Thursday, May 31, 2007

The Grand Hall

I'm ever-vigilantly standing in my hall patrol, in front of the department office, and a kid approaches me. As a hall patrol, I wear many hats (Actually I don't wear any, as the school dress code explicitly prohibits them). But as usual, there's no one in the office, and I'm the only adult around.

Since I'm wearing a tie, the young man figures I must be in charge.

"Ms. Laconic kicked me out."


"She crazy! She just kick me out for no reason!"

"Okay. Teachers do that all the time. But they always say some reason, even if it doesn't make any sense. So why did Ms. Laconic say she kicked you out?"

The kid understands. He smiles. "She say it's because I'm late."

"Well, were you late?"

"Yeah I was late, but she don't have to go kicking me out!"

"Was it the first time you were late?"


"How often are you late?"

"Hey, you know I can't be making it to her class on time. It's too early, yo."

I know how it is. It's tough to get anywhere by 10:30 in the AM.

"Why are you late so often?"

"I have to work, yo."

Now we're getting somewhere. All too often employers abuse kids, make them work all sorts of hours, don't give a damn that they have to go to school. I'd better check that out.

"When do you work, exactly?"

"Three to six on Saturdays, in my uncle's store."

"So you're late every day to Ms. Laconic's class because you have to work three hours on Saturday? You're still tired from that on Wednesday?"

"I have to play soccer, too."


"3-5 after school."

"That should give you plenty of time to make it to Ms. Laconic's class. You could even do homework..."

"Yo, I have to unwind. I have to go out after with my peeps, yo."

"How long does that take?"

"I might get home about midnight."

"You could still get to Ms. Laconic's class on time."

"That's wack." Now he's mad. "I got things to do."

At this point, a supervisor entered the office. I left her to work out a solution to this perplexing dilemma. After all, as a lowly teacher, I'm not qualified to judge all the fine points of situations like this.

And there are halls to patrol.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Quick Hits

Don't miss this week's Carnival of Education, over at The Education Wonks.

Doctor Homeslice holds court on school dress codes. If I sleep in a garbage can, why shouldn't I dress like it? If people don't like me the way I am, the hell with 'em.

Hillary 2008?

There's a lot of talk about '08, but many things could happen before then. Everyone seems to think Hillary Clinton has already clinched the nomination, just as Howard Dean had done a few years ago (remember?). But one loss, one unfortunate war whoop, and Howard was gone (only to rise from the ashes to do a great job for Democrats in 06).

I don't think I'll be voting for Hillary in the primary, though. First of all, I don't much like the fact that she's regarded as the inevitable choice. Also, I have liked John Edwards a lot since very early in the '04 campaign. If you'd seen him speak before he became Kerry's much-toned-down no. 2, you might too.

Hillary is very determined. I like that. I very much doubt she'll let grass grow under her feet while accusations against her go unanswered. Considering Kerry's wasted candidacy, that's the thing I like best about her. She won't give the Swift Boat Vets (or whoever) a free ride if she wins.

Still, her PR guy, Mark Penn, is not my favorite person in the world. He's the worldwide CEO of Burston-Marsteller, which represented clients like Union Carbide (after the 84 disaster in Bhopal), and the Argentine military junta.

B-M's website, under "Labor Relations," used to state "Companies cannot be caught unprepared by Organized Labor's coordinated campaigns," until The American Prospect went and quoted it.

Back in 2003, two large unions, UNITE (which later merged with the hotel and restaurant union, HERE) and the Teamsters, launched a major drive to organize 32,000 garment workers and truck drivers at Cintas, the country's largest and most profitable uniform and laundry supply company (it posted $3.4 billion in sales and $327 million in profits last year). Its longtime CEO, Richard Farmer, was a mega-fundraising "Pioneer" for George W. Bush. Cintas was sued for overcharging consumers and denying workers overtime pay--it settled both cases out of court--and was ordered by a California superior court to give employees $1.4 million for not paying them a living wage. It has also maintained unsafe working conditions (an employee in Tulsa died recently when caught in a 300-degree dryer) and, according to union officials, has used any means necessary to block the organizing drive. According to worker complaints documented by the unions, management fired employees on false grounds, vowed to close plants and screened antiunion videos. A plant manager in Vista, California, threatened to "kick driver-employees with his steel-toed boots," according to a complaint UNITE HERE filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). To put a soft face on its harsh tactics, Cintas hired Wade Gates, a top employee in B-M's Dallas office, as its chief spokesman. Gates coined Cintas's shrewd response to labor: "the right to say yes, the freedom to say no," which has been repeated endlessly in the press. In a speech at USC Law School last year, he outlined Cintas's strategy, calling for an "aggressive defense against union tactics." Says Ahmer Qadeer, an organizer for UNITE HERE, "It's the Burson influence that's made Cintas much, much slicker than they were." The unions have won two NLRB rulings against Cintas, but for four years the company has continued to resist the organizing campaign. Penn disclaimed any responsibility for B-M's activities before his arrival at the firm, and he told The Nation he has "never personally participated in any antiunion activity," even though B-M's antilabor arm is still operating under his tenure. (Penn added a personal note: "My father was for many years a union organizer in the poultry workers union.")

"The right to say yes, the freedom to say no." Sounds great, doesn't it? Still, to me it's very rough to imagine a prospective union holding more sway over working Americans than the person or company that signs their paychecks.

There's a lot more in the article if you choose to tackle the whole thing. And there are other corporate advisers besides Mr. Penn. Now, can you win an election without dealing with companies who've engaged in blatant anti-union activity? Can Mr. Penn possibly blunt the incredible hatred the right seems to have for Hillary? And if so, at what cost?

Hillary was instrumental in persuading President Bill Clinton to veto the bankruptcy bill that precludes catastrophic medical emergency from having your bills haunt you (to the early grave the emergency may not have provided you). However, she voted for something very similar in 01, and was absent for the vote on the bill GW Bush signed into law.

While I'd probably vote for her against a Republican, I don't really trust her. Obama hung around New Jersey with faux Democrat Cory Booker, and lost my vote right then and there. I'm left with Edwards, who I like a lot, and maybe Bill Richardson.

