Friday, September 30, 2011

The DOE Taketh...

A friend of mine was very ill for some time. Teachers in my school gave her days so she could get better, 2 for 1 (because Bloomberg's DOE always needs money), and she got much better. She looks and feels much better now, physically at least.

Yet the DOE, in its infinite wisdom, somehow failed to note the days we gave. Perhaps they got lost at Tweed. Maybe they were gobbled up by some virus in an overpriced computer system somewhere. Tough to say.

So you can imagine my friend's surprise when they started taking gargantuan deductions from her paycheck. Thousands of dollars, though she doesn't owe remotely that much. She's left to live on maybe a hundred bucks a week.  That's tough to do in Fun City. I'd like to see Mayor Bloomberg do it.

I suppose they'll clear it up, in their way, in their time. But what a miserable way to treat a working person.

Par for the course in Mayor Bloomberg's New York.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What If We Taught for Tiffany?

That's the question that Robert Pondiscio asks in his most recent post at the Core Knowledge Blog. Tiffany Lopez is a former student of Robert's, a young woman who, despite the challenges she and her peers faced, is nevertheless bright, eager, and very capable. She sounds like the kind of young woman who we secretly (or not-so-secretly) wish constituted the entirety of our student bodies. Robert's point is that, far too often, we're not actually teaching Tiffany. Because of a (well-intentioned and much-needed, certainly) focus on the lowest achievers, we've forgotten that our schools are also hosting highly motivated students who are or would like to be high achievers.

After reading Robert's post, I wondered what my teaching would be like if I taught like every student in my class was Tiffany. Far too often, I plan lessons that assume my students are bored, disengaged, and minimally capable. I work to fill every available gap, thinking (granted, often correctly) that my students will give up and shut down/fool around at the first sign of difficulty. I bounce around the room, I monitor their work like a hawk, I urge and cajole and try desperately to almost trick my students into thinking they want to be in English class.

How would my teaching be different if I assumed that students wanted to be there and wanted to learn? How would my teaching be different if I sent the message, implicitly and explicitly, that sometimes learning is hard and there is no way around but through? What if I worked to not close the gap, but rather raise the floor?

Would my administrators get it and support it? Would I be criticized if my passing rates fell or if students complained in the short term? And what would my students think? Would they shut down, assuming I was no longer interested in the strugglers--or would they be inspired to work harder?

I don't have answers to these questions, but I feel like this long weekend is a good time to think about it.

Confidential to our Jewish readers: L'shanah tovah!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Conversation

Teacher: You're not paying attention.

Student: What?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Praying for Alice

A woman I'll call Alice is a school aide at my school. Alice is pretty much one of my favorite people that I work with. Knowing that we teachers are occasionally a teeny bit backed up and sometimes we need things yesterday, Alice can pretty much always make an emergency run to the supply closet for you or escort a sick or wildin' out child to a quiet space. Teachers here have been known to help her elementary-age kids start their homework while Alice finishes running attendance or numbering new textbooks. We love Alice and Alice loves us.

Unfortunately, as many as 800 school aides are facing layoffs later this fall, Alice among them. And unluckily for Alice, she's dealing with health issues in her family from both the previous generation and the next, as both her mother and her son have been hospitalized in the past month. Her ex-husband is extremely slow about paying child support. Her school aide job is just about holding things together for her family, and in a few weeks, they won't have that income (or health insurance) to count on, either.

I have to admit that I don't know a lot about the labor or financial situation behind the school aide layoffs, though I can tell you for certain that Alice earns her paycheck and then some. She's hardly inessential staff around here. Our principal has been attempting some budget maneuvering to keep her on, but it seems that, with a citywide layoff happening, there isn't much he can do.

I don't know what it proves or even how much money it could save to lay off the school aides, who are making less than $30,000 a year for what is often difficult and thankless work. Teachers and administrators can't function without efficient and attentive school aides. They form relationships with the students that can succeed when others fail, so the loss of school aides also represents the loss of more caring, trustworthy adults with whom students can work. Not to mention the high personal cost of a layoff to an individual and a family, a cost that may prove to be disastrous in Alice's case.

Alice told me yesterday that she's not hopeful about the ongoing negotiations with the city. "I'm praying," she said.

