Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New York Is Better Than New Jersey

Well, it stands to reason, doesn't it?  It's pretty much universally acknowledged by the folks on the proper side of the river.  Yet they take exception in Hohokus and elsewhere.

Well, last week I was in one of those Turnpike stops in Jersey where they sell the sunglasses and the crappy food, and after I washed my hands I was met by a paper towel dispenser that automatically distributed me maybe four inches of paper.  I had to place my hand in front of the sensor at least twice before I could get enough to actually dry my hands.

Today, on the NY State Thruway, after washing my hands, I got a real piece of towel from one of those machines, and didn't need to jump up and down waving my hands for more.   In fact, at another Thruway stop, there were automatic machines, making everything green and saving the need for using paper at all.

And now we're in Canada, in a picturesque location.  For details, just watch this:


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Talk Amongst Yourselves

This being spring break and all, I'll keep this one short, sweet, and funny:

I've traveled somewhat far from NYC this break, which, so far, has been excellent for my sanity. I've been getting together with old friends from my college days and earlier for drinks and food and more drinks and more food and many walks down memory lane. A great start to the break, for sure.

One friend I met up with is among my oldest friends. We go back to being in the same class in elementary school. She has, for whatever reason despite my many cautionary tales, also become a teacher, though in a rural district far from the big city.

She and I have always fancied ourselves to be creative types and have been kicking around a collaborative project for the better part of a year now, and we decided to set aside some time to work on it. So far, so good. We met up with a few other friends for dinner and drinks, then retreated to a cafe to work together.

What did we end up doing, the whole time, until the cafe closed?

If you guessed "talking shop"--comparing notes about kids, curricula, parents, administrators, and so much more--you, like us, need to get out more.

We tried again and banned shop talk from the conversation in a third venue. It worked, more or less. So I dare you to try the same this week. Let us know how it goes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Taxes and Laws

Leona Helmsley famously stated that taxes were for the little people.  Clearly Mayor-for-life Bloomberg feels the same way about laws and court rulings.  Those he finds unappealing are to be interpreted at his convenience, reversed, or disregarded entirely.

Early in his tenure, he and his puppet chancellor decided to save money by denying sabbatical leaves.  You can't have one, you can't have one either, and no one else can have one.   The UFT had to go to court and get a ruling forcing the mayor to abide by the terms of the contract he'd agreed to.

There was that nasty term limits thing, which would have been "disgusting" to overturn.  After the mayor's internal polling showed his presidential prospects in 08 to be abysmal, the abrupt halt of his political career was even more disgusting, so the law had to go.  The rationale was only the richest guy in New York City could get us through these tough times.  And he's cleverly planning to do it by cutting essential services, like education and health, rather than incredibly expensive consultants.

Then there was Randall's Island, which Mayor Bloomberg wanted to devote to private schools like the Dalton School, so that children of privilege could enjoy more privilege.  When the court ruling went against him, the Mayor reinterpreted the ruling as though it did not.  A second round in court gave the mayor the bad news that he had to abide by the ruling.

Now, the UFT and NAACP have gone and put a halt to his plans to close 19 schools.  And they've done so precisely because Tweed failed to follow the new governance rules it loudly demanded for months.  So how do they respond?  First, they're not assigning any new kids to the closed schools.  Chancellor Klein says they'll give those kids who requested them a chance to opt in.  That ensures low enrollment.

Second, the city is moving ahead with its plans to open new replacement schools.   Doubtless, despite the financial crisis, these schools will receive all the amenities that Mayor Bloomberg's "Children First" program has deprived the closing schools.  Doubtless the Mayor's two-tier separate and unequal system will continue to starve the targeted school of resources that will be lavished on new schools.

Chancellor Klein can keep a straight face and maintain that the new schools were not created as a result of the illegal closures.  You can do things like that when your agenda has nothing whatsoever to do with the will of the people you're supposed to serve.

Under mayoral control, it may as well be Leona's face that controls the education of New York City's children.  Once the lawsuits are sorted out, that issue will still need addressing.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

"Reformers" Eye New Programs

And they drool with envy at the specter of Florida dumping existing teacher contracts and replacing them with ones that base more than 50 percent of their pay on student achievement.  An aptly named Senator Thrasher supports this bill, as do the many troglodytes who buy into the line that teachers are the only variable in education.

This goes right in line with the American mentality of being responsible for nothing whatsoever.  If your kid fails, it has nothing to do with your parenting skills, or lack thereof.  Nor do the kids themselves play any part.  If they don't study, if they don't sleep at night, if they come to school drunk, if their parents have them up all hours delivering newspapers, it must be the teacher's fault.  Because we Americans are responsible for nothing.

If the economy is good, we need to cut taxes on the rich.  If the economy is bad, we need to cut taxes on the rich.  And those who aren't rich think it's a good idea, because they never know...they might win the lottery or something.  We are becoming a nation of idiots with a large need for scapegoats--and as racism is no longer chic as it once was, why not teachers?

I have a kid.  My kid does well in school.  She's acutely aware that the consequences for not doing well in school will be visited on her--not her teachers.  If she had a teacher who was abusive or something, I'd be at the school in a flash defending her.  But if she were failing,  I'd do my darndest to let her know how inconvenient failure can be.  My first question would be to her.

It's outlandish and preposterous to say teachers are the only variable in education.  But it's convenient for everyone who wants to evade responsibility.  Close the schools, fire the teachers, shuffle the kids around, and if that doesn't work, close more schools, fire more teachers, and shuffle more kids around.

Then you can say you did something.  That's what Joel Klein said.  That's what Michael Bloomberg said.  That's what Arne Duncan said.

And that's what Barack Obama said too.   I cannot believe I voted for this guy.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Finally--Some Good News

The UFT and NAACP have prevailed in their lawsuit, and the January 26th school closings have been declared null and void.  The city will appeal, and Bloomberg will drag his feet, but let's hope someone drags him by said feet kicking and screaming to follow the decision.

It ain't over till it's over, but I'm very happy to read this.

Update:  Klein says no students were assigned to the closed schools, but that, if the ruling prevails. students who selected them might get letters offering them as alternatives.  Sounds like a potentially cute way for him to weasel out of the ruling.

What if you open a school and nobody comes?  Perhaps it doesn't exist.  Keep a close eye on the Tweed tricksters.

GothamSchools Trashes UFT Opposition, Determines 22% Voter Turnout Not "Too Apathetic"

I was kind of amazed to go to GothamSchools yesterday and read " If the population currently teaching in the city’s classrooms starts to stray to opposition groups, or is too apathetic to vote, the union could be in trouble."

First of all, the article itself states only 22 percent of working teachers voted three years ago. Doesn't a 78% lack of participation already indicate apathy?  Or is the accepted standard 79%?  I haven't been to journalism school, but perhaps it's written in some highly regarded textbook somewhere.

