Thursday, May 31, 2012

If Not Now, When?

My school's intrepid guidance counselor and I spent yesterday making phone calls to parents--about attendance, Regents tutoring, and classes that students are still failing.  As you can imagine, there's a pretty strong link between that first item and the last one.  And while I'm sorry to keep harping on this subject, I can't deny that trying to cajole parents into doing their legal duty to educate their children is starting to wear on me and my guidance counselor partner in all this.

One young lady whose guardian was just here last week has already missed two more days of school.  Two other sets of parents have respectively broken nearly half a dozen appointments to come to the school.  And I teach high school, and it's May...and if not now, when?  When will these kids start showing up regularly, if not now, when their courses terminate in Regents exams?  Or when will these kids, who are most certainly not stupid, realize that they personally must bear at least some of the responsibility?

Having paused in the middle of writing this, I can take a moment to add that many, maybe even most, of my students are working hard, showing up, and gearing up to show those exams who's boss and pull out all their credits for the semester.  I know I don't teach in a school with 60% attendance or a 70% graduation rate and many teachers have it much worse than I do.  I guess, then, in some ways, the fact that there are just these few kids who are really not on board makes it that much tougher, because if there were 50 of them, it would be easier to acknowledge that we're not going to save them all.  If there are only maybe 5 or 10, you think, "Gosh, just these last few!  I can get 'em!"  But whether there's 1 or 100, it's still true that we won't save them all, no matter what we do.

So maybe I'll ring a few more phones today before calling it a week tomorrow.  I'd always like to get a couple more, even if I won't get them all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Yesterday's Class

You know, if you read the papers, you probably think teachers hold up hoops for kids to jump through, and throw them fish if they make it through 90% of the time or higher. But alas, high test scores are not the fondest memories in anyone's class.

In my class, we were reviewing past tense and present perfect via stories about the Olympics. The article I was using placed great emphasis on American and Canadian champions, as it came from an ESL book designed to sell in those markets. Naturally, I bragged about how wonderful our Olympic champs were, as though I had anything remotely to do with our success. Some of my Chinese students protested that they had champs too.

"Who?" I asked, but none of the kids could name one. They made me take out my iPad and look it up. I found a 15-year-old female gold medal recipient named Ye Shiwen. When the kids pronounced her name, it sounded a great deal like, "Yeah, she won," so we got a lot of mileage out of that. It's very gratifying to see my beginning students so amused by wordplay.

Later, some of them returned to my later class rather than go to lunch. The trailer I'm in during the afternoon has functional AC and the lunchroom is a veritable hellhole. How could I send them to suffer, after they baked in my trailer with no AC during the AM.

During the break between classes, one of the girls who showed up started playing with an iPhone. I was kind of surprised she had it. She's kind of shy, and I don't usually give her a hard time about anything. But at that moment, I said, "You know, I don't understand why you have an iPhone and I don't. I mean, I have a job, I have a car, and all sorts of stuff, and I've just got this crappy phone. It doesn't seem right to me."

She smiled and said, "Well, it's OK. My sister bought me this phone, and she has a job, so you don't have to worry."

She put me in my place and all was right with the world again.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What Do You Mean It Isn't Summer Yet?

Post-Memorial Day weekend (and hope you all had a great one, by the way), the kids, I think, have a hard time coming back to school.  As I write this on Tuesday morning, I'm bracing myself for the flood of complaints about the heat and humidity today in particular, which is not exactly fun for me either and which I can do exactly nothing about in our non-central-air-conditioned building.

The proponents of year-round schooling seem to forget logistical issues like trying to get kids to come to school in the 90+ degree heat, as well as the fact that trying to get kids to show up for 180 days of school is challenging enough.  I like proposals for year-round schooling that make it optional and fill it with enrichment like arts, sports, community service, and career exploration, but if it's just going to be more of the same, what you'll have in July and August is what I anticipate having today: 60-70% attendance, and the kids in attendance being sweaty, cranky, and apathetic.