Monday, September 26, 2011

There Are Times...

...when a man has to make the supreme sacrifice and go to work. For me, that day is today. Now I don't expect much sympathy, because it's likely the same for you.

On the upside, I have the best job there is. That's not because it's easy. It's not because of the summers off, or the incredible salary (that hasn't changed in three years).  It's not because working for Michael Bloomberg is wonderful, or because the press is so kind to us.

It's because I get to meet and influence some of the most interesting people I've ever met. My kids come from all over the world, and I've learned a lot from them, even though what's expected is generally the opposite. But the opposite's true too--they learn English from me, and they get to see what to expect from our culture. Sometimes they come back to me and say, "I never read a book in English until you forced me to do it. I hated you at the time, but now I'm glad." I'm sure teachers of other subjects hear similar things (and if you have, please share them in the comments).

Does the appreciation of students make up for the abuse heaped on us by the media, by Bill Gates, by Barack Obama or his thugs Duncan and Rahm? Not necessarily--they're really not connected. But it's more meaningful because unlike these demagogues, kids actually know what they're talking about.

It makes me very, very sad when I hear teachers urging kids against our profession. I know they have good reason to do so, given the idiotic war against teachers, unions and working people in the US today. It's not easy to urge a young person into what could be an unrewarding and abusive job. But it certainly doesn't have to be one, and it's our job to make sure it doesn't become one.

All the more reason more of us need to stand up and rail against the corporatist bastards who demean and degrade what, maybe with the exception of doctors, is likely the most important job there is.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Photo of the Week

Friday, September 23, 2011

Rahmbo Demands More Work for Less Pay

There are plenty of reasons why Chicago ought not to rush into a longer school day. Their day is shorter than ours, and it's worth examining, or negotiating. But Mayor Rahm, formerly Obama's right hand man, does not seem to believe in negotiation. For example, a 4% salary increase negotiated via collective bargaining was unilaterally withdrawn.

Now, the mayor wants a longer school day. The day in Chicago is currently 5 hours, and he'd like it to be six and a half. For this, he offers a 2% compensation increase. First of all, given the withdrawal of the previously negotiated increase, why on earth would any teacher, indeed anyone whatsoever trust these folks? If breaking your word isn't bad faith, I don't know what is. But let's put that aside for a moment, and look at the proposal.

Five hours is 300 minutes. Six and a half hours is 390 minutes. That's a 30% increase in time, for a 2% increase in compensation. In all the articles I've read about Chicago, I have yet to see that pointed out. This offer is a slap in the face to teachers, and to American working people. That it comes from an alleged Democrat makes it even more offensive. If Democrats want working people to work for nothing, we are indeed in trouble.

Worse, in Chicago, Rahm can take an end run around the union by having individual schools vote on the proposal. A handful have done so and approved, apparently. I don't approve of working people receiving a 30% time increase for a 2% pay increase. It's not a raise, (which, for the uninitiated, entails receiving more money for doing the same job) and it's outrageous on its face. That mainstream media sees fit to ignore this is disgraceful.

It doesn't take a very deep thinker to realize that if Chicago goes this route, Bill Gates, the Wal-Mart family, the Koch brothers and all their front organizations will push the same sort of crap on us. Let's hope the valiant union in Chicago hangs tough.

And let's make damn sure to follow their example.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Classroom Technology: If It Ain't Broke, It Will Be Soon

I saw this article in GothamSchools that discusses how Teach for America teachers were given iPads from Apple. It sparked some thoughts I've had recently about technology in the classroom.

First of all, I'm a technology skeptic when it comes to the classroom. That doesn't mean that I don't believe kids need instruction on how to use technology effectively, creatively, ethically, and safely; of course they do, and schools should provide it in 2011. That's all fine. What I mean, though, is that I'm skeptical of using technology as a "magic wand." A kid who struggles with reading a printed book with a highlighter is not going to read better because the page is projected on a SmartBoard. Likewise, you can do a lot with a good old whiteboard (or, heaven forbid, a chalkboard) that can be just as helpful for kids as something more tech-y. If I had a choice between a SmartBoard or an amount of books that cost the same as a SmartBoard, I'd go for the books every time. At the end of the day, I'm an English teacher, and my kids need all the help they can get with reading, writing, speaking, and listening, which people did long before SmartBoards, document cameras, and, for that matter, printed books themselves. The habits of mind acquired through a sound English curriculum will outlast any and all forms of technology, and those should be in place before we put all our faith in anything newfangled.

