Monday, November 30, 2009

If You Don't Come in Sunday, Don't Come in Monday

Well, it's time to wake up and bask in the glow of our accomplishments. Last summer, Randi Weingarten offered an endorsement of mayoral control, with a few tepid suggestions for changes that we never saw. Of course, with Ms. Weingarten's quasi-endorsement, the measure eventually sailed through.

Then Mayor-for-life Bloomberg managed to get the UFT to sit out the election, leaving Bill Thompson in the lurch. Thompson retaliated by condemning pattern raises for teachers, letting us know his devotion to us was strictly a quid-pro-quo, and that he has no actual regard for teachers or education. With friends like him...

And now Mayor Bloomberg is sitting pretty, having squeaked through at least partially as a result of our timidity, not to mention a hundred million bucks in campaign spending. So what's the first thing he does? Go to Washington DC to see his buddy Barack Obama, who didn't lift a finger to get Bill Thompson elected.

And our mayor, the richest man in New York, used this opportunity to condemn teachers. Why should they have job protections? Why should he have to follow the contracts he authorized? After all, Mayor Bloomberg just dumped 500 DC-37 employees on the street, so why shouldn't he be able to fire teachers? Screw the seniority rules. Screw the tenure regulations. Michelle Rhee just fired 5% of staff with no regard to contract and got away with it! Why can't I do that?

It's not as though this is anything new. His agenda has always been such, and Joel Klein's 8-page contract should have tipped us off years ago. We should have taken a stand in 05. We should have taken a stand since 05. The fight over using test scores in considering tenure, which we briefly won and then abandoned, has the Mayor-for-life smelling blood in the water.

We've seen over and over that appeasement does not benefit teachers, and Bloomberg's DC speech only goes to show his enthusiasm for stabbing us in the back afterward. We have strong words from UFT leadership. Will they maintain this, or give in to forces who say we must take the pattern when it's crap, but negotiate it when it's favorable?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Help Consumers and Get Fired

After they gambled and lost, we taxpayers bailed out Bank of America. But would they return the favor to American consumers?

Here's ex-BoA employee Jackie Ramos, explaining that BoA has programs to help people pay their bills--only people who actually need the help don't qualify. For trying to help Americans drowning in debt, Ms. Ramos was fired.

Friday, November 27, 2009

That's How They Get Ya

I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving, and I hope you all have the good sense to do what I'm doing this Black Friday--absolutely nothing. I'm not risking my life to save 20 bucks on an MP3 player. Actually, I just saved 20 bucks without leaving the comfort of my own home.

I was looking at my cell phone bill, and Verizon had charged my kid 10 bucks each for two "premium" texts. What the heck is a premium text, I asked the person at Verizon. Apparently, it's some vague inexplicable thing tangentially related to Facebook.

Well, I don't want to pay for it, whatever it is, I said. We'll be happy to block premium texts on all your lines, the rep kindly offered. I said fine. But there are these two, said the rep, and the calls were made, and we're so sorry, and blah, blah, blah...

Gee, I said, I love Verizon service. It's so wonderful and fabulous. Unfortunately, my contract expires in two months, and if you make me pay this twenty bucks, that's a deal breaker. I'll have to go to another provider, and I'll be very sad. Of course we'll remove those charges as a courtesy, said the rep.

Minutes later, my daughter got a text message saying a premium text message had been blocked. It appears she didn't even make the texts in question--she simply received them. At ten bucks a pop, that's kind of cheesy, even for a telephone provider.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm Thankful I Already Have Tenure

I can't say I'm too jazzed about the mayor's call to use test scores to make tenure decisions. As you know if you read my blog, I'm all for making teacher evaluation fairer, more circumspect, and more rigorous. But using test scores to make tenure decisions gets a big ol' thumbs-down from Miss Eyre, who, if she is thankful for anything this year, sure is thankful that she already earned (you bet your bottom dollar earned) tenure. [All of the arguments I'm about to put forth, by the way, assume that the test scores in question are even reliable and valid, which is its own kettle of fish, but let's play with this for a minute.]

First of all, most teachers suck in their first year or two. Okay, maybe suck is a strong word, but still, I doubt you'll see any teacher raising test scores three years in a row in his or her first three years. It isn't going to happen. It doesn't mean that person is never going to be a good teacher or even that he or she isn't already a good teacher. But it's pretty crazy to expect that a brand-new teacher is going to raise test scores that much that fast--if you believe that teachers raise test scores in the first place, which you may not.

