Friday, March 05, 2021

To Open or Not to Open? Depends What "Open" Means

Every day, and everywhere, you read and hear about opening the schools. Biden made it a priority, and to his credit, has managed to push out a whole lot of vaccine. He now envisions having a sufficient supply for all adult Americans by May. I spend many fun hours trying to get the vaccine, refreshing and revisiting various sites, and still feel it's a minor miracle I managed to do so. 

So Biden wants to open the schools in 100 days, and he's got 60 or 70 left. I think he can do it, actually. After all, NYC buildings are "open." Well, elementary, D75 and middle schools are, anyway. It appears that, within a matter of weeks, high schools will be "open" as well. Of course, that does not mean that we teachers are out there doing what we do. 

The NY Times is all excited about school openings, and seems to have been on a campaign for them, and against teacher union, for months. Just open the window, they say. They then give an example in which one window is open, and show what will happen. Who knows what happens if you choose a different window, or what happens when the temperature is freezing, stifling, or perhaps both, given the caprices of school temperature regulation? And hey, look at how that COVID sweeps around the teacher standing like a statue in front of the class. (The Times seems not to notice that.)

Of course, the class is socially distanced. You have only a handful of students there. So the Times, if you ignore my questions, has set forth an easy recipe for school openings. Except, of course, there are more questions. For one thing, if you only have nine students in a classroom, what exactly has become of the other 25? Here in Fun City, they're sitting in a Zoom class somewhere. So while you've technically got the buildings open, you've only got a fraction of students actually in attendance. 

Now there are exceptions. There are red states in which the governors have decided to completely ignore the pandemic that's literally killing their constituents. Have the governors determined they'll lose more opposition voters? That's entirely possible, considering that the virus seems to disproportionately hit minorities. Are Republican governors that evil? If so, calling them "neanderthal" is a relative compliment. 

In any case, Biden has made it a priority to vaccinate teachers. This is significant, because while New York has already done so, many states have not. Florida's MAGA governor, for example, is now going to have to vaccinate those teachers to whom he'd previously offered only a middle finger. He's probably the last governor who'd help educators, so it looks like teachers will finally be protected. That solves everything, right?

Actually it does not. The fact is the vaccine is not available to schoolchildren. It looks like that is changing, but what are the chances of vaccinating every school child before September? If that doesn't occur, how on earth are we going to fully open buildings? I work in the most overcrowded school in this overcrowded city, and even if every adult were to be vaccinated, would it be reasonable to expose all these teenagers in such stiflingly close quarters?

I cannot imagine how that's acceptable to any thinking person. 

The fact is, having 25-30% of students in school buildings, masked, socially distanced, and unable to freely interact is not precisely progress. It's hardly something worth battling for. It may appear otherwise, of course, if you rely on the NY Times for education information. 

Those of us who've worked for the NYC Department of Education have heard many, many iterations of doubletalk, and we see this "opening" for what it is. It's a sham. If we want to go back to in person education, we need to vaccinate everyone of every age. These half-assed solutions may be good enough for NY Times reporters, but they ought not to be good enough for teachers, students, or parents.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Teacher Evaluation--Not Quite Better than Nothing, but...

That quote and photo are of everyone's favorite evaluation expert, Charlotte Danielson. Evidently, after having taken tons of cash for her system, she disapproves of it. Of course, so do I. While her framework may have been helpful as a guide, it has reduced evaluation to exactly what she claims to be troubled by.

This notwithstanding, it looks like we have an evaluation agreement. I'm of the opinion that we ought not to be evaluated this year, but my powers over space and time are limited. ESSA says we need a federal waiver to avoid this, and that's not happening, especially given Biden's failure to waive testing. We'd also need a waiver from Cuomo, and that doesn't appear forthcoming either.

I've read several accounts saying we ought to approach Cuomo and ask. While that wouldn't hurt, neither would it be productive. First, it fails to consider that we need the federal waiver. Second, even a weakened Cuomo would not sign it. What's in it for him? Are we going to fight to keep him in office? I can't speak for leadership, but I've never voted for Andrew Cuomo. He's the first Democrat I ever declined to support. That's because, on his very first term, he ran on a platform of going after unions. I thought, with Democrats like that, why do we even need Republicans?

As if that's not enough, he enabled the IDC, the Democrats who effectively gave Republicans control of the Senate. He's taken suitcases of cash from charter supporters and whored himself out for Eva Moskowitz. And the allegations against him now make him seem even worse than we knew him to be. Sure, he's stood with us and helped us from time to time, but that was only to contrast himself with Donald Trump. Unlike his dad, who likely lost his job over a principled stand against the death penalty, Andrew seems to have no discernible moral center.

Despite his problems, I don't see how helping us benefits him. It would likely mean we'd have to defend him somehow. I'd vomit in my mouth if I thought we were supporting him at this juncture. And even if we did, I don't think it would make much difference. There'd be a story in the NY Post about how Cuomo was in the pocket of the UFT, and we'd still lack the federal waiver. 

Given all that, I don't see how we slip out of evaluation. So if we have to have it, what should it look like? Right now, it appears that anyone who's had a satisfactory walkthrough is finished for the year. In our school, earlier in the year, I got a lot of email from teachers wondering why supervisors were coming in to see them. There's no evaluation system, so why bother? I kept telling them that that these walkthroughs could not be evaluative, and couldn't be used against them, so there was no reason to worry.

Now it appears that they will count only if they were effective or higher, and all or most of the teachers who complained are done for the year. In my building, that means that evaluation is largely over. I was a little upset with the principal for sending all those supervisors to monitor us, but they do have the right to watch us teach, virtually or otherwise.

Now I'm getting email saying that Ms. Supervisor observed me, said it was fine, gave me a few suggestions, and does that count as an observation. I have to answer probably, since I can't read Ms. Supervisor's mind just yet. It looks like a whole lot of people who complained in the past are relieved in the present.

Given that March 2020 has raged on for 368 days and counting, this is probably the best result we could get. I'm not sure, given the evident impossibility of waivers, what could have been better negotiated. It's not better than nothing, but short of that, it's better than anything I can think of.

Monday, March 01, 2021

UFT Executive Board March 1, 2021--DOE Looking at HS Openings

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Minutes are approved.

VP Sterling Roberson--Friday was CTE virtual awards, educators and others honored. Thanks all who presented and supported. 

Rashad Brown--Black History film 4:30-6:30. History of BLM

George Altomari--Irish American committee met last week. 

Tom Murphy--Retirees doing benefit meetings, general membership March 23, working on election committee. Will have info on petitioning process. 

Cassie Prugh--Good evening all! Happy Monday! Reminder to sign up for our 3rd Mayoral Town Hall on Tuesday, March 9 @ 5:30pm here.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Chancellor--Appreciate what he'd done for three years. DOE still DOE and we have to get through this year. We will do our best to make September better.

We don't know what programming will look like next year, but are looking at SBOs. 

Town Hall Thursday. Will discuss CL election process. Hoping for better relationship with labor relations board.

We are in conversations about HS openings. We have a formula and know how many people we need. We want time before we do this. HS has less in person instruction because of low number of opt ins. Nothing changes on safety. All of it still kicks in. Was good to see in middle schools. Met distancing guidelines. We've just started these conversations.

APPR is out. City has finished with principals. Need to make sure it matches context we are working under. If you had earlier walkthrough that was effective or higher that is your observation. If not, you will have another. Same for tenured and untenured. Want to keep it simple for this year. Can only observe what is seen, Cannot ask for other domains. We will get you MOSLs and insure it is all fair. We have a complaint process that should work if there are shenanigans. 

Between now and next break we have a lot of work to do. Have to set up for end of school year, and we cannot wait until July to do programming for next year. Hopefully city has learned. 

Anyone working in person should have access to the vaccine. In person HS people should have access if schools open. 

We have to deal with emotional, academic and graduation issues. Ninth graders haven't attended HS yet, and this is important in determining how they will do in HS. Are seniors getting prep for college they need? We have concerns with graduating class. College enrollment is down. Imagine this being your last two years of school. I have called City Hall. We are only district in state with no PSAL sports. Heard that group of parents meeting with City Hall are being told UFT won't allow it, but they have never spoken to us. We have testing and can make a plan. 

