Saturday, September 26, 2020

What Can We Do About the New UFT Agreement?

Weeks ago I posted that the DOE had agreed teachers who were giving remote lessons would be allowed to do so from home. There was a huge response to that assertion, mostly on Twitter, and a whole lot of people asked me for a source. I couldn't share my source, but I will tell you that our school has allowed that from the beginning. 

It makes sense to me for a number of reasons. One is it makes for fewer people in school buildings. In our building, we'd need space for 100 teachers to stream from the building, and we simply haven't got it. Of course, we're the most overcrowded school in the city, so that's par for the course. Another is a lot of schools don't have the bandwidth to handle streaming from such a large number of people.

Look, if my home wifi drops dead one day, my students won't get classes from me. If everyone's wifi in the building drops dead, that's a much more serious issue. I heard that happened in a large Queens high school one day, and perhaps that's what pushed the DOE. (I also heard they were upset that this plan was released on blogs, and that their immediate reaction was to take their ball and go home. That's what passes for leadership over at Tweed.)

It's funny, because when I first posted it, people were challenging it as too good to be true, and now that it's a fait accompli, people are shouting about how unfair it is. So there are a few things to be said about that. One is no, it's not perfect. Few things are. There's New York pizza, dogs, The Beatles, the first two Godfather films and a handful of novels like Catch 22.  Beyond that I'm stumped.

Still, I'd argue it's better to keep some people home than make everyone go in. For years, I've argued for universal health insurance and universal college. Some people say, well, I had to pay so you should have to pay too. Some people said that about UFT parental leave as well. That's not perfect either, but a whole lot of members I know are over the moon about it.

There's a story Diane Ravitch told me about two Russian farmers. One has a cow, and one doesn't. One farmer says, "You have a cow and I don't. I want your cow to die." I'd argue we're better moving as many people forward as we possibly can. I'd also argue that having people with vulnerable family members prioritized is not only a step in the right direction, but also something a lot of people in my inbox, and on social media, have been demanding.

As for those who say their principals will have arbitrary and capricious power over decisions on who stays home and who doesn't, there is specific language here. To wit:

Supervisors may require in-person UFT-represented employees to remain on-site if needed.

While it's debatable who is needed, I'd say this requires the principal to demonstrate said need, and if your job as a teacher or paraprofessional entails five online classes this Tuesday, I have no idea how the principal would do so. I'd certainly file a grievance or operational complaint and make it as public as I possibly could if a school leader kept a UFT member in the building for no reason. 

In any case, there's now a new option to deal with overarching issues in your building--the SBO. Why? The DOE, while it awarded our building a plan outside the ridiculous cookie-cutter plans offered us, denied those plans to a whole lot of our counterparts. Our plan involves having all classes taught remotely three days a week, while two days students can get individualized assistance either within the building or online. This means that our teachers without accommodations go in only twice a week. Several other large Queens high schools are using this model.

We will now have to put our plan through an SBO process, and your chapter can propose the same for your building. Or you can come up with a better idea and propose that. I know this is not as satisfying as all remote, and I'd rather propose that for my building too. From where we are, though, this is an improvement. You can dispense with your building's need for 20 magical co-teachers, and put a larger number of classes online.

I'm sorry we can't go all remote. I'm even sorrier we aren't in school doing what we were doing last September. I don't know about you, but this isn't what I signed up for. There's an energy in a live classroom that I really love and miss. The remote classroom is a pale imitation. For my money, the live, socially distanced, masked classroom is even worse, a virtual horrorshow. I predict the more students experience this, the more they'll opt out of the live classroom altogether.

In our building right now, 60% of students have opted for all remote. I hear there are others in which the numbers are over 90%. It's in your hands now to push for a reasonable option in your school. I've got a small modification to our current plan that I'm going to suggest, but all things considered, our plan makes the best out of a borderline impossible situation. 

So now it's in your hands. What are you going to do?

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