Who does the enlightened teacher vote for in this primary?

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

God Bless the First Amendment

It's alive and well, but I've taught my students it no longer applies once they enter my classroom.

The other morning, one of my students walked in with a very tight-fitting blouse announcing, "You can't be the first, but you can be next."

I asked her if she'd considered that message, and it appeared she had. I told her if my daughter came home wearing such a thing she would be in mortal danger.

"You wouldn't kill your daughter, Meester."

"No, but I'd burn the shirt for sure."

But clearly that wasn't the appropriate move while the kid was wearing it, so I taught my lesson and forgot about it.

The next period, a young man walked in ten minutes late wearing a shirt with a huge middle finger emblazoned on it. Under the finger it said, "Yankees."

I'm indifferent to baseball, but I decided right then and there that was beyond the pale (Some of my colleagues suggested it would have been acceptable had it said "Mets"). I noticed he was wearing a white T-shirt under the huge finger. I told him he couldn't wear that shirt in my class.

"I already am."

"You're gonna have to go into the bathroom and take it off if you want to stay here."


The problem with giving ultimatums to kids is you really must follow through. I called the dean's office, and the secretary insisted on talking to him. She tried to persuade him to turn it inside-out, but he refused (but isn't she great for trying?). She then sent security guards.

While they were coming, I called the young man's father. He asked to speak to his son. The security guards arrived, and I asked them to wait. The father told him to take the shirt off. No dice.

Now dad's gotta come to school and pick up the shirt. And it grieves me deeply to admit my ten-year record of not throwing kids out is broken (I don't count the clearly sick kid I forced to go to the nurse's office).

It may be my fault. As this kid is borderline passing (and till recently I was inclined to give him 65), I failed to mention his possible grade reduction before calling the dean. I'll never know whether I could have avoided this with just a gentle little veiled threat, and that bugs the hell out of me.

Still, though, it's much better that I carried through with my threat. Had I not done so, future threats would be worthless. If you're young, rest assured that being a teacher is the best possible training you could ever have for being a parent.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Found in Translation

Miss Cellania tells all.

Budget Woes?

Vouchers will only get you so far. Sure, the money's good, but you can't expect it to get you through a whole school year.

Here's an idea. Why not just cut down on the food you serve the students? The national school lunch program will give you the money, and you can feed the kids mashed potatoes. Say it's for discipline, and just give them bread and water if things get really out of hand.

And for goodness sake, don't forget to charge the school lunch program for the days when you close the school. You have to be resourceful in the old education biz. That's the only way you're gonna make a buck.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Highly Recommended

I've just spent a good portion of a very productive day sitting by a pool reading Rumpole and the Reign of Terror, now available for the slick price of $4.79 in hardcover from Amazon. There's nothing quite like Rumpole of the Bailey, and if you've never seen Leo McKern portray him on PBS, you really ought to arrange a viewing right now.

Actually, the DVDs should be available at self-respecting public libraries.

Alas, Leo McKern, shown here, passed a few years back, but octogenarian John Mortimer is still chronicling the exploits of Horace Rumpole, aged junior barrister and holy terror of the Old Bailey. Read 'em in huge gulps, or trek to your library to read a piece at a time.

The Carnival

Well, I've just received an email informing me that I was not actually the subject of carnival criticism I'd read. I've therefore deleted my previous post. I apologize to anyone and everyone I may have offended in that post (As usual, I had endeavored to offend as many people as possible).

This was not my first mistake, and it surely won't be my last. But when I make a mistake, I'll be the first to admit it.

Here's the thing about the Carnival, though--you pays your money, and you takes your chances. You can't realistically expect everything to reflect your particular point of view, whatever it may be.

The carnival is basically democratic. Within reason, I include posts sent to me regardless of POV, and I try not to negatively editorialize on their content, as I would not wish them to do so to me. However, inclusion does not necessarily indicate agreement.

I have mixed feelings about The New York Times, Newsday, The Daily News, The New York Post, and The Village Voice, all of which have printed anti-union op-eds or articles. That doesn't stop me from writing them letters, though. Thankfully, my point of view doesn’t preclude them from printing my letters either.

One of the most anti-union folks around is NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, and the UFT published a column of his in its publication, NY Teacher. Would it be fair to conclude, on that basis, that the United Federation of Teachers is anti-union?

When The Daily News began excerpting posts from this blog, I got some angry email from Unity faithful expressing horror that I would allow myself to be quoted in such a publication. I couldn’t help but notice they had no objections whatsoever when the News printed UFT President Randi Weingarten’s op-ed a week later.

I think the carnival is a great place for all of us to express our views on education, whatever they are. I don't expect to persuade people like Rod Paige that unions are good things. But that doesn't mean he isn't entitled to his point of view.

However wrong it may be.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Threaten a Teacher, Go to Jail

That's a law they're proposing in Wisconsin. I once had a kid come into my classroom and offer to blow my head off with a 45. I'm not certain any law would have dissuaded him from making that particular announcement.

Are laws like these what we need? I'm still wondering who I have to sleep with to get the soap dispensers filled in my trailer, so I can't yet tackle this question.

Kelly Grapples with Sacred Cows

It's an odd day in Mr. Bloomberg's New York when one of his employees publicly questions his infinite wisdom. But Police Commissioner Ray Kelly thinks the way to resolve the police shortage is to pay them more money. Mayor Bloomberg, of course, says it's never been done that way.

Hizzoner points to the teachers' union, which simply made its members work more. It agreed to longer days, and even longer days. It agreed to extra days. It tossed seniority rights into the trash. It sent its members to inspect hallways and bathrooms and sentenced others to an eternity wandering the system as overpaid subs. It even agreed to keep its HQ open an extra hour a week, to make it appear that the patronage mill was sacrificing something as well. Why can't the PBA agree to the same?