Be that as it may, I'm also astounded by the contention that the union could be in trouble if too many working teachers stray to opposition groups.  Despite what Unity sources may have told the Gotham reporter, we too are union, we believe fervently in union and we think the union is already in trouble.   We think many of our troubles began when the UFT/ Unity aristocracy ignored James Eterno's advice and decided to go to PERB in 2005.

Or perhaps GothamSchools simply thinks we are trouble.  Maybe Unity told them we were trouble and they're simply reporting it unattributed.  Hard to say, since they didn't see fit to explain.

This piece could well have been written by the Unity propaganda team, already up to its elbows in cutesy and blatantly unfair manipulation---and this on the eve of the election. ICE/ TJC presidential candidate James Eterno just commented here that today is the very last day to persuade people, and the preposterous contention masquerading as news at Gotham is neither welcome, accurate, nor helpful.
The Unity dynasty, propped up by chapter leaders who've signed away their free will for a couple of trips to conventions, does not much need Gotham's help.

Why don't members vote?  Because they've given up.  Because they think the election is in the bag and it doesn't matter what they do.  The more I read things like that column, the better I understand why they get that feeling.

Perhaps in part two of the Gotham-Unity interview, they'll ask why high school teachers can't select their own VP.   Probably they won't.  In any case, taking the choice away from high school teachers is not without precedent.  The technique of widening the pool to make sure no former slaves got elected by mistake was used with some success after the Civil War.   Doubtless when Unity does it to unpredictable high school teachers, it's pristine and pure democracy.

I look forward to the next installment.  Perhaps we'll hear not only from the Unity folks who signed the loyalty oath, but from New Action folks as well.  We can learn how New Action props up the facade of democracy with fake opposition blatantly and cynically designed to divert folks from troublesome activists who stand up for what they believe, as opposed to what Unity tells them to believe.  Maybe they'll express it some other way.

"We believe it's the responsibility of an opposition to support the status quo candidate so we can get jobs and political positions."  Perhaps they won't say it that way either.

Whatever they say, I can't wait to see what comes next.  I love hearing both sides of an issue, and it's particularly riveting when both sides are spoken out of the same mouth.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Solution to Teacher Layoffs: Hire More Teachers

I recently had to do some hard work on my personal finances. Some things were pretty messed up with Miss Eyre's cash flow, and not just because I'm an underpaid teacher. Alas, I don't think any mysterious long-lost rich uncles are on death's door, so I have to figure out this business myself. Fortunately I did, and everything is on track now.

The DOE is having to do some similar soul-searching. I have to admit, I don't envy Joel Klein this task. I'm not sure I believe him when he says there's no fat left to trim (psst: STOP PAYING TEACHERS' COLLEGE FOR PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT THAT ABSOLUTELY NO ONE WANTS), but let's pretend for a minute that we believe him. Let's pretend that there is this massive army of phenomenally great young teachers and a similarly-sized army of horrible, pathetic older teachers. Pretend, right? I don't believe this and I'm sure you don't either. But pretend.

So, okay, if I were the DOE, I would be thinking that we must hang on to these precious, precocious noobs. THINK OF THE CHILDREN. So I wouldn't want to do anything, budget-wise, that would endanger the future of these darling snowflakes who apparently are amazing teachers despite the fact that I counted any day in which I did not CRY a good day when I was a first-year teacher. Right?

Yes, you're reading this right. THE DOE IS HIRING FOR 2010.

That is equivalent to Miss Eyre looking at her sad little bank account and deciding that now would be a really good time to buy a Porsche.

"But," the DOE will argue, "there's ATTRITION. There's RETIREMENT."


This seems very basic to me, so basic that I resorted to yelling. (I apologize for this lapse in my Netiquette.) But as you can see, I am only paid to deal with so much silliness in the course of a day, and I really reserve my patience for the children, who, to a certain extent, don't know any better. I have no patience for college-educated lawyers and businessmen who have no excuse for not being able to figure out Finance 101. I'm an English teacher and I put it together. Does this mean I can sit around and wait for my six-figure "consultancy" payment?

I sure hope so. I have my eye on a Carrera.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

UFT Democracy at Work

I've just gotten an email about how Unity changed their NY Teacher ad.  ICE/ TJC was not given the opportunity to do this--so this is unfair treatment and blatant favoritism.

In other news, Diane Ravitch will be speaking at UFT HQ next month.  If you see the leaflet, note that it declares prominently something like "Michael Mulgrew presents Diane Ravitch."  That such a thing comes out during campaign season is no coincidence.  It is blatant electioneering in its not remotely subtle association of Mulgrew with Ravitch.

I've looked at many, many leaflets for the UFT, and cannot remember a single one declaring the UFT President was presenting this party, or that workshop, or anything of the sort.  Perhaps I wasn't observant enough during the last campaign, and they've pulled cute stunts like this before.  In any case, such blatant manipulation is abusive.  Why not simply declare, "Diane Ravitch endorses Michael Mulgrew," whether or not it's true, and be done with it?

And while we're on the subject, I don't recall any flyers proclaiming, "Michael Mulgrew brings you mayoral control."  I don't remember the flyer announcing, "Michael Mulgrew makes you an ATR instead of placing you in a teaching job,"  or "Michael Mulgrew makes new teachers pay 3% of their salaries to Mayor Bloomberg for an extra 17 years."  The fact is, had Michael Mulgrew not supported all those initiatives, he wouldn't be President today.  And Michael Mulgrew, in September, from his supposedly impartial post as chair of the UFT Delegate Assembly, opposed a motion to support the return of seniority transfers.  He said there were more transfers under the current system and that was absolute proof it was better.  Ask any ATR teacher if the new system is better or not. 

 In other news, the UFT just sent a missive to chapter leaders stating that all non-inflammatory campaign literature should be permitted in staff mailboxes.  Unfortunately, the campaign has already begun, and you can read at EdNotes that ICE/TJC has already been denied access and forced to waste time revisiting schools.  While it's true folks at the UFT will say this is not acceptable to the offending Unity CLs, why, after decades of such abuses, did they not simply let them know in advance?  Wouldn't that be a simple fix to the problem?  What is the consequence for such abuse, other than hundreds of UFT members being unable to see the other side of the issue?

Those of you who watched the cartoon UFT ad may have wondered what the heck that was all about.  While schools are being closed, why was a cute little cartoon teacher jiggling it as a buzzword?  Weren't real UFT teachers facing, at best, exile into the ATR brigade? In these times, I don't see ATR teachers doing a whole lot of cute cartoon laughing.