So in some cases, good, timeless instruction is supplanted by technology that is evanescent. Then there's the problem of money. I guess it would be nice to have an iPad, but again, there are things I want more for my classroom than that. If I did have a school-issued iPad, I would have daily panic attacks worrying about it being stolen. I would have to chain it to myself like a bike messenger. And then theft and replacement become issues, as well as repair. Things break so quickly in schools, both innocently due to heavy use and not so innocently because of neglect or malicious destruction by ill-supervised children. (The title of this post is a favorite saying of an IT guy I used to work with.)

And being able to, say, send an alert to a dean about a behavior issue instantly doesn't mean anything if your school is understaffed, apathetic, or both. It will help a school culture that is already strong, but won't do anything to fix a school culture that is weak.

So forgive my fuddy-duddiness on this, but instead of an iPad, could I have a class set of dictionaries? We'll start there and I'll keep going until we get to a couple hundred bucks. You know, like that "Teacher's Choice" thing we used to have, back when I was your age.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

In Teacher's Clothing

Bill Gates' front group, Educators4Excellence, has gotten yet another piece into a major publication. This piece, platitudinous and prosaic though it is, is important. Clearly they are trying to represent themselves as a group that speaks for teachers. In fact, their leaders are not teachers. They claim 3,000 members, but that's likely all the people who signed up for free pretzels at their ridiculous get togethers (since attendance entails signing a loyalty oath.)

I myself have not signed the oath, but I know people who have, including prominent UFT members. Anyone who wants to hear what pearls of wisdom emanate from the lips of the Gates-funded ex-teachers has to agree with their "principles," such as they are.

Most offensive is not the article itself, but the description at the bottom. They claim to be: organization that works to ensure teachers' voices are included in the creation of policies that affect their profession and their students.
Of course, this is hardly the case. Any organization that's funded by corporate "reformers" does not represent teacher voices. I'm a teacher voice and they certainly don't represent me.

The non-teachers who wrote this will not be affected by their actual policy stance--getting rid of teacher seniority. They'll be off to some job with the Gates Foundation or Michelle Rhee or someone like that.

Who will be hurt? Working Americans. Why shouldn't years of seniority represent some sort of job security? When I lost my job, "excessed," I never stood up and said, "I'm better and more knowledgeable than the senior teachers with decades more experience than I have." I busted my butt looking for another job and found one, with no help from Bill Gates or anyone. However, I was younger, single, I had no family and no mortgage. I was in a much better position to find another job.

It's clearly more difficult for older teachers, or there would be no problem with the ever-increasing ATR brigade. Young teachers find jobs quickly while older tenured teachers linger endlessly. Whether overt or not, there's certainly age discrimination. Not only teachers, but all American workers merit job protections.

Am I saying we need to protect incompetence? Of course not. However, given a DOE that removes teachers for offenses like handing out watches to high-achieving students, reporting malfeasance via company fax machines, bringing plants to school, or just plain orneriness, we need due process. And yes, experience merits consideration, even if the non-tenured non-teachers at E4E claim otherwise.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Professional Development Surveys, If We Were Honest

The administration at my school gave us a professional development survey last week. Maybe yours has too. They ask you what kind of PD you'd like to be offered at the school, or what kind of external PD you'd like to attend. I put down some stuff about strengthening my writing instruction, but I got to thinking that, if I could really be honest, I could think of some PDs that would really be more helpful. I put together this list, which, nevertheless, I do not plan to share with my administration.

  • SmartBoards 101: How to Plug Them In

  • Classroom Pest Control: Beyond Dictionary-Throwing

  • Working with ARIS: Where to Find Parents' Phone Numbers, Which Is All You're Looking for 99% of the Time

  • Spanish for Teachers: You Can't Just Add an "O" to the End of Every Other Word

  • Classroom Management: Whatever You Do, Don't Send That Kid to the Office

  • Special Education: How to Read an IEP (please bring your own magnifying glass and thesaurus)

Feel free to add yours in the comments!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is Half a Story Better than None?

