, it could be a counseling memo, or a letter to file. Repeat that same behavior enough times, and you're looking at 3020a, when the state tries to take your license.

On the other hand, I know teachers who've done little or nothing, and ended up facing 3020a because the principal didn't like them. Bloomberg was all about giving power to principals, no matter how lazy, crazy, cruel or incompetent they happened to be. He set up DOE legal. This is a service in which principals call, ask whether or not it's okay to violate the collective bargaining agreement, and friendly lawyers say, "Sure, go ahead. No skin off my apple."

There was a whole Leadership Academy to churn out vindictive, intolerant principals who didn't want to be bothered with no stinking rules. Forest Hills High School is having big fun with one of those principals even as we speak.

Of course, there will always be people like Betsy DeVos, Bill Gates, and Cory Booker to carry out inane baseless policies that do little but send our tax dollars into the pockets of people who least need them. They can tell incredible stories, usually false, get themselves on TV, and present themselves as the second coming of Mother Theresa. But they're all full of crap.

We teachers are doing all the work, and shouldering most of the blame for things that are way out of our control. A whole lot of tests are crap. The English Regents exam in no way measures how well students write, because it barely involves writing. It's all about close reading crap and spitting out information on demand. The NYSESLAT, which my students all take, declares students no longer need English instruction simply because New York State doesn't feel like serving them.

We teachers come in every day and do the best we can. Our classes are overcrowded, our buildings are falling apart and cannot accommodate the students already here, many of our supervisors are the polar opposite of supportive, and we get blamed for everything. Everything.

But we're the ones who come in each and every day and do our level best to help every kid who comes to our classes. For that, we deserve better than to be vilified by the press and the ignorant politicians, and by ignorant politicians, I mean the overwhelming majority, even some I kind of like,

We can do better.
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