Second of all, not every teacher has test scores to go by. What about arts teachers, or teachers not in testing grades? How will their tenure decisions be made? And, if by some other method than test scores, why not make all tenure decisions that way?

And if you start asking those questions, you can see where this move will take us: the abolition of tenure altogether. And I still believe in tenure, by the way. I think it should be earned, and I don't think it should provide lifetime job protection under any circumstance, but I do believe in its existence and preservation. Moreover, I believe in granting it more sparingly. Principals probably should tenure fewer teachers. Maybe the probationary period should be longer. But, once earned, it should be, more or less, sacred. Because if you want to toughen the requirements to earn tenure--and that's not necessarily a bad idea--then it should be all the more difficult to take away, to cast aside on a whim, or on one dubious accusation.

I rarely get into questions of what the union should do, but here I wonder if the UFT shouldn't play ball with the DOE somewhat. Sure, toughen tenure requirements. We won't go for test scores alone, but we can come up with a portfolio, menu, whatever you want to call it that would make it harder for any warm body to earn tenure. But in return, tenure must be protected, respected, sustained--not just in the name of job protection, but in the name of continuity, stability, and academic freedom for both kids and adults. I'm not sure how that isn't a win-win for everyone. But if the DOE squirms on a good-faith offer on this from the union, you'll see what they really want (which, I suspect, is a way to ditch unpopular and/or expensive teachers).

Well, I'm off to get turkified, and when my family talks about what they're thankful for this year, I'll be sure to add "tenure" to my list.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

You Better Watch Out

For the last couple of days, my daughter's been walking around the house singing, "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." I don't think I ever paid much attention to the lyrics before, and I have to say I find them disturbing. Who the hell is this guy to decide whether I'm naughty or nice? Isn't it kind of subjective? Does he think he's Joel Klein or something?

Also, what the hell is all this about him seeing me when I'm sleeping? Is it really appropriate for this character to watch me in my most private moments? Do people really want some big old guy with a long beard watching what they do in the privacy of their own homes? I thought this was America, land of the free and home of the brave. Why on earth should I make myself more paranoid than usual all because some pipe-smoking overfed weirdo is watching me all the time to make sure I live up to his bizarre expectations? And to make things worse, he's mostly focusing on children.

He's making a list? Is he another Richard Nixon? The whole spying thing really makes you think. Now that we're thinking, what is this freak doing crawling around in your chimney? Actually, at my place he'd end up in a gas burner rather than a fireplace, and I don't think he'd be happy at all. Am I naughty just for not having a fireplace?

Maybe I'd better get through Thanksgiving before pondering all these existential dilemmas. And I wish everyone reading this a great one!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Self-Efficacy; Or, Why Doesn't Anyone Ever Tell Teachers, "You Can Do It!"

When I was in school and in college, I was a super-hyper-high achiever. There was an almost unstated expectation in my family that I would do well all the time at everything. This, of course, led to some heartbreak when I plateaued in math at pre-calculus, or when I effectively gave up on my 11th grade physics class and devoted myself to my unfinished novel during 5th period for the better part of four months. Still, I graduated high school in the top ten percent of my class and went on to a small, private college thanks to a large scholarship. There I also graduated very highly ranked in my class, in charge of a number of student organizations, member of several honor societies, you name it.

Now, before you puke...

Shortly after I graduated, I was doing...not very much. I worked as a nanny, a tutor, a secretary, a temp, a freelance writer and editor, whatever I could to keep some money coming in. I didn't want to go to grad school or law school, didn't want to join the Peace Corps or the Army, didn't really know what I wanted to do. I had a few vague notions about some careers I thought I might enjoy and eventually got an entry level position in one of them. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was unfulfilled, and I chucked it all to join the Teaching Fellows, move to New York City, and start a brand new life. I liked kids, I liked reading and writing, and I had some small-time teaching experience, so it seemed like a good fit.

Needless to say, my high-achieving ways went by the wayside for my first couple of years of teaching. Most teachers suck at most everything in their first year. Maybe they suck a little less their second year. It was only in my third year that I developed any sense of believe in myself at all, and now I am bemused (though certainly pleased) by the fact that I've been asked to join a committee for professional development at my school.

On my way home today after our first committee meeting, I got to thinking about why this seemed so strange to me. It's just one committee membership, after all. I used to run organizations, sometimes more than one at a time. I used to helm a publication at my college. I was a class officer at my high school. It would have been natural for me, at one time, to be very active in whatever environment I found myself. But I find myself having to get used to that feeling again.

