Saturday, December 31, 2005

There Goes Another Year...

We at NYC Educator want to wish you a very happy and healthy 2006.

Thanks for stopping by.

Abraham Lincoln's letter to his son's teacher

He will have to learn, I know,
that all men are not just,
all men are not true.
But teach him also that

for every scoundrel there is a hero;
that for every selfish Politician,

there is a dedicated leader...
Teach him for every enemy there is a


Steer him away from envy,
if you can,
teach him the secret of
quiet laughter.

Let him learn early that

the bullies are the easiest to lick... Teach him, if you can,
the wonder of books...
But also give him quiet time
to ponder the eternal mystery of birds in the sky,
bees in the sun,
and the flowers on a green hillside.

In the school teach him

it is far honourable to fail
than to cheat...
Teach him to have faith
in his own ideas,
even if everyone tells him
they are wrong...
Teach him to be gentle
with gentle people,
and tough with the tough.

Try to give my son

the strength not to follow the crowd
when everyone is getting on the band wagon...
Teach him to listen to all men...
but teach him also to filter
all he hears on a screen of truth,
and take only the good
that comes through.

Teach him if you can,

how to laugh when he is sad...
Teach him there is no shame in tears,

Teach him to scoff at cynics
and to beware of too much sweetness...
Teach him to sell his brawn
and brain to the highest bidders
but never to put a price-tag
on his heart and soul.

Teach him to close his ears

to a howling mob
and to stand and fight
if he thinks he's right.
Treat him gently,
but do not cuddle him,
because only the test
of fire makes fine steel.

Let him have the courage

to be impatient...
let him have the patience to be brave.
Teach him always
to have sublime faith in himself,
because then he will have
sublime faith in mankind.

This is a big order,

but see what you can do...
He is such a fine fellow,
my son!

Update-- letter appears not to have been written by Lincoln. I don't care. I love it anyway and am leaving it here.

Friday, December 30, 2005

A Curious New Blog

Here's a strange one. It's called EdzUp.

Children First?

An anonymous commenter sent me a great article by Bernard Gassaway, former principal of Beach Channel High School and senior superintendent of Alternative Schools and Programs.

Mr. Gassaway, as Bloomberg's employee, was faced with the stark choice of serving either the mayor or the kids, whose interests did not converge.

I represented the children who were on the “long way to go” end of the process. I wanted nothing to do with the bogus talk about test score gains. These so-called gains did not change one thing for the children who I represented. City Hall and Department of Education officials had one goal in mind, get Bloomberg reelected. The Chancellor frequently advocated on television for the Mayor’s reelection. When I first heard this, I remember saying to myself, I do not care about this Mayor’s reelection.

If our educational leaders (superintendents) are silenced, what chance do our principals, teachers, parents and children have? Since no one is willing to tell the Emperor that he is not wearing any clothes, our children continue to suffer. Our children continue to suffer because we fail to come to their defense. Our children continue to suffer because we compromise our principles. Our children continue to suffer because we refuse to listen to them, hear their cries. Our children continue to suffer because few are bold enough to utter a word in defense of them. Our children continue to suffer because our so-called political, religious, educational and community leaders are so weak and paralyzed by complicity or fear.

Here’s my charge to educational leaders. If you are not going to pledge allegiance to children, shut up and continue to do as you are told to do. Do not pretend to be an educator. Do not pretend to be free. Your children will surely follow your lead.

What Do Parents Want?

Well, if you believe the NY Sun, the thing they want most is smaller classes. Other important requests were quality teachers and less overcrowding. Few in the survey, only 2% in fact, accepted Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda as most desirable.

Thanks to Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters . Ms. Haimson wrote the Sun about this, and most of her letter appears below:

Re “Study: Parents want small class sizes” (December 29):

It is no surprise that New York City parents see class size reduction as their top priority; for more than a generation, our children have suffered by being crammed into the largest classes in the state and some of the largest in the nation. The Court of Appeals ruled that class sizes were too large in city schools to provide our students with their constitutional right to an adequate education.

Though class sizes have fallen slightly in the early grades due to enrollment decline, last year 75% of city districts still reported average class sizes of more than twenty children per class in K-3. Moreover, average class sizes in the middle grades have not improved significantly in the past six years and remain at 28 and above; in most of our large high schools, classes still contain 30 students or more. These huge classes result directly in our abysmal 8th grade test scores and unconscionably high dropout rates. Compare this to the rest of the state, where classes average 20-22 students in these grades.

The biggest outrage is that this administration has no plan to improve class sizes in the middle and upper grades, no matter how much money our schools receive as a result of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case. And despite the fact that over 100,000 New Yorkers signed petitions this spring to place a proposition on the ballot that would require smaller class sizes in all grades by using a portion of these funds, the Bloomberg administration is attempting to block this question from ever appearing on the ballot, having decided that voters should have no say on this critical issue.

If you wish to write a letter to the Sun about this issue, click here and knock yourself out. However, if you are indeed knocked out, we at NYC Educator are regretfully unable to help you with ensuing medical expenses. We must, therefore, advise all due caution.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lost in Translation Part 2

No one's a bigger fan of Mike Winerip than I am, but I think there's something missing from his recent column in the NY Times about Somali immigrants. He suggests that they're being denied translation services, and are therefore unable to learn English.

Actually, regardless of which classes they may or may not be taking, it's remarkable for kids to spend two years in the US without acquiring a significant amount of English. Also, while I do not oppose bilingual education, it is not absolutely necessary. Immersion ought to work for anyone. There's something really wrong here.

It could certainly be the inability of some of these kids to read that hinders them in many areas, but they still ought to pick up verbal English.

Winerip says their "English immersion" teachers explain in English and clarify in Spanish, for the benefit of the majority. If you're not an educator, you may be unfamiliar with specific pedagogical jargon, but we in the business refer to individuals who engage in such practices as "bad" or sometimes, the more colorful "clueless and incompetent" teachers.

If these kids were in my beginning ESL classes, I would force them to speak English, whether they liked it or not, by any and all means necessary. For me, that's fairly standard practice.

Those of us who sat through years of language classes, receiving passing grades, but learning little or nothing know this--translation is not, primarily, how kids acquire language.

Participation is.

Shameless Rumor-Mongering

Is the President drinking again?


What's the Matter with Kansas?

Many things, no doubt, but you won't find them at Kansas-based Red State Rabble, a clever, thoughtful blog that strongly advocates science, as opposed to theology, being taught in the classroom.

If you're looking for common sense (the least common of all the senses), you'll certainly find it there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More Info on TWU Deal

Schoolgal requested more info on the TWU deal, and UFT members may wonder how it compares to our deal.

They did better than us, as you might have expected, and the UTP Blog has a lot of detail about it.