As I said to Mr. Eyre this morning, "What do you mean it isn't summer yet?" as I struggled to choose an outfit both cool and work-appropriate.  Hope you all stay cool and hang in there for this last push to Regents and summer vacation.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sorely in Need of a Teacher

Heroic captain "Sully" Sullenberger has written a new book, in which he praises several Americans he perceives as heroes. Included in his list is former DC Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee. Firstly, I'm somewhat stunned that this former pilot is an authority on education. For one thing, he hasn't got as much money as most "experts," like Gates, Broad, or Rhee Herself.

I'm trying to recall the last time a teachers were queried for their opinions on landing planes. Nothing comes to mind, and for that I'm grateful, as I have no idea how to do so. I'm afraid I put as much faith in Sullenberger's notions of education as my own on aviation--which is to say none whatsoever. Things are tough for pilots nowadays. It's tough for them even to get by.

Sullenberger himself has been active in trying to improve conditions for pilots. It's ironic that he fails to see that what Rhee wants to do to teaching is precisely what corporations have done to the profession he loves. It's preposterous to look to Rhee as a role model for anything other than union-busting. Here's a woman with the audacity to chuckle over amusing stories about taping her students mouths shut, and tell tall tales about her own teaching record. Personally, with all the talk of bad teachers, I fail to see how someone like Rhee was not fired for physically assaulting young children.

But that's just me. Sully's a hero, but in this case he has no idea what he's talking about. Unless he believes it's a good thing to have teachers fired for no reason, to make no progress in supposedly all-important test scores, or to be embroiled in scandal over their falsification, it's tough to see what makes Rhee a hero.

Rhee is part of a national movement to scapegoat teachers for shortcomings that do not exist. If Sullenberger wants to know how to really improve schools, he ought to study what's happening in Finland, and follow a model that actually works.

Otherwise, it kind of behooves Mr. Sullenberger to refrain from pontificating on topics about which he knows nothing. I won't pretend I know how to fly a plane and endanger the lives of my passengers. Mr. Sully ought to show the same consideration to American teachers and students.

As things stand right now, he's actively contributing toward crashing public education to the ground.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thought for the Day

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Friday, May 25, 2012

Because He Sucks Less Than the Other Guy

There are many reasons why we in the union endorse President Barack Obama. First of all, he's a Democrat. Mitt Romney is a Republican. Everyone knows Republicans are no good. They support business over labor, and those of us who work are labor. Consider that.

Now sure, there are you naysayers out there, saying, oh, didn't he promise to stop the Bush tax cuts? Well, when he started out, he had other priorities. So he didn't get them that time. And later, he made a deal to renew them. But it was only because those bad Republicans were going to cut off unemployment benefits if he didn't! So we stopped them from doing that, and only broke one campaign promise to do so.

Then there are those of you who go on about the Employee Free Choice Act, the one that was going to let people join union via card check.  I know, you're gonna say not only didn't Obama pass it, but he didn't even try. While that may be true, his heart was in the right place. Anyone out there think Romney would have promised to pass it? Of course not. So there is substantive proof that Obama makes better promises than Romney.

Then there is Obamacare, a very good improvement over the crap we had before. Sure, he wasted a lot of time courting Republican votes, and dumped the public option, but remember, it's better than nothing.

Now as for all you teachers out there, whining that Obama gave Bush a third term in education, let me point out that he has never specifically said such a thing. If you watch what he says, rather than what he does, the results are quite impressive indeed. After all, he said in SOTU that he wanted less testing, even though all his programs suggest quite the opposite.

Finally, for those of you who really see this guy as an opponent of teachers and everything they stand for, let me present you with a stark choice. What do you want? Republican Romney, speeding toward destruction of union and collective bargaining? Or Democrat Obama, cruising a moderate 55 MPH toward the same goal?

The choice is clear.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Caught Unawares?

I was discussing a student about whom I'm concerned with my school's guidance counselor the other day.  The counselor had told me that the student's guardian was coming in for a meeting later this week and asked me for feedback about behavior, grades, attendance, etc.  Attendance is the foremost problem with this young lady, who has only been good for about 2 days a week all semester.

I told the counselor as much, and she nodded and said she'd mentioned the same to the guardian.  "She knew about all the absences," the counselor said, referring to the guardian.  "But she didn't know she was failing all her classes."

"Isn't it sort of self-explanatory that if you've missed 47 days of school, you're probably not passing all your classes?" said I, perhaps giving the counselor her Captain Obvious moment for the day.