So often, teachers' opinions are either implicitly or explicitly discouraged. And, if anyone wants them at all, a few teachers sometimes dominate the discussion, which is certainly how things are at my school (until, perhaps, now). And, most crucially, the neverending tide of fads and directives at school makes even teachers who have taught for decades doubt themselves in the classroom. No one ever tells us, as Dr. Benjamin Spock said, "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." No faculty conference ever ends with, "You're doing a great job."

It's not hard to understand why, then, so many young teachers burn out. It's not hard to understand why people who are smart, motivated, and high-achieving don't even want to go into teaching in the first place, let alone stay there: it's hard work, with very little opportunity to advance if you don't want to become a principal, and doesn't offer much in the way of recognition and leadership. Forget the money for a minute (though the money is certainly nice). There is not enough opportunity for teachers to be creative, collaborate, and build curricula and methods themselves.

I'm not saying that committee memberships are the only answer or the best answer. But something like this can turn a person's career in a whole new direction. It can make her believe that she can do it, or make him believe that his voice is part of the conversation. Teachers, like kids, need to be encouraged to believe that they can do it--that, indeed, in some or many ways, they are already doing it.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Don't Even Go There

Here's a story about a principal who's going to prison for having sex with a 16-year-old. They just added another nine months to his sentence for more sex with a 16-year-old. How on earth does a guy like that get a gig taking care of children? And how many times did he do this before he got caught? He got a couple of years, but I'd have little problem with them locking him up and throwing away the key. A guy like that belongs with his peers.

I remember when I was just starting out, I had a supervisor who warned me very sternly about keeping away from the young girls in my charge. I took that warning very seriously and always kept in mind that even the appearance of impropriety could get me in trouble. This became particularly dangerous when the 2005 contract left teachers open to unpaid suspensions for unsubstantiated allegations. I have no problem with consequences for those convicted under the law, but you'd think due process was a right of all Americans, even if they happen to be teachers.

A few years ago, I had a very precocious young woman in one of my classes. She said something like, "That's OK, baby," to me. I made it a point to say, loudly, "I'm not your baby, and don't ever call me that again," so that everyone could hear it quite clearly. Some students were stunned, while other were amused. I didn't care.

She got the message, and never spoke to me like that again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

To PERB or Not To PERB?

One of my favorite bloggers, Mr. Accountable Talk, is a tad cynical over the decision of UFT President Michael Mulgrew to seek authority to declare an impasse. After all, PERB has screwed us before, and more or less nailed us to the wall in 2005. So why should we go back?

Well, one of the ways PERB screwed us was by tying us to the pattern, insisting it be followed even though it was crap and teachers were woefully underpaid. In order to make teachers semi-woefully underpaid, we gave back every gain we'd made in my twenty years teaching and then some. And somehow, 60% of voting teachers approved this stinker, giving us side-benefits like the ATR brigade and the 37.5 minute class (the one that is not a class).

So here's the question--will PERB, in these trying economic times, stand by their decision to go with the pattern? Or will they say these times are tough, we can't do it, and basically screw us coming and going? Gotham Schools had some encouraging words:

If the mediation fails, then the fact-finding process would begin — something that the union isn’t exactly looking to avoid, as fact-finding commissions in years past have recommended wage increases and prevented the city from laying off teachers who are excessed and can’t find new positions.

But what is it purveyors of mutual funds are always saying--past gains are no guarantee of future performance. Gotham quotes Peter Goodman, who held some position (sorry, I don't know which) with the UFT:

“There’s no downside and it shows his members that he’s doing something.”

But doing something is not necessarily enough, if you ask me. It's of rather more importance to do something worthwhile. And Goodman, on his own site, just wrote a piece questioning whether the city could offer raises in a time of budget cuts. After having taken zeroes during the dot com boom, after having been told we're married to the pattern, and after having worked three jobs for most of my career, it's hard for me to muster sympathy for cries of poverty from the richest man in New York City.

If PERB has integrity, an impasse is a good move. If they don't, we're in for a tough lesson, to wit, that they screw us no matter what.

Does the UFT know what it's doing, or is this yet another doomed crapshoot?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Cooperative Learning

So after my last post, I thought we might need to lighten the mood a bit, yes?

You may remember that I tend to gather together some kids during their lunch period. They do little chores for me, read, chitchat, do homework, whatever. They're grateful for a quiet, cool place to hang out and I get some things done, so it's a win-win situation.