Thankfully our HS division has been trying very hard to work things out.

Question--

No comment on allegations against governor. They speak for themselves.

Have spoken to new chancellor numerous times. Still have issues with DOE in leadership and education, and they hurt chances of successful chancellor.

Standardized testing is a mess. If we have to report, the only test we can give is standardized. We can't do a formative assessment, though we should. I doubt many parents will have kids sit for those tests. Parents can opt out and that's a position I support. It's important we do some sort of formative assessment so we have a baseline. Sitting for a standardized test that does none of that makes no sense.

Random testing--Done by DOE, if not done properly you have to let us know. Last week was best week for testing. Changes we've made have helped. Going to city labs and coming back quicker, but we still have problems.

Q--Vaccine test was moved. How will they open up HS if they are vaccination centers?

A--We told them if they wanted to open, they had to move out vaccination centers. If they can isolate part of building, we can look at it. About a dozen sites had to be moved so MS could open.

Q--How can they keep comprehensive campuses open for vaccines and open small schools for students?

They can't. 

Q--Principal says with everyone double vaccinated, can people rethink accommodations?

A--No. Accommodations are covered under federal law, at least medical. Others may become tricky, Number of kids coming in is quite low. 

Q--Kids who opted for blended will come back. Can principals invite others?

A--Principal has no authority to do that. City can do that. Now looking at maximizing in person days. We can look at reprogramming students who show up. MS have students at five days a week. We had large rooms for them. They did good job with students with IEPs.

Q--We got MOU quickly for eval. before principals.

A--Communications people did good job. We wanted to get it out in way that we wouldn't have to deal with DOE sabotage. 

Q--Principals got very short notice on graduation last year. Can DOE give more than two days notice?

A--That's on my list. Commencement is a big deal, so let's try to do better this year. 

We are adjourned 6:32

Friday, February 26, 2021

Hail and Farewell from the Chancellor

Dear Colleagues,
 
I hope you and your families are keeping safe and healthy, not that it would have anything to do with me or my actions. I’m writing today with some important news.
 
After three years leading the DOE, I will be stepping down as Chancellor at the end of March. Why wait until the new person comes in and get fired?
 
I am full of mixed emotions to leave the DOE family, because this is one heck of a gig. I mean, it beats working for sure. I am in awe of the huge salary. The work we have done together has given me a free house for years, and it truly sucks that I’ll soon be back to paying rent.  But hey, I’ve picked up a million bucks over the last three years, and expensed every cent that went out, so I’ll be cool.
 
When I started at the DOE in April of 2018, it was with a mission and a purpose: to help our system reach its full potential, so it could lift up as many children as possible in the way that only public education can.  Of course, once Blaz decided the schools had to stay open even after Broadway closed, I let them stay on in COVID-infested schools, along with you guys, while I sat in my office and played with the free paper clips.
 
Throughout my career, my guiding light has been the belief that public education is the most powerful equalizer for our young people. Public education anchors communities, and I left the buildings filthy enough that they felt like anchors to one and all. Public education makes it possible for a child who is poor, or who lives in temporary housing, or—in my own case—who doesn’t speak English when they enter the public school system, to catch COVID, and bring it home to his or her family. Truly, it is public education that expresses equity for all, except for those who, like me, can afford to send our kids to private schools that aren’t crumbling and neglected. My time here in New York City has only strengthened this belief, as I have seen it play out time and again in schools all across this amazing city.
 
So together, we got to work. Well, you did, anyway. And while our work is never “done”—there is always more to do to accomplish our dual missions of equity and excellence—we created a lot of change. We paid valuable lip service to ending the SHSAT, and while we’ve made no progress whatsoever on that front, people are still talking about that meeting in Queens I walked out of when it got too hot.
 
Together, we supported our students’ continued academic achievement. Our seniors kept breaking their own records as graduation rates and college enrollment kept rising higher, and the dropout rate kept getting lower. They keep passing those meaningless, vapid, Regents exams and leaving school with the valuable skill of passing meaningless, vapid Regents exams.
 
We made true progress in dismantling the structures and policies that are the products of decades of entrenched racism in the city and country. I myself tweeted just the other day that parents should opt out of standardized tests. Sure, Blaz dragged me into his office and barked at me for four hours, but hey, once I knew he was gonna give me the boot, I decided to resign and hope against hope that some other city would pay me to do my thing. Hey, if John King can become US Secretary of Education, anything is possible. 


We finally brought the mental health and social-emotional needs of our children into the spotlight and made it a major priority. Those of you who work directly with our students know that a child needs to feel welcomed, comfortable, and safe in their classroom and school community—especially now, when so many of our students are neither in classrooms nor school communities. And the ones who are, well, they’re socially distanced and wearing masks, and let me tell you, man, I’m glad it’s not me who’s gonna have to deal with those issues in years to come. 


And, of course, during the COVID-19 pandemic—a time none of us could have ever imagined—together we scrambled to appear we knew what to do at a time when none of us did. I myself made a handful of visits to antiseptic looking buildings that look little like the schools in which you work, and pretended your schools would look that way when you came back. 


This meant tireless hours preparing and teaching remotely; not for me of course, creating safe learning environments for children of essential workers; distributing 500,000 devices for remote learning; serving 80 million free meals; and our half-assed opening plan, the one that made three out of four New Yorkers say, “No way, Jose,” even though no one in charge actually holds that name.  
 

Throughout, I have been proud to prioritize what’s best for kids over what’s politically popular. I have never been afraid of hard conversations, except at that meeting in Queens where I turned and ran like a chicken facing Colonel Sanders. 


All of you, and all the children we serve, need and deserve both continuity and courageous leadership from your next Chancellor. I hope you get it, because you haven’t gotten it from me, Dennis Walcott, Cathie Black, Joel Klein, or anyone else I can remember. Good luck to my successor. This job is basically impossible if you do it right, which is why no one remembers anyone who has.  
 
More than anything, I am proud to have served with you, and so proud of the strides we have made. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I don’t know what’s next for me, but  you better believe I will pad my resume so that no one can figure what, if anything, actually happened during my three years here.


It has been the honor of a lifetime to serve as your Chancellor. I am grateful to each and every one of you who does the work so I don’t have to.
 
In unity,
 
Richard
 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Teacher as Living Martyr

That's the idealized version of what we do, and this is a great piece going into chapter and verse as to why. Who hasn't seen Stand and Deliver and decided, wow, that's what a real teacher does. Of course, if you get into the story a little deeper, you learn that not everything was quite as the film portrayed. This program didn't, in fact, materialize out of thin air with a bunch of kids who didn't know arithmetic. And it didn't last once Jaime Escalante left the picture either.

It's true, I guess, that there have been children who sat and composed symphonies before they were ten years old. This notwithstanding, the fact that you haven't doesn't precisely suggest your life is a failure. I'm sure Escalante was exceptional. I'm not sure he was as exceptional as that film portrayed. What I'm absolutely sure of is that he's not someone I'd use as a role model.

You're not a criminal because you want a life. You're not a criminal because you want a family. Sure, you may love teaching, but that doesn't mean you need to neglect absolutely every other aspect of your life and do it 24/7. Now there are people who want to be like that, or who at least want to appear like that. 

Maybe you have a colleague who gets up in front of the PTA and tells them what awful jobs the teachers in your school do. Maybe this person is the principal's favorite. Finally someone who will get up there and say exactly how much the staff sucks, and tell what a great visionary the principal is. This is a valuable employee, so naturally there has to be some comp-time job doing who knows what, because how could you let a talent like that go to waste teaching?

Of course, people who walk around tossing their brothers and sisters under the bus are hardly role models. I wouldn't want them teaching my kids, or yours. Of course, they won't be for long. Folks like that are on the administrative track. After a few years, they can actually be paid for the great service of telling teachers how much they suck, and compete with their colleagues for bragging rates over who told the most teachers how badly they suck. Then they can become principals, maximize misery, and everyone will wonder why students are so unhappy as the bad vibes trickle down to where they're least needed.

In NYC, we have to walk through a minefield of cruel and incompetent supervision each and every day. We haven't got time to be martyrs. We're too busy trying to focus on kids while ignoring the, I'd say, 25-40% of supervisors who are batty as bedbugs.

