Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In Other News...

...Al Franken is now Senator Franken. Norm Coleman, who demanded Franken concede a close race the day after the election, so as not to waste time, has conceded after a mere 7 months.

Take Cover, New York

Because as yet there's no agreement on mayoral control, Mayor Bloomberg says there will be rioting in the streets. He must be right, since he has all that money. Certainly New Yorkers everywhere will be breaking windows and setting cars on fire.

If Mayor Bloomberg can't have whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants, he's going to hold his breath until his face turns blue. This alone will cause the public to go absolutely nuts.

Also, in case you weren't aware, the Soviet Union is returning, perhaps somewhere downtown. Since this will doubtless result in a foot of snow, people in that area may have to riot more slowly. Rioting is a demanding task, so I suggest all rioters take regular breaks and have a nice bowl of borscht. That's beet soup, for those uninitiated with Soviet cuisine. I also suggest New Yorkers stock up on quality vodka in case mayoral control returns and we go back to the usual American stuff.

Me, I live in the burbs. We have none of the great innovations Mayor Bloomberg has brought New York, and our kids are stuck learning in classrooms rather than crumbling trailers. Also, we can't squeeze nearly as many kids in a room as Mayor Bloomberg can, and are stuck with reasonable class sizes. You can imagine how upset we must be.

However, I may come out and steal a big screen TV if the rioting continues. Please keep me posted when the looting starts, and let me know if you scout a good location. But for goodness sake, be careful where you swing your baseball bat, and riot defensively with protective headgear.

Remember, safety first.

Update: An emailer offers this advice: "Regarding the Soviets, if they confront you, just nod and say "da". They don't speak much English."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Standing Up for Billionaires Everywhere

That's the mayor's job, of course, as he traipses through the media spotlight demanding mayoral control. It's not primarily the concept of mayoral control that's so objectionable, even though it doesn't help kids, it doesn't help working teachers, and even though this mayor would not dream of sending his own kid to the public schools he sheds those crocodile tears over.

It's the fact that the New York City version allows for no checks or balances on the mayor's power that's so disturbing. Still, it doesn't stop tabloid op-ed boards, tinhorn politicians like Shelly Silver, or even part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten from getting up there in front of God and everybody demanding that it continue.

Now Shelly Silver appears to have been bought off by the mayor, the richest man in New York City, in what, effectively, is one billionaire caving in to help out another:

The former adversaries came together last week to rebuke the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for its refusal to guarantee billions of dollars in financing for two office towers that the developer Larry A. Silverstein is to build at the trade center site.

After all, unlike you and me, unlike the schools over which Mayor Bloomberg presides, which are subject to massive budget cuts even as they continue with unconscionable overcrowding and the highest class sizes in the state, billionaires can always use a few bucks. We wouldn't know what to do with money if we had it, and neither would schoolchildren. Silver and Bloomberg can always manage to get together and help out a billionaire in need, who will truly appreciate it.

After all, they're doing a bang-up job over at the WTC site. Look at all they've created there in a mere eight years.

And everyone's favorite part-time leader of the biggest teacher local in the country, Ms. Weingarten, is willing to do her part as well. As Governor Paterson and Mayor Bloomberg got up in front of the cameras yesterday to demand a continuation of the effective dictatorship that is mayoral control, she stood to show solidarity. After all, a union boss needs to show solidarity.

Now usually union bosses show solidarity with working people. However, Ms. Weingarten is a new kind of union boss. That's why she rises to show solidarity with billionaires who stand for unlimited power. That's why she's so adored by union-bashers like Rod Paige and the New York Post editorial page.

You gotta admit, there's never been anything like her before. Ironically, in today's New York Post, Ms. Weingarten begs for mayoral control while pointing to the work she did for the CFE lawsuit, the very lawsuit that gave her hero, Mayor Bloomberg, hundreds of millions of dollars to lower class size.

Mayor Bloomberg managed to take that money and raise class size anyway--a neat trick for someone who considers himself so indispensible. Perhaps Ms. Weingarten, blinded by her affection for the mayor, didn't notice.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Good Old Common Sense

Maybe what we need in the US is a dose of everyday wisdom. Why do we need to treat people with all those fancy machines? Who needs all those buttons, knobs and doodads? Here's a doctor who's willing to dispense with all those fripperies and give a dose of good old American know how.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where Have All the Talking Points Gone?

When I see the abject nonsense put forth by Republicans objecting to affordable health care, I wonder where it comes from. On the one hand, they say government is too inept to run health care. On the other, they say a government plan will be unfair and none of the private companies will be able to compete with it.

Now these are the same companies who routinely refuse to insure Americans who are or have been sick--the same companies that dump people for the offense of getting sick. Personally, I say screw these companies. I'll stick with GHI, the government-initiated non-profit that helped Saint Rudy, vociferous opponent of government-run insurance, when he had cancer.

So where do they come up with those talking points? Probably just the way they do on this video, which is really worth your time:

Video stolen from Millard Fillmore's Bathtub

Friday, June 26, 2009

No Summer School for Me

I just got an email informing me that, for the first time in 20 years, there was insufficient enrollment to offer me the summer college job I usually take. Therefore, I guess I'll have to go to the beach. Or maybe out to lunch. Or possibly travel or something.

I'm acutely aware that, as problems go, this is a pretty good one to have. I put my daughter in a summer sports program for the month of July so we're tied to the old home place for at least that long. But I just want to ask, in lieu of the old, "What did you do last summer?" question, the following:

What are you going to do this summer? I'm used to working, so I'm looking for suggestions from teachers experienced in taking time off.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fret Not, Elementary Teachers.