The most egregious of these was a few cycles back, when a teacher sat at a desk, bemoaning, "It just isn't fair."  This was certainly not winning any points with the public at large, and was perhaps supposed to ring a bell with frustrated UFT teachers.  I'm not particularly sure why anyone would think the argument, "It's not fair," would win favor from teachers who heard it all the time.

Is there anyone out there who  believes it's a coincidence the UFT invariably buys prime TV time right whenever there's an impending union election?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

And the Survey Says...

My kiddies were supposed to take the Learning Environment survey today. (No, OF COURSE I don't mind that this took up valuable learning time. Pas du tout.) Since I didn't have much choice in the matter, I walked around the room and watched them fill it out. I fiercely resisted (most of) my urges to "correct" or "clarify" what they answered, even though I didn't like some of what I saw. I tried only to speak if I saw them not following the directions or answering a factual question incorrectly. I had to restrain myself. We want them to be honest. And since I teach middle school, I'm one of only at least half a dozen adults my students see on a daily basis, so I had no way of knowing if they were thinking of me when they were answering the questions. Still, I was equal parts heartened and disheartened by their answers. Here's a sampling:
  • Almost every student "disagreed" or "strongly disagreed" with the idea that students who excel academically are respected by their peers. (Okay, boo.)

  • Almost every student "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that the adults they work with know their names and who they are. (This seems like a fairly low bar to clear, but still, a good sign.)

  • More students than I would have imagined said that students were often bullied or harassed at our school. (Eesh. Then again, it is a middle school.)

  • Most students "agreed" or "strongly agreed" with the twin ideas that they have to work hard to get good grades and that teachers do a good job of helping them to succeed. (Score!)

  • But what was saddest to me was how few students said they felt comfortable sharing either academic or personal struggles with an adult in our school. I really want kids to feel comfortable talking to me, and I try to show, as often as possible, that if they're honest and open with me, I can meet them halfway.
I don't know how I feel about these surveys being administered, in school or otherwise. I suppose it's a good thing to learn how students and parents feel about their schools. Oh, I can point out the various reasons that individual or groups of students or parents would be biased, but that's in any survey. And I suppose, too, that I'll have to devote a posting to how I took my own survey, which I have not gotten around to yet. (In a fit of pique a few days ago, I filled out my own survey entirely honestly, only to have hit some sort of "network error" near the end, so it was never submitted. This I take as a clear sign from the universe to reconsider.)

Maybe next time, though, I just won't watch. Then I won't have to feel my heart twist as I watch my kids say there's no one in their school they can trust, and wonder where, as in so many other places, I have gone wrong this year.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Was It Worth It, and Did We Even Get It?

 by special guest blogger Michael Fiorillo

In recent years UFT members have repeatedly been told how good we have it, how effective the union has been, and how generous the city has been with us. The Mayor, the Chancellor and the UFT /Unity leadership rarely lose an opportunity to remind us how many resources  have been directed to the schools under mayoral control.  In fact, when asked why the union agreed to mayoral control of the schools in 2002, both Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew  say that it was done to bring more funding. In particular, they never miss an opportunity to tell us how we’ve been showered with money. In the September 6th, 2007 edition of the New York Teacher, Randi Weingarten wrote in regard to the recently agreed-to contract, “These raises will bring the  total base salary increase since 2002 to at least 43 percent.”

That’s the phrase we keep hearing over and over from the Mayor , the Chancellor,  the UFT/Unity leadership and their official stenographers in the mainstream media : 43% since 2002!

Leaving aside  the  strong hint of extortion that  hovers  behind this (“Give me dictatorial control or we’ll continue to  starve the schools you work in or give you a new contract”), are these numbers even true?

In fact, the mighty 43%  is a fiction that serves the propaganda interests of both the Bloomberg/Klein regime and the UFT /Unity leadership. Here’s why it’s false:

-       Tweed and the Unity leadership both date the start of our raises with the 2002  contract. While technically true, they conveniently ignore the fact that teachers were working without a contract for the previous two years, and had not received a raise since 1999. Thus, our increases should be computed over an eleven, not eight, year period.  This effectively reduces the percentage.

-       Additionally, part of those increases was paid for with additional time, which      
makes it an exchange of time for money, not a bona fide raise. A pay
raise is more money for the same amount of work (unless, of course, you work at City Hall, Tweed or 52 Broadway). Approximately eight percent
of the so-called 43% was a time-for-money swap: thirty minutes
added to the length of the school day, and the two days before Labor Day (one of
which has been pushed to the end of the school year, the other paid for with a
reduction in the interest paid by the TDA Guaranteed plan).

-       According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics , the Consumer Price Index for
The NY Metropolitan Area between 2000 and 2010  showed a decline in purchasing power of 25%. . Also keep in mind that the CPI understates inflation by leaving out food and energy costs.

So, our increases should be measured over eleven, not eight , years, should account for the extra time we are working, as well as the effects of inflation.  An honest accounting would show  real average increases of 3.6% (rounded up) instead to of the officially touted 5.4%.

Now, while that 3.6% average gain is far better than most people have seen in this era of attacks on wages and living standards, keep in mind what else we’ve given up and been subjected to: loss of seniority transfers and the emergence of  the career-destroying ATR pool, loss of the right to grieve letters  in our personnel files, union acceptance of merit pay,  an explosion in the number  of teachers placed in the rubber rooms,  rampant school closings , charter invasions, UFT/Unity passivity in the overriding of term limits,  Randi Weingarten and Michael Mulgrew’s unilateral support for extending  mayoral dictatorship of the schools (in clear contradiction of the recommendations of their very own governance committee), and a de facto endorsement of Bloomberg’s purchasing a third term.

So to answer the question posed by the title: no, it wasn’t worth it, and we didn’t even get it.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Teacher Hangs Obama

It's hard to imagine the frustration people would feel if they, along with their entire staff, were fired, as was the case in Central Falls, Rhode Island.  Even tougher is having the President for whom they voted announce, great, I'm glad you're all fired. I certainly hope no one reading this ever has to experience it.  Apparently one teacher over there saw fit to hang Obama in effigy in his classroom  The friendly local teacher union condemned this action. 

I don't suppose the classroom is the best place for such an action.  Still, I understand the anger that person feels.  What do you do with anger like that?  You have to channel it productively somehow, somewhere.

It's hard to believe so many of us voted for a guy who's so thoroughly bought into the "reform" Kool-Aid. It's true, perhaps, that its the other way around and the "reformers" have actually bought Barack Obama.  Either way we're stuck with a guy, ostensibly a Democrat, whose policies are no better than those of GW Bush.  Can we get him to read Diane Ravitch's book, or is he too busy jumping to answer Bill Gates' memos?