I don't know about teachers on missions. I saw some movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as a teacher. I think she brought a gun to school and climbed out a classroom window or something. I don't recall exactly what fabulous and miraculous thing she did for the schoolchildren. I'm 100% sure, though, that she'd be fired if she did those things in any school I've ever worked in.

What about Jaime Escalante, demanding he teach calculus in a school that didn't want to offer it? I remember he offered to resign if he didn't get the program he wanted. What would happen if you or I demanded a program and said we'd quit if we didn't get it? I'm absolutely sure we'd be taking the next bus to the unemployment office. 

Look, I liked Rapunzel, but that doesn't mean I need to set up my daughter in a tower and make her grow her hair 50 feet long. I don't measure children against fairy tales. Truth be told, it's time for the public and press to stop measuring us against them too. We are working to help kids get through life. That's a great cause, and that's a great job. It's an important job. 

All these people who want miracles? Let them go take a class in Fairyland. Here on earth, we're doing the actual work. We do our best despite all the slings and arrows the press and public hurl at us. Take my word--that's more than our critics could do, and that's more than enough.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Big Lie on Testing from Biden

The Biden administration is insisting on standardized testing for traumatized students this year. This is a huge disappointment. I remember the awful education policies of the Obama administration, and I remember Diane Ravitch writing that Obama gave Bush a third term on education. Don't get me wrong--I certainly don't miss Big Orange at all.

I was wary of Biden because of Obama's awful policies. I remember Arne Duncan making us all Race to the Top. I remember the insistence on evaluation teachers based at least somewhat on test scores. Despite the fact that it mitigates the judgment of insane supervisors, it was and is junk science.  It's not best policy to judge working teachers by junk science.

But Joe Biden came to Pittsburgh to speak to educators, and painted us a very different portrait of himself. Biden was low on my list of Democratic candidates. He wasn't the worst of the bunch. I would not have voted for anti-public education candidates Corey Booker or Mike Bloomberg under any circumstance. Biden got my vote, but I was very concerned he'd enable the sort of reforminess that Obama did.

The forum in Pittsburgh was really interesting, but when I got there I found no way to ask a question. I tried really hard and pushed everywhere I could think of. Here's the question I wanted to ask:

I recall Arne Duncan, who famously said Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans. This resulted, of course, in the charterization of the entire city, the loss of many union jobs, and the displacement of a large number of teachers. Fifteen years after Katrina, most New Orleans charters are graded D or F. Duncan also pushed test-centric initiatives, such as Race to the Top and Common Core; even so, NAEP scores remain flat. What was your position on Duncan's education initiatives? Has it changed? Why or why not?

I was given a message from the people at MSNBC that there was already one question about testing, and evidently one was the limit. In fact, I'm watching MSNBC right now, and the subject of testing is still, evidently, not worthy of mention. But the fact is, Biden told us he opposed standardized testing, and he's repeated it elsewhere.

Evidently, those who he's appointed disagree, and he's good with that. The notion of testing this year is absurd and counter-productive. I have no idea how you give a Regents exam online without having students look up the answers on Google. I have no idea how these tests will be graded. Are we going to view them online and grade them that way? Will second readers be on computers somewhere else?

It doesn't matter to the feds. They don't have to worry about it. We do, and that's fine with Joe Biden, because he evidently doesn't think we have enough nonsense to deal with. He doesn't think it's stressful enough for us and our students to deal with COVID. He doesn't think teaching remotely, or masked and socially distanced, is stressful enough for us.

Now, the geniuses in Albany will have to figure out how to do the impossible. This will be a big challenge for them as they aren't remotely qualified to keep up with the possible. This is Joe Biden's first huge disappointment for us. While it's better than Trump's lie every second, it's hardly desirable.

And it's absolutely not what teacher unions voted for.

Monday, February 22, 2021

UFT Executive Board February 22, 2021--Shortest Meeting Ever

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Minutes approved. 2nd Mayoral town hall tomorrow. Sign up to participate. Black History piece Thursday.

Rashad Brown--4-6:30 Black History Film Series, Stay Woke and LA 92. Next week will be panel.

Sterling Roberson--February 26, CTE Awards. Register to participate.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Hopes everyone had good break. Middle schools opening. Buildings are being checked, but eyes and ears will be building response teams. We will set up hotline, monitor testing. Schools should be asynchronous first day. Around 70% have opted out. We will see where that goes. 

Children are getting Covid. As we get vaccinated, we'll see what that means. What will school look like in September? What are social distancing rules? We will have to start process. Majority of adults will be vaccinated but children can get it too and bring it to their families. 

85% of people who've come to us have gotten a match. Last week no one got deliveries. All Pfizer delivered today, and Moderna will be delivered tomorrow. We will use schools and Advantage Care sites, and will have new locations. Positivity rates continue to go down. Vaccine is having an effect where there've been many vaccines.

This week we will finalize an evaluation system. Most people are in right frame of mind, except some in DOE. We don't want DOE central designing crazy systems. We need to keep schools running this year. They haven't been and won't be helpful. But we will deal with this.

Last week SED put out guidance that testing could not be mandated. We immediately shot back. Someone was running an agenda and made a mistake. May have to do with sports programs. Some parents want their kids in sports but not tested. We pushed back and got that rectified. 

Anthony Harmon and team surpassed 250K goal for We Feed NY. We appreciate that.

CTE is this Friday. We will move forward as best we can. 

We have to deal with plan on what is coming at is in terms of educational crisis, academic regression--there's a lot of damage. I expect no one at city to do anything real. Reaching out to partners to put something together. We can't let schools be hit with this.

CL election year--We are working on technology to make that happen. 

Best news is package at DC looks clear, like it will go through. We may be in a place where we don't have to worry about lost jobs, will have funding for things we need.

Questions--

Q--Any news on high schools?

A--Starting process, surveying principals. Not sure yet. They're quite a ways off. We have to see how testing goes. They need to ramp up testing. They have money.  There are billions in federal cash to open up during Covid. We will have to run numbers and see how many testing teams we need. We are running out of capacity for people to lead teams. They will start planning, but it seems quite a ways off. 

Q--Spring break, retirement incentive?

A--We've started to slowly open up arbitration. If we can open up more, first will be spring break. Incentive seems to be moving fairly well right now. It's Alabany, and there is a process.

Q--Members who stayed home and thought they had Covid. Could they have days reinstated?

A--Will have M. Sill handle this issue.

We are adjourned. 6:18

Friday, February 19, 2021

Reflections on Apocalypse Teaching

I have an accommodation this year, so this picture describes me well. My classroom, since March, has been our dining room. We don't use it much, generally. Our little family can eat in the kitchen.

So our dining room table becomes a storage area, except on the rare occasions when we have company. Since COVID hit, we haven't had more than one outside visitor at a time.

When my students see me, they see a clean area with a painting hanging on the wall. What I see is a mountain of papers, books, and a few violins for good measure. I frequently have to hustle to find the materials on which we're working, as I misplace them religiously. 

It's symbolic, though, of the times we're facing. Everything is fine, we tell or show the kids. But as they know, and as we all know, everything is a perpetual shitstorm. Were that not the case, we'd be in school seeing and talking to one another, as opposed to viewing one another over Zoom, or whatever platform we happen to be using. 

I was extremely lucky this year, in that I was assigned to teach a level up from where I taught last year. This left me with a lot of students I already know well. I have gotten to know some of my new students well, particularly those who are extroverted, but they represent a distinct minority. Those who are shy, and a whole lot of newcomers are shy, take a long time to cross my radar.

There are a lot of people out there advocating for student privacy, and for them that includes the right to not display their faces online. About half of my students are now exercising that right. I need to frequently call on them to make sure they are actually there. About 25% of the time, they aren't. This represents an enormous waste of class time. Were we in the building, they would likely be absent and I wouldn't need to check. Or perhaps they'd be inattentive and I'd rouse them into at least pretending otherwise.  A constant frustration for me is that I've become someone I'm not--a teacher who sits at the desk and has little to no idea what's going on in the classroom. 