Fret less, anyway. A UFT link I found by chance has this to say:

A subsequent agreement reached on June 25 states that the Tuesday following Labor Day will be used “first and foremost for preparation of the classroom and for the arrival of students.” If time permits, the agreement states, the remainder of the day may be used for professional development. Classes will begin for students on Wednesday, Sept. 9.

So perhaps you won't be waking up at 2 AM to decorate your classroom till the kids arrive after all. But it appears they've allowed for some preparation anyway.

Update: Here's a little extra goodie the UFT negotiated for elementary teachers:

The last day for students will be changed from June 25, 2010 to June 28, 2010. On that day, students will be dismissed early.

This is very interesting in that people were speculating as to why that day was on the calendar at all. Could this have been cooked up by the UFT and Tweed well in advance of this agreement?

I don't believe this effects those of us involved with proctoring and marking Regents exams, or those in the building with us, but please correct me if I'm in error.

Further speculation, as always, is welcome.

Eating Our Young

Like just about everyone I know, I'm delighted to have the August Punishment Days canceled. Some of my colleagues feel that was the most odious part of the stinkeroo contract part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten and her patronage mill cooked up in 2005. Personally, I think there are even worse aspects.

Nonetheless this was finally addressed via the despicable practice of "eating our young," or dumping on newbies, a practice much maligned by the UFT aristocracy in 2005, while selling the terrible contract to rank-and-file.

As James Eterno says so well on the ICE blog, this is yet another bad deal from Ms. Weingarten and her sycophants. Why on earth would you pay the city 2 billion dollars just to do something that actually saves the city money? Only our crack negotiating team could envision and carry out a notion like that. New teachers can count on losing 3% of their salaries for an additional 17 years under this deal, hardly the way to encourage people to become teachers.

And James is absolutely right that this is a Tier 5. Sure they don't call it a Tier 5. And they don't call the sixth class taught by most of my colleagues four times a week a class either.

But not all of us just fell off the tomato truck from New Jersey. And happy though we are over the canceled punishment days, there's no joy for me in treating young teachers like this. They deserve better, even if Ms. Weingarten is skipping town and won't have to deal with them anymore.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 1: Classroom Setup

Hi! I'm Miss Eyre. I maintain my own blog, which is updated semi-regularly, at Life at the Morton School. I am going to be guestblogging here every Wednesday for the foreseeable future. NYCEducator does a darn good job with this blog, and the bar is set high indeed for me. Hope you enjoy my writings. I welcome your feedback in the comments here and at my own blog as well.

So without further ado...

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE

Part 1: Setting Up Your Classroom

This is the first in a multi-part series that may take years to complete. Having earned (and I do mean earned!) my status as a tenured educator in the NYCDOE through (God help us) the NYCTF, I want to share what I’ve learned with those individuals who are just starting out or starting out in a new school. I hope that this advice will be helpful to complete newbies, or to those, like myself, who entirely mucked up their first years teaching and would like to do better.

The more veteran educators out there are likely to not enjoy reading this post. I did not exactly enjoy writing it. But I'm writing this honestly, from my perspective as a younger and newer educator who wanted, above all, to make it to being tenured in this convoluted and occasionally entirely irrational system. I made it. This is what I learned.

My first installment in this series is on Setting Up Your Classroom. No one except a teacher knows what this entails. Even a basic classroom setup requires hours of work for which you are not in any way compensated—including, for the 2009-10 school year, from the looks of things as of this writing, reimbursement for the myriad silly supplies you will be forced to purchase. Surprise and welcome! Get used to it, because this is only the first time you will be confronted with 1.) long, unappreciated work hours and 2.) buying stuff with your own money that you will never see again.

So. Setting up your classroom. I’m going to assume that you are a middle school ELA teacher, because I’m not sure that anyone, save a teacher with an advanced science lab, has a more headache-inducing classroom setup task. You may be able to skip certain steps in this process if you are a different type of teacher or if—aren’t you lucky!—you are a CTT/SETSS/out-of-classroom type person who does not have your own room. But, again, for purposes of our discussion, you have a classroom and you have to set it up. Here are some things to think about.

1.) YOUR DESK. Putting your desk in front and center of the room IS NOT DONE. I cannot stress this enough. It is extremely unpopular and will mark you as a troublemaker right from the beginning. I find that putting your desk in a front corner of the room, far from the door, works well, but you need to find the place that works for you. This is if you have a desk. You may not have one. You are sort of allowed to ask for one, but don’t be surprised if you make do with two or three student desks pushed together, a table, a couple of milk crates, etc. Keep your desk clean. A clean desk invites far less close inspection from your superiors than a messy one. And I should know, having been subjected several times to trying to teach while my AP “casually” looks through every single paper on my very messy desk.

2.) STUDENT DESKS. Putting desks in rows is ALSO NOT DONE. Again, I cannot stress this enough. “But,” you may ask, “doesn’t putting desks in groups invite students to, well, look at each other and talk?” Why, yes, it does. This is the point. Whether or not you agree with this point is beside said point. Put your desks in groups of 4-6. Sometimes you can get away with pairs. In any case, the desks should not be, say, facing the chalkboard. “WHAT?” you may ask. “But how will they see what I’m doing or take notes?” That is a fine question, but again, beside the point. Just put your desks in groups. Trust me when I say that I’m saving you the trouble of having your AP or “helpful” colleague come in and point out that they should be in groups.

3.) CLASSROOM LIBRARY. You may or may not have one of these to begin with. If you have one, congratulations! It must be sorted according to reading level and genre. Were you taught how to do this? No? Learn over the summer. Google “Fountas and Pinnell.” You will come to detest these names. If you do not have one, you will be expected to have one. “But I don’t have any money to buy books!” This does not matter. I like Freecycle for acquiring books. And Goodwill. And stealing (“borrowing”) from better-endowed colleagues.Also, you will need to buy baskets. “Why can’t I just put them on shelves?” This is also a fine question that no one in all of teaching history, including Lucy Calkins* herself, has ever answered. Buy baskets. They are quite cheap at your local dollar store. Start with at least two dozen. Expect to have to get more.