I'm fascinated by this article in NY Mag, and the more I think about it, the more I change my mind why that is. At first blush, I thought it did a good job of encapsulating both sides of class size. But on closer examination, it kind of paints class-size advocates as fanatics, while offering little or nothing in the way of why we believe as we do. On the other hand, it portrays the other side fairly well--reasonable class sizes cost too much, and union is bad.

I've taught classes of 15, 25, and 35, and I can tell you there's a world of difference in what you can accomplish. Folks like Bloomberg, Klein and Obama place their kids in private schools with class sizes below 15, but have no problem advocating larger class sizes for our children. In fact, those who administrate schools ought to be required to patronize them, rather than utilizing them as experiments for Bill Gates and the other billionaires who want to tell us how our kids should be treated. The article states class sizes in higher grades may go higher than 27--that's absurd. In my school there are dozens of classes over 34, the UFT contractual limit, and plenty right at 34. This is what happens when you eliminate 10% of working teachers via attrition and hope for the best.

Meanwhile, I hope in vain publications like New York will offer its readers the full story. It's ridiculous to those of us in the field, those of us who know from firsthand experience what class size means to call it a "red herring." I'd like to see people who write such things control 35 teenagers at a time and tell me it doesn't matter.

Finally, there's this conclusion:

As it happens, there are people in the city Department of Education working on open-minded, teacher-friendly methods of improving training and evaluation. And, obviously, not all rank-and-file teachers are opposed to structural changes. The problem is that the people who are in charge still believe that school reform is war. And nothing much about New York City education is going to change while that remains the case. 

I'm curious who these people are, and why they're working on "open-minded, teacher-friendly methods of improving training and evaluation." After all, there is a state agreement that mandates any such method be negotiated with the UFT.

Furthermore, since Bloomberg took office, I have seen nothing open-minded or teacher friendly. I have grown used to broken promises, not the least of which entails the billion dollars the DOE took to reduce class size--after which it went up every year. The DOE is engaged in releasing scores it specifically promised not to release. And studies suggest that "value-added" has no validity whatsoever. The last few lines make sense to me, but if it's true they're waging war on us, how on earth are we supposed to believe they're open-minded and teacher friendly? Do people really think teachers can be that stupid?

To say that not all rank and file teachers are opposed to structural changes is easy, but what precisely do these changes entail? We need to know before making judgments. Not all of us are taking money from Bill Gates and promoting corporate-friendly nonsense.

What we need, desperately, is a press that's willing to dig for the truth, a press that will not grant credibility to nonsensical "reforms" simply because billionaires say they're a good idea, a press that will challenge the status quo. I'm sure there are plenty of reporters quite capable of this, and I know a few that rise to the occasion.

Regrettably, those who depend on New York magazine for info are far from getting the full story here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fool Me 200 Times

When I read articles like this one about Race to the Top, I see red. What's communicated here is the urgent need for money. After all, I'm broke, you're broke, the state is broke, education funds are cut, and we desperately need every break we can get. But New York may not get the funds, because the awful selfish unions insist on following the deal they brokered with the state. Why can't they just shut the hell up, do what they're told, and take the goshdarn money, for goodness sake?

That's what you might take away from this article and many like it. What you might not know is that the RttT funds cannot be used to, say, reduce class size. They can't be used to provide better materials for your kid. They can't be used to bump up teacher salaries and attract more candidates. In fact, they can only be used to promote more untested, unsubstantiated "reforms" like the very teacher evaluation system that's discussed in the article.

The agreement hammered out between the state and the union was that 20% will be based on statewide value-added measures, which are total crap. However, the state decided it needed 40% total crap, and if we can't have double the crap we could lose the funds, and thus preclude even more expensive crap from being introduced to our educational system. How are we going to whore ourselves out to the the Waltons and the Koch brothers if we don't adequately finance these measures?

On the bright side, municipalities are supposed to negotiate another 20% of local measurements, and if they are lucky, they can arrange for this to be as crappy as the first 20%. Of course, those evil unions might push for something reasonable, thus crushing the ambitions of the zillionaires who introduced this nonsense so as to get rid of unionized teachers. After all, the fewer job protections working people have, the more money rich people can take, and the middle class can be wiped out ever more quickly.