If you're angling for a UFT job, and prefer unverifiable, irrational praise of Unity, check out Edwize.

More You Won't Catch on Fox

The NY Times reports that some sweeteners were added to the transit contract, and I've received further detail about them from my sources, which pride themselves on being at least as disreputable as mainstream media.

1. TWU workers will now have lifetime health care. While they will pay back 1.5% of their salaries to cover it, they will now be able to retire at 55 without waiting till Medicare eligibility kicks in, a significant improvement.

2. Tier 3 and 4 members had to contribute 5.3% for several years toward reducing the retirement age to 55. This was later reduced to 2%. I'm told many TWU members will now receive refunds between 8-20K.

You Won't See this on Fox 5

A teacher sent this note based on a visit to TWU headquarters on Thurs., Dec. 22, just hours after the strike ended.

“I had a very satisfying experience while delivering a small token of solidarity to Local 100.

“A colleague, the daughter of a career NYC bus driver and TWU member, and I raised some money for the Local's relief fund. We raised about $180.00, a modest sum, but an effort that for the most part was strongly appreciated by most of the staff. You'll also be gratified to know that most of our newer teachers were eager to contribute.

“My school is just over the 59th Street Bridge in LIC, Local 100's HQ is on far west 64th St. and I live in Manhattan, so I thought I'd hand deliver the money. I expected to see people milling around, but the front of the building had just a couple of bored cops and camera crews in front. A man approached me wearing a red and yellow TWU armband around his forehead as a bandanna/doo rag. I asked him if he was a steward or picket captain. He gave me a brief but penetrating look, sizing me up, and then told me he was an officer of the union, a leader in the track division, I believe.

“When I introduced myself and told him why I was there he led me into the lobby of the building and asked me to wait briefly. He got on the house phone and called upstairs. I thought he was talking to someone in their Welfare or Member Services department when they took me upstairs to meet and hand the money to Roger Toussaint.

“I was led into the inner sanctum of the executive offices - which in typical union style were drab and dingy - and treated very warmly by staffers and rank and file members. The overall mood and tone among the people was one of calm and satisfaction. The only news I had heard up to that point was that they had gone back to work without a contract, something I equated with defeat. That was far from the mood in those rooms, which appeared to be peopled with the inner circle of the union. The basic message I got, perhaps more inferential that anything, was that, yes, they had returned to work w/o a contract, but that that was essentially a face-saving gesture for the benefit of the mayor and governor. The deeper reality seemed to be that the basic framework had been agreed to before TWU returned to work and the negotiations "officially" resumed.

“Standing calmly outside his office was Toussaint, quietly urging departing staffers to go home and party. I introduced myself, told him that many UFT'ers admired him and his members' willingness to stand up, and that there were people trying to get our union to do the same. He acknowledged that and asked about our school.

“The spirit in that building was not one of crisis or embattlement, but of strength and calm determination. Whatever the final result of this possibly epochal strike, which involves issues that are just beginning to play out, it was a very nice moment for me personally.”

Our Principal

There's no accountablity over at Unaccountable Talk, particularly if you're an administrator. The principal in that school, affectionately nicknamed "Jerkface," by the staff, strolled in one day and announced that the scores would have to go up. In order to motivate the young tykes, she asked, "You don't want to end up with the same jobs as your parents, do you?"

I'm constantly amazed at how many failed teachers become administrators, and administrate no better than they taught.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Unity at Work

Here’s a conundrum—professional Unity hacks Maisie and Leo Casey wrote columns in Edwize defending the UFT transfer program, which their party's crack negotiating team gave up, for nothing, in the new contract.

Maisie, one of our paid champions, wrote:

…forcing teachers to stay in a school, or go to a school they don’t want to teach in, is obviously a recipe for disaster. Teachers have options, and I bet many would quit rather than be subject to such a policy.

Leo Casey, 6-figure crusader for Unity, applauds her insights:

As Maisie
pointed out here at Edwize, only 515 teachers — not even 1% of all the teachers in NYC public schools — took a seniority transfer last year. Even more significantly, only 47 teachers — a little more than .06% of the total — transferred from a low performing school to a high performing school.

Good point. Leo. Too bad you failed to get it across during negotiations. Me, I love options, and
took advantage of the UFT transfer a few years back.

It was momentarily encouraging to see voices from Unity speaking up. Sadly, they failed to stand on principle. One can only conclude that Unity, when push comes to shove, has no problem with a policy that would, according to Maisie, compel many UFT members to quit.

The contest between principle and double pensions is a no-brainer for Unity hacks.

More DOE Improvements

It appears that Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein, by simplistically determining that test scores are the only criteria by which to judge schools, are driving away middle class students.

"I didn't see things getting better," Ms. Vayer said. "The school increased class sizes, and I felt no attention was being paid to middle-class students who were there."

The mayor, while paying lip service to smaller class size, has done virtually nothing to promote it. In fact, he’s blocked referendums that would have legislated smaller class size, and refused to cooperate with the CFE suit, which would have promoted it.

NYC, disgracefully, still has the highest class sizes in the state. And aside from a few high-profile, high publicity cases, the administration has done little to get rid of poor teachers. In fact, with a contract than worsens working condition while still allowing wages to lag behind the suburbs, he’s made it more difficult to attract good ones.

Everyone knows what makes good schools—good teachers and small classes. By focusing on test scores, at the expense of everything and anything else, Mayor Bloomberg stands to increase, rather than halt the exodus from public schools.

Economic Progress

In case anyone hasn’t noticed, it’s getting tougher to get by in the US. Rent costs are going up, and a wage of 15.78 per hour is said to be the minimum for families who wish to avoid living in a tree.

The US minimum wage remains at $5.15, and has not increased since 1997.

The solution, according to our illustrious president? Huge tax cuts for those making over 300K a year. For folks in that category, apparently, inflation is important. If Steve Forbes is happy, everyone else must be too.

Many low-income people are forced to choose between paying rent, buying medicine, or providing books for their children, Bender said.
"How do people like that have holidays?" Bender asked. "They probably don't."

Here in NYC and its environs, you may have noticed, things cost more than in most of the country. What’s Mayor Bloomberg doing to help?

Watch for a new sports stadium near you.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Those Goshdarn Liberal Professors

Welcome to the United States, circa 2005. It's time again for David Horowitz to try to pass legislation ensuring that liberal bias does not continue to overly infect adademia. It turns out that many highly educated individuals tend to reject Republican politics.

You'd think they'd learn to appreciate gay-bashing, turning back the clock on women's rights, "intelligent design,"and economically crippling wars based on lies, but for some reason, they're not biting.

Thus far, Horowitz and his ilk have seen no need to legislate national health care or living wages for American citizens. It's a question of ethics.