*If you do not know who Lucy Calkins is, learn, and then cry, because she will haunt you for your entire career.

4.) BULLETIN BOARDS. It is a well-documented fact that students simply cannot be successful without having their work, miles of it, with rubrics, task cards, state standards, and thoughtful reflections about the work posted on bulletin boards inside and outside their classrooms. Who puts up these beautiful bulletin boards? Why, you do, silly! And who buys the backing paper and colorful borders and cutouts and mounting paper and whatnot to put on these bulletin boards? You do, of course! And it’s not cheap, by the way. I recycle my border paper meticulously by coiling it up and securing it with rubber bands when I remove it. I also don’t buy the expensive rolls of backing paper—wrapping paper from the dollar store works like a charm. Bulletin boards generally need to be changed at least once a month. They need to colorful and tidy and neatly arranged. Most administrators want to see the work, at minimum, identified with a short summary of the assignment and what unit of study it relates to. Your crazier admins want more information. Learn what your admin wants and do it.

5.) CLASSROOM DÉCOR. Do not buy a dozen colorful posters at your local teacher store and think you’re done. Oh no. Admins want to see posters and charts that YOU have made. In all your spare time, of course. My advice is make nice ones, once, and laminate them so you have them forever. You might have a laminator, film, and, if you’re really lucky, a nice school aide at your school who will do this for you. You might not. Make them relevant and specific to what you do in your classroom. Chart paper is cheaper through ClassroomDirect or a similar bulk supplier than, say, Staples. Your school might give you chart paper, but, then again, they might not. Decorate every available surface—this is NOT limited to bulletin boards. I had posters and charts on every single window in my classroom this year, above bulletin boards, between bulletin boards, etc. I have colleagues who have made clothesline-type things.

6.) STUDENT SUPPLIES. Set up spots in the classroom that students can freely access with little or no help from you. I have a table that holds bins of art supplies, tissues, paper towels, staplers, hole punches, etc. Notice that it does not hold pens and pencils. I have a strict policy about supplying the basics to my students—namely, I don’t do it. They have to be responsible for SOMETHING. I’ll write more about how to make these choices in a later post. I also reserve two shelves on which students keep their class notebooks. They are responsible for picking up and dropping off their notebooks every day. Again, maintain these spots and put some of the onus on the kids for keeping them neat and tidy.

7.) ELECTRONICS. You may or may not have computers, a printer, a SmartBoard, a projector, etc. in your room, but consider these items, if you have them, when setting up. Probably your electrical outlets and Internet connections will only allow you to put them in certain places. You may have to work around them. And no, do not expect that anyone will help you with this. Do the best you can until something catches fire. I’m exaggerating, but only a little—my first classroom was basically a computer lab that I had to assemble myself, and I got no help until maybe the third week of school.

8.) CHALKBOARDS. I hate chalk, and this year I turned my chalkboard into a sort of large easel on which I posted four pads of chart paper. I liked that system because it allowed me to save and laminate (see Item #5) really good charts. This coming year, I may go entirely digital because I got my own dedicated LCD projector and I have a laptop. You may not have these things, but consider carefully how you plan to present information to a large group. Just because the chalkboard is there doesn’t mean you have to use it exactly as intended. I went 180+ days without touching a piece of chalk.

9.) YOUR OWN PERSONAL COMFORT. There are some things you should have in your classroom to ensure that you don’t lose your mind. Unfortunately, a bottle of scotch really should be, but can’t be, included on this list. This is my personal list, but feel free to add or subtract as necessary. Keep these supplies under lock and key by any means necessary. One year I used a student locker on which I placed my own personal lock.I always have: a couple of nonperishable lunches (Uncle Ben’s Ready Rices or similar), healthy nonperishable snacks (seeds, dried fruit, granola bars), Excedrin Migraine and Tension Headache, feminine sanitary items, hand sanitizer, lotion, body splash, lip balm, nice pens and highlighters, a sweater, an extra shirt, Tide Pen/Shout Wipes, extra coffee, and, for those days when you really need it, some chocolate. These are the kind of things you don’t think about until you really need them and you don’t have time to nip out to Duane Reade or a bodega on your lunch period. You rarely, if ever, will, even if you have the good fortune to be in a school located near one. Save yourself the trouble and keep these things in your classroom, and trust when I say that I have needed every single item on that list at least three times during this school year.

10.) TIME. Well, you can’t buy it at Staples. What I mean is that you MUST plan accordingly for classroom setup. The veterans around here won’t like this, I realize, but I don’t know how you get a classroom setup the way that will keep an administrator off your back without coming in three days early. With the status of the "punishment days" unclear, do not expect to be actually given time to come in explicitly for the purpose of setting up your room. You can get away with cutting some corners once you have tenure, maybe, but not in those first few years. Come in on the Monday before school starts and put in a few hours each day. You will thank yourself when you cut out on time on that Friday before Labor Day rather than facing hours more of work on the cusp of your holiday weekend.

Have I scared you off yet? No? Great. (Well, maybe not.) In any case, come back next week for Part 2: Planning Your First Lessons.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Not to Be Missed

Class size champ Leonie Haimson describes NYC's educational banana republic in The Huffington Post.

August Punishment Days Cancelled

I just received an email from Randi Weingarten stating that teachers would once again begin after Labor Day, and that fixed contributions would now receive 7% interest, rather than 8 plus.

