Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Mr. Bloomberg Produces a Commercial

When Thompson was president of the Board of Education he ran the old system.

Ooh. Old! That sounds scary!

Dropout rates increased.

Now we simply don't count dropouts. It's as though they never existed!

Kids promoted, even if they didn’t learn.

Now we just simplify the tests. Everybody gets promoted!

Woo hoo!

Billions in cost overruns.

Now we save money by packing 'em in like sardines! No one can squeeze 'em in like Mayor Mike!

And nothing was done about it.

We've done plenty! We've taken hundreds of millions to reduce class sizes, kept the cash, and raised 'em anyway! Then we cut budgets to boot.

Mike Bloomberg changed that system.

And with the money he saved, he built two sports stadiums!

Now, record graduation rates.

Not necessarily good graduation rates, but how many people watching this commercial will bother to check out that claim? And not counting dropouts as dropouts helps a lot!

Test scores up, that we've dumbed down the tests. Pay no attention to those troublesome NAEP results! And for goodness sakes, don't listen to that awful Diane Ravitch!

violence down.

We insist every incident be reported. Then we close down any schools that actually report anything. What possible motivation would anyone have to withhold info?

So when you compare apples to apples, Thompson offers politics as usual.

There's no way Thompson could run a PR machine that manages to pull the wool over the public's eyes for eight years, and no way he could fit those tabloid editorial pages in his hip pocket. He simply hasn't got the cash.

Mike Bloomberg offers progress.

No one can pack kids in tighter than Mayor Mike. Despite years of promises to reduce class sizes and overcrowding, we've failed abysmally, and for the most part, no one even knows about it!

And just how many politicians could call overturning term limits disgusting, and then do it anyway? All hail Mayor-for-life Bloomberg!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Time to Read

I was talking to a young lady today who attends one of our fair city's specialized high schools. She's not one of my students or former students, but I know her, and she's a bright, articulate, thoughtful young woman who's clearly already enjoyed a substantial degree of academic success.

This young lady is carrying a heavy academic load that includes two Advanced Placement classes and high-level classes in other subjects. She is involved in an after-school club, performs community service, and is aiming to join teen advisory boards for local organizations. She wants to go to an Ivy League university. Her parents are college professors. You get the idea.

I was asking this young lady some questions about school, and then I asked her, "So what are you reading?"

She named a book she was reading for her AP English class.

"Okay," I said. "Great book. What about outside of school?"

"Outside of school?"

"Yeah, what are you reading for fun?"

"Oh, um," she said, "nothing, really. I don't really have time to read right now."

"I can relate," I said. "It's tough to make time to read." One of my favorite authors just released her new book, and I haven't had time to crack it yet because I need to go back to her previous books and refresh my memory before I tackle the new one, and that will take me at least a few weeks. I can usually squeeze in twenty or thirty minutes before bed if I skip the last two-thirds of The Colbert Report. "So what was the last book you read for fun? Maybe over the summer?"

"I was working over the summer," she said. "I didn't really have time to read then, either."

"Oh," I said. "Well, anything you've read recently, just for fun. Anything." I was grasping at straws.

The young lady screwed up her forehead and gazed off to the side for a moment. Finally she said, "Um, I don't really remember. I'll have to, uh, get back to you on that one."

I smiled and let her off the hook. I said it was all right.

But is it?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Teaching Fellows at Work

Not the teachers themselves, but the slimy fly-by-nights who run the program. They deserve to be jailed.

I've spent the weekend corresponding with a math teacher who was lured by their BS, by their promises of a sure thing in a shortage area, and by their empty words. Now this teacher is doing day to day subbing and living in these United States without health insurance. It's unconscionable.

To show their support, the Fellows big shots are dropping the teacher from their program in a few months. This means being kicked out of school. It means starting over.

They're frauds, street hustlers, lowlifes. They make their living by preying on idealistic New Yorkers who want to contribute to teaching our children.

And if they aren't going to help, they ought to go away. No one deserves to have their time wasted like this.

In these economic times, the offense is even worse than usual.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Forget Mr. Chips

Here's a memorable classroom scene. Thanks to Miss Cellania for passing it along.

Be forewarned--the language is very graphic. Don't use it at your job unless you want to see the rubber room up close and personal.

At one point the kid was looking at his friend and I thought I detected a dismissive teenage sneer I've seen many times before. I wonder just what message the kid walked away with.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Left Behind

In one of my beginning classes is a young man who doesn't quite get with the program. Despite my rapid-fire repeating things like "My name is ________ What's your name?" he doesn't respond as instantly as most kids. And forget about remembering the names of his neighbors, even the kid who sits to his left, his only friend.

I've spoken with him a number of times without success, but a friend of mine, a Spanish teacher, started asking him the right questions. We found he hadn't been to school since fourth grade. Who knows what sort of holes run through this kid's life? When I called his house, the father, with a strong Spanish accent, told me I had the wrong number without even allowing me to speak.