And the answer  is a tough one.  After the Democrats take a bath in November, it's likely he'll move even further to consolidate all the counter-productive idiotic positions that alienate reliable liberals like many of us.  It's not enough that he be trounced in 2012--he needs to lose a primary to someone who supports working people, who opposes the wars Obama claimed to oppose, who supports real health care reform, who will pass the Employee Free Choice Act, and who will worry about helping Americans, even if they don't happen to be billionaires.

If not, we'll need a third party, a distinctly uphill project in America.

Whatever we do, it will require a lot of work from us.  It certainly won't be accomplished in our classrooms.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The UFT Needs Independent Voices—Part One

UFT politics can be pretty complicated.  Every three years we have an election to select hundreds of representatives.  The 500-pound gorilla in this fight, without a doubt, is the Unity Caucus, which has controlled the UFT for half a century.  Opposition parties have made inroads now and then, but Unity’s been pretty successful at keeping them at bay, particularly since 2003.

It's not just the politics--even the ballot is complicated.  You have your choice of voting for a slate, or choosing hundreds of individual candidates.  One year I chose the latter method, and it took me over an hour to wade through the 1,300 odd names.  I’ve since given up on playing individual favorites.  I’m told that 2,000 teachers were disqualified last year for selecting not only a slate, but also individual candidates.   The ballot could be streamlined by allowing members to vote for categories rather than only individuals, but thus far the UFT has not chosen to do so.

Not many people understand how the UFT is run.  Teachers don’t take much of an active interest either.  In fact, fewer than 25% of working teachers bothered to vote in the last UFT election.  Is it apathy?  Is it forgetfulness?  Or is it that teachers honestly don’t believe their votes will make any difference?

After all, there’s been one-party rule at the UFT, well, forever.  New chapter leaders are offered free trips to conventions and recruited into the invitation-only Unity Caucus. They then sign an application, which specifically states that members will “express criticism of caucus policies within the Caucus” and “support the decisions of Caucus / Union leadership in public or Union forums.”  Essentially, it’s a loyalty oath, and it pretty much predetermines what passes at the UFT Delegate Assembly.

Now don’t get me wrong—I’m a fervent union supporter.  Working people do much better with unions.   I feel much better facing Joel Klein with 80,000 UFT teachers standing beside me, and anyone who wouldn’t is simply nuts. Teachers represent the last bastion of vibrant unionism in the country, and that, of course, is why we’re under constant attack.

But what happens when the ruling caucus makes poor decisions?  Wouldn’t teachers benefit from independent voices standing up for what’s right, even if the ruling caucus were in disagreement?  How does it advance our interests when our Delegate Assembly is an echo chamber in which dissenting voices are grudgingly heard, then shouted down and ridiculed, likely as not from a supposedly impartial chair?  Shouldn’t we have a voice at least in proportion to the percent of votes we win?  And really, doesn’t someone need to speak up when the emperor has no clothes? 

For example, the UFT supported mayoral control at its inception, and again last summer.  Mayoral control has been a disaster for teachers, and we got a rather nasty wakeup call January 26th, when Mayor Bloomberg used his rubber stamp PEP to close 19 schools, ignoring every speaker and four boroughs.  The fact that every speaker who rose spoke against it was of no importance.  The opposition of four of five boroughs meant nothing. The fact that closings may have been based on false statistics was of no consequence.  How on earth could we have endorsed such a system—essentially a dictatorship?

But that’s what we’re up against nowadays.  Given that, why did we not take a principled stand against Mayor Bloomberg?   Why didn’t we take a real look at Tony Avella, who spoke strongly and decisively against the anti-union, anti-democratic policies of Mayor Michael Bloomberg?

It’s likely because the UFT had a carefully cultivated ally in Bill Thompson, until we went and stabbed him in the back by declining to endorse him (he returned the favor—so much for deeply held values), buying into Mayor Bloomberg’s PR of invincibility.  A UFT source told me before the election that it wasn’t worth their getting involved, as the UFT could only sway perhaps 5% of the electorate.  We now know that if we’d achieved that, Mayor Bloomberg could well have been history.  And it was not so difficult to determine the polls were wrong—had Mayor Bloomberg really been 18 points up he wouldn’t have run such a relentlessly negative campaign.

But we really need to take the union in a new direction—and not the direction of collaboration with this mayor, or selling out to Unity for a few patronage jobs a la New Action.

To be continued...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Now That's Gangsta

For those of you who found Tuesday's post to be a bit ponderous (as I did upon rereading...sorry), here's a vignette instead:

Some of my students are reading Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 right now. It's one of my all-time favorite books, and I love talking about it with them. If you don't know the story, it's a dystopian novel about a not-so-distant future in which an American society, amusing itself to death with high-speed cars and omnipresent visual media, allows books to be confiscated and burned by the "firemen," who no longer put out fires but rather are responsible for setting them. Two boys had reached the part in the book where the protagonist, Guy Montag, goes on the run after his own house is torched, having discovered the curious confusion, torment, and joy reading brings him.

"Yo, you read that last part?" a student I'll call Carlos said to his buddy and mine, Drew.

"Yeah, I did," Drew said. "That was straight-up g, what he did with the flamethrower." (Montag uses the flamethrower he'd once used to burn books to incinerate the fire chief who is tormenting him.)

"I know, right?" Carlos said. "Like his name says, he's g."

Drew gave him a withering stare. "It's GUY," Drew said. "GUY. Not GEE."

"So, 'G,'" I, their hopelessly nerdy teacher interjected, "that means, like, gangster, right?"

"GangSTA," Drew enunciated helpfully, giving me the same withering look he'd turned on Carlos a moment ago.

"GangSTA," I repeated, with great deliberation.

Drew shook his head sadly, as he often does during conversations like this. "Miss Eyre," he said, "don't even try."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hopey Changey Stuff

Yesterday, teacher blogger Chaz endorsed James Eterno for President of the United Federation of Teachers.  I'd been waiting to see what Chaz would do, and now that he's come out for James Eterno, how could anyone possibly argue?  I don't always agree with Chaz, but we have a history regarding presidential matters.

I hope I'm not revealing any confidences, but last year, via email, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to talk Chaz into voting for Obama.  Chaz said Obama's educational program was abysmal.  It was true, of course, but no one anticipated the Prez would turn into the horror story he is now, applauding mass teacher firings.

At the time,  there were other issues.

Look, I pointed out, Obama wants to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.  This is great for unions, as it will make it much easier to organize.  No more having the employer intimidate and play games.  This would be a great thing for America, and I support it completely.

Not only that, I said, but Obama will finally get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan.  We can't indefinitely sustain two wars.  How can we spend all that money over there when Americans don't have health care?  I remember George W. Bush standing up and saying there was free health care in Iraq.  How can he be proud of that when there are tens of millions of Americans without it?