I don't know what that may suggest for the coming contract. As you know, there is a pattern set by DC37, of 4 and 4 over two years. Have we bought back one of the most egregious givebacks at the expense of the pattern the city holds sacred (when they need to give us zeroes during a dot-com boom)? Does this mean the UFT will withhold endorsing Bloomberg's opponent? Was this purchased with Ms. Weingarten's NY Post endorsement of mayoral control?

Maybe time will tell.

Numbers, Tweed Style

Over at Gotham Schools, they point out a 4% rise in graduation rates. Elsewhere on the same page, they state the numbers went from 53% to 56%. Now correct me if I'm wrong, as I haven't been in a math class for a while, but it seems to me the difference between 56 and 53 is 3.

And when you factor in other nonsense, like so-called "credit recovery," or whether Tweed actually counted dropouts, it's hard to credit even those three points. I believe the Tweedies have finally adopted the state's methodology of counting those who leave school as dropouts, but it's tough to say how they interpret those regulations.

After all, we're talking about the same people who took hundreds of millions to decrease class size, managed to increase it, yet shouted "Keep it going, NY," suggesting they actually accomplished something.

I don't believe a single statistic coming out of that place. There's liars, damned liars, and Mayor Mike's lovable Tweedies.

Monday, June 22, 2009

English Only Folks Get Together...

...and because they revere our language so deeply, they made it an official "conferenece."

Dog Therapists

I'm inspired by Trash Man's cryptic comment last week to elaborate. The first part of the NYS English Regents exam entailed a lecture about "therapy dogs," something I'd never heard of before. Nonetheless, I had to read the lecture three times to my young newcomers, so I'd say I now know more than most English teachers, who only had to read it twice.

Apparently the elderly, particularly those in long-term care, suffer terribly from loneliness. The lecture contended that specially trained dogs could provide great comfort to such people. Aside from the small errors I referenced yesterday, I got to read some very interesting interpretations from kids who'd been speaking English a very short time.

The most interesting interpretation was this--old dogs get very lonely and are in dire need of therapy. They rarely get visitors, so they need a lot of help. They love it when their therapists give them the attention they don't get on a regular basis. They're particularly grateful when their therapists literally lick away their tears.

Tbere were other interpretations, of course, but I'm generally overwhelmed by the blatant idiocy of requiring kids who've been here less than a year to take this test. I'll help them the best I can as long as this rule is in place, because someone has to, but I'll be damned if I could go to China for six months and pass such a test in Chinese, and anyone who thinks these kids ought to do it should be damned as well. Language acquistion takes time, varies by individual, and to really acquire a language a reasonable benchmark is at very least a couple of years.

Well, I gotta run, because for English and ESL teachers it's another day, another One Million Papers.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Government-run Health Care

The Times reports today that Americans strongly support it, as do I. It's incredible that it faces an uphill battle because industry lobbyists label it as unfair competition. It's particularly ironic because critics of such programs regularly contend that government-run health care won't work well, or provide adequate coverage. If that's the case, why not let the open market, which they so revere, work its magic?

The answer, of course, is that health care lobbyists value corporate profits far more than public health. That's bad for Americans, and it would be refreshing if part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten stood up against the conversion of Emblem Health (which insures most NYC employees) to "for-profit" status. Instead, Ms. Weingarten frets over what percentage of the IPO her patronage machine would get, and bamboozles us with talk of programs as ineffectual as the one NY Teacher labeled a "class size victory."

I happen to be among those satisfied with my health care, but I know how lucky I am. I've seen disastrous results for people under or uninsured, and next month I'm attending a wedding largely motivated by the fact that one partner needs better benefits. That shouldn't have to happen here, and catastrophic medical emergency ought not to be the number one cause of bankruptcy. That isn't the case in any other industrialized country, and there's no reason we should put up with it.

Everyone should be covered in the United States. If Barack Obama succeeds in getting this through, it will compensate in some measure for his abysmal and painfully uninformed approach to public education, which he never deemed good enough for his kids.

Friday, June 19, 2009

It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Yesterday I read One Million Papers.

Today I have to read One Million More.

You don't know what life is all about until you've read One Million Papers written by kids who don't quite know English yet. Now don't get me wrong, I adore kids like that (for the most part, at least). But it's very time-consuming to read their papers en masse.

Do you know what "luin" means? It means the kid just came from Korea six months ago and cannot yet discern the difference between "r" and "l" sounds. Have you ever eaten a bowl of "soap?" Well, my Spanish-speaking student hasn't actually done that either, but hears the word half in his own language and that's how it comes out.

Now take those perception errors, multiply them a hundredfold, and read pages and pages and pages of them. It can be a long day.

But that's not really the main problem. The worst of it is that the NY State Board of Regents values content and meaning much more than usage or grammar. And so, when preparing them for this make-or-break test, we teach them content, meaning, a dozen literary terms the Regents think people can't live without, but tend to gloss over the usage and grammar we don't have time for. Consequently, our students are likely not to carry basic, necessary skills to college--Regents prep courses are given in lieu of traditional ESL classes.

It's really on our minds that they have to pass the test or they don't graduate. So we have to keep a narrow focus and make them pass by pretty much any means necessary. But our kids would be far better off in the long run if we could just teach them the English skills they will so sorely need later--in college. At that point, habits are more entrenched, and kids will literally have to pay for what we could've given them when they were younger--when they could absorb concepts about language more easily.

It's pretty clear the Board of Regents in New York State knows absolutely nothing about language acquisition.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nip It in the Bud

I got a very angry email about yesterday's post regarding the dual nature of part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten. And since Ms. Weingarten has finally decided to settle down to the serious business of leading America's teachers off the same plank we walked in 2005, it's worth considering.