I don't know about every teacher, but this is not what I signed up for, and it's not what I love to do. I was once sitting in a lounge with a very frustrated colleague, who was complaining about the kids, the administration, and the general unfair nature of his life. 

"Do you like teaching?" I asked him.

"It's a job," he said.

He didn't last long. 

I remember when I first started, my first day, in fact, that several grizzled vets told me to get out of the system before I got stuck in it. I decided, right at that moment, though my new job was seriously overwhelming, that I never wanted to be like that. I'm proud to say I've managed to avoid it, and that I've been constantly inspired and surprised by my newcomer students. 

It's different online. I'd never have lasted in a job as an online teacher. We do more than provide instruction for kids. We are soundboards. We are role models. We can get involved. Students can tell us directly why they aren't able to pay attention. Now, they hide behind avatars and who knows what the hell is going on?

It's not learning loss that concerns me. They can learn English next year. They can take tests next year, if they absolutely have to.

The big question is whether we'll be able to be full face to face schools next year. A month or two ago, I'd have said yes. Now, with the uncertainty of vaccine distribution, and the understandable community lack of faith in our ability to maintain safety at acceptable levels, I just don't know. 

That's very sad. No matter how many misguided zealots try to put Humpty Dumpty together again, it's going to be very tough for communities to trust the system again. I hope I'm wrong, but I have little reason to think so now.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Geniuses in Albany Strike Again

It looks like the folks in Albany, the ones who control education, have too much time on their hands. After all, there's a pandemic, a national crisis, and people are running around arguing about whether and how to open school buildings. In fact, people are hysterical over how the schools should be opened, and it's open season on teacher unions, even by media figures who generally appear not to be insane.

Albany missed the memo.

This is evident because one or more of the Albany geniuses has decided that willingness be tested for Covid cannot be a prerequisite for attending schools in person. For better or worse, NYC is frequently trotted out as an example of best practices as far as school openings. If Albany gets its way, that's finished. Once we allow people in who are exempt from testing, there will be no way to guarantee safety for anyone in school buildings.

In fact, the only way we've been able to open systems in the limited fashion we do is because we test, test more, and trace cases. If we have people who can't be tested, we will never know whether or not they have COVID. Despite all the nonsense trotted out by gung ho NY Times reporters, children can and do transmit the virus. European schools are closing for that very reason, but I guess they don't get that kind of story up in Albany. 

I'm not sure what it is that makes them make decisions like these. Maybe it's something in the water. Maybe it's waking up every morning to the smell of fresh cement. It's hard to say. I often hear people talk about how great the Regents are, but I've seen absolutely no evidence to support it. While Betty Rosa may not be a reformy fanatic like Merryl Tisch, she's made some of the very worst decisions I've ever seen on the behalf of English language learners. I thought she would fix it, and she's told me to my face she would, but this is even worse. 

This, if it holds, will destroy everything we've built in NYC. I have no idea what possesses these people. I regularly have students called out of my classroom because they haven't received required inoculations. I presume they are required because we would like to avoid the spread of disease. To me, that's well worth avoiding. In Albany, they seem to disagree. 

We're approaching half a million COVID deaths in the United States. Why on earth are our state education representatives so anxious to add to those numbers? Why do they think teachers need more risk? Why do they think students need it? Why do they think our families need it?

You'd have to ask the geniuses in Albany. Send them an email sharing your thoughts. I can't find Betty Rosa's email. Maybe she doesn't want to mix with the bootless and unhorsed. On the other hand, if it makes you feel any better, I doubt she has time to actually read mail from her constituents. She clearly could not care less what we think, and places safety last, an odd position for an ostensible educator.

Otherwise, she would never tolerate a blatantly idiotic decision like this.

Monday, February 15, 2021

If We Can't Learn from Crisis, School Doesn't Matter

Well, according to the NY Times, most pediatricians, all of whom had access to the vaccination well before we did, don't think we need it in order to return to work. I'm not surprised. Ever since the plague hit, I've been reading in the Times about how awful it is that schools were closed. The fact that schools are, in fact, not closed, and that they have not been closed is neither here nor there. And hey, why err on the side of caution when we can just hope things like this don't happen?

It's vital that we get those buildings open, and that we get those kids in there to study algebra, or whatever it is on their programs. Otherwise, how will Western Civilization continue its great march ahead? Obviously, living through a pandemic is not an educational experience. There is absolutely nothing to be learned from it.

One thing, for example, that cannot be learned is preserving the environment. Who cares if we've destroyed a whole lot of rain forest, and that animals out of their element bring us diseases that come from theirs? Who cares if we keep interacting with bats, and that they carry resistance to a whole lot of deadly diseases that we don't? As long as we have someone solving for X, let's forget about the earth, our home, altogether. That algebra cannot be allowed to simply go by the wayside.

Another thing we can't be bothered learning is it is not, in fact, a good idea to elect a self-serving, self-important, solipsistic serial liar to the Presidency of the United States. Why should kids bother learning things like that? That's cancel culture. We have an absolute right to select politicians who don't give a golly gosh darn about the environment (not to mention working people). If politicians choose not to take precautions in public, and if they get COVID and infect others with it, well, that's their right as Americans. Every time they breathe virus into one of our faces they're doing their sacred duty of owning the libs. 

So let's get those kids into physical classrooms, for goodness sake, and never mind if, in fact, it's only a distinct minority of children who actually attend. Never mind if the people themselves, by a margin of two or three to one, don't trust the NY Times or the pediatricians in the survey. Never mind a consistent history of medical mistreatment that leaves minorities (majorities in our area) wary of doctors and even the NY Times reporters who preach to us.

Who cares if the few students who make it into buildings are kept separated and masked? The important thing is to keep them doing that algebra, or whatever it is we happen to be offering them that day. It doesn't matter if we invite them into rooms and preclude social interaction. It's good for kids to sit masked and far apart from one another, and it's healthy that most of them don't come in, evidently. But NY Times reporter have yet other brilliant insights to share with us:

Yeah, it's an absolute disgrace we keep closing down schools so that children, their families, teachers and our families don't get a disease that's already slaughtered half a million Americans.  How is that 25% of students going to learn algebra? Never mind that everyone else is doing so online so they don't need to risk their health or that of others. You can't expect the NY Times to get into the weeds like that. They're the paper of record and they have important stuff to think about.

Why do we have the very worst COVID results in the world? Well, it's partly because so many right-wingers spent so much time resisting the truth of this pandemic. How many times do we have to read of pastors and politicians denying COVID and then dying from it before we, they, and their followers learn? And how long are we on the ostensible left going to listen to the blithering nonsense that passes for information from NY Times reporters?

We are going through a worldwide crisis. Terrible as it is, it's a learning experience. Not only should our kids be learning from it, but we should too. It won't kill anyone to learn algebra next year.

Refusing to safeguard ourselves and our neighbors from COVID is a different thing altogether. It boggles my mind how many supposedly educated people are up in arms and ignoring that with everything they've got.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Blogger's Day Off...

 ...but you may read my Daily News op-ed on the outrageous lack of respect shown to UFT members and other brother and sister educators right here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

UFT Delegate Assembly February 10, 2021--Debate Upon Debate

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--We're more than halfway through this wonderful school year. Hope everyone is safe. Asks for a moment of silence for former CTU President Karen Lewis. 

Middle schools--They needed testing capacity. They do not need an agreement with UFT. State approved city plan with 20% testing per building per week. We did not take their word for it. District has money from second stimulus act. We demanded time to get teams up to speed. Over last few weeks they've hired 55 additional testing teams. There are 60K additional tests, but they are now in compliance with state plan. 

We are frustrated with vaccines, and scrambling for more, as are hospitals and medical providers. We will get out more info, but city has agreed to specific number of slots every day at city centers for in person DOE employees--elementary, MS, and D75 working in schools. We also have more vaccine for our own program and will do the same.

We want middle schools to have time to get ready. That's why we have two weeks. Staff will have one day to come in and check. We will make sure PPE is in place. If you're going back, protocols, PPE, cleaning and ventilation are important. Testing gives us early warning so we can take proper procedures and shut rooms and schools as needed. Make sure everything is in place. Covid building response teams have done great work.