They don't have any.

Bad News for Dieters

The world's smallest Christmas dinner has been sold on Ebay. It came with free pudding!

Just think of all the hours of exercise you'd have saved if you'd eaten that. What a fine example you could have set for your students.

In any case, it's important to teach culture as well, and everyone knows it's a long-established to wait till after New Year's before starting to eat like that.

Politics and Gas are Inseparable

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pummeled by increasing energy costs. The “raise” that Randi and co. “negotiated” for us will pretty much be swallowed by them, and future increases will have me dipping into my old salary, the one that didn’t involve permanent building assignments and six classes for most high school teachers.

I just opened up my Keyspan bill and barely averted a massive coronary. As a result, I’m seated, catching my breath, and seriously looking into buying a Prius, or some other hybrid vehicle. Here’s an interesting site, for those contemplating the same.

Now you’ve probably heard that the US government grants tax breaks to buyers of Hummers and other gas-guzzling SUVs. (The logic behind that eludes me, but GW Bush is president, and I don’t understand that either.) Nonetheless, there are also tax breaks available to folks buying cars that do less, as opposed to more damage to our environment. The regulations are somewhat complicated, though.

The energy policy bill passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush earlier this year is destined to create a frustrating and idiotic situation for many buyers of popular, gas-saving hybrids next year. The problem is the unnecessarily complicated limits that federal lawmakers imposed on the new tax credits for hybrids and alternative-fuel vehicles…

To get the maximum estimated tax credit amount of about $3,000 for a Toyota Prius next year, buyers will have to take delivery of their new, fuel-efficient car between Jan. 1 and -- stick with me now -- the end of the quarter that follows the quarter in which Toyota sells and delivers its 60,000th hybrid. Let me repeat this: A buyer must buy, take possession and put into service his or her Prius during the correct calendar period, timing it to get the top tax credit.

Can you figure that out? It sounds as though you’ll be safe if you buy in the first quarter of January. But who knows?

Update: From USA Today:

Toyota forecasts that Priuses sold the first three quarters of 2006 will qualify for the full credit. Automakers who sell fewer hybrids will be able to entice buyers with the credit into 2007 or beyond.

Diesel cars, though many get great mileage, are not eligible for these credits. (Sorry, Instructivist.)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Holidays... you and yours, from the entire staff here at NYC Educator.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Who Needs English Only?

Here's yet another interesting multi-lingual sign. Perhaps you'd like to go out and celebrate the holidays with a nice "nutritious beef penis in pot," a "nutritious young pigeon casserole," or the apparently less nutritious "fish head casserole."

Those who argue for "English only" here in the US fail to appreciate that ignorance, often, is bliss. More importantly, they fail to appreciate that our policy of having no official language has resulted in English becoming the most popular second language in the history of the world.

Let the French have their academy of language, and prescribe which words people may and may not use. It's like prescribing which days it may rain, and despite their wishful thinking, it won't make French recover its lost status anytime soon.

For now, that honor belongs to American English, which has a longstanding policy of no legal interference, and 100% disregard as to where or whom it steals new words and expressions from. We have a vital and living language, unencumbered by bureaucracy or pedantry.

Still, we have to start watching our diets.


Friday, December 23, 2005

Don't Fret this Holiday Season

President Bush is on the job.

What he's doing I'm not exactly sure.


Ho Ho Ho

Today's Daily News reports that Chancellor Klein has lifted his ban on gifts to teachers costing more than five bucks. I'm greatly relieved, as I was dreading having to return that Mercedes convertible, not to mention the chateau in the Ozarks.

Seriously, what I really treasure from kids this time of year are handwritten cards and notes expressing appreciation for what I do in the classroom. They always beat the hell out of yet another bottle of cologne.

More Unity Wit and Wisdom

I recently posted a list of topics forbidden on Edwize, one being the transit strike. An anonymous poster, claiming to be a Unity hack, complained that I was too hard on Unity hacks, and that he made “FAR” less money than I did. I suggested teaching to this poster, since, apparently, it pays so well.

Here is the poster’s response:

NYC Educator or shall I call you Mr. Smarmy,You have no concept of the game of politics, and its complexity. (Not to mention how far reaching the Taylor Law really is. I'm sure you'd like the UFT to get entangled in the Taylor Law penalties for the TWU's strike...DUH.)

Do you see how clever that is? First, he calls me “Mr. Smarmy.” Can you see what he's doing? He’s saying that I’m smarmy, and is therefore calling me Mister Smarmy. It’s like you knew someone who was ugly, and called him Mister Ugly. Do you get it?

Then, the “Unity hack” boldly attempts to read my mind, stating that I’d like the UFT to pay Taylor Law penalties for the TWU’s strike. Not only that, but the poster demonstrates my ignorance that UFT members discussing the strike is unlawful. (Doubtless there are laws against discussing the UFT contract, or the lack of democracy within the union as well.) I must have been brainwashed by all that First Amendment stuff.

But the most devastating blow was yet to come. After the clever quip, and the clairvoyant episode, he cuts me to the quick, with the ultimate insult.


Words fail me. No wonder these folks win all the elections.

Aside, of course, from a one-sided paper, a one-sided blog, denying the opposition access to mailboxes, and forbidding high school teachers to choose their own reps.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Taylor Law Cuts Both Ways

In case you haven’t heard, the strike’s over, for now at least. But the repercussions for the union are just beginning. They’re going to get socked with the provisions of the Taylor law. But what about the MTA?

According to Juan Gonzalez, they violated the Taylor Law as well.

City union leaders and state lawmakers keep trying to point that out. They say the MTA itself trampled a key provision of the Taylor Law by demanding that TWU President Roger Toussaint accept an inferior pension plan for future members of his union as a condition of a new labor contract.

Section 201 of the law clearly states that "no such retirement benefits shall be negotiated pursuant to this article, and any benefits so negotiated shall be void."

Oddly enough, the TWU is the only entity facing penalties. Why don’t MTA violations get reported in the media?

"If the governor is going to be a tough guy about the Taylor Law with the union, he should be tough as well on the law when it comes to the MTA," said Richard Brodsky, (D-Westchester), who is chairman of the Assembly committee that oversees the MTA.

And No Kissing Chancellors, Either!

For the World Cup in 2006, Germans are contemplating "no prostitution" signs. It's been tried elsewhere in Europe, and it seems to have made an impression. They anticipate fewer pros will be around, and fewer fans will be harrassing women.

It's too bad we can't strategically erect these signs around City Hall and UFT HQ. We could follow them up with "no bureaucracy" areas and signs around schools, but then we'd need to spend all the tax funds on kids, teachers, and school buildings.