I got a native Spanish-speaking guidance counselor to call, who managed to engage the guy in conversation. But I wonder--what's the point? This is a father who allowed his son to stay out of school for five years. He belongs in jail. I won't tell you what country they're from, but some people are saying this is common in that country. I've had many of his paisanos, I've been doing this over twenty years, and I've never seen a single example before this.

Now we're talking about putting him in a bilingual program. I'm not sure that will help, but the idea of getting him tested for special ed. doesn't get me very excited either. This father placed a hole right down the middle of his son's young life.

Why on earth would anyone do such a thing?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Who's the Boss?

Having to reroute my usual trip to work one recent morning meant an entirely new bus route, with new lines and stops. On top of the usual minor trepidation when trying a new route, I was particularly exhausted that morning and looked every bit of it: large cup of lousy bodega coffee, sneakers with a skirt, no makeup, bags under my eyes. That kind of thing.

Imagine my initial dismay when I plopped down on a seat on the bus, only to hear a voice cry, “MISS EYRE!”

It was a former student of mine, one I’ll call Mercedes for the purposes of our discussion. Mercedes was one of my favorite students (don’t pretend you don’t have any!). She was not an especially “good student”—she was frank about her distaste for homework and reading, though she loved to write and draw and play sports. When trying to tell her father something positive about her schoolwork during a parent-teacher conference, I celebrated Mercedes’ honesty, saying that she would never lie or cheat or make excuses to get her way through an assignment. She just wouldn’t do it, and she’d tell you as much—never rudely, but matter-of-factly, with no more malice than one would describe their breakfast plate. She was always very sweet and respectful to adults. It was just that she usually believed she had a good reason for not doing whatever it was that she was supposed to do and she was happy to share it with you. The crazy thing about Mercedes is that she’s a very bright and talented girl who, when she cared to apply herself, would often do a good and sometimes great job with certain assignments. But she was deliberate about where she applied her effort. She might not look great on paper, as a student, for those reasons, but she got into an excellent high school—partly, I think, on a recommendation from me.

Usually kids like Mercedes drive teachers crazy, but Mercedes puts a smile on my face every time I think of her. She just has that kind of sparkling, infectiously vivacious personality that automatically draws people into her. She was very popular among her fellow students, as you can imagine, but she never lorded it over them and she considered herself to be friends with everyone. She’s also a very pretty little girl, and her brains, combined with her looks and her considerable personality, put her in a fine position to eventually take over the world, or at least whatever career field she chooses.

So Mercedes found me on the bus, at my personal worst, absolutely thrashed with tired and wondering if I really had to show my face at work that day. But, wouldn’t you know it, by the time she and I said our goodbyes a while later when we both had to transfer, I was wide awake and laughing. She gave me a huge hug. She told me stories of her high school and about her former classmates. She told me that I was right to always have nagged her about not reading enough. (VICTORY IS MINE!) She’s trying to get a job at her neighborhood library so she can make some money and learn more about books. She’s already getting involved with clubs and sports teams at her high school. I have every confidence that she’ll be successful there.

And I have to admit, I love that, when my former students see me, they want to stop and talk to me, and I want to talk to them. I really feel like I succeeded with them—not necessarily in a way that would show up on a data report, but just that they connected with an adult who made them feel liked and cared for and that their trust and confidence in schooling in general may have been increased a bit because I was in their life. And I’m thankful to them, though, because my own confidence in this job is, at the heart, inspired not my administrators or reports, but by them. They are my bosses, my evaluators, and that morning, I felt like a success.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Union with Guts

by special guest blogger Schoolgal

So what is the UFT up to now? The truth is we will not really know until the contract is announced. But we do have an inkling of what is happening. First of all, why wasn't Thompson standing on the podium with Bill DeBlasio and John Liu at the last Delegate Assembly? Well, that answer is clear. The UFT is once again withholding its endorsement. And by doing so it's endorsing Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein.

Another issue that was sadly overlooked was seniority. Is this again another clue to the new contract? Back in '05 I argued both on this site and Edwize what a great mistake it would be to eliminate excessing rights. It would be a major blow to seniority rights. Yet I was told not to worry. The Open Market would save the day. But Klein had other plans and issued a directive to all principals not to hire ATRs as they were "undesirables". This was even published in the NYTims. Not once did Randi Weingarten issue a protest statement. Silence is a quiet endorsement.

Now let's examine another union. The teachers of Kent, Washington are striking, and it's not over wages. They instead are taking a stand against overcrowded classrooms. Seems that is happening here too. Look at this Daily News op-ed piece and you will get a glimpse of what is happening around the city. Other newspapers are now reporting on overcrowding and cuts to afterschool tutoring and the arts. This from a mayor who claims to be strong on education. This from a mayor whose ads claim plans for more jobs and a way to save the MTA.

Even more important, the press is finally reporting on the phony statistics of the so-called "higher scores" and report-card grades. They are reporting on how aides will soon be fired while big contracts are still being awarded to major contractors. They are reporting how the new Governance Law, backed by Randi is really a sham because parents are not a part of the process when Bloomberg can select his friends to serve. These people do not represent the parents of NYC.

Now what can a little town like Kent teach us? That we are not sheep? That we should stand for something other than salary? That we don't have to make deals with the devil?