I mean, it's not like working for NYPD is stressful. You get to know people you might not meet in your everyday life. Sometimes you get to chase them down city streets, by car, by foot, by motorcycle, by bike, or even by horse. Some days people actually try to kill you and stuff, just like on TV. You get to run into collapsing buildings and make the mayor look like a hero. You just never know what excitement the next day may offer. Who could ask for more?

Inexplicably, Patrick J. Lynch, PBA president, thinks the job is tough enough already:

Base pay for the city’s officers tops out at $59,588 after five and a half years. In Suffolk, top pay is $97,958 after five years; in Nassau, it is $91,737 after seven years. “Even if we went to pattern bargaining and it brings us up to $63,000, it’s substantially lower than every other nearby department,” Mr. Lynch said. “Our members will continue to leave.”

Mayor Bloomberg, of course, knows better. Police, like teachers, are interested neither in a living wage, nor working conditions, nor sending their kids to college. They just want to pitch in, help Mr. Bloomberg fudge the figures and make people think he's doing a great job.

It's not like Mr. Bloomberg isn't doing his part. He declines even to accept a salary. Sure, cynics will say he's already a billionaire.

But that still doesn't change the facts.

Friday, May 25, 2007

On Livestock

In my morning class, we were discussing similes, and the book suggested "strong as a bull/ ox. I told the kids "strong as an ox" was more commonly used (One colleague agreed, while another did not. If you have any opinions, I'd love to hear them).

One kid asked, " What's an ox?"

"It's a kind of bull, I think," I replied.

"Are bulls cows?"

"No, Jaehi. Cows are cows. Bulls are bulls."

"How do they have babies then?"

"Well, the cows and bulls get together, and they have babies."

"Why can't the cows just go with other cows?"

"Because the cows can't make babies by themselves."

"Why not?"

"You need a bull. Bulls are boys, and cows are girls."

"Well, what about cowboys?"

"Well, Juan, cowboys are boys. But they don't go out with cows. They go out with girls."

"Well, I saw a movie on cable where the cowboy went with another cowboy."

"Maybe he did, Gloria, but they couldn't make babies either."

Thursday, May 24, 2007

What Do We Have that Green Dot Doesn't?

Well, we have tenure. It's a very slippery slope when folks from your union start saying lack of tenure is insignificant. Do I need to spell out what that implies?

I believe Green Dot teachers have job protection, it's superior to what's offered in the awful factories that have popped up in fun city, but the truth is probably far closer to what you can read on Eduwonk today.

The argument that Green Dot's system is superior to tenure is superficial, since Green Dot specifically rejects seniority privileges. So you may have it good your first three years, but if you plan to stick around much longer than that, you're likely to be disappointed (Disposable teachers are all the rage nowadays).

On the other hand, we also have a boss making hundreds of thousands of our dollars being perpetually chauffeured about on our dime. While she goes to gala luncheons, we walk hall patrols and teach in trailers and closets.

And we have patronage employees who have no qualms about libeling real working teachers (while receiving 2-4 times our salaries to do so). In fact, we have a veritable army of them marching to any tune the leadership calls. To make sure, Unity has them sign loyalty oaths.

I started writing this blog with the express intent of countering the teacher-bashing I saw regularly in the pages of the New York tabloids. But the 05 contract hit me over the head like a piano falling from the sky. On my worst day, I could never have imagined such a thing.

I hit maximum salary last February because we voted down a contract that would have raised it to 25. The UFT now characterizes that as an insignificant gain, but I don't.

I believe in strong, active union that fights for its members. I've been in this for 22 years, and right now I cannot remember the last time the UFT leadership fought for anything.

If anyone can, please let me know. I'm all ears

En boca cerrada, no entran moscas*

I told my students we'd be filling in DoE surveys this week. My kids don't speak a lot of English, so it takes a little while to explain.

"Surveys are wack to the heck," observed Paulo.

"What the heck does wack to the heck mean?" I asked.

"You're supposed to know that." Maria informed me. "You're the teacher."

She had me there. But then I remembered what my daughter had told me.

"You're wrong, Maria. That's slang and slang is for kids."

Much discussion ensued about who exactly was supposed to know what exactly. We finally decided to go to the source, and asked Paulo what he meant.

"I don't know, teacher." he confessed. "I just opened my mouth, and it came out."

Things like that used to happen to me a lot, too. When I became a teacher, I really had to work on stopping it. It's even rougher, though, for kids just learning English. Apparently, sometimes even they themselves don't know what they're talking about.

They'll get it, though, if we give them a little time and patience.

*Roughly, if you keep your mouth shut, flies won't get in.

Related: See what a city parent thinks should be on the parent survey.

Teacher of the Year

And what a year it's been. Kanesa Hopkins, who recently gained that coveted title, is charged with having sex with one of her female students. Ms. Hopkins taught her alleged partner not only math, but Sunday school as well.

As the United States assumes people innocent until proven guilty, Ms. Hopkins was suspended with pay. She's lucky she doesn't work in New York city where the United Federation of Teachers, to serve us better, agreed to suspensions without pay based on allegation alone.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Chancellor Klein Enhances His Image

According to Juan Gonzalez, Chancellor Klein forgets when he purges test ESL students from his test scores. But when they come back and get factored in, he remembers them all day long. In fact, 30,000 more ESL students were counted this year than last:

Fred Smith was outraged when he heard Klein's explanation. Smith, you see, spent three decades analyzing tests for our city's school system, so he knows a thing or two about how chancellors paint the prettiest picture for the public.

"They never told you that back in 2005, during the mayoral race, the school district quietly increased the number of exemptions for ELL kids and then claimed a record boost in scores," Smith said.

That year, Bloomberg and Klein announced "the highest one-year gains ever achieved" by city fourth-graders, a more than 10% increase in those scoring at or above grade level.

But, as Smith noted, Bloomberg and Klein never mentioned in any press release that the city had dramatically increased the number of immigrant students exempted from the test that year. Some children had been in the school system as long as five years and were still being exempted from regular state tests.

Gonzalez said Klein had photos with circles and arrows and paragraphs to be used as evidence against them. And despite all the hoopla, he remained unimpressed (as do I).