Most importantly, I argued, Obama will pass a health care plan.  Hopefully he'll have some kind of public option, so that Americans who can't afford insurance can finally see doctors.  We can't put up with this nonsense forever, I said.  You know, that Mavericky John McCain actually wants to tax health care plans.  That's absolutely unacceptable.  How could you vote for a guy like that?

Well, I now think that Johny Mac would never have been able to pass the odious education notions Obama has been pushing.  The Democrats would surely have blocked him.  Naturally, the spectre of Sarah Palin as Vice-President kind of makes me puke.  Still,  I really understood it (though not in the way she intended) when she asked recently, "How's that hopey-changey stuff workin' out for ya?"  I'm certain she's incapable of writing a question like that, but the answer is--not well.  Obama has accomplished absolutely nothing that made me vote for him, and the health plan he's floating is far from what Americans want or need.  Furthermore, he's picked up the torch from Maverick Johny, enthusiastically endorsing the notion of taxing health plans.

Anyway, if Chaz endorses James Eterno, that's good enough for me.   Full disclosure--I know James Eterno, I know that he says what he means and means what he says.   I know he'd never vote to place teachers as ATRs.  I know he wouldn't sell back 20 years of gains for a couple of points on the contract.  I know he would never agree to have new teachers pay Mayor-for-life Bloomberg 3% of their salaries for an extra 17 years.  Things like the 2005 contract, which pretty much made me the blogger I am, would never happen if James were in charge.

I happen to know he personally advised then-UFT President Randi Weingarten not to go to PERB in 05, having envisioned the sort of thing they'd come up with.  Would that she'd taken his advice and negotiated something reasonable, rather than sentencing us to perpetual hall duty for a couple of points above the pattern.

Chaz warned me, and I made a mistake.  One of the things I've learned over the years is to instantly admit when I make mistakes.   I know other people who deny them forever.  It's really easier to just open up and admit it.  And I'm not the only one--there are surely an awful lot of teachers with buyer's remorse about Obama.

Of course, plenty of us also understand the implications of the 05 contract and mayoral control, and realize precisely what union support for measures like those has enabled--not the least of which happens to be the most anti-union, anti-teacher Democratic President I've ever seen.

Let's elect James and keep from compounding our mistakes.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teaching Time with Bill Maher

This selection from Bill Maher was quite the hot topic in the teachers' lounge at the Morton School today. (For the record, our cushy teachers' lounge does feature a refrigerator and two vending machines. Very posh.) If you haven't read it, click over and read it first before you take a look at my response, which follows.

You know, I get that parents are in tough positions. You have kids with double or triple classroom challenges--ELL, special ed, behavioral/emotional disturbance--and I'm sure that even the most conscientious parents find themselves overwhelmed. And maybe I'm just lucky to deal with a pretty reasonable collection of parents, but most parents I talk to are happy to back me up and really want their kids to be well educated. It pleases me a great deal to hear my students complaining about how "Mom made me go to the library on a Saturday" or "Yo, my dad was beastin' when he saw that vocab quiz." I will simply laugh, with gusto, and exclaim how lucky they are to have such good parents. So I don't have a lot to complain about myself, at least not right now.

But I've taught under circumstances that were very different. I'll never forget a kid who was thrown out of his house because his mother suspected (wrongly) that he was dealing drugs. I've known kids who were shuffled around between distant relatives and foster parents because biological parents were out of the picture. And I knew parents who just didn't care, who either never cared or stopped caring.

Of the children of those apathetic, absent, or cruel parents, you have two types. One is the one we probably all know: the kid who acts out, stares off into space, withdraws, skips school, some combination of all of the above, and eventually drops out. The other is that extraordinary child who perseveres with single-minded dedication. I'm very interested in this type of kid. Where does a kid like that come from? How do they make the right choices when almost everyone around them is making the wrong ones? Does a teacher, or many teachers, or the right school environment, or what make the difference?

I don't know. I remember one child I knew like this, who despite an absent mother and an abusive father (and, to boot, an undiagnosed learning disability) applied herself to school relentlessly. She graduated on time, started college, and got help for her LD. She's doing brilliantly, as I know because I remain in touch with her. I'd love to think that I'm a small part of that girl's success. But the truth is, she came to me with that attitude. Maybe I helped to keep it going. But that's about all. Doesn't she deserve most of the credit for building herself a new life of which she can be proud? Should we really send the message to kids like her that all the credit goes to her teachers?

I've said this before, but that's the ugly flip side of the idea that teachers deserve all the blame for students' failures: Students have no incentive to seek any credit for what they do, which is where much of the credit belongs. Sure, attentive, loving parents, thoughtful teachers, and the intangibles matter. But kids, as I will always remind you, are not stupid. Not at all. If they know their teachers will be blamed for their lack of effort or attentiveness, most of them will stop trying and stop paying attention.

And it works the same way with parents. We're slowly taking away all reason for parents to participate in their children's education. Much of the hard work of brain development happens long before most children ever see a teacher, and before children can be held accountable themselves in any sense. The responsibility to prepare children for school (at least school as we know it today) must lie with the parents. If that responsibility is not fulfilled, teachers are disadvantaged from day one. How is that the fault of teachers?

Much more help for the parents of infants and young children is necessary to the success of our education system. Money for programs directed towards those ends would be much better spent than almost any stopgap measure I can think of down the road.

Monday, March 15, 2010


"May you live in interesting times."

-reputed Chinese curse

You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that the proverbial "interesting times" are at our doorstep.    And you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that our union has enabled these times every step of the way, most egregiously by endorsing mayoral control, endorsing the worst contract of all time, failing to oppose a third term, and then, ignoring all the above, reaffirming its support for mayoral control when it was on the skids.

How many years of school closings did it take for the Unity leadership to mobilize against them?  And when did they finally choose to have a rally?  On January 26th, the day the PEP was set to vote.   Given that PEP had never voted against a single proposal from administration, wouldn't it have been wiser to get ahead of the curve and try to preclude the vote from happening?

I certainly hope the UFT lawsuit is successful, but Bloomberg has a history of avoiding laws, just as he did in the Randall Island lawsuit.  Even if the UFT and NAACP prevail, there's a strong chance the sleazy Tweed lawyers will find a way to weasel out of it--and then it will be back to court again.  We should have brought our case to the public long ago, and would have if we had a truly proactive leadership.

ICE/ TJC will not wait until the wolf is at our door to make a stand.   ICE/ TJC leaders are well informed and ready to take action.   ICE/ TJC will defend ATR teachers, rather than hold wine and cheese parties.   

When you get your ballot, place an "X" in the ICE/ TJC box, rip off the top sheet, and mail it in.  Stand up for working teachers, counselors, secretaries, and paraprofessionals.

Send the UFT a message--one-party rule is a thing of the past.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

How Does Walmart Save You Money?