I applaud the teachers of Kent. When will we take a stand? We now have the election as leverage which wasn't used last time. Why not use it now and stand for the class-size reduction, stand up for the aides who serve our schools well, and while we're at it, why not stand up for seniority?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Take Note

My students are very surprised by the fact that I expect them to take notes. Not fill in an outline or a web or a set of boxes. Just take notes.

Taking notes is unpopular for a few obvious reasons, the most obvious being that it's difficult, both physically and mentally. Your hand gets tired. You have to listen, decide what to write, and then write it, all in one swift motion. I know that it can be challenging for children, particularly those who don't especially enjoy sitting still and writing, but I refuse to give up on it.

I think that concept mapping, graphic organizers, outlines, and the like can be delightfully useful once you have information to put in them. Without knowing information first, I watch students struggle to fold their paper the right way (Cornell notes) or decide when to start a new heading (the classic outline) or what have you. Then they're not listening or reading at all, but instead just trying to fold paper. And you can't see groupings and connections between information if you don't have, well, the information first.

So I have not taught any notetaking skills yet at all. This is radical for me. I always thought you should teach kids how to take notes before expecting them to do it, but it doesn't seem to work. They give up quickly on whatever method or methods you give them because they can't arrange knowledge they don't have yet. What I plan to do instead is simply get them in the habit of writing down everything all the time. This is not a bad strategy--after all, it has gotten millions of people through high school, college, law school, med school, etc. No, it is not differentiated. No, it does not reach out to multiple intelligences or the recently debunked learning styles. I do not care.

When I conduct a read-aloud; when we're having small-group or whole-group discussions; when they're reading; when they're listening to classmates present; it is all the same. They have to write. They have to write down everything that sounds remotely important. If I start a read-aloud and people don't have pens-in-hands, I stop and remind them, en masse or with a tap on the shoulder and a nod towards their pen. Many students desperately need to read with pens in hands, because they do not mark down questions they have or words they don't understand.

I plan to teach note organization skills instead. So when we have our first test or project, we will stop and spend a lesson or two reviewing things like webs and outlines. Then we can work on looking for connections between facts, analyzing, synthesizing, all that good stuff. But they need to get the basic building blocks first, and they need to acquire the habit of constant, consistent, attentive notetaking. It may not be fun or sexy or trendy but, gosh darn it, it works.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shame on Us

There is an argument, used by our leadership, that goes like this--the Open Market System is superior to the old transfer system. Under the old system, only a few hundred teachers transferred. Under the new system, thousands did.

This argument is based on the presumption that quantity is everything. If more teachers move around, the world is a better place. They don't say precisely how or why, but they don't need to.

In the top-secret Unity Caucus meeting where this rationale was introduced, did anyone discuss it? I mean, on the application, it says Unity Caucus members will disagree only within the caucus. For the overwhelming majority of us ham-and-eggers who are not privy to their conversations, we have no idea whether such things even occur.

If they do, which I seriously doubt, it means they've decided to ignore our 1600 colleagues that float around without regular jobs. I know ATR teachers, and I know what being in limbo does to people. I know how I'd feel if Joel Klein closed my school and dumped me into the pool, through no fault of my own.

The philosophy that more is better is possible only if you are totally indifferent to the misery inflicted on our wandering colleagues. And you can be thus only for one of two reasons:

1. You are ignorant of what's going on. or--

2. The plight of ATRs makes no difference to you.

Either way, it's not the attitude leadership ought to be taking. And it's certainly not one we should accept. As union, we stand together. We fight for one another. We don't leave our members in limbo and ignore the stress and misery we've inflicted upon them via our own errors.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


"Can I get a tongue piercing, Daddy?"

-uttered in jest by my 13-year-old daughter, who's too frightened to get odd piercings at the moment.

Doubtless a harbinger of things to come, though.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Entrepreneur

Jerry didn't like ice cream. This made his own mother worry about him. He was only seven, and what seven-year old doesn't like ice cream?

One day, Jerry wanted potato chips. But he'd already plowed through a whole bag, and Mom decided enough was enough. How much grease and salt could one little kid eat? She was going to go home and try to find a way to make him eat vegetables. Kids should eat vegetables.

"I want potato chips. I'll pay for them myself," volunteered Jerry.

"With what?" asked Mom.

"I have ten dollars," he informed her.

"Ten dollars? Where did you get ten dollars?"

"At school," he answered, matter-of-factly.

Mom was shocked. "How?" she demanded.

"Well, today they gave us ice cream, and I didn't want mine. So Jenny asked if she could have it. I told her she could have it for a dollar."

"Then where did you get ten dollars?" asked Mom.

"She said she only had ten dollars," answered Jerry. "I told her I'd take it."

Thursday, September 17, 2009

It Looks Like a Wave

It was an overcast afternoon in New York City. The young English teacher was leading her charges in an exploration of a provocative issue. The class had been divided into small groups, each of which was reading an article related to the issue, summarizing the article, and then debating the point made in each article. Students were asking deep, thoughtful questions, supporting each other's understanding, and going off on unpredictable but meaningful tangents.