Closing their neighborhood schools (Take that, non-English speakers!)and busing ESL kids all over the city is highly unlikely to hasten their acquisition of English. Language acquisition is not as much about intelligence as wanting to fit in and be part of something. Kids who have to wake up at four in the morning to take a bus, a train, and a brisk run to Far Far Away Middle School are not likely to be unexpectedly break out singing "I Love New York."

"They all try to make things look better than they are to further their own ambitions," said Smith, who is now writing a book on how public schools doctor test results. Bloomberg and Klein just "have better public relations" than previous administrations, he said.

Gonzalez gets straight to the heart of the matter. Test scores from this administration are best sampled with a grain of salt.

Or more, if possible.

I Think I Thought...

...I Thought a Think was hosting the 120th Carnival of Education.

Find out why the number 120 is so amazingly special.

Well? What are you waiting for?

The Naked Truth

UFT Vice President Richard Farkas, on page 6 of the May 10th, 2007 edition of NY Teacher, wrote a thoughtful article about the plight of ATR teachers in NYC. Apparently, the Daily News bemoaned the fact that hundreds of teachers were working as substitutes, but receiving much higher pay than regular subs.

As of now, there is no working link to the article at the NY Teacher website.

Mr. Farkas explains that many of these teachers are tossed into the ATR pool through no fault of their own. When Mr. Bloomberg closes a school, they're left to their own devices, and cannot get a job without a principal's say-so. Though they try, it's no dice for many of these folks.

Now the UFT does provide job security for these folks, at least until contracts are renegotiated. That's a good thing.

Of course, it would be a far better thing if the UFT had not given up the UFT transfer plan, or seniority transfers. The UFT categorizes it as an urban myth that the new "free market" plan is not an improvement over the UFT plan, the one I used. They come to this conclusion because more people transferred under the new plan. Typically, they're unwilling to respond to a single question about how many teachers were refused positions.

However, hundreds of ATR teachers are stuck in limbo. The ones who've contacted me were understandably less than enthusiastic about the new free market plan.

Under the old system, there would be not hundreds, but precisely zero ATR teachers. And anytime the Daily News, or even the DoE, wants to do something about this, they can insist that new classes be created, old ones be reduced, and all those ATR teachers get back to work.

Unless they're just looking for something to complain about, of course.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The American Federation of Randi Weingarten

UFT President Randi Weingarten may soon be DC bound, where she can enjoy many gala luncheons with her admirers, like ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige. Thus, her United Federation will become but one lowly portion of her vast kingdom. She's now schooling heir-apparent Michael Mendel in the groundbreaking "more work for less pay" philosophy that's characterized her reign.

Before she makes her ascent, she will painstakingly instruct Mr. Mendel in the art of time-for-money swaps, negotiating zero-percent increases for perks, surrendering said perks (and far more) for less than cost of living, supporting mayoral control, and enabling reorganizations that blatantly hurt working teachers. Rest assured that by the time Mr. Mendel is handed the reins, he will be fully prepped on all Ms. Weingarten's canny negotiating techniques.

No one can deny Ms. Weingarten is no old-fashioned union leader, and the time is right.

Teacher-bashers like Rod Paige and the LA Times editorial board are enamored of Ms. Weingarten as they praise her very public move to the center. They applaud when she unilaterally cancels a demonstration against Mayor Bloomberg's third reorganization, magically dragging the groups under her umbrella with her.

They cheer when she casually tosses away the UFT transfer plan, and relegates hundreds of teachers to wander about as permanent subs. They hoot and holler when she sends teachers back to the lunchroom, to the hallway, to the guidance office, to a drafty doorway. They stand up when they see her teachers can be suspended without pay for months based on unsubstantiated allegations. They cry "Hallelujah!" when they see her inch toward partnerships with people who publicly renounce tenure and seniority.

Tenure-shmenure, says Ms. Weingarten's internet mouthpiece, Leo Casey. What's in a name? So what if Green Dot's website clearly states he did away with it as a reform? So what if the LA Times says his teachers toss it out the classroom window? Let's get the message out that tenure isn't important, and who knows how excited we can get Rod Paige and friends?

In fact, let's get rid of tenure, let's eliminate seniority (instead of merely weakening it, like we did in 05),and make the teachers think it's for their own good!

It's the wave of the future. Let's partner with a charter school outfit that already rejects tenure and seniority, delight Bloomberg, Paige and Klein, and show the world how moderate we are.

"Bravo!" shouts Rod Paige. "The NEA may be a terrorist organization, but the UFT is my kind of union!"

: Don't miss Eduwonk on the Casey case.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The College Office

My colleague Phil, for his building assignment, works in the college office. Now teachers write recommendations for their students all the time. I write dozens of them, and I believe I've declined only two kids in 22 years. But what happens to the kids teachers decline? They still need recommendations.

Well, Phil writes 'em:

I've never actually met Susan, but I'm fairly certain she has some very good qualities. I can see from her photo that she's very well-dressed, at least down to her shoulders. Also, her hair is immaculately combed. She appears to have all of her teeth, though I can't actually be sure from the photograph. I think, though, that you can count on Susan for good hygeine. There's not a stain on her, at least from the shoulders up.

Susan's transcript clearly states she got a 75 in gym last spring. That's ten more points than are required to pass. Now, Susan didn't have to work that hard, but she took it upon herself, and chose not to accept the minimum.

This says to me that Susan is the kind of person who strives for something better. Clearly she could have settled for 65. She may have even settled for 70. But, no, she went for 75.

I think when Susan gets her GED, college will be just around the corner. This will be even more likely if she ever learns to speak English. And make no mistake, she's trying hard. She's taken level one English as a second language not four, not five, but six times.

Sure, she hasn't actually reported to any of those English classes, but Susan is nothing if not determined. Why next time, it's entirely possible she may show up. If so, she may access that gumption she displayed in gym last spring, and....

I don't know whose idea it was to make Phil (or others) do this job. It appears someone determined that with Phil writing their recommendations, these kids would have it made. Somehow, though, I'm left wondering whether there should have been more serious intervention before the matter reached his desk.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Sunday Shorts

Ms. Cellania presents Henry Rollins at Wal-Mart.