Apparently everything is not black and white, I'm simplistic, and not capable of detecting nuance. You can, apparently, support the mayoral control that's degraded our profession and cast hundreds into the purgatory that is ATR, and still support the teachers. And the questionnaire about Tweed is indeed a sufficient response. There's no need to get all radical and oppose the absolute dictatorship that is mayoral control in New York City.

With these words in mind, I reflected back to a simpler time, a world that was (literally) black and white, to wit, The Andy Griffith Show (true devotees regard the color episodes with Howard Sprague as an abomination for the most part). Let's take the most innocent and naive character, Sherriff Barney Fife, and explore his elusive complexity.

Now Barney is a regular guy. Solutions don't pop into his head, so he often exacerbates situations rather than fixing them (much as part-time Ms. Weingarten did in 2005 when she negotiated the worst contract in our history for less than cost of living). Sure he's a boob, but he's got a girl, Thelma Lou, who he takes to the Italian restaurant, and lets her get meatballs with her spaghetti, even if it costs him an extra two bits. He's thoughtful.

On the other hand, what's the deal with Juanita, who he's always calling at the diner (much like Ms. Weingarten is always calling Mayor Mike)? You never see Juanita, but clearly old Barn's got something going on the side. What the heck sort of deal is that for a sworn protector of law, order, and the American Way? Well, anyway, he's a swell guy.

Still, I wouldn't want him as my sheriff. Or as my union leader, part-time or otherwise. Let's hope against hope her successor represents an improvement. If he does, I'll be the first to admit it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Randi Resigns!

I just got an email stating part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten has resigned and may make her AFT job full-time. Fortunately, in these tough economic times, she does not appear to be taking a pay cut or giving up her chauffeur and SUV. VP Mike Mulgrew will replace her.

It's not immediately clear whether Mr. Mulgrew is intent on continuing Ms. Weingarten's disastrous backward policies. However, it appears she's intent on hanging around for the summer to negotiate a new contract, so don't count on good news anytime soon.

Will Mayor Mike be as cozy with UFT Prez Mike as he was with Ms. Weingarten?

Only time will tell.

She's For It

No, she's against it.

Well, part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten wrote in the New York Post that it's OK for Mayor Mike to keep his majority on the rubber-stamp PEP. After all, Shelly Silver was for it, so it must be OK.

So let's tinker with it a little, maybe give Mayor Bloomberg's rubber stamps fixed terms, and that way they'll fool us into thinking they aren't rubber stamps. Only problem is--Shelly Silver's plan doesn't even call for fixed terms. Silver thinks that placing a couple of parents who can be fired at the mayor's caprice will somehow make the board more democratic.

Checks and balances? For the richest man in NYC? That just won't do.

So now Ms. Weingarten says teachers should be their own checks and balances. By completing a survey she sponsors, which will clearly change nothing, Ms. Weingarten feels teacher voices are heard?

By whom, Ms. W.? And if it didn't change anything last year, what makes you feel this year will be different?

Your members overwhelmingly oppose mayoral control, even as you sing its praises. By failing to oppose it at inception, and failing to oppose its renewal, you directly betray them.


We need a leader who will stand up and speak for us. We need a leader who will stand up and fight for us.

What we have is a leader who gets behind billionaire despots who'd just as soon push us all into the sea as look at us. No wonder fewer than 25% of working teachers even bother to vote in union elections. They're cynical.

And with good reason.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Grinches

Today I helped a colleague by typing a letter of complaint to the principal. He showed it to me in its handwritten form and I was sure the principal would have even less patience for the handwriting than I did.

He was upset about all the parties going on around our school. Some teachers had been giving exams, and others were trying to teach, and there were kids all over the place. Some had come just to take a test, others showed up because one of their teachers were giving a party, some had to empty their lockers, but quite a few did not interpret today as an attendance day.

I'm agnostic on his points. I was in one school where the principal expressly forbade parties, and there weren't any. I was OK with that. I'm also OK with my colleagues who choose to surround themselves with donuts, Cheez Doodles, and Coca Cola on the last day of school, as long as they don't bother me. A few kids brought me a plate from their party, along with a cup of Sprite. I didn't touch it, but my students were thrilled when I gave it to them.

Now I don't mind typing letters for people. But I can see both sides. If my friend doesn't like parties, fine. I don't run parties in my class either. I passed around a suggestion box, and several kids complained about the lack of parties in my class. What do you think? Should we forbid parties? Should we let those who want them have them?

Or should we require them, and make everyone have one? I'd comply, just as long as I didn't have to listen to disco or Barney the Dinosaur.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Educating the Charter Moguls

Ricardo Izquierdo Arroyo has a lot to learn from Eva Moskowitz. When you use political connections to get involved with charter schools, you should simply pay yourself a few hundred thousand dollars a year. Mistress Eva gets almost 400K running charter schools.

Arroyo, the nephew of city councilwoman Maria del Carmen Arroyo and grandson of assemblywoman Carmen Arroyo, is now accused of stealing more than 200K from a nonprofit agency. And this after his aunt went to the trouble of getting 1.5 million in public money to house his pet charter, a potential gold mine in itself. You see, while the public pays for charter schools, the schools themselves determine salaries. For teachers, that means 10% over UFT scale while working who knows how many more hours and days--and a very remote possibility they'll have anything resembling a career. But for moguls like Arroyo and Moskowitz, the sky's the limit.

So please, if you're starting a charter, simply pay yourself 2 or 3 times what any working principal earns, and don't hesitate to take a higher salary than the NYC Schools Chancellor. Charter schools are a burgeoning industry, supported by self-styled education experts everywhere, from Arne Duncan to Bill Gates to Al Sharpton. If you don't take advantage of these opportunities while the time is right, you'll be left out in the cold, like public school students stuck in third-rate overcrowded facilities.