The teacher was pleased. She had half a cup of coffee left and she was wearing comfortable shoes. And it was after noon on Wednesday, which meant that she was more than halfway to the weekend. That was always good news. Best of all, her students were engaged and productive, all as the result of a lesson she had planned all by herself. No one else in her school had a unit like this. She loved teaching this particular unit; it was unexpected and rigorous and relevant to her diverse and bright population. And so not even the rolling clouds could darken this teacher's mood.

As the small groups reconvened as a whole class, each group began to share its thoughts. Divisions within the groups quickly showed themselved, but the teacher, rather than burying the dissent, encouraged the dissidents to speak up and explain themselves. Students nodded thoughtfully, continued to disagree, used evidence from their articles and their personal experience to back up their points. The teacher gently clarified, reinterpreted, and brought the class back to the main thread when necessary, but, as usually happens, the discussion began to ran itself as students jumped in and out of the conversation. The teacher only needed to encourage the quieter students to speak more loudly.

The discussion became particularly intense, though still respectful, and in the midst of escalating volume, one student boldly raised his hand. Ah, this boy, the teacher thought. Though the school year was young, he had already begin to prove himself as a visionary, a quick and observant youth who seemed to genuinely enjoy being in school and learning his lessons. She could hardly wait to hear the point this young man must have been about to make. It would stop everyone in his or her tracks, force everyone--perhaps even her, the teacher--to re-examine everything that had been said and done so far.

"Miss Eyre!" the boy exclaimed. "Look out the window!"

The teacher looked. The boy's tone had been urgent. But she saw nothing.

"I don't understand," she said. "What's out there? Is everything all right?" This was New York, after all. Anything could happen.

"That cloud!" the boy cried. "It looks like a wave."

Immediately the attention of the class shifted to the window, and twentysome young voices, which not one minute before had been deeply engaged in a discussion of a hot-button, up-to-the-minute, academic, political issue, began to comment on whether or not the cloud, indeed, looked like a wave.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Commies Try to Tax Coca Cola

Details here.

Break Out the Rubber Stamps

Mayor Bloomberg's Panel for Educational Policy came together this month. They made certain that uppity Patrick J. Sullivan, who disagrees with the Mayor-for-life, did not attain any position of value. Instead, they chose reliable hacks who'd continue doing whatever the mayor said, whenever the mayor said to.

Fortunately, several members have 6 and 7 figure contracts with the city, and would never imperil these contracts simply to help out the little guttersnipes who populate the foul public schools the mayor has thus far managed to ignore or subvert, depending on what comes more easily. And there's a great perk to being in the mayor's pocket--you need not bother reading all those nasty contracts before approving them.

Apparently some people thought things might be different. Perhaps those people were referring to the color of the walls. It's hard to say, now that we've discovered the reason Chancellor Klein couldn't tear himself away from that Blackberry during meetings--apparently he once scored almost five million points on a very important videogame.

Maybe that's why he hasn't found time to look into trivial issues like overcrowding or class size.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Can't Keep a Straight Face

Hello friends!

I get a million decent ideas for blog posts as I go through my days at school, but, since I don't write them down (I know, shame on me), I get to my deadline and forget everything I thought about blogging. Except for one thing: the fact that I am woefully, entirely unable to keep a straight face around teenagers.

I teach middle school here in beautiful New York City, as you probably know. And as anyone who teaches middle school knows, there is not a group of people on Earth who more desperately wish to be taken seriously despite being the most petty, self-involved, short-sighted people you have ever met except perhaps for schools chancellors (OH NO YOU DI'NT, MISS EYRE) than middle school students.

I try very hard to keep a straight face with my babies. Sometimes it gives me great satisfaction to do so, like when they launch into some long complicated story about something that is of GREAT IMPORTANCE right at that moment, probably one that is supposed to result in a semi-plausible excuse for them having done or not done something. I like how they assume I am interested. Indeed, I do an excellent job of pretending that I am.

Please don't think, from my flippant tone, that I dismiss students' real problems. I am not so silly as to disregard the real, heartrending, serious problems some students do have, and I think I have been an advocate and even a friend to students in those circumstances. But, again, we middle school teachers know that dealing with teenagers is usually a combination of humoring them, setting very firm limits with them, laughing on the inside, and, occasionally, laughing on the outside.

So that brings me back to today's thesis: I cannot keep a straight face with my kids. Just can't. I was already laughing with them on the first day of school. They crack me right up. They make me laugh at myself and at the absurdities of school here in NYC. They speak truth to power when I would like to do so. When they start to trust you, they are refreshingly honest, and they will tell you what they really think of the strange little environment in which they find themselves, and you will learn from them.

I guess I just have too much fun at work, and I guess that Pissed Off Teacher's post from today also sort of inspired me to admit that I break the old "Don't smile till Christmas/Halloween/Thanksgiving/whatever" rule every single year. But the kids really do make me smile just about every day. And when I'm subjected to things like, oh, I don't know, just about every meaningful policy in my school being changed twenty-four hours before the school year began, I have to remind myself that the kids bring me more joy, laughter, surprises, insight, and inspiration than I ever thought possible.