Well, after they fire employees for using medical marijuana (even though it's legal in that state), they fight so as not to waste valuable profits on unemployment compensation.

After all, why tolerate marijuana use in an individual just because he has sinus cancer and an inoperable brain tumor?  The important thing is making sure consumers can buy a gallon of pickles for $2.97.

At Walmart, it's very clear what Americans need.  They need a $2.97 gallon of pickles.  They don't need job protection.  They don't need medicine when they're sick.  They don't even need adequate or affordable health insurance.

It's gratifying to know the Walmart family is getting into education and bringing their methodology and practices into our profession.  It lets us know what we all have to look forward to.

$2.97 teachers showing kids how to stock shelves between classes.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Politically Incorrect?

Reality-based Educator points out that Bill Maher seems to have turned around on teachers.  Last year he attacked tenure and union, saying something like our unions needed to be broken.  I wrote something particularly nasty about him, and sent him an email.

I was happy to hear Maher say that the best predictor of student achievement was an involved parent.  This is something I've been saying for a long time on this page and elsewhere.  Also it's something I probably said on the email.

Who knows?  Maybe he actually read it.  Anyway, it's very good to see a sharp mind like Maher's on the right side of this issue.

Along with Diane Ravitch's book,  this is an indication that being enlightened may actually entail appreciation of teachers, rather than an exclusive focus on the educational priorities of billionaires and hedge-fund managers.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Good Teachers Are No Joke

I know very few jokes in Spanish. But I learned this one yesterday, seriously expanding my repertoire. It's not a pun like the others--so I'll give it to you in English:

How can you tell a good lawyer?

Well, there are tests.  First, throw a cat at him.  If the cat runs away, that means he's a dog.

The next day, throw another cat at him.  If the cat attacks him, that means he's a rat.

So if he's a dog and a rat, that means he's a good lawyer, and you should hire him immediately.

I'm not altogether certain that's a good lawyer, but the tabloids seem to adore those qualities in a mayor.

Still, it's funny how no one can figure out what makes a good teacher.  Test scores?  I don't know.  Some of the very best teachers I know work with kids who will never get good test scores.  I've taught special ed. and quickly learned I wasn't much good at it.  I have great respect for people who go in day after day and teach those kids.  It takes a special kind of person.

Such people are not appreciated at all by certain troglodytes who write about education.   It's sad that the writers are taken seriously, while the teachers are condemned for failing to make brain-damaged children pass Regents exams and graduate in four years.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

But the Data Says I'm Awesome

The other day, I got my teacher data report. Last year I didn't see mine. (My former principal was a bit of an odd duck about things like that.) This year, I imagine that Principal X will expect me to have seen mine at some point, so I figured I ought to familiarize myself with it. For whatever reason, I braced myself for the worst.

Well! As it happens, I am an awesome teacher. AWESOME. I mean REALLY awesome. I mean, it's really hard to be much awesomer than I am. Go ME. [/sarcasm]

Now, here's the silliness of these reports. I know I'm not, actually, this awesome teacher. On a good day, I'm probably pretty good. On a bad day, uh, it might not be so bad to let the kids teach themselves, know what I mean? I'm still newish. I'm still learning. I'm not the best I'm ever going to be. I know in my building that there are a LOT of teachers who are holistically better teachers than me. At best, these reports should be one part of any evaluation of any teacher--and we should remember that most teachers will actually never see a data report, too, because they don't teach testing grades or subjects. So there's that, too.

These things are a Catch-22 for the nonreflective teacher or administrator. I mean, if I were that sort of person, I could sit back for a while now and say, Well, I'm already AWESOME, so I don't have to do anything to learn more or improve my practice. Nope! I'm ALL DONE. This is, obviously, not true. As well, on the converse, an administrator might only look at the numbers and not look at what a teacher has done since those numbers (as, don't forget, these numbers are now 14 months old) to improve his or her practice. The data are a piece of the puzzle, maybe. Maybe. They're not the whole picture. Anyone want to tell this guy that he's only a mediocre teacher? I'm sure no one would want to say that to him. I bet he's busting his hump to make school great for his kids. And in my book, that counts for an awful lot more than a few numbers on a data report that probably wasn't even produced by a human being.

So I'm not going to phone it in for the rest of the year or anything. Though it will be fun to sit through yet another lunchtime faculty conference about "data-driven instruction" and chuckle on the inside, thinking that, if all instruction were merely "data-driven," I'd be chilling in my classroom with my sandwich, in the dark, alone, not listening to more claptrap about data. Of course, as a reflective teacher, I know that being a good teacher is about a lot more than a number on a data report. But does your administrator know that? Does Joel Klein?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Love You

It's beyond insidious.  There are things all over the floor, the remnants of some project or other, and where is that kid?  Out with a friend?  They walk through the door, you ask where all that stuff comes from, and she gives you a lovely smile and announces, "I love you."

Or you ask her to do homework, but notice she's downstairs watching American Idol.  When you ask why she's doing that before homework, it's, "I love you" all over again.

Your mind flashes back to pre-K, when she wanted something or other and gave you this pouty face that looked like one of those awful paintings with those big-eyed children from days of yore.  You asked her where she got that from and she announced, "My friend told me that whenever your father doesn't give you what you want, you could give him the pouty face and he'd change his mind."

And where do they learn these awful practices?  In school, of course.  And no, not from those horrible public school teachers, the ones President Barack Obama wants to fire.  They learn them from one another.  It's true--kids actually mimic the behavior of other kids!  What's more is they regularly use this technique in the ongoing battle against their junior high teachers.  Judging from its frequent repetition around the NYC Educator household by several of them, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say they've deemed it quite effective.

I'm telling you this on the QT, of course.  I wouldn't want the President to find out, because then he'd probably want to remove all the kids from the schools.    He just loved it when they removed all the teachers.   After all, kids only get one chance for an education, and you have to remove all the bad influences to make sure nothing negative ever happens.  That way, under this President's expansive worldview, they can grow up and be fired en masse just like those Rhode Island teachers.

I have a feeling the President may regret this in 2012, when we fire him and all the people in his White House.   Call me pessimistic, but I have a sneaking suspicion that even after we do so, bad things will still find some way to happen.

Maybe someone should clue him in.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Chicken in Every Pot and a Spa in Every Teachers' Lounge

It should come as no surprise to you that friend of this blog Mr. Talk wrote a hilarious send-up of Mayor Bloomberg's non-demands. If you haven't read this piece already, do it now. You'll chuckle. I'll wait.


He's being facetious, obviously. But the substance of what he's saying makes a lot of sense. I often think about jobs that are comparable to teaching in terms of their demands, experience and education required low pay, and low prestige, and usually the only one I come up with is social workers. But even social workers, I imagine, can at least get the basic supplies they need. (If any social workers you know have to supply their own paper, let me know.) Or I think of police officers, who, like teachers, constitute a group of workers who are either lionized rather emptily or vilified quickly when things go wrong. I don't know for sure, but do cops have to supply their own guns?