Around country people are surprised we have teams to do this. Other cities don't have testing capacity and haven't been doing anything for months. Disappointing to see teachers around country fighting for what we already have. Not enough to just say schools are important. 

Contact us with any issues. We will push and monitor. That's watching each other's backs. 

Federal--CDC was supposed to put out new guidelines, but pushed until Friday. You're going to see what we always talk about. Will sound a lot like NYC, but they don't have testing ability. You have to train people.

Next stimulus--Biden says he's making a priority of opening schools safely, and says politics cannot get in the way of what American people need. He will reach across aisle, but we need to move and do something dramatic. Next bill has over 170 billion for K-12. There is much that has to get done. We are happy about recognition that funding must be in place.

Chicago is opening. Our safety people are working with Chicago. Would like them to have what we do but we will help and see. Buffalo is now open. Union tried to stop it, was rejected in court. You will see national push to open, and we will try to keep us in good place. State positivity rate is going down. 

Because you're seeing more testing of children, you are seeing that younger children are definitely getting Covid. We will follow medical advice. 

State--Wrote op-ed explaining supplant v. supplement. State promised LOTTO would go into education, and it did, but was a wash as state supplanted fund. Governor now planning to supplant half, but that doesn't work. We have many challenges, and new normal will bring even more.

We will focus on learning loss and academic regression. These are coming at us. We're seeing it in remote and live settings. We can't do instruction while fighting for funding. We will need mulitiple levels of support.

APPR--Not finalized with city. Can only be waived by governor, who doesn't want to do it. Only waived last year because pandemic hit in March. We won't have different sets of rules for different people. It's about interaction between teachers and students. Who has cameras on won't be relevant. If you're teaching in a class with six children, I don't want to hear about no group work. Everything must be in context. How many students are in your class is not relevant. This is a unique situation, and no one is working under conditions for which they were hired. CLs and principals will be trained together. Hopefully will cut down on creative stupidity. We will have a new appeal process.

No such thing as retroactive observations. When we finalize it and move forward. Digital Danielson will be tossed out. How many kids were on, how long they stayed, tell us so we can fix it.

Waiver for standardized tests this year requested by SED.

City--First mayoral forum went well. Few people paying attention now. Really important but no current buzz. We have endorsement resos today. We have 11 city council seats, three city with no endorsement. Thanks all volunteers. Never had this many involved. People in city council committees are from the districts. We look at policies and viability.  

Vaccines--If I'm out there, I put my name on all sites. 16% increase this week, then 20 and 20 following weeks. Supply chain is growing. Only way through is herd immunity, and that will come through vaccines. Don't want this for 2-3 years. Last Monday 400 at Jefferson HS. We will have a floating site. We will move it where there is a need. We now have members who've had second shot. We advocated for therapists to get first shot and spoke to some with second. They were projecting b group late February to early March, so that's good.

Members in schools must inform about test results untimely and lack of randomness. We had 250 schools untimely results, now down to 50. 60 schools with same cohort now down to 3. Can't be that way. Keep pressure on and that's how we keep each other safe. 

Lastly, don't forget to do a little bit extra. We feed NYC was supposed to start this week, but we started it over the holidays. We are in homeless crisis for decade, and there's talk but no action. We want to raise 250K to relieve food scarcity in every single borough. There are food lines all over city. Never thought I would see this in my lifetime. People who've dedicated lives to helping children--if there's a need, we help.

Seemed like long time to halfway point in school year, but now we are past it. You performed like heroes, despite crazy changing situations. There was a lack of real support. Many things are simply not fair. But we fight our way through it, stay true to ourselves, and take care of children who look up to us. Don't let crazy politics bother you. We might change our plans, but not our principles. Wish all a wonderful break. Take some time, be careful. Seems like it will take five years to end of school year, but we'll get there.

LeRoy Barr--We are up to third Black History film tomorrow 4 PM on civil rights marches 1960s. Safety march 16 4 PM. We feed NY Saturday, encourage you to participate. Mayoral town hall 2/23, 3/9. Next Black History film Stay woke 2?25 4 PM, part 2 3/4. Happy Lunar New Year, and Valentine's Day.

Questions--

Q--APPR--Students not logging in will get NX. What about passing percentages? Principals and supervisors can torture teachers.

A--This was big part of consult with chancellor. They said NX cannot simply be converted into passing grades. First time they had to emphatically state that. Anything like that, we have to be told. We never had ventilation standard until pandemic. If you have anything to tell us, tell us. We will go after it.

Q--Packages--retirement--Are people in exodus?

A--We've made a big first push for early retirement incentive. We have a bill up. It's very political and other unions are involved around state. We are starting to work with people about language to get this through. Very difficult, but this is the year we may get it done. We don't have it yet. It is the responsible thing to do now.

Q--Many buildings open at end of month. What about HS?

A--No discussions on this. Three more HS have become vaccination sites. Even at fed level only up to grade 8. No testing capacity now. That would be my answer. I'm sure mayor wishes he didn't have to test, but it's important. B group now is 8.2 million statewide, then grew to 16.4, now close to 30 million people. Last week NYC got 140K doses. As doses become available, they will move to bigger sites. Will take many more, and one big building in every community is a school. Think strategy will be to use high schools. The C group is simply everyone else. Will schools fully open this year? I doubt it. 70% of parents aren't willing. We would like to open in September, but we can't say it'll be ready. No one knew last admin was lying about available vaccine. 

Q--Observations--All of our admin is on remote accommodations and we have a sub AP in building. What has happened is there have been informal walkthroughs and talking on phone. Can we expect that? Many classes in gyms and cafes.

A--That will be taken into account. You can't measure this with rubrics, and you have to take setting into account, including broadband issues. We don't want teachers or children harmed by this. Big part of my consults with them. We will have superintendents and DRs trained together on what should and should not happen. Teacher eval has taken a large part of my time. We had one system for decades, then five different systems in last 11 years. We will make sure it's done right. There will be issues, but we will have appeals direct to central committee. Let your DR know. Strange to have someone on phone.

Q--Students coming from remote to in person. Window was opened before holiday. Principal currently admitting students.

A--No, no change in policy. You have to let us know. They are not allowed to create opt in period.

Q--Situation room--Is principal told when student is positive?

A--Yes, but they don't give name. They give classroom. They will talk to principal about student for contact tracing so schedule can be pulled.  Massive job which is why closing schools get late notice. We want to help if info is bad. 

Q--D75--lots of paperwork, not enough time. What can we do? I'm up to 2 AM doing five lessons a day, IEPs, progress reports, testing, and teaching. We need different specifications and more info.

A--I will put that on my list. That's a valid issue. I will put that to DOE and see what paperwork we can pull back. This has to be taken into consideration.

Q--MS reopening--Paras one to one, but students remote. Should they be in person?

A--Will have to be worked out, Para is one to one, but also supports classroom. May have to come to building. 

Q--Changing linked v. unlinked cases and what constitutes closure--

A--Sometimes you have to say no, Approved plans on non-linked cases are what we follow. I've said no when mayor asked. He'll argue it's PPE and ventilation, but reason we haven't had a building where virus spreads is because we know from testing who needs to be quarantined. If unlinked, we close school in abundance of caution. Mayor and other elected officials are not doctors. If they try to make it easier, my position is we will have to fight. It's our plan, not mayor's that keeps people safe. 

Q--Received email saying anyone without accommodation has to proctor SAT. Is this negotiated by UFT?

A--No. If there's specialty test it will go forward. We will need to know how many students. All rules still apply. If entire June class shows, you could have 1500 kids. How many rooms, proctors, PPE for social distancing. We will engage DOE in this process. 

Motions--

Quinn Zenoni--Next month agenda. NY evaluation system waived last year. Was too late in March last year. Price of implementing this will benefit only people with tech agendas. We have only six more school days in February. Danielson looks like shiny new tech, but we don't know what's effective. No research. No sample to develop practices. Any practices recommended based on nothing. Propose to reject any eval with remote component. 

Mary Vaccaro--Rises in opposition. APPR subject of state law. DOE must negotiate with UFT. This presents obstacle. Best interests to have shared framework. First time in remote, and agree on that. But this calls for no eval on remote. We cannot divide our colleagues by having different systems. Asks for opposition to resolution. 