I had quite a lot to do during my lunch period the other day, and while I thought about closing my room, I had closed the room the day before and felt badly doing it two days in a row, so I let my usual gang--Drew, Caroline, Jack, and a few newcomers--join me.

Now, I had some things for them to do, and usually, in the interests of inquiry and student-centered learning and what have you, I simply set them some tasks and allow them to divide the tasks the way they like. I sat at my desk grading papers, which I desperately needed to do.

Caroline was in her element and immediately began issuing orders. Jack, of course, did exactly as he was told. Drew messed around for a while before eventually taking part. Ida, Caroline's friend, argued with her for a few minutes over the best way to accomplish the tasks and then tried to get everyone else to agree with her.

"But I've done this before," Caroline said with her now-trademark flip of her hair. "I know how to do it."

"It doesn't matter," Ida retorted. "We could try it this way and just see if it's faster. I think it would be."

"Well, you do it your way and I'll do it mine," Caroline said.

The two girls resolved to each do it her own way. But Caroline got the boys to follow her, and within a few minutes, Ida dropped her agenda and did it Caroline's way.

It was interesting for me to just watch this exchange. It reminded me that kids usually work things out on their own, or at least that they can do that, without adults' help more often than not. It made me glad that I have such willing helpers. And it made me wonder how Caroline developed such a strong personality. I was sort of jealous.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

First Things First

Stop whining about your oversized classes and overcrowded buildings! NYC has some serious issues. That's why we're getting proactive and starting the fight against bedbugs right away. After all, those 500 school aides Mayor-for-life Bloomberg just fired are gonna have to sleep somewhere, and public schools, or at least schoolyards, are pretty much all over the city.

The city's also investing in other important commodities, like ravioli. To assure that there's money enough to support these new ventures, Mayor Bloomberg is cutting 1.5% from the education budget.

Thank goodness New Yorkers had the wisdom to elect a financial expert to guide us through these troubled economic times. I have absolute confidence that Mayor Bloomberg will continue to prioritize just as he's done for the last eight years.

Doubtless after he re-revises the term limit laws, he and his priorities will be with us for many years to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

She Still Doesn't Like Anything

You may remember my post about Lena, the girl who claimed to not like anything in an interview with a classmate. I haven't posted about Lena in a while because I've been concerned about revealing too much about her, but since I choose to keep myself, my school, my location, etc. private, no one should really be able to identify Lena anyway--which, of course, is not her real name.

I wish I could report that Lena is doing better, but she isn't. In fact, things have only gotten worse. Lena is cutting school almost every day, and when she does come, she comes late, sometimes as late as sixth or seventh period. And when she comes late, she often doesn't come to class--she makes an appearance in the office to get marked present, goes to the bathroom, and stays there reading or doing homework. Then she'll go around to her teachers at the end of the day, hand in her work, and go home.

You could argue that this is, in some ways, an improvement over what class cutters usually do (which is nothing at best and major troublemaking at worst), but there's no bright side with Lena right now. I met with her parents last week and it was the most depressing parent meeting I've ever had, hands down. Lena is very troubled right now. She refuses to be helped--not by her family, not by her friends, not by school or medical personnel. She either withdraws tightly into herself or lashes out in bizarre rage against whoever is available.

My heart breaks for Lena and her family, who have no idea what to do. I'm starting to wonder if Lena needs to be hospitalized, if she might hurt herself or someone else. She's a bright girl with many lovely qualities, but something has taken her over, and it's doing a lot of damage, whatever it is.

I wish I could help, but I'm afraid I've already done what I could, which is to write up a guidance referral, keep my door open for her, and hope for the best. It's terrible what kids have to deal with sometimes. But I have eightysome other students to worry about, too, and Lena is being watched by people who are in a better position to give her the help she really needs. Somehow, though, none of that really makes me feel any better about it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Have a Drink, Lose Your Job

Joel Klein doesn't need to look too far when he reminisces about the good old days. The national papers are full of inspirational tips and tidbits for inclusion in the next UFT contract.

In Barrow County, Georgia, teacher Ashley Payne has been fired. Ms. Payne maintained a Facebook page, and it contained pictures of her personally holding old demon alcohol in her pedagogical hand. Some virtuous parent found that offensive and complained to the school board.

Ms. Payne does not include her students among her Facebook friends. Nonetheless, if it's on the internet, people can see it. Perhaps her local school board was concerned that students might locate the pictures and be influenced to take a drink. It's conceivable, in fact, that Barrow County is a dry county, like Mayberry. However, Ms. Payne does not remotely resemble Otis the town drunk.