A couple of girls from another class recently dropped by my classroom. They complimented my classroom library and said it was the best one at the Morton School. Now, that compliment means more to me than pretty much anything else anyone has said to me all year, because I've spent a LOT of time and money (my own, natch!) making my classroom library awesome and irresistible to teens. But still, I shouldn't have had to do that. I should have had a budget to order whatever books I wanted, in addition to paper and pencils and everything else I need. $150 doesn't buy a whole lot of books, even at Goodwill, when you have to buy everything else with it too.

You can laugh at Mr. Talk's column. You can agree that maybe you don't need a spa like the one in the picture in every teachers' lounge. (How about one per district? Can I get an AMEN?) But the substance of what he's saying still rings true. We don't even have the basics half the time, and we often lack the nice things that other so-called "professionals" have. I know we're probably not going to get them anytime soon. It's not reason to quit or anything. But it's worth asking why it's so hard to get the basics, and why the union can't unequivocally demand them.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Magic Bull

Have you read the Times Magazine article by Elizabeth Green?  I think it's interesting--perhaps the techniques described in "Lemov's Taxonomy," which much of the article focused on, work.  Who knows?  I've never heard of it before.  Nor has most any teacher on the planet.

But there have been good teachers for a long time.  I've had many.   A lot of my college teachers were smart, impressively so.  That was enough to get my attention.  It's trickier, of course, to deal with adolescents. 

I know a few teachers I find particularly impressive.  I've watched them teach, and their techniques and approaches vary wildly.  Perhaps if they all used Lemov's Taxonomy they'd all be automatons, indecipherable from one another.  Hard to say, not having seen it.  Or perhaps they'd all be better, much better, even.  Hard to say, not having seen it.

But I do come away from the article with some questions.  What does Lemov say about the kid with interrupted formal education, the one who stopped attending school in fourth grade and didn't show up again until ninth, in a country where his native language is not used?  What about not only that kid, but also the many others who cannot function in their native languages, let alone in English?  What does he say about the brain-damaged kid sitting with a paraprofessional in your class, the one who should be in a special education class your school does not offer?

In fact, since these techniques are used in charters, which contain kids of 100% proactive parents, what does he say about teaching kids of absolutely everyone?  What does he say about the girl who came from Korea last week, painfully shy and deathly afraid to speak?   What about the two kids in your classes who are utterly illiterate, who speak English fluently but were dumped in your class because a guidance counselor couldn't figure where else to put them?

How does Lemov deal with the trailer when it has no heat?  How does he teach in an auditorium or cafeteria containing five other classes?  What does he do with a kid who hasn't eaten breakfast because he got to school to late?  Or the one without lights in his home?  Or the one without a home at all?  What does he do when Eva Moskowitz kicks him out of his classroom?

I don't know.  Maybe his method works.  But there's more to this education thing than just teachers, and I'm not certain Lemov has considered it.  When you have an administration that doesn't give a damn about public schools, the media in its pocket, and billionaires that fund campaigns designed to fool the public into thinking things are getting better, it's more complicated than that.

If his method works, fine.  I'll take a look at it.  But I don't believe in magic bullets.  Almost every September I hear the new thing that's going to take the place of the last new thing, even if it's an old thing from 15 years ago.  But they don't fool me.  I know next year there'll be a newer thing, and even if it's really an older thing, that will be the thing they're looking for.

Until next year, when there's an even newer thing, or possibly a reheated thing from 20 years ago.  It's anyone's guess. No one ever asks me which things I like, or which ones work.  Do they ask you?  Why should they when some 22-year-old graduate fresh out of college can figure it out?  And if her mother already works for the Department of Education, well, then she must know what the hell it is she's talking about.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

A Happy Guy

Here's a video a reader just sent me.  It kind of defies belief, but it made me laugh nonetheless.  Hope you like it too:

Friday, March 05, 2010

New Action Is Not ICE

They're right, you know.  That's why I won't be voting for them.  New Action is not Unity.  Not completely, anyway. 

Personally, I have a lot more respect for Unity.  I disagree with much of what they do (and fail to do), of course.   I've met good people from Unity lately--I'm not going to vote for them, but I certainly don't think they're all bad.

New Action, be its people good, bad, or indifferent, is a sham.  Essentially, it's a bunch of folks who've sold their values for a few jobs in the UFT.   They always endorse the Unity President, and it's fairly clear they have no alternative.  Were they to run one of their own, they'd not only be trounced by both Unity and ICE, but they'd also lose all their jobs and then what would they do?     New Action pops up every three years when they want votes.  Though some of them may not even know it, their sole purpose is to divert votes from the real opposition--ICE/ TJC.

One of their talking points is that ICE supporters, like me, won't stand up and oppose Bloomberg and Klein.  Actually, that's preposterous.  

Our upcoming election is important.  No one owns ICE.  And the accusation that we just stand around and say "no" to everything is stereotypical, simplistic, and baseless.

We say "yes" to seniority transfers, even as 95% of the Delegate Assembly votes us down.

We say "yes" to democracy, not only in NYC education, but in the United Federation of Teachers as well.

We say "yes" to a reasonable contract.

We say "yes" to working people, as most of our children will grow up to be working people one day.

Most of all, we say "yes" to making sure this job, the best one there is, remains a good job for our children, and their children.   

I say "yes" to James Eterno for President, one of the hardest-working, most dedicated and knowledgeable chapter leaders in the city of New York.

I'm very proud to vote for him, and I certainly hope everyone reading this does the same.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Kids Say the Most Alarming Things

When I think of potentially dangerous topics or lessons in my classroom, I think of, say, racism. Or sex ed. Or a spirited Mets vs. Yankees debate. I don't usually think of context clues. But lo and behold, my children are creative and perhaps slightly disturbed.

During the 37.5 minutes today, I was working with a few kids on context clues, using a book one of the girls is reading as a model. I read aloud a sentence in which a drink was described as having a "fiery, intense, and succulent" flavor. "Succulent" was the unfamiliar word. So, I asked the students, how would we use context clues to figure out the meaning of this word?

"Well," Tammy said, a little uncertainly, "she says in the next sentence that she loves the taste. So 'succulent' must be, like, good."

"Yeah, but it's 'fiery,'" argued Dawn. "So that's, you know, burning. Stuff that burns doesn't taste good."

"Right, usually when something is described as burning, it's not good," I agree. "Like you don't like it. But this character seems to like that burning taste."

"I like burning," Jack chimed in.