Why reach into embezzled funds for your airfare, vacations. meals and designer clothing when you can simply pay yourself any damn salary you see fit?

Get with the program!

Thanks to David Bellel

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Ravaged by Ravitch

In the Huffington Post, Diane Ravitch puts into words what many of us have been subconsciously wondering--why is Barack Obama bringing us term three of the GW Bush education agenda? Didn't Obama have a big old banner that said, "Change?"

Was he asking for change, perhaps? I certainly got enough calls asking for contributions. And now that he finally won, he's sending his pal Arne out to tell my state that we don't qualify for federal funds unless we lift the cap on charter schools. I found many of Obama's ideas about education distasteful, but I don't recall his broadcasting that notion.

Not only that, but Duncan is out demanding that Mayor Bloomberg's dictatorship over public schools continue, and that no significant checks or balances be put in place. In fact, he's even strong-armed the Citizens Union to support Bloomberg's one-man rule over an education system the mayor's nor the chancellor's children attended--opting for private schools with the small classes they deny NYC's 1.1 million schoolchildren.

Checks and balances are a cornerstone of our democracy, and it's remarkable to see highly-placed federal officials like Duncan taking such an active stand against them. President Obama continues to disappoint, and by virtue of being a Democrat, manages to subvert public education in ways GW Bush could only dream of.

I thought we'd won this election. Day by day, I become less convinced.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


My mom is not very religious. She was on a plane, it was about to take off, and the guy next to her crossed himself. She started laughing. The guy paid her no mind, and started reading a magazine.

A few hours later, the plane landed without incident.

The guy turned to her.

"You see?" he said. "It works."

Friday, June 12, 2009

The UFT Survey

In an effort to ensure two-way accountability, the UFT is having members fill out a survey rating Tweed, even as part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten pens missives in the New York Post heartily endorsing the mayoral control the teachers will surely criticize. Now me, I vote every chance I get, whether or not I think it will be effective, so I went to the website and took the survey. I urge all my colleagues to do so as well, and let Ms. Weingarten know precisely how enthusiastic you are about the mayoral control she holds so dear.

Not that it will make a difference.

I filled out the survey pretty much the way all UFT members will, except for the first question. It said something like, "Tweed has a clear vision of what it wants for schools." I had to strongly agree. Tweed wants to close them all down and re-open them as charter schools, so folks like Eva Moskowitz can receive high salaries for employing non-union, at-will employees, who get less pay and fewer benefits than unionized employees.

Naturally, if there are more non-union, at-will employees with fewer benefits, our children can grow up to a world of non-union, at-will jobs with few benefits. It's "Children First" in Fun City, and there's no doubt Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein have a well-honed vision of what they want for our children.

If only Ms. Weingarten would wake up and oppose them...but I must be dreaming out loud again.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Dan Brown skewers teacher-basher Jonathan Alter over at the Huffington Post.

Cleanliness Is Next to Impossible

My friend spent several years working at a local city college. She couldn't help but notice the incredible filthiness of the blinds in her classroom. It was made worse by the fact that there was a high ceiling, and they reached all the way to the top.

When she went to her supervisor to complain, he said he would make a request. They waited for a year. Then they waited for another year. But shortly after year three, a custodian entered the room and searched around for the blinds. My friend imagined the way her mother cleaned the blinds--take them down and soak them in the bathtub in soapy water. That works well.

The custodian had a different idea. He got down and started wiping the slats at the bottom, and then he moved to a standing position. When he reached as high as he could, he turned around and left. Now he could have stood on the windowsill and reached almost to the top. But it had never been done that way. It had always been done this way.

So this year, when they request a new cleaning for three years from now, they're going to ask for the tallest custodian. It won't really solve the problem, but it will at least come a little closer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

But Me No Buts

"We have teachers in our name, but children and their families in mind." That's what the cute new UFT commercial declares. The question, of course, is whose children and whose families "we" have in mind. I mean, I certainly have my students and their families in mind, as I happen to work for them.

The structure of that sentence, though, is discouraging. I once had a Shakespeare teacher who suggested, "Whenever anyone says but, you can completely disregard whatever came before it." So naturally, when your girlfriend or boyfriend says, "I really love you but..." you know it's time to seek a new one. When your boss says, "You're doing a great job but..." maybe it's good news for someone in India.

So after "We have teachers in our name," there should be no but. We are a labor union. We should have teachers in our minds. In fact, that is our purpose. To buy into the propaganda that it's somehow evil to act in our self-interest is to lose the war without firing a shot.

It's time for the UFT to start standing up for teachers, as opposed to autocratic billionaire mayors. It's time to say working people need better conditions, rather than "reforms" that impose upon us precisely the same conditions that have caused so many working people to become non-working people.

The cartoon is cute. The message that we don't care one way or the other about teachers is insidious, counter-productive, and a massive abuse of the dues for which we work so hard.

What on earth is part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten hoping to achieve?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Para or the Teacher?

I once had a para who made me crazy. She used to raise her hand and ask questions, but not generally about what we were discussing. She would send passes to my students so she could sell them Mary Kay products. And she would tell me, "Ernesto thinks I should spend more time reading to him." I was never sure what she and Ernesto were reading, but I told her to do it during his lunch period.

"Please send Ms. Fidget to work with another teacher," I told my supervisor. "She has her own agenda."

My supervisor was horrified. "What do you mean? What is her agenda?"

"I have no idea what her agenda is," I admitted. "I'm certain, though, that it has nothing to do with mine."