It's discouraging that the public is fed such nonsense about RttT, which is simply a program to impose Bill Gates' druthers on a gullible and incurious public. It's a disgrace that our President, a Democrat, is so eager to impose the will of billionaires onto the entire country. "Hope and change" indeed. This is the same nonsense we might have expected from his predecessor.

In 2012, I hope we get a real choice. Because Barack Obama and Arne Duncan clearly work for Bill Gates and the Wal-Mart family.  If this is to be a genuine democracy, we're gonna need someone to represent you and me.

Who might that be?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Writing Beside Them

A week into the school year and my high schoolers are already working on their first major writing assignment of the year. If you really want kids to work their writing hard, a writing assignment beyond a page or so really requires some structured time in class for brainstorming, drafting, getting feedback, revising, editing, and publishing. Without this time, many of the kids for whom writing is intimidating and un-fun would simply not try. So, with a due date about two weeks out, we've already gotten a head start.

A "best practice" that I used to resist was completing a writing assignment along with the students. I have a master's degree, so went my thinking. I don't need practice on writing a five-paragraph persuasive essay. But the years have taught me that while that may be true, the kids certainly need the practice, and watching and listening to a confident writer works wonders on the students. Just the other day, I realized, mid-lesson, that I hadn't done a great job modeling a writing task. I fleshed out the model more fully for the next class, and their writing was much, much better. I find that it works. Last year I did every writing assignment along with the students, and enjoyed it much more than I thought I would.

Since we're working on fictional stories and I like to write creatively in my spare time, writing this particular assignment has been a delightful escapist treat. I completed two character sketches to model for the kids, and after I did the second one, I had a protagonist for my story. If you can model productive failure like that, so much the better; my first character sketch kind of flopped, so I simply did a second one and tried to express to the kids how, when I knew it had flopped, I didn't give up, just tried again with a different kind of character.

If you're an English teacher and you haven't tried this, give it a shot. It might make you more empathetic with your students' struggles, or it might give you a fun outlet for the creativity some of us don't get to flex enough. And, best of all, it will have an instant impact on your students' writing.

Anyone have some experience with this they can share?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Quoth the Ravitch, Nevermore

 "I find it bizarre to hear Wall Street types claiming that they are part of “the civil rights movement of our day.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. created a coalition with the labor unions, not with Wall Street and billionaires."

-Diane Ravitch

It's very thoughtful of folks like Bill Gates to stand up and put their money where their mouths are. No more tenure for teachers. Let's just fire the lot, and if they don't like it, they can go to hell. Does experience matter? Not if we can't raise test grades. That's the only factor that's remotely relevant, and putting working families on the street is worth it as long as we can break those darn unions.

Actually, "Wall Street types" are doing better than ever, despite having dragged the economy into a virtual meltdown. And one of the good things about having money is you can spread your message--that poverty doesn't matter and teachers alone are responsible for student progress or lack thereof. It's good they can blame teachers, since our current direction has left poverty more widespread than it's been in half a century. Otherwise, people might start noticing the boondoggle of massive tax cuts for those who need them the least, along with service cuts to those who need them the most. And now, even President Hopey-Changey is proposing cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which will surely exacerbate and already dire situation.

Times are tough, especially when Democrats have abandoned working people to continue the senseless Bush tax cuts, when Andrew Cuomo will cut funds to schools and boast of going after unions while refusing to maintain a millionaires' tax.

It's preposterous to believe that billionaires have interests other than protecting the interests of billionaires. Yet they continue to claim, by decimating the public school system, by reducing the number of decent jobs available to working people, by filling their own pockets by suppressing wages, by eroding job protections and worsening working conditions, they are somehow civil rights heroes.

MLK would be appalled. As should we all.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

From the Front Lines of the Overcrowding Problem

You may have caught this article from the Daily News taking a look at school overcrowding in this age of population explosion and budget contraction. I thought I could provide a teacher's-eye view of what overcrowding looks like in my school, while admitting that we are lucky to not be at Cardozo-like levels of overcrowding.