Where would that leave our illustrious mayor? And the DOE? And the UFT leadership?

On a street corner, I guess.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Unity Asleep at the Switch Again

Unity tells us how lucky we are that we can no longer grieve letter in our files. The paid Unity hacks who write for Edwize will happily tell you that you’re somehow better off waiting until they accumulate enough of them to fire you before you should complain. While folks who don’t actually work for principals may be comfortable leaving real teachers to their good graces, there are those who’d disagree.

In an extraordinary column, NY Times education columnist Samuel Freedman exposes A Bully on the Wrong Side of the Principal's Desk.

Roberta Lehrman of Brooklyn Tech, a 17-year veteran, and by all accounts an exemplary teacher, had the temerity to speak critically of her supervisor and principal to New York Teacher. Oddly enough, many flaws about her teaching style became instantly apparent to said supervisor and principal.

I’d like to say that juvenile retaliation is rare among supervisory personnel, but anyone who’s worked in NYC for any period of time knows otherwise. It’s folly to put so much power in the hands of principals, and Unity, already defending Ms. Lehrman, should have woken up long enough to keep it out of the contract.

A Voice of Reason

Juan Gonzalez, my very favorite Daily News columnist, writes today that it was the supreme arrogance of the MTA that brought on this strike. While Mayor Bloomberg continues to call the strike illegal and selfish, and refer to workers as “thugs,” he hopes no one will notice that he plans to emulate the MTA by eroding the pensions of city workers as well. In today’s news conference, he made specific reference to a fifth pension tier.

Gonzalez writes that not only the contractual issues, but long-term abuses are at the root of this strike:

Nelson Rivera, shop chairman for the 300 mechanics and car cleaners at 207th St., says Casiano is not the only worker penalized for illness. Another mechanic with 30 years on the job recently had a heart operation.

"When the guy came back to work, the MTA demoted him to security guard instead of giving him light duties," Rivera said. "Since then, he's been disciplined twice and is now facing a possible dismissal in 30 days."

Local 100 President Roger Toussaint has repeatedly complained that the MTA issued a phenomenal 15,000 disciplinary actions against his members last year.

Sure, there are people worse off than the transit workers. Nonetheless, lowering their standard of living will be no help whatsoever to these people. Instead of talking about how bad everyone has it, and how workers need to decrease their benefits and pay, we ought to be discussing ways to raise the standard of living for all workers, not just Mayor Mike and his billionaire buddies who need stadiums. Gonzalez says it better:

Have the rest of us been beaten down, exploited and abused for so long by our own employers that we will allow transit workers who dare to defend their standard of living to be painted as thugs?

To hear Bloomberg talk, the Taylor Law came down with the Ten Commandments - and wasn't a modern concoction by politicians to curb the power and influence of our city's municipal unions.

(Thanks to reality based educator for the pointer.)

Point of View

Fox is Fox, and most people know what that means. I'd read that its local affiliates were not bound by the philosophy that pervades its parent company. Nonetheless, it's hard to miss that, alone among local NY stations, Fox 5 flashes a graphic that shouts ILLEGAL transit strike.

Doubtless when Rosa Parks chose to sit down on a bus, many local media outlets did just what Fox 5 is doing now.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Dear Attorney General Spitzer:

I am very disappointed that you've chosen to bring suit against the TWU.

It is plainly unconscionable that the MTA, with a billion dollar surplus, offers these hard-working people less than cost of living, and demands givebacks besides.They were asked to share the pain when the MTA was broke, and it's only fair that they should share in good times as well.

I have supported you, and voted for you enthusiastically in the past. It will be very difficult for me to support you now in a primary.

I hope you will reconsider this course. I have never voted for a Republican in my life, but if Democrats are now against workers, it hardly seems worth supporting them either.

Kindly come to your senses with all due haste.

Feel free to contact NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer yourself if you're so inclined. Feeling lazy? Copy my letter and make any changes you feel appropriate.

Another of Life's Mysteries Resolved

Ms. Frizzle's upset that she can't seem to get any marking done. There aren't enough hours in the day, evidently. Ms. Frizzle's preferred form of procastination appears to be house cleaning.

I think it was Quentin Crisp who said cleaning was a waste of time. He suggested that after the first two years, the dirt doesn't get any worse. Despite a lifelong aversion to cleaning, I've found that papers seldom, if ever, mark themselves.

Here's a tip--since Unity's seen fit to commit you to a building assignment for the rest of your life, keep an eye out for one in which you'll be able to mark papers.

And remember, if you don't like your assignment, be sure to do a terrible job so you won't be asked back

Support the TWU

Mayor Bloomberg just got through telling New York that there should be no negotiation until the TWU ceased striking.  Perhaps, in his inscrutable way, he feels that will motivate them to go back to the bargaining table with Kalikow, who publicly announced he’d given them their best and final offer.  More likely it will help prolong the strike.

It’s simply unconscionable that the MTA, which regularly pleads poverty as the reason for not granting raises, should be sitting on a billion dollars and still not see fit to offer even cost of living to hard-working New Yorkers.  If they’re asked to suffer in bad times, simple reason dictates they should share also in good ones.  

The zeal to screw the working man, a by-product of Reagan’s felonious reign, has been peddled to America everywhere, often under the guise of “right to work.”  Thankfully, blue states like NY know better.

The transit workers have drawn a line in the sand.  They’re standing up for us, and for working people everywhere.  Support them, and tell your legislators to support them too.  

Monday, December 19, 2005

Via the Borowitz Report


Vows Never to Make Decision Based On Intelligence Again

The Wit and Wisdom of Unity

Maisie, a writer for UFT blog, has been getting upset. Apparently, some teachers wish to discuss the following topics, which Edwize has not deemed newsworthy:

  1. The transit strike

  2. The contract

  3. The lack of democracy within the UFT

Maisie characterizes UFT members discussing these things as ”little kids delighted to be using bad words and getting away with it.” She further illuminates us that we “mostly dump junk on the pile–it’s of no use to anyone.”

It's remarkable that those who represent us, often at six-figure salaries, are unable to discuss such plainly vital issues beyond simplistic ad-hominem nonsense.

At Long Last, an Honest Politician

Congresswoman Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, when asked what she does in Congress, replied, "I'm a hooker." When asked to elaborate, she added, "That's right. I said I'm a hooker." Ms Brown-Waite continued, "I have to go up to total strangers, ask them for money, and get them to expect me to be there when they need me. What does that sound like to you?"

Perhaps she's the exception that proves the rule

Sunday, December 18, 2005

State of the Union

Who woulda thunk GW could sing?

It's worth sitting through the GM commercial for this, so be patient.

A Comment

Maria 1724 asks about this item:

What do you think will be the fall out of the story about this 12 year old kid in Brooklyn who punched the security agent who later died?