It's unfortunate for her that Otis doesn't run the local school board. From what I've observed, his judgment is much clearer than that of the real people who do.

To be fair, Ms. Payne went beyond simply drinking alcohol. Apparently, she also used the word "bitch" on her page. Naturally, I was shocked and stunned. But I had to ask myself--how did these pure and chaste schoolboard members even know what the word meant? Had they used it themselves? Had their virgin ears been sullied by the foul vocabulary item?

If that's the case, shouldn't they have recused themselves, or issued immediate resignations? Shouldn't they have followed their convictions about the nature of evil and committed ritual suicide, lemming-style, off the nearest cliff or tall building? Why should only Ms. Payne be targeted?

That's a pretty easy question--because teachers are always targeted for this sort of abuse. That's why teachers need tenure. And that's why Ms. Payne is suing her school district. I hope she not only gets her job back, but demands they pay dearly for their idiotic indulgence in self-righteous sanctimony.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Now That's Confidence

Gee willikers. Sarah Palin has banned all cell phones and recording devices from her book tour.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Contest Results

by resident contest meister Schoolgal

We asked you, our loyal readers, to come up with a caption for the picture at left. We've received queries from far and wide. To preserve the integrity of our process, we've kept the meticulously tabulated results from our 300-member team of judges, all of whom are pledged to absolute secrecy, in a hermetically sealed container just off the coast of Mandanga, a little known island just south of Patapita.

Sparing no expense, we sent our team out in a rowboat to retrieve them without disturbing the local ecology. Here are the eagerly awaited results.

Congrats to Pogue!! His entry gets first prize--a chance at early retirement!!!

"Oh, Mikey, here I am. Signed, sealed, delivered, I'm yours."

Please email NYCEducator your name and address for that LOTTO ticket!!

Honorable Mention goes to Mr. A. Talk, for his contribution:

"Is that a payoff in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?"

Thanks to all who participated!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Drop Out Now

The Daily News is outraged because NY State ranks last in passing GED rates. And for good reason. What sort of high school dropout are we aiming for? Shouldn't our high school dropouts do better than, say, dropouts from Mississippi? After all, when Bill Clinton ran for President, he was able to proudly declare that his state ranked only 49th. Yet we don't have that luxury.

Perhaps we need to develop a better class of dropout. The kind of dropout who can pass that GED exam. What we need to do is target our high-achieving students to start dropping out of school. They'll pass that test in a flash, and they won't even have to study for it.

So I'm asking you, New Yorkers, to make that sacrifice for your beloved state. If you're in high school, drop out. If you have kids in high school, urge them to drop out. Sure, they won't get into those hoity-toity colleges you had your eye on. But what's more important--the individual or the state? This is a sure-fire solution to the problem, and it's time we put an end to it once and for all.

The problem is particularly egregious in the city, so this is where we need to concentrate our efforts. To placate his good buddies at the Daily News editorial board, Mayor-for-life Bloomberg must focus his efforts. Perhaps it's time he got his buddy in billionairism, Bill Gates, to surreptitiously back another ad campaign. "Keep dropping out, New York." Perhaps he could even open a non-union, sweatshop-style charter GED training center for dropouts. He could pay the kids who pass the tests, just like he does in regular schools.

And anyone who disagrees--all I can say is you're clearly opposed to truth, justice, and the American Way.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

How Old Are You?

“How old are you?”

This is a question that many of us get from students, and it’s a tricky one to answer. Some of us would rather not reveal our age, either because we’re old enough to be our students’ evolutionary ancestors or because we’re young enough to be asked for hall passes.

Personally, my favorite answer to this question has always been, “Old enough to know better.” When pressed, I usually say, “Older than you and younger than your parents.” Which is more or less true. Pretty soon I’ll be old enough to be the parent of my students, but not quite just yet. And the kids tend to give up at that point, because they know I’m not going to get more specific, and I have confirmed their suspicion that I’m relatively young and hip.

I used to hate being mistaken for being younger than I am, but I’m getting to an age at which I can appreciate my fresh, youthful appearance. Still, it’s a tough thing for younger teachers when SSAs tap us on the shoulders and holler, “Yo, get to class!” (True story.)

I feel old, though. It doesn’t take long, especially this day and age when the entertainment universe has become so fractured, to get out of the loop on what “the kids” are watching, listening to, or playing. I struggle with that. And the trends change so quickly. The rapper that was so cool last year is rarely that cool this year. Sneakers and clothing go in and out and in again.