A few years later, I was in another school, and the tables had turned. Every morning after I taught first period, Mrs. Driftwood was late for her second period class. The para, Mr. Para, was always running around trying to teach the kids about the weather or something. He wasn't used to doing this, but he tried pretty hard. Often, my boss asked me to cover the class as a favor, and as she was generally wonderful, I obliged.

It upset me a little, though, because it was a beginning ESL class. I'd asked to teach that class, and Mrs. Driftwood had gotten it. I told my supervisor to give me the class, and let Ms. Driftwood have the class I taught the next period.

"It doesn't matter," she told me. "If she starts period 2, she'll be late period 2. If she starts period 3, she'll be late period 3."

One day, I found neither Mrs. Driftwood nor Mr. Para in the class. What the hell, I thought--I organized the kids in front of the classroom and began giving them the lesson they'd be getting if they were mine. Twenty minutes later, Mrs. Driftwood wandered in.

"Where's Mr. Para?" she demanded.

"You're asking the wrong question," I told her.

Later, she saw me in the room we check in. "Are you mad at me?" she asked.

"Of course I'm mad at you," I said. "I have to cover for you three, sometimes four days a week. These kids came to learn English and you can't even be bothered to show up on time."

Mrs. Driftwood retired at the end of the year. There'll never be another like her.

At least I hope not.

Monday, June 08, 2009

On Card Check

The rap against the Employee Free Choice act is that it robs workers of the right to demand a secret ballot. Turns out, though, it isn't true at all. Media Matters points out it actually gives workers a choice--it deprives employers of the right to demand a secret ballot.

Worst Side Story

Here's something worth checking out--a more timely version of West Side Story, courtesy of ace tipster Schoolgal. Just in time for the Tonys!

A Total Load

In a fascinating op-ed in the Daily News, "distinguished professor" William Ouchi lauds Chancellor Klein for reducing "total student workload" for busy city teachers. Apparently, city teachers can have up to 170 students if they have five classes of 34 kids. Ouchi has clearly done his homework in determining that five times 34 is 170. After that, however, Ouchi ventures onto ground that even I, lacking his apparent mathematical saavy, would not skate upon.

Ouchi says total student load is more important than class size, preposterously implying that the amount of students teachers have in classes does not impact the quality of education they receive. He fails to take into account the amount of personal attention kids get from teachers before they hand in their papers, something I, as a parent, am very interested in.

Ouchi suggests measuring a teacher's total number of students is "an almost entirely unknown measure of school performance," as though teachers have never considered it. Clearly Ouchi's responsibilities as "distinguished professor" preclude his taking one minute to speak to a single classroom teacher (the norm for many brilliant researchers, unfortunately). He also asserts classes are orderly, and schools are safer. Were my ESL students to write such things, I'd demand support, but Ouchi does not hold himself to such exacting standards.

Perhaps most outrageous, we're supposed to accept this as gospel based "a cluster of 42 schools"  in New York City.  We have no indication of the size of those schools, nor whether they received the preferential treatment that typifies the "academies" popping up where neighborhood schools used to be. We don't know how many teachers are deans, coordinators, or programmers two or three periods a day. We certainly don't know why Ouchi opts to make his conclusions based on the cluster, when figures for the entire city, flawed and juked though they may be, are available.

While class sizes are exploding in NYC, it's blatantly preposterous to assert teachers have fewer students by any measure. Perhaps it's nice to be a tenured professor and spout such plainly absurd gobbledygook rather than teach five classes. But the overwhelming majority of real city teachers teach those five classes (and that doesn't count the sixth class, the one the UFT claims is not actually a class).

Ouchi can say whatever he wishes, of course. He can talk about "total student load" and ignore class sizes, which have risen, particularly during the last year, despite Tweed's acceptance of hundreds of millions for reduction. He can ignore the failure and delay of new schools to relieve overcrowding,

Certainly Ouchi can pat himself on the back if he really believes no one has ever before conceived of "total student load. " But I work with real teachers every day, and just about every working teacher is pointedly aware of it. Ouchi can assert averages based on his small hand-picked cluster, but it's fairly simple to deduct precisely Ouchi's research is a total load of.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I Don't Suppose We'll Get Another Whooping Cough Epidemic

So spoke the doctor in W.C. Fields' classic The Bank Dick. Well, it's certainly a doctor's business to work with sick people, and the more there are, the better business is. Perhaps it's pure capitalism.

So I suppose it should come as no surprise when health insurers invest 4.5 billion in tobacco stocks. It's kind of a hedge, I suppose. It's expensive taking care of people with all those pernicious cancers caused by smoking, so why not at least make a profit while those folks are killing themselves? It's a win-win.

Except, of course, for the Americans dying from the very same practices that line the pockets of their insurers. I don't know whether we'll ever kill cancer. But we could certainly kill the parasitical companies that overcharge us and leave millions uninsured, even as they profit from our suffering.

Personally, I wouldn't shed a tear for them.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Friendliest Ghost You Know

Everyone loves part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten. Rubert Murdoch's ultra-superduper-far right New York Post cries "Right On, Randi!" and all's right with the world. They haven't loved Ms. Weingarten like this since she signed the 2005 contract that gave us August punishment days, perpetual potty patrol, no more grieving letters or UFT transfers, and the awesome ATR brigade.

But that's not all. Mayor Mike has gotta be loving him some Randi Weingarten since she reversed herself on checks and balances to curb the mayor's absolute power. Ya know, it's just not nice to make billionaires have to answer to citizens or parents, so everyone oughta shut up, disregard popular votes, forget about how teachers feel about mayoral control, and let Mayor Mike do whatever the hell he feels like, whenever the hell he feels like it.