Mike Antonucci says School Doesn't Have to Be a Drag.

And for goodness sake, I hope you didn't miss the carnival.

We're All Crazy

The UFT blog, Edwize, the one I pay for with my union dues, suggests I'm an internet lunatic who just makes up any damn thing to suit my crazy rants. That's because I said people throw tenure away to join Green Dot Schools.

Only I didn't make it up, and I didn't even say it. The LA Times said it. Also, the director of Green Dot Schools, Steve Barr, announced on Eduwonk that teachers "gladly give up tenure" to join Green Dot Schools. The Green Dot website unequivocally states that among its reforms are no tenure and no seniority rights.

According to the UFT blog, Andrew Rotherham (aka Eduwonk) is reprehensible for suggesting the Green Dot model is perfectly sensible. It then goes on to repeatedly suggest the Green Dot model is perfectly sensible.

I posted a response on Edwize last night, which they may or may not publish. I mentioned something about their printing ad hominem nonsense, and they may consider that rude. They have standards. On the other hand, calling real working teachers irresponsible liars for saying things they did not actually say is perfectly acceptable.

Steve Barr says his teachers give up tenure. The UFT blog says they give up nothing.

Maybe I am crazy. Is Mr. Barr crazy too? Is everyone who isn't on the UFT payroll crazy?

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Be Afraid

Yesterday it was freezing in my house. I hauled up a little space heater and retreated to my room. When my daughter came back from karate, she exclaimed, "I need that heater for my room. It's mad hot in here."

"Is it mad cold in your room?" I asked.

"Daddy," she said, "you can't talk like that."

"Why not?"

"That's slang. Slang is for kids."

I'm looking at her, eleven years old, and I'm horrified. This, I suddenly realize, this may be the incipient teenager I've been worrying about for so long.

Oh no.

Ironically, I work with teenagers every day, and for the most part, I get along with them very well. But my more experienced friends assure me that, at a certain age, some evil spirit takes them over, and it surfaces mostly in their dealings with parents. My teacher's instinct says ignore it, but I plod on regardless.

"Why can't I use it?" I ask.

"Let me tell you something. You don't sound cool when you talk like that. You have to use grownup words. You should ask if it's extremely cold in my room."

Maybe. But to me, the question now sounds stilted and pretentious, even worse than uncool.

Of course, if simple lack of style could contain the savage teen, it would be well worth it.

Friday, May 18, 2007

No Tenure? Welcome, Says the UFT

In Edwize's latest offering, entitled Steve Barr, Welcome to Our World, the UFT's Leo Casey attacks both Andrew Rotherham (aka Eduwonk) and me.

Here is how Mr. Casey refers to us:

From the “make up whatever facts fit today’s rant” school of thought, there is the assertion that Barr has thrown tenure out the window. Ed Sector boss Andy Rotherham adds his two cents, that throwing out tenure is a good thing.

While Casey criticizes Rotherham, he makes essentially the same point--that Barr's contract is fine as is. However, the statement about tenure, attributed to me via the link, was actually from an LA Times editorial. Had Mr. Casey paid closer attention to the post he linked to, he'd know that. Here is exactly what they wrote:

Last week, a majority of tenured teachers at the low-performing school signed a petition favoring the move — thus showing that they are perfectly willing to loosen work rules and toss tenure out the classroom window if it means a safer and more vibrant campus.

It's regrettable that Mr. Casey could not be bothered reading the post he criticized, let alone the referenced article.

What's worse, Mr. Casey, despite his long explanation, appears to have very limited familiarity with the topic at hand.

After a brief lecture on the meaning of tenure, Mr. Casey quotes one passage from the Green Dot contract, stating no teacher could be fired without just cause, and implies I should have read the contract. Why he supposes I have access to it I have no idea.

However, the Green Dot website is freely available, and makes specific mention of the contract. What else does it say?

Key reforms written into the contract and agreed to by the union include: teachers have explicit say in school policy and curriculum; no tenure or seniority preference....

And that is precisely what Mr. Casey is welcoming to "our world."

Perhaps there's some nuance which eluded me in that clause, but it's tough to discern. Does Mr. Casey suppose they make this very public declaration because they consider it meaningless? Is that why they specifically refer to it as a "reform?"

Did they write it into the contract because they had a bit of empty space to fill?

Mr. Casey, representing the UFT, embraces a person who plainly rejects tenure and seniority rights, a person with whom UFT President Randi Weingarten is meeting today.

Mr. Casey concludes:

...why let the facts get in the way of a good rant?

Why indeed? Mr. Casey appears to have a highly abridged notion of the facts, and can't be bothered looking them up before he writes.

That, in fact, is the more generous of two possible interpretations.

The other, of course, is that he blatantly libeled a working UFT teacher.

Do Not Pass Go

Ya notice how when someone goes crazy and kills 14 people on a Sunday afternoon, all the people on the block talk about what a good neighbor he was and remember the time he helped the cat out of the tree?

Some people kinda feel the same way when confronted with a 38-year-old teacher convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. Otherwise how could they get up and call him a "man of impeccable character?"

To me, a teacher who has sex with a high-school student turns out to have some sort of defect in character after all. I could understand, perhaps, if the guy's mother chose not to see it.

Thompson's lawyer, Thomas C. Morrow, sought no jail time or a delayed sentence, noting that but for the charges, as an Army National Guard sergeant, Thompson would have been deployed to Iraq as a diesel mechanic.

See that? If he weren't hanging around here committing statutory rape, he'd be off fixing the trucks of our brave soldiers, and don't you think it's a great idea to send out folks of his caliber to represent the US of A? Kind of like good-will ambassadors?

Probably, though, where he's headed, he'll meet an abundance of characters just as impeccable as he is.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The NYC Model

Since schools in New York City are the very best there are, and we have no problems whatsoever, systems everywhere look to us for an example. There's no overcrowding, class sizes are optimal, parents are universally satisfied, and goshdarn it, this reorganization promises to be even better than the last two reorganizations.