I hope he means in the cayenne-pepper sense of the word.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010


Ms. Herbert was teaching her class, when she heard a girl crying outside.  She went out to see what was the matter.  The girl was hysterical, but her English was not all that good.  She was dressed in a gym suit, and what she was doing on the second floor was anybody's guess  Ms. Herbert asked her where her clothes were.

"Clothes in locker," repeated the girl, and cried and cried.

"Why don't you get them?" asked Ms. Herbert.

"No can open," said the girl.  Then she cried some more.

Ms, Herbert didn't think she could let the girl go, so she brought her into her classroom and called an administrator who spoke the girl's language.

"Why can't you open the locker?" asked the administrator.

"I don't know the combination," said the girl.

"Why not?"

"It's my friend's," she said.

"What's her name?" asked the administrator.

"I don't know!" said the girl, and she began crying all over again.  The administrator called down to the phys. ed. office, which had a master key.

"What locker is it?" he asked her.

I don't KNOW!" she answered, and began crying even louder.

At that point she saw a kid walking by in the hall, ran out, and after a brief conversation, came back with a cell phone number.  They called the girl, her friend whose name she did not know, and got her to come back and open up the locker.

And the moral of today's story is this--don't leave all your stuff in the locker of a friend whose name you do not know, particularly if you can't remember where the locker is.

As I go forth on my merry way, I will try to bear that in mind.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Ms. Stone and Ms. Fire: A (Slightly) Later Career Teacher's Position

I've been loving this miniseries at GothamSchools by new teacher C. W. Arp. To sum it up, Arp has compared and contrasted the teaching styles of two of his colleagues, and has been struggling with what style he currently has and which one he would prefer to emulate. "Ms. Stone" is a firm, no-nonsense teacher whose classroom, lessons, and activities are perfectly structured. She permits no deviation, whether that deviation might be positive or negative. "Ms. Fire," on the other hand, prefers a more free-flowing classroom with more of what we might call "productive chaos." He notes that both teachers' students seem to respect each teacher and do good work. So, qualitatively, can we say which teacher is "better"? More to the point--and this is where I believe Arp gets really provocative, in a good way--is one teacher better than the other? Can we even say that? And, as a newer teacher, which one should Arp try to emulate? I don't know that there is a right answer to Arp's question. Judging from his background, I think he can live with that ambiguity, in that sense. But he does need to answer the question for himself. I hope he won't mind me tossing in my two cents.

I can say that the best teachers I know have elements of both teachers. The best teachers I know are consistent, meticulous, and relentless like Ms. Stone. But I also know some of those same teachers who will, seemingly, "lose it" with kids like Ms. Fire. Those teachers can use passion, disappointment, glee, even something pretty much like rage to positively (yes) motivate their students. God only knows how they do it, but they do.

Which leads me to my next point: Ms. Fire's act is not for amateurs, for the most part. New teachers are much better off aiming for Ms. Stone. The more dispassionate and predictable you can be, the better. I've written here before that I'm a great admirer of Gary Rubinstein's eminently practical advice in The Reluctant Disciplinarian, and in that book he writes that brand-new teachers absolutely must keep instruction straightforward and discipline consistent. As you get your legs, you can let more of your true personality shine through, if you feel, deep down, that you are more of a Ms. Fire. But I think a Ms. Stone tends to make kids feel safer--not so much in the sense of physical, life-and-death safety (although I mean that, sort of), but in the sense that they will perceive your classroom to be a place where there are no nasty surprises, no "gotchas," so to speak. They will understand your classroom to be a place of simple rules and procedures that are followed, all the time, and that they, too, can master them and please you. Not that a Ms. Fire doesn't do that--it's just that it's easier to approach it from a Ms. Stone mindset.

I'm pretty much a Ms. Stone, still. I wish I were more of a Ms. Fire. But it's not good for me to try to be something I'm not, or something that I too obviously wish I could be. I like watching the Ms. Fires, though. I learn from them.

Are you a Ms. Fire or a Ms. Stone? I'm going to be posting the link to this post in Arp's guestblog at Gotham, so feel free to add your veteran or newbie perspectives in the comments.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The Independence Party Loves Mayor Mike... they well should, for the  1.2 million bucks he gave them.   And his buddies, the landlords, bankrolled the city council candidates, the ones who overturned term limits New Yorkers voted on so Mayor Mike could buy another term.  Keep it going, New York.

The One That Got Away

If you read Bob Herbert's column last week, you were wowed by the incredible progress of the Harlem Village Academy.   Who could question the good work being done there?

The majority of the youngsters come into the middle schools performing at three to four years behind their grade levels. Within a very short time, they are on the fast track toward college. In 2008, when the math and science test scores came in, Ms. Kenny’s eighth graders had achieved 100 percent proficiency. It was not a fluke.

And indeed it was not a fluke.  What it was, in fact, was a whopper.  I'm skeptical of the miracle stories I hear about charters, particularly after having read Diane Ravitch's new book.  There's certainly an advantage when all your kids have proactive parents, but lately there've been stories about highly selective charters, stories I believe are far more common than MSM would have you know.

And I did not have to wonder long before I got an answer, in the form of an excellent and thorough column at NYC Public School Parents Blog, written by Steve Koss.  Koss writes:

...Bob Herbert has shown that he belongs to the Nick Kristof club of "journalists" who helicopter into an issue, traipse around for a few hours, get treated like royalty and receive a king's tour, hear a one-sided pitch, watch a show being put on for their benefit, and then go write a story as if they actually know something about the broader topic.

And there's an awful lot of that around, I'm afraid.  For one thing, it turns out they pass 100% by dumping an awful lot of kids by the wayside.  Are they "counseled out" like the kids in Albany?  Who knows?  But claiming 100% success when a sizable portion of your kids don't make it through is a stretch, if not an outright lie.  Scratch that--it is an outright lie, and remember they've already got only kids of parents proactive enough to do research and enter a lottery.

Is it significant that this school had fewer than 2% ESL students, while the nearby public school had 48%?  Not to Bob Herbert.   Does it matter that the charter leader, Deborah Kenny, pays herself 420,000 bucks, and doesn't even function as principal of a single school?  Does it matter that this amounts to over $1,000 per school kid in her program?  Bob Herbert doesn't give a golly gosh darn.  In fact, it never occurred to him even to ask, as far as I can see.

In Mayor Bloomberg's New York, it's a free ride for charters, while neighborhood schools can all go to hell.  Where I live, heads would roll if they neglected public schools the way they do here.

I don't suppose Bob Herbert has noticed.  After all, New York Times writers are state of the art, preoccupied with Very Important Stuff and can't be bothered to do research, ask questions, or keep informed.

It's incredible that such shoddy journalism could take place on the so-called "paper of record."  The NY Times can't even keep up with the blogs, where standards appear to be higher.