Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A First Wave of NYC Teachers Stands Up

I was blown away last year when the bold CPE 1 community stood up to a small-minded, vindictive principal. Many UFT members struggle to do their jobs under the questionable leadership of would-be tyrants who taught for five minutes, got the hell out of the classroom and feel they therefore know everything. Worse, we had something called a Leadership Academy that advocated methodology with which I wouldn't train dogs, let alone lead people.

More recently, Forest Hills High School spent more than a year struggling under eccentric Ben Sherman, with his wacky sense of humor and/ or leadership. They tell me Sherman would make remarks about how women looked, that he's asleep in his car to find out who came early to get the best parking spots, and that he'd leave the bathroom door open so secretaries could observe what he was doing in there. Then there are his hilarious dismissals of staff complaints about pot smoking--it'll be legal soon, so why bother dealing with it?

Both schools held votes of no confidence, and both were supported by their communities. More recently, PS 333 did much the same thing. This is far from an easy thing to do. Principals have a lot of power and can do a lot of things to inspire fear. In the case of CPE 1, then-principal Monika Garg placed both the UFT chapter leader and a delegate up on frivolous 3020a charges. While those against the chapter leader were pretty quickly dropped, the delegate lingered in limbo for months afterward. If you're utterly risk-averse, you might not think it's worth your while to stand up.

Of course if you don't, if you won't, you've lost before you've even begun. The good news is a whole lot of teachers do stand up. We are role models, and it behooves us to set examples for our students. Do we want our students, our children. to sit passively while bullies tread all over them? Shall we sit quietly while blithering bullies from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy make random demands that help neither us nor our students?

All over this country teachers are waking up and asking what the hell is going on. There are a lot of teachers in worse shape than we are, but that doesn't mean we can't improve where we are, or where our students are. That doesn't mean we have to lie down and tolerate the stunning incompetence that passes for leadership here.

Teachers are not stupid. We can see when principals and assistant principals are incompetent. Sometimes they just lumber around and mostly stay out of our way. Other times they impose themselves on teachers and students and degrade entire schools. In NYC, teachers are waking up to that. It's time for the mayor and chancellor to wake up with us. You don't improve the education of children by placing self-serving, self-important windbags as leaders. Furthermore, you can't ignore the fact that Michael Bloomberg presided over churning out the worst school leaders NYC has ever seen. They may as well have been spit out of an assembly line absolutely guaranteeing abysmal quality.

More schools are voting no confidence, and it behooves us to support them in any and every way we can. While teacher-bashing may be a virtual national pastime, it's far less common for eyes to be on administrators. That's too bad. Bad administrators undermine education a lot more widely than any teacher could. They terrorize young teachers who've yet to find their voices or identity. They force teachers to spend their time and energy on nonsense that has no relation to the classroom. They impose counter-productive and wasteful programs on classrooms that preclude actual learning.

I've long maintained that people who long to leave the classroom are the very worst leaders of teachers. They hated dong this job, and now it's their job to show you how to love it. I hated math when I was in high school, and you wouldn't want me teaching it. Yet a whole lot of people who hate teaching are supervising teachers. As a teacher, as a chapter leader, as someone people reach out to, I see this replicated all over the city.

We can't allow the rise of red state conditions. We need to move forward, not backward. We need to be a beacon, an example. We need to stand together and not only support our embattled brothers and sisters, but also move to end the scourge of abusive administrators. We need to turn around not only all the damage caused by the so-called Leadership Academy, but also push away all incompetent leadership.

We need to stand strong, and we need to make every single incompetent administrator know that their days are numbered. We will expose them and tell the press, the city, and the world about them. We will demand leaders who understand what this job is, leaders who can actually do it themselves. If you want to sit up on a pedestal and tell me what I'm doing wrong, you damn well better be able to get in a classroom and show me how it's done.

Now that we've cut observation in half, administrators ought to be teaching a class every day (and not that honors class that runs itself either). If they can't do that, they ought not to be leading us. And if they lack the people skills we instill in kindergarten, they ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. (I hear Sarah Huckabee's job is open.) If the DOE wants to send them all to Tweed to do whatever people in Tweed do, they'd better secure air rights, because that's gonna be the biggest skyscraper in the world.

Let's send an army of teachers to every embattled school, let's shine a spotlight for the press to follow, and let's have New Yorkers know that school leaders ought to be great teachers, not the petty, vindictive little dictators that are Michael Bloomberg's legacy.
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