Motion fails--40% for 59% against

Alex Gelome--This month--Tax the rich, invest in NY. Raise taxes by 4% on richest in state. Other unions, DC37 endorse. Will raise 50 billion dollars for school and community. 

Motion passes--70% for 30 against

Daniel Alicia--move item 6 to item one. Mayoral control--top down system must be addressed immediately. Will affect next raise. Need to address before town halls. 

Motion fails--59% for, 41 against

Resolutions--

Endorsements for City Council--Elizabeth Perez--Rises in support of resolution and asks body to vote in favor. 15 new endorsements. Committee is mix of teachers and other titles. All were trained. We have protocol followed. All are treated fairly, and we have discussions. After this process we make decision. Focus on what's best for union, profession, and livelihood. Ask you respect and honor committee work and vote in favor.

James Cole-- D14 Sanchez--supports opponent.

?--Amanda Farias D18

Robert Roche--D18 

Marie Baker--D18

Mulgrew--no ability to pull out individuals, according to rules. We will do regular debate for current resolution unless someone wants to do something else. I should've realized up front. Unless someone puts up something else, resolution voted on as a whole.

Mary Atkinson--Candidates seeking endorsement contact us, get questionnaire, are interviewed. Committee decides and recommends candidates with best chance to get elected and support UFT priorities. 

Joyce Magnus--Rises to support endorsement. 

Motion to suspend rules--Someone has to request it. Resolution cannot be amended under current rules. Any individual may ask to suspend rules. 

George Kuzar--Asks rules be suspended. 

Requires 2/3 vote.

66% yes--rules are suspended. Amendment can be made.

Jonathan Halabi--Moves to amend resolution for no endorsement in D18 due to endorsing against DR Eliu Lara. 

Mulgrew--floor open for debate.

Josue Perez--Seconds motion. Our candidate is from our union. We have to back people from our union. Candidate is one of our own and has a high chance of winning. We need to make our candidate win. 

Marcus Harrison--Speaks against change. Need to respect our process. Trusts members in that district even if we have a brother or sister running. We should go with that committee. 

Matthew Febrino--Rises against amendment. Was on Bronx committee. Interviewed candidates. Treated all equally. It was fair and equitable process. Stands by recommendations. 

Move to call question on amendment--

69% for calling question.

Amendment itself--

45% yes, 55 no, fails.

Mulgrew--To do resolution, need motion to extend

James Duncan--Motion to extend to vote on resolution number one.

60% for, passes.

Open for debate resolution number one.

Robert Belliski--Asks resolution be restated.

Liz Perez restates districts included. 

Patricia Selacek--Calls question. 

86% yes--passes.

Resolution vote--

80% yes--passes. 

Mulgrew thanks us, urges us to take time, remember rules of travel and be tested before return.  

We are adjourned 6:16.

Monday, February 08, 2021

UFT Executive Board February 8, 2021 Middle Schools Open, UFT District Rep. Runs for City Council Without UFT Endorsement

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Minutes and endorsement resolution pass. 

Cassie Prugh--Our endorsement process continues. We had first mayoral town hall, next Feb. 23. 5:30 PM, may sign up. City council endorsements--We made 20 last month and have moved 15 for this week's Feb. DA. Regarding D18, there are questions. Same rules for each candidate. Each has submitted questionnaire, and each has been interviewed by UFT members in district. We also consider fund raising and potential public matching. Sometimes we sadly can't support one of our own. 

Margaret Borelli--At our interviewing, when we're done with candidate, we also ask how their campaign is doing. Sometimes things change at time of interview. We discuss what happened after candidate leaves. Is candidate viable? Then we give recommendation to central and discuss viablility. 

Eliu Lara--I rise to oppose the endorsement of Amanda Farias, who ran three times. NYC District 18 has been occupied by people who have not supported our union. I have sent numerous letters to people in this position for their anti-union positions. We have all heard Mulgrew and officers encourage UFT members to run for city council. As a loyal UFT member, I heard and responded to the call. I was the first to do so. I never doubted I would receive the support of the UFT that inspired me to run in the first place. I am more than qualified, along with 27 years of teaching, I've been UFT CL, delegate, DR and member of Exec. Board. I've been the face of this union in my district for our members. I've fought many battles for the union, and traveled to other states to promote it. If this is not enough to gain union support, what is? I am hurt and disappointed that union has chosen not to endorse me, but to endorse someone our members do not know? What does rank and file think about this? If decision to support Amanda Farias goes forward, you are hurting me. I will go forward, I am not a quitter. I urge you not to endorse Amanda Farias.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--These are tough things. I appreciate everyone who wants to run and all of our volunteers. We have to try to respect the decisions of the volunteers. Unfortunate when people don't see eye to eye. Asks for moment of silence for former CTU President Karen Lewis.

Chicago--Yesterday they reached an agreement. They got more accommodations and some degree of testing. We will help them as best we can. They have ventilation issues. Biden told reporter yesterday he believes schools should open safely. 

DOE now has the ability to increase testing because of the CARES act and the money. This is all tied together. Without additional support there's no way we could have the testing program. Wish mayor of Chicago realized that.

Middle schools--All 6-8 classes will be open, doesn't matter if it's K-8 or 6-12. All safety precautions will remain in place. Teachers will go in 24th to check safety before buildings open on 25th. 20% will be tested on weekly basis. We will visit sites. Very important that testing be in place. He has right to open schools once he does 20% testing. CARES Act 2 enables this. 

We are fighting for more vaccines for all in school educators. We have a meeting tomorrow to set up a priority vaccination program. We opened up Thomas Jefferson HS as center. 400 members vaccinated today. Wed. US DOE will come out with a complete policy on how to open buildings safely. We need PPE, ventilation, testing tracing and vaccine.

We will have four mayoral forums, first next week. Spring break starts in March this year, so some may be after that. At final panel we will have to make a decision. Plan is joint training for CLs and principals. We are working out details. We believe we have an understanding that conditions we are working under are unique and must be taken into consideration.

We feed NYC goes off this Saturday. We want to raise 250K. We will continue to make sure we do that work.

Teacher evaluation--We are still going back and forth with DOE on small issues. We haven't said yes yet, but issues not too thorny. We want administrators guided by context under which teachers are working.

Questions, answers--

Teacher who has one class 6-8 and others HS--Not sure yet. Will have to get back to you.

Why are we not going back on Monday? We want to give people as much lead time as possible. We want them to have prep time, and be able to check schools, need lead time. 

Are schools safer than indoor dining or Super Bowl parties? Yes.

Does city have reopening plan--Not completely. 

Other questions about issue that came up in beginning of meeting.

In terms of testing, we've come a long way. Original issue was same cohort tested over and over. We got 60 issues a week. We now average 3 a week. As long as we know, we are dealing with issues. We had 250 issues with test results a week. Down to 50. Not acceptable, but we are moving in right direction. By getting real info, we can fix problems. This is the only way we can move this program forward. If we weren't on top of them, the system would regress into real sloppiness. 

City has made changes and uses better lab. With info we were able to make changes. Hopefully this will help middle schools. We will fix issues when you tell us. 

Seems clear Biden will work in a bipartisan way, but won't wait for it. We need to get this CARES bill done right now. American people can't wait. There is 170 billion in this for education. Will help us to do all the things we know we'll need to do. 

We are moving on retirement incentive. Not done, but it's there on the table. Other unions are with us.

There is no talk of opening high schools right now as more of them become vaccination sites. Be safe. 6:34

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Nobody Wants to Talk to the Principal

You know, any job you take in which you're a nominal leader of anything will be inconvenient. People don't always agree, and where there's disagreement, there's often blame as well. Someone is always mad at you for something or other. It's part and parcel of the job, no matter how much (or little) power you actually have. 

But usually, someone will stand up for you too. I'm not sure about principals, though. You'd have to ask them, I guess.

In my classes, whenever I give the first assignment of the day, I take attendance. I've gotten it down to a science. Zoom is very odd in that it generally alphabetizes students by their first name. Why that is I have no idea. And there are inexplicable exceptions.