Will it wake anybody up as to what is going on in many schools on a daily basis? Is this woman's death going to mean nothing to the DOE?

Anyone care to respond?

Fraud Rules

William Weld, who continues to praise the college that someone managed to run into the ground under his stewardship, wants to be governor of New York.  The problem I have is that he keeps shifting the blame for this debacle.  He says it’s the federal government, or some accreditation council, or this or that.  

That’s disappointing.

Why can’t Mr. Weld stand up and announce his company sucked the resources of the school dry, and once they’d taken every last cent there was to steal, let it drop dead?  Now that’s leadership.  Now some will contend such an admission might dampen his chances of becoming governor.  But his school, in which truant students were given answers to tests in order to qualify for loans, is a model for the sort of thing we can expect under NCLB, and copycat NYC regulations.

Sure they paid people off to shut them up about what was really going on.  But that’s the way things are.  What happened to Randi Weingarten after selling the UFT down the river?  She got on the news, standing behind a real union leader, as though she herself were one. What happened to Rod Paige after he faked the “Texas Miracle” by cooking the books?  He became US Secretary of Education.  What happened to his boss after having led us to a disastrous war based on false information?  He may have actually gotten more votes than his opponent.

Let’s stop the pretense.  Mr. Weld ought to stand up and admit that he’s a fraud, and confess that his only sin was getting caught.  Now that’s the kind of leadership Americans want today.


Saturday, December 17, 2005

Rally for Transit Workers

Edwize just posted this notice about a rally to support the Transit Workers this Monday the 19th at 4 PM, at 633 3rd Avenue at 41st Street. They are a real union, and they need and deserve our support.

Note that comments are off on the Edwize post, because God forbid working teachers should have the opportunity to compare the courageous Transit leadership to the impotent and useless Unity hacks who demand nothing for us, accept anything for us, take six-figure salaries and double pensions for themselves, and scribble Unity propaganda for Edwize at our expense.

It'll be a cold day in hell when Unity values your opinion.

Bargain Hunting

Do you need a computer?  A digital camera?  An expensive gift for your principal to bribe your way out of potty patrol?  Naturally, you want the lowest prices, since your increase hasn’t even covered cost of living.

Try using these links, which I’ve collected from friends in the math department.  I’ve found some great stuff here—you can always find the best Dell coupons, and I’ve found things like teddy bears for my little girl as well.

Friday, December 16, 2005

High School Secession Extreme?

A few days ago, I suggested high schools ought to secede from the UFT, since it's opted to deny them representation. I still think that's a good idea. Is there a simpler option?

Sure. Get rid of Unity. Send the self-serving, useless, lying pack of them to Florida, or wherever old slugs crawl off to.

But the fact is, teachers of lower grades, who hugely outnumber us, vote en masse for Unity. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

Compare our leadership to that of the transit workers. Does anyone really want Randi to lie down for us again? Does anyone really want her hand-picked annointee to follow her time-honored poicy of accepting whatever comes down the pike and using our dues to pay useless sycophants, like the writers at Edwise (whose salaries we pay), to tell us what a swell job she's doing?

Of course someone does. The elementary teachers pick Unity each and every time. That's why Randi, in a blatant blow to democracy, amended the UFT constitution to add them to the pool selecting VPs, and thus deny us our choice.

How can we get rid of Unity when the elementary teachers think they're doing such a fantastic job? How can we get rid of Unity when the elementary teachers stand up and applaud at the concept of more work for less pay?

I'm all ears. And please, if I'm mistaken about the voting majority of elementary teachers, I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Watch Your Mouth at Hartford High

Students using offensive language in Hartford, CT face a $103 fine for using objectionable language.

Do you think that would dissuade your students from sharing their frank opinions at inopportune times? And what if someone steps on your foot? What if you slip and fall on a sensitive body part while trudging through the snow to the trailer in which you study (or teach)?

Can you plead circumstances beyond your control?

What Do You Get...

...for the person who has everything?

How about this:

It's a candy. No, it's an electronic gadget.

Maybe it's both!

It's the Pez MP3 Player!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

High School Teachers Need Our Own Union

Unity set up the voting system to preclude us from choosing our own leaders. They let all teachers vote for all vice-presidents, so as to keep us, the only contingent that has dared to reject Unity, from choosing a voice that represents our views.

They run a paper that does not reflect our views. They run a website not above having soon-to-retire Unity shills with new names printing lies, and purporting to be voices “from the trenches.”

Most of us will be teaching six classes next semester. We will all have building assignments in perpetuity. Principals can write whatever they wish about us, and the only chances we'll have to dispute letters comes when they’ve amassed enough of them to try to fire us.

For that, Unity cleverly negotiated an increase that doesn't even meet cost of living.

Perhaps a majority of elementary teachers happily embrace the notion of more work for less pay. I’m tired of moving backwards, and so are the majority of high school teachers.

If your building is infested with rats, but your neighbors adore them, the exterminator’s no help at all. Let’s get rid of our problem by seceding from the Unity-infested, undemocratic UFT.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Lunch Bandit

It was hot, the kind of hot that gets into your skin and comes pouring out every pore of your body.  

Mr. Moskowitz, history teacher extraordinaire, made his way through the mosh pit that comprised the first floor between periods four and five with only one thought on his mind.  And as he was pushed and bumped, purposefully taking two steps forward for each step back, that thought drove him on, on to that next room, until finally, with a last irresistible shove, he ambled into the teacher’s lounge.

Mr. Moscowitz opened the refrigerator with great expectation.  He removed the brown paper bag that bore his name and opened it.  But when Mr. Moscowitz unwrapped the wax paper, he discovered that someone had taken a bite of his salami on rye—the salami on rye that had haunted his every waking moment since midway through his first daily lecture on manifest destiny.

Who could have done such a dastardly thing?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Anyway, It Couldn't Hurt

Chancellor Klein's longstanding policy is doing as he sees fit, when he sees fit, taking credit for all improvements, and vilifying the UFT whenever things fail to work. Much to his amazement, this tactic is not sitting all that well with parents, according to today's NY Times. Apparently, parents of NYC schoolchildren have found the unexpected audacity to demand a voice in the way their children are educated.

Despite spending 100 times what used to be spent on parental involvement, many parents feel shut out of the process, noting that in many cases, parent coordinators have failed even to organize functioning PTA organizations. I know precisely how they feel--teachers have been out of loop since Joel the K. rode into town.

While the Chancellor doesn't give a damn about the parents, let alone their kids, he'll now be placed in the position of having to behave otherwise.

Who knows? It might just force him into doing something worthwhile.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Advanced Problem Solving

A mayor in Brazil is planning to ban death because the local cemetery is full.  Fines will be levied against those who fail to obey the ban.  