Overcrowding in my school means that nobody has his or her own classroom. Some teachers (me, I will admit) are fortunate enough to have classrooms to themselves for more than 50% of the day, but no one has a room that she and only she occupies 100% of the day. This, as you can imagine, makes it harder to do classroom maintenance and decoration, since you can't exactly hang posters and change bulletin boards and schlep furniture while one of your colleagues is trying valiantly to maintain the attention of 30+ recalcitrant teenagers.

Also, some teachers are traveling to 3 and 4 classrooms a day, sometimes back-to-back-to-back. Imagine squeezing your way through a crush of students laden with a work basket, a textbook, your planbook, maybe your purse or your laptop bag, and the packets and handouts for the day. Then, you have 2 minutes to get wherever it is you're going, position yourself by the door, and start the lesson on time. Good luck with all that.

As well, if your school has built a decent reputation for itself on (among other things) smallish class sizes, that's going out the window. There are very few classes in my school under 30 anymore, and rooms that were not designed to hold 30+ almost-adult bodies are bursting at the seams. Students are sweating even in air-conditioned rooms with the lights off (I'd hate to see, and smell, the non-air-conditioned schools).

I should mention that I work with consummate professionals who are dealing with all this as gracefully as possible, as well as an administration that is reasonable and forgiving and knows that the situation can't generally be helped. We are also lucky in the supplies department; due to whatever magic my principal was able to work with the budget, so far there hasn't been a real shortage of anything, and broken copiers and computers are being fixed promptly. But again, we are very lucky. Some schools certainly are not.

"This is what austerity looks like," Michael Mulgrew pointed out in the Daily News article. He's certainly right on this one.

What does overcrowding look (and smell) like at your school?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Joe Biden Seeks Teacher Voices

This week, UFT chapter leaders and delegates received an extraordinary invite:

Vice President Joe Biden invites you and your colleagues in education to join him for a conference call on Monday, Sept. 12 to discuss the administration’s commitment to preventing teacher layoffs.

Wow. A chance to discuss what this administration has done to prevent teacher layoffs. A chance to ask why they would praise a school for firing the entire staff. A chance to ask why on earth they would pick an Education Secretary with  failed local program and replicate it for the entire country. A chance to ask why they would bypass Linda Darling-Hammond for for Arne Duncan simply because an anti-labor, anti-teacher group asked them to.

But then there's this:

This will be a listen-in-only call for UFT members.

You know, it's kind of frustrating when we see a spectacle like NBC's Education Nation largely exclude the likes of Diane Ravitch from what's purported to be a discussion. It's even more frustrating to be invited to a discussion in which you cannot participate. Frankly, if VP Biden wishes to "discuss the administration’s commitment to preventing teacher layoffs" with union members, why the hell won't he entertain their questions?

This administration has sold out to DFER and the "reformers." Admirable though it may be that they're trying to save teacher jobs now that election time is rolling around, their motives are nothing if not transparent (and cynical). While I certainly won't be voting for Michelle Bachman or Rick Perry, Barack Obama fooled me once and, absent some spectacular sea change,  I won't be voting for him again either.

Time for more than desperate last-minute gestures and one-way discussions, Mr. Biden. The very least you can do if you want our support is listen to us.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

An Outrage

The 2012 Great American Conservative Women calendar excludes Sarah Palin! You'd better believe I won't be buying it this year.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Increase in Homeless Students Attributed to Bad Teaching

NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg commented on the increase in homeless students over the last few years.

"Clearly the teachers are not doing their jobs," pointed out Mayor Bloomberg.  "Why didn't they warn kids about the danger of being homeless? Sure, it may not be part of the curriculum, but it's common sense."

Mayor Bloomberg promised to lobby for any teacher with a significant percentage of homeless students to be labeled "ineffective" under the new rating system. "Schools with a lot of homeless students ought to be closed," commented the mayor. "There are plenty of up-and-coming charters that could use that space, and I guarantee you the students they pick will not be homeless. This is why, here in New York, we offer school choice to absolutely anyone who wins a lottery."

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said homelessness was unacceptable, and vowed to "do something to" teachers of homeless students.