We use Skedula to take attendance, and I've painstakingly arranged the seating charts in the same order as my Zoom attendance. While the students are doing exercise 26, or whatever, I match them up and it takes maybe two minutes. But you know how kids are, with their curiosity, with their questions, and sometimes a guy can't just take attendance peacefully.

"Why do you have to take attendance, Mr. Goldstein?"

"Well, the principal says I have to."

"What if you don't?"

"If I don't, I'll have to go to a meeting with the principal and explain why I didn't do it. Teachers don't want to have meetings with the principal."

"We don't want to have meetings with the principal either."

It's true. It's just about never good news when you get called into the principal's office. Either you're in trouble with the principal, or someone from the DOE is there to beat the truth out of you (figuratively, you hope) and the best outcome you can hope for is none whatsoever. Now I suppose once in a while some principal calls you in to tell you what a great job you're doing, but no one expects that, neither student nor teacher. 

Before I became chapter leader, I never wanted anything to do with the principal. It didn't matter whether the principal was good, bad, or indifferent. You'd say, "Good morning," and continue walking, hoping the conversation didn't develop beyond that. Usually it didn't. Optimally the principal didn't know who you were. If the principal actually gets your name wrong, so much the better. Since 1993 I've been in a building with around 300 UFT members, so if I didn't do anything stupid, like, say, run for chapter leader, my chances were pretty fair.

But it's lonely at the top, I guess. On top of no one wanting to see you, you have to go to meetings and more meetings. You have to call meetings, have impromptu meetings, go out of the building on meetings, and even go to meetings with the chancellor and other such DOE types. If you're ambitious, you have to nod your head in agreement no matter how absurd the actual meeting may be.

Then there are the people under you. For all you know, they're plotting to take your job. They're sabotaging you and planning to be as far as possible from the bus they're plotting to toss you under. There's some debate as to who said, "University politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small," but make no mistake, it's true.

Now I'm not expecting readers of this blog to get all weepy eyed over the plight of principals. Bad principals make teacher jobs a perpetual misery. But even good ones are sitting behind that door in the picture. And that girl? The exception to the rule, the only one who looks happy as she sits outside the principal's office? 

She's gonna be no fun at all for that principal.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Today in NY Post--Dog Bites Man


Whenever I read headlines, I think about what they mean. In the Post is a story suggesting 60% of DOE employees would leave if they could. That's pretty shocking. There must be almost no morale whatsoever among us, you'd think. But what does it mean when they say, "if they could?" I mean, anyone could. I could send a nasty email and never go to work again. But hey, anyone could do that. Here's the fine print:

One stark effect of the persistent low morale is the prevalent feeling among educators that, if there were no financial consequences, they would want to resign...

Okay then, I'm curious why the results aren't higher. That's a pretty big if. How many jobs are there that you could just walk off with no financial consequences? Name one. Heiress? Oil company magnate? Betsy de Vos? On this astral plane, even if I am toiling away at Walmart for minimum wage I can't walk away with no financial consequence. In fact, if I have a job as crappy as that I must be in pretty bad financial shape to begin with. That person has more to complain about than I do.

Nonetheless, way before COVID came around, I've known plenty of teachers disenchanted with the job. "How are you?" I'd ask young colleagues in the morning. "Living the dream," they'd answer, with all the sarcasm they could muster. One of my saddest experiences as chapter leader was when a young teacher came up to me and said, "You're so lucky. You can retire whenever you want." Never mind that I'm 30 years older than she is, or that she has almost another 30 before she's in my position.

There are a whole lot of reasons you could feel disenchanted, and they've been around long before the pandemic. When you're in an ancient building that hasn't been maintained since it was built, that's a big old, "Screw you," from the NYC Department of Education. When they pack the students in like sardines, load your building to well over 200% capacity, and tell you to your face they have no interest in lowering class sizes, their message is loud and clear.

The kids know it too. For a few decades now I've been wearing a suit and tie to work. I want the students to know that I have a different message than the city does. I want to be the contrast to that crumbling, moldy trailer. Hopefully students see or sense that. I gave up decades ago on expecting encouragement from the DOE. I've had both good and bad administrators, and I tend not to lean on them for support. All my energy as a teacher comes from the students. I take directions from administrators, but I work for those kids. 

For me, this year has cost a lot. It is not the same online. It is not the same in some bizarre, masked, socially distanced, terrifying room where you can't get close. Of course, either of those alternatives beats risking your life to COVID. I was a little lost when I started this job, but I really found my bearings and voice when I started teaching ESL. This is the first time in decades, for me, when my job has felt like just a job. 

I'm sure many of my colleagues feel the same. Frankly, I'd be worried about them if they didn't. It looks like we may have things sufficiently under control to go back to real classroom teaching and learning in September. That would go a long way toward improving things, for me at least. 

The DOE has an entirely different response than mine:

“These survey results are from an unrepresentative sample of less than one percent of our staff, and we encourage all staff to fill out our survey for formal feedback,” said DOE spokesperson Danielle Filson. “Our teacher retirements and resignations are at an all-time low since the start of this administration, and we are constantly doing more to support and develop our school staff.”

Well, that's good for a laugh at least. I don't believe the DOE gives a golly gosh darn about what goes on in schools. I don't know what they do over at Tweed, but they don't make anything better for us. The DOE is still full of Bloomberg holdovers. I always recall a grievance I made about an untimely letter to file, having been written well after the deadline. "The occurrence is not an event," stated the DOE response. I had opportunity to show that to the chancellor, along with his rubber stamp signature, and he had absolutely nothing substantive to say back.

This could change, and I certainly hope it does, but any teacher living in hope of DOE support is headed for certain disappointment. The reward in this job is the children and teenagers we serve. There's really nothing else, and barring fundamental institutional change, there never will be. 

As for how many people would leave their jobs if there were no financial penalty, well, it perplexes me that it's only 60%. I always remember the Sopranos dispensing no show jobs and no work jobs. I remember all the gangsters sitting around in lawn chairs drinking beer and watching people work. I would probably enjoy that if I hadn't given up beer. 

The truth is this--We are a hell of a lot luckier than millions of Americans who've lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. They may or may not have left their jobs if they could've done so without financial penalty, but a whole lot of them have been left with no income and no health insurance. They'd go back to work in a flash, however they may have felt about their jobs. 

We need to work to keep ourselves, our kids, and all our families safe. I think we're doing that right now. We could do it better. We could vaccinate more quickly and efficiently. This Post piece has a catchy headline, but not much in the way of a story.

Monday, February 01, 2021

UFT Executive Board February 1, 2021--Slogging Through the Pandemic Snowstorm

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--Welcomes us, says minutes passed. UFT Town Hall this Thursday.

Carrie Prugh--Tomorrow is mayoral town hall 5 PM

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Evaluation--Some superintendents and schools have been using attendance and time on Zoom as evaluation. That's not acceptable. There is a state law on evaluation. Governor made executive order last year, is not inclined to do so this year. DOE has done nothing to help, offered no PE. As far as we're concerned, this is about when student and teacher are in classroom. We will try to settle, but if not we will go before commissioner. 

Important to have different type of appeal process. This is a very unique and odd teaching process. We can't have principals using attendance. Issues are over what schools did when students didn't engage. We have had some good process, but we're not done until we're done. 

MOSL is something we'll have to start looking at. MOSL has worked well for us. We've had five different laws. The matrix with MOSL has been our friend. Student learning has protected teachers. There are hundreds of schools where maybe science exam is used for all in building. We will make sure we do a good job and no one is harmed for teaching in a pandemic.

Vaccine--We are more than halfway through our list. This week and next should be 16% increase in doses, and federal should help. There will be no cancellation of UFT appointments. If you find a match elsewhere you can remove yourself online. I'm not happy until everyone who wants it gets it but we're working on it. 

Middle schools--Don't know yet, will discuss with mayor. It's all about testing. City positivity rate going down for last 9 days, now at 5.2. We'd have 227 schools closed today, but have been above 350. Still have issues getting test results back. Has to do with contracts. City using labs that aren't fast enough, will look at new ones. Randomness improving but not there.