Perhaps Mayor Bloomberg should follow in his footsteps and simply outlaw test failure.  

That ought to bring up those sagging statistics.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Wheel of Blame

Today’s NY Times suggests that Mayor Bloomberg is unable to complete the school construction he’s promised us. He blames this on Governor Pataki, who’s appealing the CFE verdict.

Actually, the judge said NYC could be compelled to provide a share of the settlement. Governor Pataki immediately offered to pay 60% (thereby having the city contribute the other 40), and CFE, the organization that brought the suit, suggested the city pay a more modest 25%, leaving the state with the other 75.

Why should the city pay part of this settlement? Well, the much-lamented ex-mayor Rudolph Giuliani had a curious policy—every time the state raised its comtribution to education, he had the city reduce it by an equivalent amount. In order to gain control of what's now the DOE, Bloomberg agreed to halt this policy. Nonetheless, the damage was done, and the city was expected to pay for some part of the suit. Between CFE and Pataki, there appeared to be a fair possibility of compromise.

So how much was Mayor Moneybags, who so greatly values education, willing to pony up? Not one dime. A representative suggested the city would say “No, thank you” to the suit if it were required to actually pay for any part of it. Hence, Governor Pataki’s appeal.

That speaks volumes of how much this mayor really values education. He can blame Pataki all day long for the lack of space for NYC’s children. But the mayor’s hiding the fact that NYC’s kids are simply not a priority.

If these were sports stadiums, rather than schools, being built for billionaires, rather than kids, this mayor wouldn’t have thought twice about committing hundreds of millions to construct them.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Profiles in Stupid

On November 28th, Zach Rubio was suspended from his Kansas high school for speaking Spanish during lunch. Fortunately, when the district superintendant discovered Zach's principal had done this, he reversed the decision, apologized, and sent Zach back to school with an apology.

We'll see whether that's enough to preclude a lawsuit. The principal, apparently unaware that the US is still, nominally, a free country, also seemed to forget that the school itself had no rule against using languages other than English.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Unity Speaks

The UFT paper says the new 6th class is not a sixth class. They're happy they got the DOE to agree on that concept. Now, all they have to do is convince the teachers actually teaching the sixth class that it isn't a sixth class, and it will, evidently, cease to be a sixth class.

I've just discovered that those of us on extended time schedules will not be teaching the sixth class--we'll just have five longer classes. It's just one more little thing that says "Unity does not value your time at all and is more than happy to bargain it away for a pittance." Still, it beats the hell out of the sixth class in which most of my unfortunate colleagues will be trapped

Unity also urged the city not to send us into the lunchroom until September, though, apparently, it has no right to do so. In fact, according to Unity, the contract appears to be a huge mess of unresolved issues and unintended consequences.

It's too bad our leadership doesn't bother to read agreements before signing them. We will all pay for their lack of foresight, as will NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren, who seem destined to waste their time after school in classes of doubled and tripled up "small group instruction" classes in which nothing of consequence will occur. The DOE doesn't care whether or not teachers "instruct" within their license areas, and plans to pair you with paraprofessionals, so that you'll be, in effect, teaching 20 rather than ten kids.

Small indeed are the minds that dreamed up "small group instruction".

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Making the Punishment Fit the Crime

Last week, a kid gave me a phony doctor's note stating he'd been absent since September because of "leg broke." I showed it to a colleague of mine, who insisted I bring it to the dean. So I did.

They sent the note to the attendance teacher, who did quite a lot of footwork to find out where the kid lived, and his real phone number. She also finally managed to contact the parent, something I'd been quite unable to do. I was seriously impressed.

However, the mother failed to come to school. They're calling her again. If she does not show again, severe measures will be taken.

So, what do you do about a kid who cuts almost three months of school, whose mother can't be bothered discussing it?

In my school, apparently, you suspend the kid for a week. That's a little like sentencing a pedophile to a weekend at Neverland Ranch.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Another Life-Altering Meeting

Well, today we sat in a big room with 7 pieces of paper, and tried, in groups of four, to form them into a square. My group placed two triangles together, dumped the remaining pieces on top, and got into a very lively discussion with the AP in charge over whether we were "cheating," as she put it, or "thinking outside the box," our preferred interpretion.

Many words were written on the blackboard and bandied about, virtually none of which I precisely understood. That is, they made sense individually, but proved problematic when presented in the order chosen by the speaker. Now, I know what you're thinking, and you're wrong. I don't like to brag, but I am a high school graduate.

Various of the group leaders went up and assessed the activity. The first teacher wanted to know how this activity would prepare kids for college, where the preferred teaching method was "chalk and talk," the evils of which had formed the basis of several previous meetings. Another observed that it lacked an aim and a motivation, and was therefore of no demonstrable value. The last group leader suggested an excellent motivation: a Get out of Jail Free card, which would relieve the bearer of attending faculty conferences for the entire years it was issued.

That gets my vote.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Intelligent Design—Unevolved Course Outline

University of Kansas students waiting to study "Intelligent Design" are bound for disappointment. The Kansas City Star reports they're pulling the course. Is it a Darwinist conspiracy?

No, apparently university officials are upset by comments made by Paul Mirecki, head of the university’s Religious Studies Department. Professor Mirecki was to teach the course, but pulled the plug after some of his emails to a student site for atheists came to light:

Mirecki repeatedly criticized fundamentalist Christians and Jews and mocked Catholicism...In one of the new e-mails, Mirecki wrote: “I don’t think most Catholics really know what they are supposed to believe, they just go home and use condoms and some of them beat their wives and husbands.”

In Spanish they say "Tiene doctorado pero no es educado."

He has a doctorate, but he isn't educated.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Support Pre-School in NY

Check out Winning Beginning NY, an organization dedicated to shaming Governor Pataki et al into fulfilling the State's promise to provide preschool for NY kids.

Sure, it's important that our legislators go on fact-finding junkets to the Bahamas. Nobody's saying it isn't. But sometimes, they ought to at least give the appearance that they do things for us.

Let them know that this is an opportunity for them to act like good guys, instead of the ruthless whoredogs we all know them to be.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

New Math

Instructivist is forever poking fun at all things absurd and incomprehensible in education methodology. But he might be taking it too far with this example:

A farmer sends his daughter and son out into the barnyard to count the number of chickens and pigs. When they return the son says that he counted 200 legs and the daughter says she counted 70 heads. How many pigs and chickens does the farmer have?

Now if that isn’t practical, what is? How many times, for example, have you asked your kids to go out and count the chickens and pigs only to have them return with some sorry old excuse for an answer?