Asked for comment, US Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, "This is a step in the right direction. It's about time we made teachers accountable for the plights of their students. If teachers can't correct things like homelessness and poverty, they need to be replaced, hopefully by young, idealistic, non-union TFAs who can be hired cheaply and replaced every few years. Ideally we'd have natural disasters like Katrina to wipe out unionized systems like we did in New Orleans, but meanwhile I'm grateful we have visionary leaders like Michael Bloomberg. I'd like to take this opportunity to thank the billionaires who fund DFER for hand-picking me for this gig. Where else but the US would someone with a failed program as miserable as the one I enacted in Chicago be able to advance so rapidly?"

President Barack Obama listened carefully to Secretary Duncan and added, "It's vital to our national interest to have someone to blame for things like homelessness. After all, we've extended Bush tax cuts for billionaires, so we really don't have the money to deal with things like that, or poverty, or job creation. There's no way I could snag that second term if people blamed me for this stuff.  Therefore, from the bottom of my heart, I'd like to thank teachers for being convenient scapegoats, and I'd particularly like to thank them and their unions for supporting us no matter what outrageous crap we take part in. Where else could you praise a Rhode Island school for firing all its teachers and still get the support of national teacher unions? God bless teachers, God bless their unions, and God bless the United States of America."

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Walcott Offers Valuable Lip Service to Civility

NYC Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, according to an incredibly superficial account in today's Times, is looking for better relationships with teachers, and better communication with the public. He's therefore reaching out in a calm fashion without frothing at the mouth. Judging by the article, this represents a paradigm change.

Actually, Walcott espouses precisely the same policies Klein did, a fact unnoticed in this article. These policies are largely untested and unsupported by evidence, but favored by a Billionaire Boys Club that pretty much dictates policy in America these days.

Walcott dismisses the notion, wildly popular among parents, of reducing class size, an initiative for which Bloomberg took hundreds of millions of dollars:
“If I have a great principal there and if I have great teachers there,” he said, “that, to me, benefits the students no matter how large the class size is.”
No matter how large? That's a frightening concept, deemed unworthy of comment or follow-up by the Times reporter.  What does the most powerful member of the DOE think about morale among teachers?
He dismissed the notion that there might be a morale problem among teachers — “no matter whether you have a three-person work force or a 135,000-person work force, there are people who will be unhappy,” he noted — and said it all boiled down to commitment.
I have seen a marked decline in morale since Mayor4Life took over. Does Walcott know that every city employee has gotten a contract and a raise except teachers? Why are we alone unworthy of a salary increase? In fact, the morale issue started well before that. Walcott's willful ignorance defies belief. What does Walcott say to alleviate this?
“You’ve got to perform or we’ll do something to you.”
What on earth does that mean? Likely it means that teachers alone will be held responsible for test scores. They're not his problem.  And they're certainly not Mayor4Life's problem. What else does Walcott say to boost morale? On tenure:
“I don’t believe in lifetime guarantees.”
I don't either, in fact. However, tenure is simply a guarantee of due process, not a lifetime guarantee. Stories like this one perpetuate the myth that tenure is anything otherwise. The fact that Walcott either doesn't know or care what tenure is speaks volumes about him. The fact is Walcott approves of all Mayor Bloomberg's policies and initiatives, and represents a direct continuation of the destructive and ineffectual policies initiated by Joel Klein.

Don't be fooled by his quiet demeanor, and don't let articles like this one fool you either.

Thanks to Reality-based Educator

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Always Better the Devil You Know/Good Luck with All That

For the first time in my teaching career, I'm looping this year. If you're unfamiliar with the term, "looping" refers to teaching the same group(s) of students for more than one academic year; e.g. teaching 7th and 8th grade English to the same group of middle-schoolers for two consecutive years. I was fully complicit with the looping plan, so I'm pretty much okay with it.

But I've spent so much time thinking about all the great things I can do with these same kids that I haven't really considered any of the unique challenges that might be posed by greeting the little devils I know on Thursday morning. (Just kidding! Mostly!) So, anyone who has looped before: Any pitfalls of which I should be aware? How much change is too much for kids who think they already know everything about how you roll? Is it easier or harder to increase rigor from one grade level to the next when you're looping? These things and more are beginning to flit through my mind. Your insights are appreciated.


Well, if you're a New York City teacher, you've already spent at least one day getting back into the swing of things, and depending on when you read this, you'll be at some stage of waiting for the kiddies to roll in on Thursday morning. My first day back was pretty good. The admins kept the agenda moving briskly, with minimal paper, drama, and tedium, and gave us plenty of time to work on our rooms and lessons. Most of the hard work of aligning units and lessons to the Common Core was already done in the spring, so we didn't kill ourselves on that one.