In other news, I have a short and funny post about independent reading taking an unexpected twist over at my own blog. I also want to blog there soon about the Gates/UFT evaluation initiative. It's a pretty provocative topic for me since the issue of teacher evaluation is close to my heart.

Miss Eyre

Monday, September 14, 2009


There are always unintended consequences. When the UFT agreed to establish the Absent Teacher Reserve, a writer on Edwize suggested it had been done before and everything was fine. A difference, of course, was that the current chancellor saw fit to keep hiring new teachers even as experienced ones sat in the purgatory he and the union had created. The other difference was that principals no longer had to hire the floating teachers.

Inquisitive souls could go to the New York Times and read the helpful solution proposed by the completely objective New Teacher Project. To help all parties involved, they proposed to fire ATR teachers after one year (They didn't explain precisely how that would benefit the ATR teachers). You knew they were completely objective because their business entailed replacing the ATRs with new teachers they themselves trained and recruited. If that weren't enough evidence, they had millions of dollars in contracts with the city. What possible ulterior motive could they have?

The UFT is often on the cutting edge, so when it enacts a bad idea, "reformers" closely study how they can take it and make it even worse. It appears uber-reformer Michelle Rhee has found a way to do so in DC, where the new contract proposes to take the ATRs, offer them a one-time buyout, and fire them at the end of one year should they fail to take it.

This is precisely what Joel Klein would like to see in New York. Will this becomes a demand in exchange for our receiving the pattern? It may not matter we're entitled to as a matter of course. The UFT has an odd habit of paying for things two or three times.

I stand amazed that after the failures of the Bush administration, the "reformers" have managed to take the same abysmal ideas that tanked the economy and insist on applying them to education. It's all about getting those billions we spend on education into the right hands, the same ones who caused the current crisis.

It's indefensible, and patently incredible that the President who promised us "change" is giving us more of the same, with little or no evidence it will help anyone whatsoever.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Supersize Me

McDonald's customer receives burger, fries, several bags of weed and a handgun.

You Know Times Are Tough...

...when Americans start cutting down on porno.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tricks of the Trade

by special guest blogger Schoolgal

Ms. Malarkey recently posted how her legs are not cooperating when it comes to climbing chairs and desks to put up those wonderful print-rich materials that so impress administrators on their walk-throughs. I reached that point a few years ago after I fell off a chair and tore my meniscus.

When I started teaching (way back in the 20th Century) it was supposedly illegal for teachers to move furniture. Well the school police never arrested anybody for that infraction--and I prayed they would. In fact, if it leads to a fracture, the DoE has the right to disallow it as a LODI (line of duty injury) because you broke the rules. Funny which infractions are allowed to be broken, right along with the teacher.

But never underestimate the benefits of the school-support team. The school's custodial team and school aides are the backbone to getting your classroom in good working order. I was lucky enough to have a custodial worker help me put up my charts. When I ordered a bookcase, the custodial worker would put it together for me. If I needed a repair, usually having to do with shades or lighting, I wouldn't always have to go through the "approval" process. When I stayed late and they would come to clean the floor, they always found it clean.

Some teachers don't have their children pick up after themselves, I did. And there was always a cold bottle of water waiting for them from my mini fridge. I also tipped and give generously at holiday time.

I have to tell you that custodial workers give the head custodian feedback. The head custodian knows which teachers keep their room in order and which don't. And they report it to the principal.

The school aides are, IMHO, the backbone of the school. They are usually a friendly bunch of gals, but I have seen them mistreated by the administration and under-appreciated by staff.
I remember years back I sat with the aides during a Christmas party. That table was the best. The laughs just kept coming. They confided in me that teachers usually do not show them any respect. Don't be like those teachers! Aides know everything that goes on in the school. And in their own way, they can be powerful. They not only take care of the copying and lunchroom, but they have the keys to the supply closet.

Aides can spot teachers that are good and care about their students. They also know which teachers are responsible and which ones are "flighty". So it's important to always pick up your class on time. If you remember them at holiday time, they will appreciate it. If you need copies in a hurry, they will cover your back. If you need to use the restroom when you return from lunch, they will watch your class. If you run out of chalk, they will get it for you. But, keep in mind you should never take advantage.

Are all school aides friendly? No. Some may even be downright nasty. But it's still important to keep that smile on your face when you pass them by.

It is also essential to back them up when they report a problem to you. Some teachers feel that lunchtime problems are not their problems. That philosophy should be on a case-by-case rather than the norm. If a child disrupts lunch, the administration should follow up--not the teacher. But if it's something you can handle, do it. Also try to make sure your class knows the rules apply at lunchtime too and you will not be happy to get a bad report. If it means a demerit or taking away a special activity, follow through.

As teachers we appreciate it when we are backed up. We need to apply that support to the aides as well. (FYI: Their union sucks!!! So they are at the mercy of the principals and have very little recourse if they are mistreated. Their salary is the worst, yet the UFT follows their pattern.)

Lastly, there are the secretaries. They know everything too. But most is responsible for your paycheck and the other for your student records. Don't ever mess with them!!