She sighed.  "You would think," she said.

"If she would come to school, she'd be fine," I said.  "She's bright.  She understands things quickly.  It's just that she gets so far behind, she can't possibly catch up."

"I'll tell [guardian] that you said that," the counselor said. "But I guess the best we can hope for at this point is next year."

File this under Unfortunate, maybe even Tragic, as well as Obvious.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trash Teachers! Sell Papers!

I don't need to recount the stories about the UFT President. The Post has done a fine job of that, demonstrating it does not discriminate between lowly teachers and union leaders. It's willing to convict any and all of us without a trial, without a hearing, without conscience, and without reservation.

Mulgrew is a public figure, unlike the teachers they usually go after, so I suppose he has to live with this stuff regardless. The tabloids, Dennis Walcott and therefore Michael Bloomberg, don't even care when teachers are acquitted. They have no problem convicting them in the press all over again, dredging out file letters that were thrown out years ago, and dragging them through the mud anew just for the hell of it.

I insist on the whole innocent until proven guilty thing for teachers and I don't see why the standard should be any different for UFT officials.

But Bloomberg is something else.

His school closings are baseless. This we know. We also know that many of the schools he's slated for closure don't even meet the city's own standards. We know his rationale was first, that he couldn't come to an agreement on an evaluation framework. He therefore needed to protect the federal funds and went for turnaround. When the union agreed to a framework, he said too bad, I'm closing the schools anyway.

The rationale changed again when the mayor realized he was bound by the contract he'd signed with the UFT. Clause 18D, in contrast to Obama's preferred firing of at least half the staff, says he must retain at least 50% of senior qualified staff. Bloomberg, though 18D does not actually guarantee that will result in 50% of staff staying on, then went and said OK, you can hire more than 50% of working staff. This actually jeopardizes the chances of getting that federal money, the money we can't do without.

We know for a sure thing the UFT lawsuit is not absurd (even if sending it to arbitration has the potential to be just that). For Bloomberg to conflate this issue with allegations against Mulgrew is disingenuous, to say the least. You can't trust this mayor as far as you can throw him. And were the press not in his pocket, he'd not have survived ineptitude like City Time, kids standing around freezing while buses didn't come, or the fact that he can remove teachers but not snow. They say where there's smoke, there's fire. That may or may not be true.

But where there's already fire, there's little in the way of mystery. And if anyone unquestionably merits firing, it's Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Pressure Mounts

If I'm counting right (and, this late in the school year, that is a very big "if"), there are 14 school days until the English Regents.  And, at this stage of the game, it's very hard to get hung up on the love of literature when the paragraphs we've been working on writing all year long are still a struggle for some of my students.

I freely admit that I'm not handling this well.  I'm taking it personally, practically as an affront to me, that my kids don't seem 100% ready this close to the test.  I'm comparing my students to the other teachers' student and blaming myself for them not measuring up.  I'm making myself sick over it, wondering what I've been doing wrong all year, talking myself down from freaking out on whatever child or colleague happens to be nearest by.  And then the talk goes in a bigger circle, expanding into indignation against the Board of Regents for making my kids take such a stupid test and eventually the universe for a long list of tangentially related sins.  I'm being hyperbolic, but you get my point.

I don't know what my deal is here.  I taught middle school ELA for three years and never got this worked up about the state exams.  Maybe the stakes seem so much higher because it's high school, because it's a graduation requirement.  Maybe because the middle school exam is SO divorced from what happens in the classroom, killing oneself and one's students with test prep always seemed sort of counterproductive to me, so I never worried about it much.  And, yes, I'll say it, I was teaching in a middle school with a different group of kids.  A lot of my current students came into high school with 1s and 2s on the state exam, whereas I had very few 2s and no 1s at all in my old middle school.

And if this all seems pretty self-centered, well, it is.  I'll own that.  This is my outlet because I know that sharing these feelings with the kids, or letting them inform my teaching for the last three weeks, would be unhealthy and unhelpful.  With them, I have to be serious, purposeful, and encouraging, even when (especially when) I don't feel that way myself.

I wish I had a point or an answer.  I just couldn't think of anything of anything else to write today, not for a lack of interesting news in the educational world or other topics currently getting my goat.  It's just that all the pressure has really come home to roost for me in the last couple of days.