What I want to know is this: How did I manage to raise kids so plumb stupid that they counted heads and feet instead of critters? I’d be busier than a farmer with one hoe and two rattlesnakes trying to make up for all those days I had them shuckin' the corn when they shoulda been cypherin’ over at the schoolhouse.

Or was this whole unsavory mess my fault? Should I forget about educatin’ and just brush up on my communicatin’ skills?

Tarnation, it gets me edgier than a one-eyed cat watching nine rat holes just thinking about it.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I Hate Saying I Told You So...

The NY Times today reports that principals are being instructed to group 3 "small-group instruction" groups together in single classrooms. Randi says she's against it, and that the DOE is trying "for a second bite of the apple," but the city claims it's Randi's UFT trying to renegotiate after the fact.

To me, it doesn't make a whole lot of difference, since a sixth class is, after all, a sixth class. But the move tells a lot about the city's attitude toward "small-group-instruction," which will be completely ineffectual in their preferred setting.

1. They couldn't care less about its quality.

2. Their sole interest in maintaining it is the anticipation of the next contract, 10 more minutes, and six full classes.

Unity will claim they never anticipated such things. Well, if I, a lowly teacher, can see them coming, why can't our highly-compensated leadership?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

No Wonder No One Likes Science

Here's some disappointing news--passionate love, apparently, is bound to end in one year.

Or maybe those scientists who spend all their time studying molecules are simply trying to jinx those with active social lives.

Honor Among Thieves?

Today a kid walked into my class after having been absent for maybe 10 weeks.  He handed me a doctor’s note that said he’d been under care since September 3rd—diagnosis “leg broke.”

The note was signed by a few teachers, but I found it odd that I’d seen the kid, from time to time, hanging around on the street corner by the school, with no apparent signs of this unfortunate disability.  I called the number, which turned out not to be a doctor’s office, but another kid’s personal cell.  The kid, perhaps, had forgotten his agreement to pretend he was a doctor.

You can’t hardly count on anyone anymore.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Bulletin Boards

A commenter asked if I'd put something up about bulletin boards.

I teach in a high school, and I haven't had to deal with this mania nearly as much as my JHS and elementary colleagues. In fact, I haven't designed or taken part in decorating a bulletin board in 10 or 15 years. Of course, I teach in an overcrowded school, usually in 3 or 4 different classrooms.

How is the bulletin board craze affecting you and your school? Will the new contract help you with any of your difficulties?

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Just Do It

As I pointed out recently on Jenny D’s blog, I’ve been very lucky thus far, in that I’ve been able to keep up with my fourth grade daughter’s math homework. However, I fear those days are rapidly coming to an end.

A few weeks ago, she brought home a multiple choice test that asked her to identify equations displaying “commutative properties” of mathematics. I suggested she select a pair of multiplication problems, something like 5 X 7, and 7 X 5, which happily turned out to be correct.

I have to question the need for her to know that term. I’m admittedly not good at math, not interested in math, and very grateful I no longer have to study it. But I don’t feel my quality of life has been markedly damaged by my unfamiliarity with that term. The concept, to anyone schooled in basic arithmetic, is obvious.

As an English teacher, I have to suppose that many Americans don’t know what present progressive or future perfect means, yet manage to speak perfectly. Many can even write with clarity and precision, despite our best efforts to churn out automatons who do nothing but five-paragraph compositions.

On the other hand, I’ve had hundreds of foreign students who could name the grammar terms backward and forward, but could not speak.

I figure if you’re not a teacher, you don’t need the terminology. You just need to know how to do whatever it is you need to do. We’ve got it backwards—which is why so many of us have studied Spanish but couldn’t speak it to save our lives.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Lost in Translation

Now, before you accuse me, it wasn't one of my students who translated this sign.

Actually, I stumbled across it on an odd little site called
A Welsh View.

While it's the sad truth my daughter, along with much of her generation, would applaud this sentiment, I'm sure you can see the sort of thing that's liable to happen if we don't teach sufficient English to our newcomers.

If anyone out there can offer a more accurate translation, I'd be interested to see it. Regardless, I don't think I'll be doing much shopping in stores that display signs like this.

Friday, November 25, 2005



Thursday, November 24, 2005

Everything Old Is New Again

Do you think your job is tough?  Well it probably is.  Maybe you’ve taken the wrong path.

If you’d only known the right people, you could have become a Tweed flunkie, perpetually dreaming up new ways to justify your six-figure salary.  How would that be?

Well, you’d have to sit for hours and consider, for example, should you come up with a new idea?  No, if you had any imagination, you’d probably never have gotten this job in the first place.  Should you inspire teachers with your years of experience?  No, that’s out of the question, what with your not once in your life having ever set foot in a public school, let alone worked in one.

Should you amuse them, at least?  No, if you had any talent or sense of humor, why would your mother have had to get this job for you?  What if you just gave them another few hours of long-winded convoluted trendy edu-speak with no value whatsoever?  That usually works.  Hmmmm...  

Wait!  You have a sudden flash of inspiration.  You could just take the same old idea everyone’s been using for fifty years, give it a new name, and claim to have invented it.  Then, when they do the same old thing they’ve been doing forever, you can tell the chancellor they’re using your idea.  When standards go down, and test scores consequently go up, you can take credit for it!

Let’s see…you’ll need a big word here…OK, you can call it congruency, and amaze everyone by announcing that the do now and motivation have to be mostly related to the lesson. For example, you could caution teachers not to give too many algebraic equations as leads-up to lessons on Hamlet.  

Wait—you’d better throw in another big word here—tell them to not even call it the do now and motivation—it’ll now be now the “anticipatory set.”  That’s far less likely to be understood!  You could explain it by saying “Teachers consciously stimulate the neural network so that the learner will be ready to make connections between prior experience and new learning.”  Let them crawl under their beds and figure that out.

This has great potential.  You can make up confusing handouts with arcane illustrations and spend hours at meetings explaining them to supervisors who are obliged to pretend they’re interested.  Then, for the two extra days of talking you’ll have to do this August, you can rattle off the same thing to the teachers.  Just sit them in groups and make them discuss it and give presentations on how they’ll use it.  That’ll kill three or four hours right there.

So basically, the introduction to the lesson should be somewhat related to the rest of the lesson.  How can you phrase that so no one will be precisely certain what you’re talking about, thus necessitating endless hours of clarifying discussion?  What about this—“Most of the Teacher Actions are on a one-to-one match with the Teacher Objective.”  That oughta do it.  

Maybe you can make a video.  That could kill a few hours, and you can show it at every meeting.  Now you’ll need speakers no one exactly understands, to facilitate discussion groups who could try to figure out what the heck it’s about. By the time they report back, that’ll have killed two days right there.

Oh well, 11:30—time for another gala luncheon.