If you are lucky to have nice secretaries, then you have nothing to worry about when you need a favor. When you get a discharge, try to get the student record to them ASAP. If you feel your grade registers are not equalized, they will know why. If there is a problem with your paycheck, they will make the calls immediately and report back to you.

But if they are total bitches who report back every move you make to the principal, watch your step. And you can put coal in their Christmas stocking because they do not appreciate gifts if the principal makes them "all powerful" instead.

So next time your body can't climb a chair, or you are out of staples, you've got somebody covering your back.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Scarlet Letter

Come from a closed school and ATR is emblazoned on your chest, in letters so bold principals openly shun you.

Ms. Brown Teaches the Principal

The principal, Mister Blister, had a wacky sense of humor. At least he thought so. So when he visited Ms. Brown's history class, he said, "Gee, Ms. Brown is teaching the same things she was back when I was in her class."

Mister Blister giggled at his sudden brainstorm, and walked down the hall, laughing louder and louder as he contemplated his remarkable cleverness.

A few hours later, Ms. Brown visited Mister Blister. She was teaching her ESL Social Studies class about the Declaration of Independence. Could she hang a copy of it on the principal's wall? It was for a project teaching them about the signers. Mister Blister said sure, that's a great idea. In fact, to give the newcomers confidence, why didn't she have them recite a couple of names they recognized over the loudspeaker?

Ms. Brown readily agreed. It's good for kids to have confidence, she said. Three nervous kids read the names, accented but clear:

John Hancock, Mister Blister

John Adams, Mister Blister

Thomas Jefferson, Mister Blister

The principal was horrified. Didn't these kids know how to read? What the heck was going on?

An astute secretary led the principal over to the document in question. And there, on the Declaration Ms. Brown had hung up, larger than John Hancock's, was an authentic-looking signature that clearly spelled out, "Mister Blister."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Skipping the Editing Stage of the Writing Process

(Image courtesy the brilliant Toothpaste for Dinner.)

Hello friends! Hope we all had an excellent first two days back at work, and that your admins all followed the handy tips I offered them on Tuesday. Unfortunately, mine did not. In fact, I believe my principal read my post and then, for some reason, chose to do the opposite.

When I arrived on Tuesday morning, I and my colleagues were treated to an exceptionally lengthy memo that, were it handed in to me as student work, I would immediately recommend that the student reduce its size by at least two-thirds. I would say, gently but firmly, "This is a great start, but it looks to me like a brainstorm. Like a list. It's like you wrote down every single thing that was in your head about a school year instead of just focusing on a few important points and elaborating in a clear but focused way on each point. Brainstorming is important, of course, but you don't submit it as a final product. Let's talk about how we can narrow your focus and make your piece tighter and clearer for your reader."

I wish I could say I was exaggerating when I say that I would need more than one hand to count the number of pages in this vision quest masquerading as a memo, but I'm not. Apparently my principal went to some magical conference over the summer in which the admins there gathered to conspire to make their teachers' lives miserable collaborate on expressing their delusions of grandeur personal philosophies of education. And someone encouraged them to express their hallucinations thoughts in lengthy, incomprehensible memos.

We also got pretty much no time to work with our colleagues, though the hour provided for classroom prep was certainly thoughtful. Fifteen minutes to discuss how we could better use data to improve instruction? Didn't we have this PD half a dozen times last year? Um, thanks.

Well, all there was to do was put it out of my head and prepare for my new darlings today, which I did, and God bless them, they are darling. The kids are the only thing that keep me from going totally crazy.

Swing by my blog for some new posts, including one that got picked up by GothamSchools last week, and look for my next post on improving teacher evaluation. Enjoy the rest of the week!

Miss Eyre

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Scavenger Hunt

-by special guest blogger Schoolgal

Ever wonder why teachers give up their vacation day to go set up their classrooms? If you are thinking it's to set up their classrooms, you would be partially correct. But the real reason is the annual scavenger hunt. Every year class enrollment rises, and the teacher doesn't have enough desks and chairs to go around. And, in elementary school not only do you need the extra desks for students, but for centers too.

There's the Math Table to hold math games, pattern blocks, and the like. Then there's the Writing Table filled with all kinds of colored papers, legal pads for drafts, colored pencils and of course writing aids, like a thesaurus. The Science Table is filled with rocks, thermometers, hand lenses, and science kits. The Technology Center...that's the desk that holds the computer since not all classrooms have a computer table. The Art Table is filled with crayons, markers and construction paper. And don't forget The Conference Table...a place to conference on their writing pieces, reading, and work one-on-one with the student away from the other students.

In a Jack Welch world, any good school system that projects an increase in enrollment in June and conducts the needed inventory would order the extra desks and chairs in time for the new school year. Or perhaps there are extra chairs and desks in the basement storage room--you know--the old wooden ones with the student's name carved into it and dated 1963. And next to them are the chairs that wobble. We who work in NYC already know not to bother the principal with such trivial matters. The extra seating provided by floors and window sills would do fine by them.