So, as I begin my third year (!) here at NYC Educator and my, um, more-than-fifth-and-less-than-thirtieth year in the NYCDOE, here's hoping that your students are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, your administrators supportive, your colleagues helpful, your supply closets fully stocked, your computers functional, and your students' families sane. Here's to a great year!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

First Day Jitters?

I Wish Someone Had Told Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted June 5, 2005

See also:

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

Monday, September 05, 2011

It's Good to be King

Mayor Bloomberg has no problem covering up for the behavior of his Deputy Mayor.  Why make things public? You don't want to complicate things or embarrass anyone.

The mayor denied that he had misled the public when he issued a news release Aug. 4 saying that Mr. Goldsmith was “leaving to pursue private-sector opportunities in infrastructure finance.”  

Of course. The fact that he was leaving for a completely unrelated reason is neither here nor there. But why embarrass the guy? It's not like he's a teacher or anything. I mean, if he were, you'd need to reveal his students' scores to the press as though they were 100% his responsibility, as though there were no other factors whatsoever that went into this decision. And, of course, you'd do this despite an explicit agreement with the UFT that you would not do so.  Despite this, Mayor Bloomberg says:

“I have longed believed that public officials are all too willing to humiliate the people who work for them whenever it’s politically convenient or advantageous,” he said. “It’s an outrage, and I refuse to play that game.” 

Of course that doesn't apply to teachers. Perhaps he doesn't see us as people. Who knows? In fact, as occasional commenter Paul Rubin pointed out, when teachers are arrested, they're required to instantly report their transgressions to both their principals and the DOE. It's hardly a private matter.

So what's the point? It's crystal clear that Bloomberg has one standard for city employees, particularly those who are highly-placed, and another for teachers. Why else would he have granted a pattern raise to absolutely everyone but teachers? And how could he get away with it?

Well, in the US today, the moneyed classes gamble, lose, have us pay for it, and then need a scapegoat. Make no mistake, we are that scapegoat. A demagogue like Bloomberg has no problem exploiting this, and does a fine job of it. The man gets away with murder on a daily basis.

Let's hope his third term gives the public even more evidence of his monumental arrogance. If we can see through him, we can see through all of his ilk.

Friday, September 02, 2011

We're from Tweed and We're Here to Help

There are some things that are simply beyond belief. When the city says it's going to help troubled schools with an influx of funds, it sounds like a worthy notion. Maybe the schools can offer tutoring to kids who have trouble. Maybe they can offer smaller class sizes and give attention-starved kids what they need.

On the other hand, in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, it's always more economical to keep a view on the bottom line. What if they publicly claim to be granting more money, and then simply cut money instead? It's a win/ win. The punters think they're helping, and give  credit. If anything goes wrong at the schools, the schools are blamed. Public will look and say, "That noble Mayor Bloomberg gave them money and they suck anyway."

This puts us right back to square one--blame the teachers. People will say, "Throwing money at problems doesn't work." And the beauty part of it is they didn't throw money at it. In fact, they took money away from it.

The only problem is if the press gets a hold of it and reports it.

But what are the chances of that?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Getting Our Priorities Straight

The city isn't required to notify parents when there are bedbugs in schools, so it simply doesn't bother. After all, why look for trouble? Tell parents things like that and they're liable to become unreasonable, demanding you get rid of the bedbugs. They'll claim they don't want them sucking the blood of their children. They'll whine that the kids will bring them home and cause further infestation.

Naturally they avoided that, and now those goshdarn parents are complaining, exactly as predicted. When are residents going to learn that this is not their role? This city is about Mayor Michael Bloomberg and making him look good any way possible. How does a situation like this make the mayor look good? In my view, not at all.

So the only way to satisfactorily resolve a situation like this is to have the mayor call the tabloids and have them stop reporting such things. Surely if fewer people knew about them, fewer people would complain about them. Then we could continue with the story that the mayor is doing a great job. How on earth is he going to get that fourth term if papers keep reporting things simply because they happened? Is that any way to maintain mayoral control?