Anyone else feeling it out there?

Monday, May 21, 2012

File Letter

Dear Ms. Walker:

On May 15th, we met in my office with you and your representative, UFT chapter leader Mr. Rosenboom. We discussed the fact that, despite Common Core standards, you persist in teaching  literature in your English class. As we discussed, Common Core standards mandate that no more than 25% fiction be taught in the classroom.

You freely admitted having taught several novels, including The Grapes of Wrath, The Kite Runner and The Joy Luck Club. You further stated you'd taught various poems, and several Shakespeare plays, though these were not included in the list of suggested materials. I suggested you select from our fine selection of non-fiction works, including The History of Cement, or 1 Million Tedious Essays that No One Wants to Read.

You flatly refused, and referred to me as an "ignorant troglodyte." You then stood up and angrily called me a "killjoy," a "Philistine," and a "corporate tool," among other things. Despite Mr. Rosenboom's repeated entreaties to sit down, you continued standing and screamed uncontrollably at me for at least another 20 minutes, frightening the secretaries gathered outside my office and effectively disrupting the flow of our meeting.

You claimed your students enjoyed these works of literature and were inspired by them. You went on about how this student and that related to the stories, was touched by this or that, cried at the book's conclusion, and made other statements of varied levels of irrelevance. I must point out that we are here neither to promote enjoyment, enrich understanding,  nor to inspire children. We are here to produce test scores, and if we do not produce sufficiently good test scores we will likely be closed and replaced by half a dozen small schools or charter schools.

It is our policy at Preposterously Overcrowded High School to follow the Common Core standards, no matter how incomprehensible, irrational or counter-intuitive they may be. Please be advised that further forays into teaching of literature may result in stronger disciplinary measures, including termination, public humiliation via the New York Post, or whatever other measures Mayor Bloomberg may see fit to institute.


S. Fields, Principal
c. T. Fields, Assistant Principal, English
c. A. Rosenboom, UFT chapter leader

Please sign and return one copy of this letter.

I have received a copy of this letter and understand it will sit in my file for three years or until I am removed for the value added test scores of my students, whichever comes first.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Protest Sign of the Day

Thanks to Caroline Grannan

Friday, May 18, 2012

Waffles Walcott's Words of Wisdom

Hi, it's me, your old buddy Dennis "Waffles" Walcott. I've just made a tough statement about teachers, because Mayor Bloomberg thinks the way to support our hard-working staff is to let them know we're working on new ways to fire them, and I agree completely. From now on, get two U-ratings and we'll try to remove you from your job, whether or not your principal thinks it's a good idea. This may be tough, since some of our principals give U-ratings for arbitrary and frivolous reasons, but I don't care about any of that.

It's true that right now the burden of proof is on us, and we're likely to waste a great deal of city money going after teachers who haven't actually done anything wrong. However, I'm certain the NY Post will not see it that way, and will gleefully do stories on the perfidy of these teachers even after they're acquitted. So for me, it's kind of a win-win.

Of course, once we get that new evaluation system up, we figure the burden will be on the teachers and we can pretty much fire whomever we want. Of course, the agreement now states that 13% of poorly-rated teachers can get a fair hearing, and we're holding out until we can negotiate that number to a more reasonable 0%, which the mayor prefers, and I support completely.

You see, Mayor Bloomberg thinks the best way to encourage teachers is to not give them a raise for four years, and also to deny them the contract we granted all other city workers for the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining. I agree completely. A few days ago, the Mayor decided teachers would feel even more supported if they were denied a retroactive raise to catch up. You see, that way, we can wipe out at least 8% of the "raises" we're always boasting about, and actually lower teacher pay. Mayor Bloomberg thinks this will encourage teachers to support him, and I agree completely.

We're also looking at trying to fire the ATRs, but now we're thinking about a buyout. Maybe if we wave enough money at them they'll just go away without a fight. You see, our "fair student funding" plan makes principals pay the full salaries of teachers, so principals just don't want to hire some highly-paid experienced teacher when they can grab two newbies for the same price. Mayor Bloomberg thinks that's a great idea, and I support him completely.