So the yearly scavenger hunt begins and it usually takes the shape of going into an already opened, unattended classrooms and taking one from this room, another from that room and so on, and so on. You try desperately to avoid your friend's classroom and go to the teachers you have little respect for....The Gossip, The Complainer, The Suck-Up, The Spy.

But wait!! What's this?? Now the teachers are using permanent magic markers to brand the desks and chairs they themselves stole last year with their room numbers!!!

Those bastards!!!!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

If Days Like This Were Actually Useful, We Wouldn't Complain about Them

Hello friends! Yes, I am making good on my threats to post here more often. Today's post will be devoted to what today's schedule will probably (unfortunately) look like for most of us.

Here's what I, personally, wish that a PD day would look like:

And here's what most PDs are actually like:

I should start off by saying that I don't mind the occasional meeting, pep talk, or workshop. They can be good opportunities for exchanging information with colleagues, learning new things, and recharging. That makes it particularly tragic that so many of these days are purely wasted.

Straight-up facts can be disseminated in a memo. Think people won't read it? Explain that the memo will take the place of 30 minutes' worth of lecturing during a PD and I bet people will read it. If you're really that concerned, attach return receipts in an e-mail so that you know people have opened them. DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES, WASTE TIME READING MEMOS OUT LOUD.

Ask us what we'd like to learn. Offer ten or so options and let people pick their three favorites. Allow write-ins.

Make a "menu"-type schedule so people can attend meetings or workshops that appeal to them.

Avoid "consultants" unless teachers ask for certain presenters! We'd much rather hear from our colleagues who are teaching the same students in the same building.

Finally, allow time for teachers to meet in small groups as grade or subject partners. There is nothing less useful to me than working on a math PD with a bunch of math teachers, no matter how smart or helpful or hard-working my math colleagues are.

Teachers wouldn't make such issues over days like tomorrow, or Election Day, or Brooklyn-Queens Day, if they were more like opportunities for self-directed learning and growth and less like...well, what they are now, which is, usually, anything but that.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Startup Tips

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

Practical suggestions were few and far between when I started out. I was an English teacher, with an AP who spent hours describing the difference between an “aim” and an “instructional objective.” To this day, I haven’t the slightest notion what she was talking about. She also spent a good deal of time describing the trials and tribulations of her cooking projects, and other utterly useless information.

Neither she nor any teacher of education ever advised me on classroom control. The standing platitude was “A good lesson plan is the best way to control a class,” but I no longer believe that. I think a good lesson plan is the best thing to have after you control the class.

I also think a good lesson plan need not be written at all, as long as you know what you’re doing. If you don’t, neither the lesson plan nor the aim will be much help.

The best trick, and it’s not much of a trick at all, is frequent home contact. It’s true that not all parents will be helpful, but I’ve found most of them to be. When kids know reports of their classroom behavior will reach their homes, they tend to save the acting out for your lazier colleagues—the ones who find it too inconvenient to call. You are not being "mean" or petty--you're doing your job, and probably helping the kid. If you want to really make a point, make a dozen calls after the first day of class. Or do it the day before a week-long vacation.

Now you could certainly send that ill-mannered kid to the dean, to your AP, to the guidance counselor, or any number of places. But when you do that, you’re sending a clear message that you cannot deal with that kid—he or she is just too much for you. You’ve already lost.

And what is that dean going to do anyway? Lecture the child? Call the home? Why not do it yourself?

You need to be positive when you call. Politely introduce yourself and say this:

“I’m very concerned about _______________. ___________ is a very bright kid. That’s why I’m shocked at these grades: 50, 14, 0, 12, and 43 (or whatever). I’d really like __________ to pass the class, and I know you would too.”

I’ve yet to encounter the parent who says no, my kids are stupid, and I don’t want them to pass.

“Also, I’ve noticed that ___________ is a leader. For example, every time ___________ (describe objectionable behavior here) or says (quote exact words here—always immediately write objectionable statements) many other students want to do/say that too.”

"I'm also concerned because ________ was absent on (insert dates here) and late (insert dates and lengths here).

I certainly hope you will give _________ some good advice so ___________ can pass the class.”

If the kid’s parents speak a foreign language you don’t know, find someone else who also speaks it, and write down what you want that person to tell the parent.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone in your room, next time you have a test, get on the phone in front of your class and call the homes of the kids who aren’t there. Express concern and ask where they are. If the kid is cutting, it will be a while before that happens again. If the kid is sick, thank the parent and wish for a speedy recovery.

The kids in your class will think twice about giving you a hard time.

Kids test you all the time. It’s hard not to lose your temper, but it’s a terrible loss for you if you do. When kids know you will call their homes, they will be far less likely to disrupt your class. The minutes you spend making calls are a very minor inconvenience compared to having a disruptive class.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a reasonable and supportive AP, God bless you. If not, like many teachers, you’ll just have to learn to take care of yourself. If you really like kids, if you really know your subject, and if you really want to teach, you’ll get the hang of it.

But make those phone calls. The longer you do it, the more kids will know it, and the fewer calls you’ll have to make.

Your AP, whether good, bad, or indifferent, will certainly appreciate having fewer discipline problems from you. More importantly, you might spend less time dealing with discipline problems, and more helping all those kids in your room.