Back in the real world, the LA Times is running an editorial condemning the LA teachers' union for being "the most regressive force in the L.A. Unified School District." I gotta envy LA teachers in many respects. They seem to be taking at least somewhat of a stand. Our union, on the other hand, has drawn kudos from the likes of ex-US Secretary of Education Rod Paige, who likens the NEA to a terrorist organization. The LA Times seems to concur:

Unions don't have to be dinosaurs, and not all are. The New York City teachers union supported mayoral control of the schools there, and it is calling for new ways to draw good teachers to troubled schools. On Friday, the New York union's president, Randi Weingarten, will be visiting Green Dot charter schools with an eye to possible partnerships. There can be no more important job for the new L.A. board and the mayor than to push UTLA in the same direction.

Green Dot charter schools are interesting to me. I was thrilled when Eduwonk featured its founder, Steve Barr, as a guest blogger. I thought unionized charters were a hopeful sign for innovative education. But it turns out there's no tenure in Mr. Barr's variety of union, and the LA Times urges teachers to toss it out the classroom window.

While Ms. Weingarten has proven quite expert in tossing things out the classroom window (like prep time, days off, due process, increases that keep up with cost of living, and seniority), I certainly hope Mr. Barr does not prevail upon her to further demonstrate how flexible she can be.

Because every time Randi Weingarten shows the world how reasonable she is, we pay the cost. And unfortunately, NYC kids have yet to reap any substantive benefits from Ms. Weingarten's willingness to bend whichever way the wind blows.

That's not leadership, and that's not the kind of example I want to set for any kid in my charge.

Thanks to Norm.

CSA Approves Contract

93% of voting principals and assistant principals endorsed a new contract with a 23% compensation increase and reduced seniority rights.

For the Times, They Aren't A-Changin'

In high school, most teachers teach five classes. Sometimes they're all the same class. Sometimes there are two. Sometimes there are more. We call each different class a prep, since you have to prepare for it.

Most teachers I know think two preps are OK, and three or more are less than desirable. But many teachers, including me, get three preps over and over.

Because I volunteer to teach beginners, which takes two periods, I have to prepare those, and then I get at least one more to round off my schedule. But most teachers don't have double-period class, and many of them get three preps anyway.

A friend of mine taught social studies at Outahand High School in Brooklyn, where three preps were like mother's milk. Someone asked why teachers couldn't get only two preps.

"It's impossible," said the supervisor. "No one could do that. If any of you want to take it home and try, be my guest."

Now Mr. Geek, who loved computers, decided to take him up on that offer. The next day, he came back with a schedule that gave everyone two preps. Everyone was happy.

Except the supervisor, who got very angry, and then tore the revised schedule to shreds and tossed it into the trash. "You can't just go around making any schedule changes you like!" he bellowed.

Mr. Geek got four preps, and no one messed with department programming again.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

How About a Nice Cold Bear?

"You're late."

I tell my students that on a regular basis. I told them the only acceptable excuse is, "Boy, this place is hard to find." But after a while I tired of that, and let them know that is not acceptable either.

Yesterday, Brenda walked in 5 minutes late.

"I used to have another student who did things like that."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Educator," she says.

"One day, this girl was walking out of the school, right there in front, just minding her own business, when suddenly, she was eaten by a polar bear."

"Come on. It's hot outside. We don't have any..."

"And everyone said, boy, it's too bad about that girl. But remember, she was late to English class a lot."

My little fables get tedious after a while, so sometimes the kids come on time so as to avoid them. But in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, teachers and administrators have got far more imagination than that. They take kids on sleepover trips, and tell them there's a gunman prowling around, ready to kill them and stuff.

Cute, huh?

The teacher and administrator were suspended. I'll bet the kids' parents would just as soon have them fed to polar bears, and I don't blame them at all.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Dontcha Just Hate It...

..when the teacher shows up drunk?

Let There Be Heat

Thus spake NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, according to a message I've received. Air conditioning "season" does not begin until May 29th. It ends on September 21st.

Therefore, it will not be 85 degrees today. And it absolutely may not hit 90 or above until Chancellor Klein OKs it. I agree wholeheartedly with the chancellor that such temperatures will not be in the interests of children.

Because as far as he's concerned, when the mercury goes up, 1.1 million city kids can simply drop dead from heat prostration. That's what they get when nature sees fit to defy Chancellor Klein. (Tweed offices, naturally, are exempt from this fiat. You can't expect them to do their important work under such conditions).

The DoE has only budgeted to provide AC between those dates. It has determined (in its infinite wisdom) that those are the only dates on which it may get hot.

Disregard this edict at your peril. And at your kids' peril too. Because in Chancellor Klein's New York, it's children first.

But first, it's money first.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tis the Season (not)

It turns out that babies conceived between May and August score lower on standardized tests than those conceived during the rest of the year. So all those reorganizations and givebacks were for nothing after all.

Just say no, folks. Wait till September, and we won't have to spend all those millions of dollars on risky new education programs.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Anonymous Surveys

I haven't actually seen the new survey the DoE is offering NYC teachers, but an emailer writes saying they contain not only school names, which they need to rate the school, but also mysterious 4-digit serial numbers. She says they can also be filled out online.

If every teacher has a serial number, and they can be filled out online, doesn't it follow that each survey can be traced to an individual UFT member? Do you feel comfortable filling out a frank assessment of your principal if your remarks can be attributed to you?

If anyone knows what the 4-digit number after the school name means, please fill us in. Enquiring minds, as always, want to know.

Thanks to Woodlass

Sir Rudy Speaks

I'm pro-choice, but if they overturn Roe v. Wade, that's OK.

We should license all handguns, but hey, we gotta be reasonable. So maybe we shouldn't license all handguns.

I favor civil unions for gay people, but not in New Hampshire.

I presided over the worst disaster in NYC history, and though I was advised to place it underground in Brooklyn, I insisted my control center be placed on a high floor in a proven target for terrorism. Now it's underground in Brooklyn.