I think the moment I became old was on the first day of school this year. I noticed many of my young ladies coming into school in plaid flannel shirts. And I could remember getting rid of my own plaid flannel shirts after grunge died in the mid-90s, thinking, “These will NEVER come back into fashion!” And when I saw those shirts, I knew it: I was becoming an old person.

1400 Bucks a Day for Sleeping

Why don't you give up that stressful teaching gig and get a job arbitrating teacher dismissals? If they catch you, just say you had droopy eyes. And so what if you ruled in the DoE's favor in almost each and every case?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Mr. Schwartz Tackles Eduspeak

Principal: Mister Schwartz, here at Unconscionably Overcrowded High School we provide bell to bell instruction!

Mister Schwartz: Forgive me, Mr. Principal. I suffer from tinnitus. I hear bells all day long.

Principal: Mister Schwartz, I came in today to discuss rubrics with you. What are your feelings on how we can use rubrics to help clarify our goals?

Mister Schwartz: Well, I have a Rubrics Cube up in my attic, but I haven't used it in years. I'm pretty sure I have a pet rock up there too, but I can't be sure. I'll check and get back to you.

Principal: We're going to be utilizing rubrics in conjunction with portfolios.

Mister Schwartz: Well, I've got quite a bit in Fidelity, but I also like Vanguard. I think mutual funds are the way to go unless you're a really large investor. I hope you found this helpful, Mr. Principal, and I'm delighted to have the opportunity to discuss these things with you. Please come around anytime.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What No One Will Tell You When You Come to Work at the DOE, Part 10: Parent-Teacher Conferences

I said, a while back here, that I would share some advice on parent-teacher conferences. Well, it's that time of year. You've probably had your conferences already or will have them soon, and conferences are certainly forefront in my mind right now. Here we go.

First, read A Shrewdness of Apes' tips on parent-teacher conferences. She covers a lot of ground there, so much that I have fairly little to add. But I'll try to add in my own experiences.

If you are a middle or high school teacher, look into doubling up in a classroom with a grade partner. You probably teach some or all of the same kids, and you can save the parents a little time and get them in and out more quickly. This is also a good strategy if you know you have some prickly, controversial parents--they are less likely to get demanding or argumentative if there is a third party in the room.

Have as much evidence of students' learning prepared as you can. Collect notebooks or journals, provide portfolios or some recent work, refresh your bulletin boards. Let parents see what their kids have been doing (or perhaps not doing). They appreciate having some tangible proof of what's happening and what's not.

I'm not a big fan of having kids participate in the conferences, but you often don't have any choice. When this happens, I like letting the kid start the conference--"What do you think about your grade? What do you think you're doing well? What do you think you need to improve?" You will be surprised by how honest and reflective they are when cornered by both their teacher and their parent.

Try to comment on "the whole child"--if there's any negative news to report, it will likely go down a little smoother with the parents if you can say something that is true and positive. Comment on his or her helpfulness to peers, respect and politeness to adults, something along those lines. Just like teachers and children, parents don't like to feel like they're doing everything wrong. You don't necessarily have to lead with something good, particularly if you have limited time, but you should try to mention something good at some point.

Make sure you have a written record of every parent who shows. Often your school will have a sign-in sheet, but if they don't provide you with one, provide one yourself. Document, document, document! And if you make follow-up calls to parents you don't see, and you can't get a hold of them, document that too.

If you have extras of recent handouts from the school, bulletins, book orders, whatever, put them out for parents to see. This is a good time to make sure everyone is up to date about events in the classroom and the wider school community. It's also something for parents to read while they're waiting.

Be a good neighbor if you find yourself not very busy--if your neighbor down the hall has a line a mile long, help to police this line and keep everyone calm and amused.

Finally, plan a nice easy day for yourself for the day after parent-teacher conferences. You will be tired. Don't launch any crazy projects or anything like that the day afterwards. You won't feel like it.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sage Advice Wanted

I wonder if readers could offer any advice for this prospective teacher. If so, please put it in the comments section.

Dear NYC Educator,

I am an avid reader of your blog and find it very useful. You definitely are a seasoned educator, so I figured I would go to you for some advice. I recently graduated with a Masters Degree in Art and Art Education and have my certification to teach the Visual Arts from Grades K-12.

Since my graduation I have been met with a number of heart breaking disappointments: I lost the chance at a job at a local public elementary school because of the hiring freeze, another shot at a nonprofit (program wasn't running after all), lost another job to a fellow classmate, and gave up on a substitute art teaching job at another public elementary school because I felt that the classroom management techniques I have been taught did not work on this group of students (the school happens to have the most incidents of improper touching in the borough, which would explain the fight that broke out in my class just as we were finishing first class of the day by the way).