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

Ms. Cornelius with everything they forgot (or more likely, never knew about) at ed. school, and great advice from a new teacher at Syntactic Gymnastics. Here's something from Miss Malarkey. And whatever you do, don't forget Miss Eyre's excellent series on what no one will tell you about working for the DoE.

Friday, September 04, 2009

When Is a New School Not a New School?

That's the kind of riddle you just might have to crawl under your bed to figure out. But not in Mayor Bloomberg's New York. According to Juan Gonzalez, Mayor Bloomberg creates new schools, but doesn't create new schools. I mean, sure, there he is, photographed in front of a shiny new building. But does that mean they're all like that?

Apparently not--why bother with a new building when you can just rent one for 191 million dollars? After all, that puts public money in the hands of someone who can really use it--a private entity that owns a building worth 191 million dollars. Why squander money like that on a building the city could actually own? Better to give it back and pay another 191 million dollars later. And apparently, the administration has managed to acquire another rented building for the bargain-basement price of 40 billion, plus 11 more in renovations.

Of course, other ways to create new schools is to just take old ones that have been offline, and open them up again. Or just take schools that have been open and call them new. In the new New York, it's all about innovation.

And the best part is you can claim to have created a record number of seats, even though you clearly have not. When you're Mayor-for-life, truth is whatever you say it is.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong with Anything

That's the money quote from NYC Schools Chancellor Klein on the progress reports. Everything they city has done is perfect, neither he nor Mayor Bloomberg has ever made a mistake, and Mr. Klein plans to close more schools only to improve the neighborhoods. It's exactly like when Mayor Giuliani closed all those strip joints in Times Square, except he's getting rid of a different undesirable element--public schools.

Public schools divert money from the pockets of people who really need it, and this administration has embarked on the very serious business of putting more and more of it back into private hands. Why shouldn't people who run schools make a tidy little profit? In 2009, with charter schools, you don't even need your own building to do that. All over the city, you can just edge out those nasty public schools.

With any luck, Mayor-for Life Bloomberg will do away with them during his tenure. As there's nothing wrong with anything, he'll doubtless live forever, unlike those peasants the majority of whose kids fail to win the lottery anyway. And frankly, when the scourge of public schools are finally gone, the city will be "accountable" for nothing whatsoever. Schools? We don't run the schools. Go complain to Charters R Us.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Teaching with Fire (Not Real Fire, Although That Would Certainly Be One Way to Catch Your Students' Attention)

Hello friends!

I had a professor, when I was in grad school, who liked to begin every class with a little pep talk. This probably sounds unbearably corny, but this man was so very sincere that you couldn't help but start cozying up to it. He was like Mr. Rogers with a Brooklyn accent.

This professor had a book called Teaching with Fire, which is a collection of poems contributed by teachers and accompanied by anecdotes from those teachers about why the poems are special to them. I didn't exactly remember any of the poems in particular, but I did remember the feeling I had when he read them. I felt like someone knew how confused and scared and tired I was as a new teacher, how I could feel my idealism leeching out of me on a minute-by-minute basis. And I came to relish those moments, sitting in a sterile classroom at the institution of higher learning in which I found myself, the sun setting over the city out the window, sipping a cup of hazelnut coffee and convincing myself to do this job for another day.

Last year, maybe while thinking of this person, I decided to start my school year with an inspirational reading. I felt a little silly, wondering if my students, politely though they listened, were thinking that I was the corny one, their starry-eyed English teacher, just like I'd initially thought my professor was either too touchy-feely or just a little cracked. But I think that that must have been a small part of starting the year on the right foot, because a few kids smiled while I read it, and when I finished, they were quiet, attentive, and, I swear, it seemed like most of them wanted to make me happy.

I got my own copy of Teaching with Fire over the summer. I'm trying to choose just the right piece to share with my new students on day one next week. As I reread some of the poems, I remembered a few of them, being read in the calm, reassuring, warm voice of my old teacher. But always the more I remembered just being in the room and feeling like I belonged.

What are you doing to make sure your kids feel like that on September 9? "Nothing" is the wrong answer.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Dog Bites Man

The New York Daily News, champion of working people, has just run yet another editorial demanding that ATR teachers be fired. The best way to improve things in Fun City, evidently, is to put 2,000 more people out of work. Perhaps that could be the next campaign slogan for the city's richest man, who bought Gracie Mansion fair and square and then changed the law to do it again.

No fault is assigned to principals who take all sorts of cute shortcuts to avoid hiring veteran teachers. When they pursue their selfish and narrow agendas, that's perfectly fine.

But oh those teachers. How dare they desire jobs! Let them wander the streets like all the other bums. Covering classes for absent colleagues, according to the Daily News, is tantamount to doing nothing.

And the idea of actually putting these teachers to work, apparently, is too radical for Daily News editorial writers. You'd think Mayor Mike, whose actual TV campaign theme revolves around putting people to work, would want to put them to work too.

You'd be mistaken. One failed reform after another says these teachers are too useful as scapegoats. And every demagogue needs a good scapegoat.