I gave a speech telling people to expect another 9/11 if a democrat were elected in 08. When 9/11 actually occurred, a republican was president, a republican was governor, and a republican was mayor. I'm certain the terrorists hadn't been reading the papers, or they would have waited.

I insisted I had to stay on beyond my term, despite term limits. Though Lincoln and Roosevelt had to stand for re-election, I didn't think I should. I had to stay on, to boost the morale of the police and firefighters, to whom I'd been denying a contract for years. In fact, to show how much I valued their services, I left them without one when I left office.

By that time, the cops, who had supported me, who used to adore me, had actually begun demonstrating against me.

When I was mayor, I floated a plan to force welfare recipients to work in public schools. To my mind, people who are chronically unable to find work are adequate role models for public schoolchildren. What the hell, my kids went to private school anyway. When people objected, I accused them of racism.

I also kept taxes down. Every time the state raised school aid to the city, I reduced city aid by an equal amount. Clever, huh?

I went to court to petition for the right to bring my mistress into the home I shared with my wife and young children. No Miss Lewinski nonsense for me.

And just look at me in that pic.

What more could anyone ask?

Saturday, May 12, 2007


1. Go to Education in Texas.

2. Watch video to learn how men and women shower.

Another Thing They Don't Teach in Ed. School

Yesterday the student teacher who works in the trailer adjacent to mine approached me between classes.

"Is it cold in your trailer?" he asked. It wasn't.

"Ours is freezing," he said.

I decided to investigate. I went in and looked at his trailer's thermostat. It was covered with a thick plastic shell. Only the custodial staff had the key.

Now when New York City builds trailers, it covers all the thermostats. This is because students and teachers are patently incapable of determining whether they are cold, hot, or any degree between the two. Only custodians can make those determinations.

One April, a few years back, it became unseasonably hot. I complained, but was told it was heating season. AC season did not officially begin until May 15th, and there was simply nothing that could be done. As luck would have it, the plastic cover over my trailer's thermostat mysteriously disappeared by the next class, and to the consternation of the custodial staff, we had free access to heat, AC, or whatever our selfish little hearts desired.

When they work, I mean.

Now it's been a testy few weeks between the custodians and trailer teachers. We complained there was no soap in the trailer bathrooms, and suddenly there was no soap in the faculty bathrooms either. Now, this poor student teacher, who looks all of twelve years old, was suffering the consequences of our imprudent insolence.

I examined the thermostat carefully, and noticed some small holes on top of the cover.

"Has anyone got a bobby pin?" I inquired.

A young woman obligingly pulled one out of her hair. I advised her I couldn't return it, she nodded, and I managed to manipulate the thermostat from 50 to 70.

"Remember," I told him, handing him the newly minted tool,"this job is largely about problem solving. You can't count on anyone to help you with anything. Anytime you work out a problem yourself, you're way ahead of the game."

I wonder if I could buy bags of liquid soap and squeeze them into those dispensers. Maybe they sell them at Staples.

Friday, May 11, 2007


With just a wave of his hand, NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein makes 200 ESL students disappear. What's this guy gonna do for an encore?

We'll soon find out. The chancellor has been creating what he calls "small schools" for a few years now. They're not small schools in the traditional sense.

They're the same crappy buildings that have been servicing city kids, forever, but put up a sign here, a wall there, hire five layers of administration, and there you have it--the (name here) __________ Academy of (subject there)__________. Now you've got five schools in one building, and you can call that progress.

Because you don't admit many ESL or special ed. kids, test scores appear to go up, and you can declare victory. Short-term superficial gains are good enough for the tabloids, and the public, apparently. The fact that community schools are being dismantled rather than improved is neither here nor there.

There's nothing like a good community school to bring up a neighborhood (and property values in that neighborhood). Unfortunately, billionaires like Mayor Mike, who send their kids to elite private schools, don't spend much time focusing on things like that. And our union leaders, who ought to know better, let this mayor off the hook precisely when the press was beginning to see chinks in his armor.

Now, schools will be receiving more money, and none of it is earmarked for class size reduction. In my school, there'd be no place to put anyone if we reduced class size. There's barely room to breathe as it is.

If this infusion of money, along with reorganization number three, doesn't produce results (which consist exclusively of test score improvements), expect Mr. Klein to wave his magic wand, send kids scrambling to renamed school all over the city, and once again prematurely declare victory.

After all, he's been doing that for six years, and no one seems to have noticed.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Versatile Mr. V.

Mr. V., the truth be told, is only required to teach one subject. But if you're stuck outside his classroom doing hall patrol 45 minutes a day, you quickly learn he can teach anything. His lessons cover virtually every discipline:


"If I retired last year, I'd only have gotten 58% of my salary. If I retired five years ago, I'd only have gotten half. Now if I retired before that, I'd have incurred a penalty, and I'd have made a lot less than I will make when I do retire."


"If I retire this year, I can get 60% of my salary. Next year, I'll get 62% of my salary, but we get a 2% raise, and that will factor in too. If I wait another year, I'll get a 5% raise on top of that, plus I'll get 64% of that salary. I'm also gonna collect 8% on the money I've been socking away all these years, you better believe it."


"When I retire, I'm getting the hell out of here and going to Florida. If it's too hot, maybe I can hit the Carolinas. Taxes aren't bad there either. Or maybe I'll go to Mexico. I hear it's pretty sweet over in San Miguel de Allende. I dunno, though. I don't think I'm gonna wanna study Spanish when I'm retired."

Extra Credit

"If I teach night school, I can up my pension a few points. Now if I teach summer school too, I can really hit the jackpot. All of this stuff factors into my pension. Sure I'll be tired, but it's worth it. I'll really appreciate all that extra work when I retire."


"Do you know what a pension is? It's what you get when you retire. Do you know what retirement is? It's when you stop working. You ought to plan for your retirement. It's a very important part of your life. Make sure you get a good retirement consultant. Do you know what a retirement consultant is?"