This job sure beats working.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

No Thinking—Just Writing

That’s my new mantra. It’s odd, I know, and sort of off-putting when you first read or hear it. But I’ve been teaching over twenty years now, and it’s many the time I’ll turn to kids and ask why they aren’t working.

“I’m thinking.”

In Herman Hesse’s novel, Siddhartha writes “Writing is good. Thinking is better.” Doubtless he’s right.

But what is it, actually, that my students are thinking about? They’re thinking about how many minutes before the bell rings, or if the girl across the room likes them, or about whether they’ll visit their uncle this weekend, or why the classroom is always either too hot or too cold (I often wonder about that one myself).

They’re thinking about whether or not the teacher will let them keep thinking until the bell rings, so they can shuffle off to the next class and think some more.

I’m a slow learner, I guess, but kids thinking about what to write are few and far between. I apologize to them in advance.

From now on, my unfortunate students will have to do their extra-curricular thinking on their own time. In my class, they will write.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Wondering How to Spend that Retroactive Pay?

Well, you might want to buy the original Hollywood sign and set it up on your lawn.

It's on Ebay, and CNN reports the opening bid is a mere 300K. Face it, you can hardly buy a house for that anymore. Just think of how much more attractive it will look than those lawn trolls you have out there now.

And if you're looking to meet that special someone, it could be a real conversation starter.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Art or Crap?

You decide:

Take the art or crap quiz.

I got 10 out of 16.

Friday, November 18, 2005

La Pregunta

I started out as an English teacher, but almost before I could begin, I was dispatched to teach music, math, special ed., communications, parenting (with no experience at the time, and I’m highly grateful that one didn’t pan out), and finally “ESL.”  My reaction:

“What’s ESL?”

It turned out ESL was teaching kids from other countries to speak English.  I loved it, and when NYC finally offered me an appointment as an English teacher, I turned it down and went back to school instead.

I had to take 12 credits in foreign language in order to get my ESL certification.  I took 8 credits in Spanish and four in German, and that was good enough for New York State.  At that time, I was not fluent in Spanish, and I found it ironic that a colleague of mine, who spoke excellent Spanish, was unable to become certified because she lacked credits.

When I finally found a job teaching ESL, almost all my students were Spanish speakers.  I decided I’d better figure out was they were talking about, so I spent a few summers studying in Mexico, and took more Spanish courses at night.  Before I know it, I had 24 credits in Spanish, and for the princely sum of 50 bucks, NY State sent me yet another certification as a Spanish teacher.

My former AP (not the one mentioned here) was wonderful, and when she asked me to teach a native Spanish 1 class, I was happy to do her a favor.  The young teacher who’d been leading them had been having problems with the kids, and the AP, apparently, was tired of them landing in her office.

It was fun but odd teaching these kids, every one of whom spoke Spanish better than I did.  None of them knew much about writing, and I had it all over them when it came to accent marks, sentences, paragraphs, or discussing literature.  But they didn’t hesitate to correct me when I mangled the subjunctive or said por for para, so it was a friendly but spirited battle those five months.

It didn’t help that I’d been placed in Sra. F’s classroom.  Sra. F. was from España, and considered any form of Spanish other than that spoken in her country to be an abomination.  She never hesitated to share this philosophy with my students, none of whom met her high standards. She judged my Spanish positively diabolical, and made this pronouncement to me, my class, and my AP, on a daily basis.  Having failed the NTEs and the LAST tests a dozen times, it was undoubtedly a great comfort to know she was so much superior to us.

One day, when Sra. F. observed I’d written an aim in English, she almost had a conniption.  She complained, it seemed, to every supervisor in the building.  Fortunately, they’d long ago stopped taking her seriously.

But neither Sra. F nor the annoyingly accurate ears of my students gave me much trouble till the day Oscar asked the question.  Nobody’d anticipated it, so it really took us for a loop.

“How come you’re white?”

Absolute silence, and stunned looks around the classroom.

“Well, my mother was white, and my father was white, so…”

“No.”  Simple biology was not going to satisfy him.  “This is a Spanish class, and you’re a white guy.  What’s going on?”

I decided to turn the tables.

“Actually, Oscar, from where I stand, you look like a white guy too.”

“Uh, uh, I’m Spanish.”

Maria, a loquacious young woman who sat in the front, could stand no more.  “Uh uh, Oscar, you just as white as the teacher.  And you ain’t Spanish.  Sra. F. is Spanish.”

“Come on, Maria, you know what I mean.”

There ensued a long philosophical discussion, the conclusion of which escapes me at the moment.  

The class, unfortunately, met first period—7 AM that year, which meant that half of it never appeared.  Sadder still, half the kids who did show up did no work, so I ended up failing 75% of the class.  

I’ve not been asked to teach Spanish again.

But I’m ready.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Don’t Aim—Just Shoot

When you teach in New York you’re required to follow a lesson plan. First, you are to state your aim. Then you are to motivate the class because, as everyone knows, these kids don’t want to learn anything.

—Frank Mc Court

There are certain underlying assumptions in everything we do here in fun city. Frank finds humor in the “motivation,” but I’d move yet another step back and examine the “aim.” When I went to school in Nassau County, there was no such concept.

My theory is that some Board of Education wonk decided one day that if teachers had explicit “aims,” they would magically become competent enough to know what they were doing. There are some small flaws in that theory.

Competent teachers know what they’re doing whether or not they actually post an “aim” on the board.

More to the point, no matter how well-stated the “aim” may be, bad teachers simply cannot communicate much of value to their students.

I post an aim daily, to appease whatever muckety-mucks might be roaming the halls in search of offenders. But I’m 100% sure it has no effect whatsoever on me or my students.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Frank McCourt has written a new book, entitled Teacher Man. If that itself isn’t good enough news, it can be had at your nearest Costco for a mere $14.19, or even less at your local public library. McCourt writes:

In America, doctors, lawyers, generals, actors, televison people and politicians are admired and rewarded. Not teachers. Teaching is the downstairs maid of professions. Teachers are told to use the service door or go around the back. They are congratulated on having ATTO (All That Time Off). They are spoken of patronizingly and patted, retroactively, on their silvery locks. Oh, yes, I had an English teacher, Miss Smith, who really inspired me. I’ll never forget dear old Miss Smith...

Why did it take 66 years for McCourt to write Angela’s Ashes?

I was teaching, that’s what took me so long. Not in college or university, where you have all the time in the world for writing and other diversions, but in four different New York City public high schools…When you teach five high school classes a day, five days a week, you’re not inclined to go and to clear your head and fashion deathless prose. After a day of five classes your head is filled with the clamor of the classroom.

Imagine how we’ll all be after a day of six classes. Clearly Randi does not read Frank.

It’s a pity.