CDC coming up with guidelines on how to open schools. Glad we have a president whose focus is pandemic, economy, and infrastructure to move whole economy. Would like to combine stimulus to open schools, but we are already open. There are big issues in Chicago. Union wants guaranteed testing. Only offering minimal accommodations, as opposed to those we have. 

We did a lot of work in Albany last week. Frustrating when you hear people saying there's nothing we can do without federal stimulus. This is getting to be an old song. If we get a stimulus with city and state support budget could be good. State supplanted half, which we have to fight. 

State may come up with revenue package. Will be unlikely they cover whole deficit. 

Mayoral forum tomorrow. Special ed. town hall Wed., Union town hall Thursday. Hopefully by Thursday we will have news on evaluation.

Early retirement incentive part of all our conversations. I think it needs to get done in the budget if it is to get done this year. 

Middle schools will open sooner or later if we get enough testing. High schools are opening as vaccination centers. We're only up to b group. C group is huge. We have to get significantly through B group in order to get to C. We need big buildings, Javits Center, high schools, to do thousands of vaccinations a day.

If they want schools open in September, they have to drive up vaccinations. 

It looks like every time it snows we will work remotely. This is better, at least, than removing vacation days. There is basically no room. If city council wants us to work more, they would have to remove holidays. 

We voted on a mayoral control position. We may want to revisit it. It was funny that PEP panel finally defied mayor, and someone had to "resign." This is why we oppose mayoral control. This is a kangaroo court. 

Gifted and talented--Union position is we don't believe in a single test for anything, especially when students are four and five years old. We think these programs should be inside of every school in NYC, just as gifted children are. 

Wishes us a happy remote day tomorrow. We are adjourned 6:23

Friday, January 29, 2021

NY Times Continues Its Battle on Common Sense

I've been amazed for years as the NY Times, with some notable exceptions, offered the worst education reporting in Fun City. This is a revered name, with generations of history, and yet you always feel they hate union as much as the tabloids. Of course, the Times has had to deal with union and likely would have made more money if all those who worked for it were doing the whole $7.25 an hour thing. So much for the bastion of liberalism so reviled by Trump and his goons.

Over the last year, I've gotten the distinct impression its education reporter takes regular swipes at us, and why not? Teachers are public enemy number one. Who the hell do we think we are, getting paid to educate children? What the hell kind of public service is that? Wouldn't the world be better off if we were all writing for some fancy paper, filling our news stories with personal and/ or company bias, while wholeheartedly opposing Trump for doing precisely the same thing?

The big issue, of course, is opening schools. We aren't sufficiently pushing for it, evidently. Never mind that we're the only city in the country that's opened as long and far as we have. Perhaps we should be out striking for the right to fully open schools with no precautions. The Times, evidently, doesn't recall that last March we were in precisely that position. As I recall, people died. Perhaps the Times just sees that as the cost of doing business. (Not their business, of course.)

I've been working in filthy school buildings for almost four decades now. You'll pardon me if I'm wary of quick fixes and relying on the intentions of tinhorn politicians. Yet the Times is outraged at that, and its ace education reporter wants me to know that the world at large is sick of me and my nonsense. Hence this tweet:

What's really odd here is that NYC schools, some of them at least, are still open. We do, of course, test for COVID, and close when it shows up. City educators value human life. Go figure.

Perhaps the Times reporter feels that as soon as that needle pierces the skin we ought to go back in full force. Well, even if that were the case, the fact is very few teachers have been vaccinated even once. (Maybe the Times is unaware that the vaccine is in such short supply. It wouldn't be the first time newspaper employees failed to read its own product.) In any case, even those who've gotten the first shot will need to wait a month for the second.   

The article cited by the Times reporter is full of nuggets like this one:

Regarding community rates and children needing to be vaccinated as reasons for keeping schools from opening fully, it’s not clear why that would concern teachers, since they’d already be inoculated.

It's  remarkable that it fails to occur to this writer that we might just be concerned for the health of our students, their families, or our own families. The writer goes on to say governors might be concerned about this, because evidently governors, unlike the teachers the article seems to vilify, are not utterly indifferent to the lives of the children we serve and their families. 

The writer also suggests that Massachusetts only uses 3 feet of social distancing, and presents that as a model. I guess Massachusetts knows better than the CDC, though why that is I have no idea. I suppose, though, that this will work out fine. Until it doesn't, of course. Then someone will have to say, "Oopzie," and someone else will be dead. 

Do teachers have an ethical obligation to go back to full classrooms just as soon as we're vaccinated? First of all, it will be months before that even happens, likely close to the end of this school year, at the very least. IF that happens, and IF the vaccine becomes widely available, and IF it proves effective against the new mutations we're hearing about each and every day, it's likely we'll be able to return in full or near-full capacity in September. 

Meanwhile, we have enough problems. We don't need the gratuitous swipes from the NY Times, or from writers determined to make ridiculous assertions about what we need to do for their convenience. We've just finished with four years of alternative facts. When we want to hear delusional nonsense we can turn on Fox, or OAN, or Newsmax.

The Times owes us something a whole lot better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Bill de Blasio and His Magic 8-Ball

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is absolutely sure schools will open at "full strength" in September.  That's great to hear, of course. I, for one, am growing tired of looking at computer screens rather than live students. 

On the other hand, Mayor de Blasio has not proven particularly adept at predicting the future. I'm sure you recall his ridiculous presidential campaign, the one in which he garnered no more delegates than my dog. (In fairness, my dog is far cuter than the mayor.)

Of course, that's not the only example suggesting this mayor's clairvoyance is not to be relied upon. Mayor de Blasio held on to keeping buildsing open way too long last March. He never wanted to close them, and he was ready to open them at a moment's notice. Look at the process we went through in September. We delayed and delayed. We had to threaten a strike in order to enable testing. If we hadn't done that, the results could have been dire and deadly.

Like all the various cheerleaders for school openings, Mayor de Blasio seemed to believe the numbers were going to stay low. I read op-eds from people saying the positivity rate was below 1%, so we ought not to fret over Covid. Just send everyone back and hope for the best. Back then, the state was saying we should close at 5%. De Blasio was even more confident and said I'll do you one better. He said New York City would close if the rate hit 3%.

Of course both de Blasio and the other supporters were proven wrong. By then the state was saying close at 9%. De Blasio went back on his 3% figure but agreed to shore up testing. Now the state is saying you don't need to close at 9% as long as the schools themselves aren't hitting it. That's ridiculous, of course. Hundreds of schools aren't even open. The figures are clearly not representative, as buildings are closed because we established Covid is spreading within them. 

But that's not good enough for Bill de Blasio, or others fanatically crying for buildings to open. De Blasio continues to want to plow ahead. So what if a few teachers get Covid and die? So what if a few students bring it home and kill Grandma? It's not like some jury is going to convict Bill de Blasio for murder. That's just the cause of doing business. 

I can only guess that Bill de Blasio thinks his pigheaded drive to open buildings will somehow rehabilitate his reputation. I'm here to tell you that, except for vampire movies and comic books, returns from the dead simply don't happen. In fact, de Blasio's greatest achievement is not keeping buildings open. His greatest achievement, in a divided United States, is uniting the left and right. He's deplored by all, regardless of party alignment or political orientation. 

Worst of all, though, is de Blasio's flawed reading of the 8-ball. As you can see in the photo, it says, "Signs point to yes." I happen to agree. I think it's likely that we can get to or close to normal in September. But things happen. Bill de Blasio doesn't know what they are, and even the magic 8-ball isn't absolutely sure. The virus mutates. The vaccine isn't sufficiently available. How effective will it be against mutations? Most of us hope for the best but unlike de Blasio, don't know for sure.

As if that's not enough, we still have people who refuse to wear a mask. Rand Paul, an actual medical doctor who had Covid, has unilaterally determined he's now immune. He doesn't need no stinking scientific proof, and screw the people who happen to be near him. They're on their own.

Of course there are a whole lot of Americans who believe lunatics like Paul. While they're a minority, there are still plenty of them in NYC. It's going to be tougher to get where we need to be as long as these people refuse to be educated. Yes, I'm hopeful, but I'm not giving a guarantee, not even based on the Magic 8-ball.

The Magic 8-ball hedges its bets. That's why it's still around after many decades, while Bill de Blasio's political career is deader than a doornail.