"When I collect my pension, it has a cost of living adjustment, so I can make more money every year. And in Florida, retirees don't pay taxes on anything. It's a lot cheaper to live there."

Real Estate

"When I sell my house in Queens, I'm gonna get a better place in Florida for half of what it costs. I can bank the rest. With the market the way it is, though, I might just sell and rent something till prices come down. Oh yeah, there's a bubble, and I don't want to invest my retirement money in a bubble."

Any Questions?

"Yo, Mr. V., when are you gonna retire?"

Thanks to R.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Troubled? Visit the Carnival

We've got exactly what you need. First, call Charles Atlas so people stop kicking sand in your face. While you're waiting for him to get back to you, take a break and check out the 118th edition of the one, the only, the Carnival of Education.

Latest News

What self-respecting carnival could be without the Morning EduGaggle? The Education Wonks maintain it's a fine breakfast, way better than creamed chipped beef on toast.

Huffenglish discusses laptops in schools. So does Musings from the Academy (who also urges you to join the differentiation discussion.)

Reality-based educator tells us how no student loan provider is left behind.

I don't get much correspondence from magazines, but The Nation wants y'all to know it has a special issue on NCLB. Check out the promise and problems, as well as a comprehensive examination by a panel of experts.

For another perspective on NCLB, here's some Eduwonkery for you.

Fearless Leaders

Ms. Cornelius shares Ten Signs Your Administrators Have Lost Touch. I'm mostly okay with that, as long as they keep their hands off me.

Happychyck gets placed under the microscope.

Renee Moore reminisces about her experiences as a teacher leader in Shelby, Mississippi, and tells why teachers know more about what works than consultants (Naturally, I'm shocked and stunned).

The British are coming to check out new blogger Aimlessmiss. And they're visiting Ms. C as well.

According to I, Who Can't:

Demolishing the Regional Offices is like blowing the dust off an old pick-up. If the common sense and wisdom of all the teachers in New York continues to be ignored, I don’t care who looks under the hood- the old thing will never run again.

Family Matters

April May discovers that, being a teacher and a mommy, her values fail to jibe with those of some non-teaching mommies.

Why do teenagers rebel? Principled Discovery suggests they may be attempting something altogether different.

Mike in Texas ponders a cute little baby.

Burning Questions

As long as your school looks good, who cares whether it is good?

In the movies, love means never having to say you're sorry. But in real life, should kids say they're sorry in lieu of punishment?

What the heck does "proficient" mean anyway?

Who's your favorite student?

What do you say to a kid who hasn't shown up to class till yesterday?


Instructivist, the guy who got me started on this whole blogging thing, teaches how to talk new math.

Need a college scholarship? Here are some handy tips.

Oh boy! My own virtual biology lab!

IB a Math Teacher has one that's horrifying but hilarious.

Da Big Apple

In NYC, accused teachers spend months sitting in offices waiting just to find out what, if anything, they're being charged with. And false accusations are just a way of Life in the Rubber Room.

Norm from Ednotes Online discusses teacher certification, then and now.

Welcome to my world.

Everyone loves Mayor Mike. Except those darn parents, who remain unimpressed.

While the mayor re-re-reorganizes schools, Diane Ravitch suggests how to actually improve them.

Life's Little Pains in the !@#$!@#$

Ryan from I Thought a Think hasn't had time to think a thought because he's up to his eyeballs in testing. Read They Test Me so I Test Them right now.

Frankly, it frightens me how often I agree with the Prof at Right Wing Nation. Check out his taxonomy of annoying types found on college campuses. Hmmm....that one reminds me of a teacher I once had. Have you met this person?

According to Mark Twain, "God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board."

Me-Ander loves to teach, but finds the hot weather in Israel a little discouraging.

And Darren, from Right on the Left Coast, has had it up to here with all this diversity stuff.

Food for Thought

Here's a brain teaser from Sharp Brains. Try not to cut yourself.

La Quijota muses on dress codes.

Mr. McNamar of The Daily Grind contributes a thoughtful and provocative analysis of student misbehavior. Check it out.

Feeling dull? Listless? Traipsing about in a mindless stupor? It's your lucky day. Try some brain exercises for the frontal lobe.

Hocus pocus. JD 2718 offers up a little math magic.

Rubbing Sand From Their Eyes

Be careful what you put on the net. Universities can be very prissy, and Tracy Coenen tells us of a young woman who was denied a teaching certificate, apparently because of a photo where she posed as a drunken pirate.

Waddya think about young teachers who appear on The Bachelor? What? It's a TV show.

MS Teacher's career begins to mirror a Sergio Leone flick. Go ahead and make her day.

Educator on the Edge ponders troubling times for Mr. Fun.

Party Time

Laura Huertero discusses her school's cuatro de Mayo festivities. They sound great, but frankly, I'm a little concerned about her multiple personalities.

Looking for a really worthy new mode of procrastination? Play the interview game with Mrs. T. of Chucheria.

For the uninitiated, here's a fine whine primer.

Life's Highways

Pissed Off Teacher, who's just lost her mom, celebrates her life with a poem written by California Teacher Guy.

This and That

Math has gone weird over at Miss Cellania's place. She finds the coolest, funniest stuff day after day. How on earth she does this I have no clue.

Ian Stewart discusses his book, Letters to a Young Mathematician.

Aixa Rodriguez discusses her hair-raising adventures as a charter school teacher.

Tech changes everything, even homeschooling.

More Burning Questions

Why on earth is Elementary History Teacher saying "Neato?" And how can we convince her to stop?

What do you give the man who doesn't have everything, but seems to have done everything? At the very least, you post his list in the carnival.

What's a diploma really worth?

What do you do when students stage a walkout to protest immigration policies?

And what happens when a Hip Teacher approaches The Scottish Play?

That and This

Say it ain't so, Joe Williams.

Over at Dy/Dan, they're Revisiting Vic Mackey.

Remember offers just about everything you ever wanted to know about May 2nd.

And most importantly, if Mamacita says size matters, it does.

Next week's carnival returns home to The Education Wonks. Send your submissions to owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net by 9 PM EST or use this handy form.