Sure, teachers are being tossed in rubber rooms for giving free watches to kids as rewards for good grades. Sure, teachers are getting 90-day unpaid suspensions and loss of health benefits based on unsubstantiated allegations. When you have problems, you don't see her. She's a ghost, or she's off doing her other part-time gig as President of the AFT, or telling Michelle Rhee everything's on the table except vouchers, or partnering with charter schools that offer neither tenure nor seniority rights to teachers.

I think it was Woody Allen who saw his relationship with Annie Hall as a shark moving backwards. That's a working teacher's relationship with Ms. Weingarten.

But the important thing is this--look at the New York Post. Then look at Mayor Bloomberg. Watch how they look at Ms. Weingarten.

They like her. They really like her.

That's the only thing that matters.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Senior Cut Day

Steffy's a fair student, but she's got an absence record as long as your arm. She's been out five of the last 12 days. Friday is Senior Cut Day, and kids asked me all day yesterday whether or not it's OK for them to blow it off. My answer, thus far, has been absolutely not.

Now Steffy's record is not quite as bad as it could be. A few days ago, she told me she had pinkeye. She said she'd been unable to get her eyes open in the morning, as they were stuck together. I wrote a nurse's pass with CONJUNCTIVITIS in big block letters as the reason she was sent. A few minutes later, she returned. I called the nurse, who insisted she just had allergies. For all our sake, I hope she's right.

Anyway, I told Steffi if she wished to have any chance at all to pass my class (let alone the English Regents), she'd better show up every day, including Friday.

I've taught in several schools, and Senior Cut Day is a long-standing tradition. But I've got a writing project that finishes Friday, and goshdarnit, if I have to be there, they have to be there too. Does your school have a Senior Cut Day? Do you let the kids take off? I could understand if they went to the prom the previous night or something--they could come in with a parent's note. But when I ask my prospective cutters if they're going, they all say no.

Am I turning into Snidely Whiplash? Am I doing this for their own good? Or is it the same thing?

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Ms. Weingarten Loves Mr. Bloomberg

It's a match made in heaven, but oh, the drama of these love triangles. Even as union-basher Rod Paige still smolders with pure love for part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten, Mayor Mike's charisma is more than she can resist. That's why Ms. Weingarten is declaring mayoral control is something we can all get behind.

After all, without mayoral control, how could we have closed all those schools, condemning hundreds of teachers to the ATR brigades to wander for years searching for a teaching job? How else could we have negotiated a contract that won us August punishment days, perpetual hall patrol, 90-day unpaid suspensions based on unsubstantiated allegations, and best of all, an explosion of people in rubber rooms for no particular reason?

It's Spring, the birds are singing, and all is good with the world. And just in case anyone doubts Ms. Weingarten's sincerity, the ultra-right wing, anti-teacher, anti-labor New York Post is singing her praises. "Right On Randi!" they declare.

That's because the New York Post is sick and tired of union leaders that run around asking for more money and better working conditions for its members. It's about time we got a union leader who supported a mayor with an agenda that includes undermining public education with school closings and charter schools that invariably get preferential treatment. How often do you get a union leader willing to partner up with a chain like Green Dot, that offers teachers neither tenure nor seniority privileges?

Only the visionary Ms. Weingarten would do something like that. And Ms. Weingarten is probably the only part-time union leader even The New York Post could love.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Related: Accountable Talk

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

One Guess Only

The ICE folks break the news of Ms. Weingarten's latest tactical coup...three months of no layoffs...and guess who gets to pay more for health care forever?

What Do You Say?

Mr. Greenburg was standing in the hall when the father of one of his students came in. The father was there because the kid was in trouble in one of his other classes, but was doing OK in his class. Mr. Greenburg could understand how the kid might not be getting along well with some teachers. Three days before, the man's son had taken off his shoes and socks, and was biting his toenails in the back of the classroom.

Mr. Greenburg asked the kid to please not do that during class, the kid complied, and that was the end of that.

"Mister," the man said, shaking the teacher's hand. He reeked of cigarettes and something else Mr. Greenburg could not quite identify. Was it alcohol? He couldn't be sure.

"You Jew?" asked the man.

"What?" asked Mr. Greenburg, a little stunned.

"You Jew? My son tells me he has a teacher, and he's a Jew. But he says you're one of the good ones. Not like the other ones. You know what I'm talking about."

Mr. Greenburg knew exactly what he was talking about. But he looked at the man, maybe twenty years older than he was, and decided nothing he said was going to make any difference to the older man's well-engrained point of view.

"Thank you for coming in," He said. "Excuse me, I have a meeting."

Mr. Greenburg rushed off importantly.

What would you have done?

Monday, June 01, 2009

Under the Weather?

Play You Bet Your Health

Boy, This is One Tough Crowd

In the United States, you're innocent until proven guilty. But NYC's Department of Education labors under no such inconvenient assumptions. That's why guidance counselor Glenn Storman is stuck in court five years after having told a cursing student to "zip it," and possibly menacing a youngster somehow with a rolled-up piece of paper.

This action earned Mr. Storman a U rating. A court determined the rating “shocks the conscience, was arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”

The Department of Education has no comment. Now I certainly understand their position. If they were not permitted to make arbitrary, capricious and abusive decisions, how would they justify maintaining anyone on staff?

Still, the ability of vindictive bureaucrats to ruin reputations over nothing is very disturbing. When things like this occur (and doubtless they occur more frequently than the NY Times reports) it's particularly upsetting that our most visible representative, part-time UFT President Randi Weingarten, who supported mayoral control last time round, thinks it's a good idea for his absolute power to continue.

It's discouraging that someone who should be our champion spends her time supporting one of our most effective opponents ever. With friends like her...it's easy to see why teachers don't get no respect.

Thanks to Schoolgal

Related: ICE blog