So here I am, no job, no prospects. I am scared that next year I'll be in the same situation. It seems that no matter how many jobs I apply to, I don't get a response or the group of students are the kind who could benefit from an experienced teacher. I have wanted to be an art teacher since I was a kid, so I am definitely not giving up. However, I don't know what to do to make myself more desirable...I'll be competing with another slew of students from my graduate school next year! I can't even find a classroom management course to take in a local university?!?

Please, any advice you can spare would be extremely appreciated. Please.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bop Till You Drop

Download the Ramones Greatest Hits for three bucks.

Why Does NYC Keep Walmart Out?

Oh yeah, because of stuff like this. To be fair, they do issue refunds when you find dead frogs in your salad.

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Vision Thing

Another mayoral election has come and gone, and Mayor-for-life Bloomberg has once again prevailed, buying the election fair and square. Mayor Mike pulled a hundred million bucks out of his sizable pockets, blanketed the metropolitan area with vomit-inducing commercials and persuaded 5% more voters than Thompson did. To accomplish that, he spent 14 times as much as Thompson.

In my discussions with UFT reps, they explained it was prudent to withhold an endorsement. Why? First of all, a Thompson endorsement would mean an immediate halt to contract negotiations. The incredible corruption evident in that assertion, in my view, ought to have been enough to pull out all the stops against this character. More importantly, depending on whom you asked, the UFT endorsement would only be able to turn 3 to 5% of the voters. Well, if you buy that, we'd have won.

Now if you're one of the folks who'd made the awful decision to sit this one out, and you're reading this, you might say, "But NYC Educator, didn't Thompson say publicly we couldn't afford to give UFT members the 4 and 4 in the pattern?" Now I admit that's a good point. Why would anyone vote for a mayor who'd deny us a relatively decent pattern, after so many mayors held us to crap ones?

I'd have to respond, "True, but he only said that after the UFT publicly declined to endorse him. He'd never have made that statement if we'd done the right thing."

For a beleaguered union, timidity is not an option. We just learned that the hard way.

Yet another time.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

One Day. One Test. One Score... (The 2009 Edition)

If you've been following my blog, you know that the Specialized High School Admissions Test has been a pet peeve of mine from the blog's earliest days. It bothers me that lazy, half-interested kids who happen to be good at taking tests get invited to the specialized schools while some kids who bust their butts and love learning don't because they don't ace the test. It bothers me that some kids feel that schools which are very excellent and rigorous are "second best" because they don't carry the "specialized" label. I have no idea what kind of message it sends to our kids that "one day, one test, one score" determines four years of one's life. College doesn't work that way. Jobs don't work that way. Yet here we are, deciding four very crucial, formative years on the basis of one test.

Well, here it goes again. This is my last chance to post here at NYC Educator before the test (this weekend!), so I'm going to use the rather bigger stage this blog gives me to talk about this year's gang of darlings and the SHSAT.

As usual, a few of my kids will probably get into a specialized school. I'm usually pretty good, though not perfect, at predicting which ones. As usual, a few more of them will probably come very close. Of those, one or two will have total meltdowns over it. Some of them won't get in and won't much care.

I want to tell them that it doesn't matter as much as they think it does, while simultaneously telling them to do their very best on the test. I can tell them about friends of mine who went to unfamous high schools and colleges in the middle of nowhere and are now doctors, lawyers, and nuclear submarine commanders. (I really do have a friend who commands a nuclear submarine. I can't think of a job that's much more kick-ass than that.) I can tell them about friends who went to very prestigious, exclusive colleges and now make even less money than I do (yes, it's possible). So much of life is a crapshoot. So much of what happens is unexpected. Someday, I want to tell them, you will meet people who have never heard of Stuyvesant High School and wouldn't care about it if they had. Someday you will meet people who didn't have to "apply" to high school; in fact, most people you will meet didn't have to. It's so hard to understand that when you're thirteen and so much is being made of this test and the high school process, and I don't even know if I should tell them that.

(Maybe not until after the test.)

So I'll remind you all, if you teach eighth grade or if you know eighth graders, be extra nice to them for the next few days. Maybe for the next ten days or so, because the TACHS is next weekend. If you teach them, give them the weekend off from homework. Give them some nice, quiet, easy seatwork on Monday after you give them a chance to vent. They're still children. And then tell them, nicely, helpfully, in your own way, that one day, one test, and one score does not, in the grand scheme of things, mean so very much.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

by special guest contest-meister Schoolgal

With the contents of our new contract being held in a secret vault below UFT headquarters until the mayor's coronation, I found the photo at left quite telling.

So NYC Educator and I came up with a fun idea. We would like the readers to create a caption for this photo. The winner will receive a possible early retirement incentive in the form of a NY Lottery ticket.

Good luck!!!

Important note from contest-meister Schoolgal:

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Snowflake Syndrome

I know that many of my colleagues and readers have had (or currently have) the problem of parents who are, shall we say, too involved in the education of their children, and by this mean involved to the actual detriment of their children. I have not faced this problem to a great degree until this academic year, but I thought I would share a few anecdotes on what seems to be becoming a bigger and bigger issue in education.

One of my darlings recently gave a substitute teacher quite the hard time when I was out for some professional development. I try to be the kind of teacher who shows subs support and appreciation, so when I reported this incident to Little Darling's mother, she explained that her child is the kind of child who needs to "express himself" and "explain himself" frequently. I, as his teacher, do not give him this opportunity frequently enough.

"Well," I said to Little Darling's mother, "you're right. When he is not doing what he is supposed to be doing, I don't really want an explanation or an 'expression' or an excuse. I want him to stop doing the wrong thing and start doing the right thing." This, apparently, is quite the imposition on Little Darling's "self-expression."

Another parent complained that I gave her snowflake a zero for a homework assignment that a.) I didn't give Snowflake a zero on and b.) was not done properly and therefore received only partial credit. Snowflake neglected to explain either of these things to her mother despite the fact that I had explained both of these things to Snowflake when I checked her homework.

Yet another parent was displeased that Precious did not receive credit for a homework assignment that she didn't put her name on. Precious is in MIDDLE SCHOOL, mind you. I think that middle school is a good time to expect children to be able to write their names on things, and also to learn that they are about to go to high school where most teachers teach 100+ children and don't have the time or the inclination for handwriting analysis.

Perhaps I'm dating myself, but when I was not doing what I was supposed to be doing at school, I got in trouble. Never once would my parents have suggested that the teacher was somehow in the wrong or a poor teacher. It was my job to get along with the teacher and please him/her, not the other way around. And, looking back on my education, I can see that my parents were right. Maybe once was the teacher truly not very good. Most of the time, I was simply being inattentive or lazy, or, later in life, I had simply reached the end of my intellectual capacity for a subject (by this I mean math).

And misbehavior? Forget it. That was on me. My parents would have laughed loud and long if I claimed that a teacher wasn't allowing me to "express myself." They would have invited me to express myself to my heart's desire in my bedroom, away from the ears of any adult who would have to be subjected to my whining.

At least these little snowflakes' parents are involved in their education, I suppose.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Stressed Out?

Maybe you're in the wrong line of work. CNN states that high school teachers have one of the most stressful and poorly paid jobs anywhere. That's certainly not encouraging. It makes you think you aren't half as smart as you thought you were.

Personally, I don't see it that way. Of course the job is stressful. There are constant demands from administration, both on-site and from the anti-union, anti-labor psychos at Tweed. And dealing with the demands of 170 teenagers on a daily basis can be harrowing. But those of us who've toughed out the first few years have found ways--we've learned from experience.

Don't believe the teacher-bashers who say we don't get better after 3 years. They just don't want to pay you. They want disposable McTeachers who will never mature enough to stand up for themselves or the kids they teach. It's fairly easy for them to sit around in air-conditioned offices and criticize us. In fact, that's because they themselves have a very low-stress occupation. They can't do what we do.

In fact, it's fairly easy for me to sit behind this laptop and condemn them. I could do a much more thorough job of it if I weren't hampered with having to show up to work each day and help kids. Now I don't mind doing that, and with 25 years, I'm confident I'm the best teacher I've ever been. I've dealt with hundreds of situations and I've learned from results, both good and bad.

In both lessons and social situations, I've got a wealth of experience to draw from. It's sad that our titular leaders would just as soon toss me into the Absent Teacher Reserve as look at me, and that their protégés, like Michelle Rhee, will disregard convention and break laws just to get rid of teachers like me.

Make no mistake that given his druthers, Chancellor Klein would do exactly the same thing. We always hope that age brings wisdom. It's pathetic that our top-dog educational leaders would not only ignore that, but do everything they can to deprive our children of it--just to save a few bucks.

And that's what stresses me out.