So what we're looking at, especially with closing 24 schools for no special reason, which I support completely, is trying to make this job so insecure, threatening, and frustrating that teachers will walk out en masse. Then we can hire newbies to replaces them, turn them over every two or three years, and no one collects a big salary but consultants and those of us working at Tweed, which I support completely. Hopefully, no teacher sticks around long enough to collect some nasty pension--another win-win.

So thanks, teachers, for all your hard work. Mayor Bloomberg and I will be happy to give you a hearty handclasp along with your pink slip.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Real People Think about State Exams

In my experience, at least, teachers can run in somewhat isolated social circles; i.e. many of our friends and relatives are also teachers.  But I have the great fortune to be married to a real person non-teacher, Mr. Eyre, who nevertheless possesses a great deal of forbearance when it comes to my willingness to discuss the absurdities of my profession.

A few days ago, we were listening to WNYC covering the scoring of the state ELA and math exams, and we had this conversation:

WNYC ANNOUNCER: Because of cuts in state funding, there was no money available to pay teachers overtime to score the exams, so teachers were removed from classrooms for days at a time to score the exams at central locations.

MR. EYRE: So the state exams get scored by teachers?

MISS EYRE: Yes.  Remember when I had to go out and score the exams, when I taught middle school?

MR. EYRE: Oh, right, I remember that.  But they used to pay overtime?

MISS EYRE: Yeah.  To get them scored faster, I guess.  Teachers would come in after school and on weekends and get per session for grading.  But I guess they can't afford to do that anymore.

MR. EYRE: So let me get this straight.  You have to work really hard to make these kids pass these tests, and if you get behind, someone yells at you, and if too many kids fail it's your fault...and then they pull you out of the classroom for a week to grade the exams?

MISS EYRE: So far, so good.

MR. EYRE: What are the kids doing while you're away?

MISS EYRE: They have substitutes.

MR. EYRE: So basically, nothing.

MISS EYRE: It depends.

MR. EYRE: I was in school once.  I remember.

MISS EYRE: Well, yes, it's hard to have continuity and consistency with a sub, no matter how good they are.

MR. EYRE: Wow.  These people in charge of the exams really care about kids.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Bad, or Worse? You Decide

Chancellor Walcott is always thinking of us. That's why, during Teacher Appreciation Week, he issued this statement as part of the Principals' Weekly:

I believe the best way I can show my appreciation is to support you actively in our critical work, and that’s why I’m pleased to share the 2012-13 citywide instructional expectations with you.

Thanks, Chancellor. Words can barely express how much I appreciate your sharing your list of demands with us. I've no doubt they'll be equally effective as anything else you and Mayor4Life cooked up over the last decade, which is to say, not at all. But I digress.

Not only has the chancellor magnanimously shared his demands with us, but out of the kindness of our heart, he's turned June 25th and 26th into attendance days for kids. This, apparently, is to make up for the snow days we didn't have. Why exactly there is a need to make up snow days we didn't have baffles me utterly. Like most initiatives from Tweed, it makes no sense whatsoever. But that's not all.

Actually, Mr. Walcott does not wish to have students attend those days. He wishes for schools to have SBOs so they can spend two full days discussing his list of demands. You see, Walcott forgot we still have this contract that dictates which days we can and cannot use for that sort of thing, and probably felt any day was as good as the next for indoctrination.

So those of us in high schools are faced with a choice--do we call students into school after their grades have been issued, their books have been collected, and their minds have tuned out, or do we sit through two days of mind-stultifying nonsense about programs that are sure to fail? Let's not forget these programs are designed by the same people who gave contracts and 8% plus raises to every city worker except educators over the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining.

There doesn't seem to be a great choice here. What would you choose?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Where Do Troubled Kids Go in the Summer?

As the school year starts to wind down, I'm getting worried about what will become of one of my students who's struggled with depression.  Because of the sensitive nature of this subject, I hesitate to say anything much about him, except that he seems isolated from his family and his (former) friends, and so I'm concerned about him being on his own for most of the summer.

There are summer programs for kids who need academic help, and jobs programs for kids who need money or resume building.  But I wish there was something for this middle-of-the-road student--or, rather, something he could be legally compelled to attend, since his lack of motivation probably will prevent him from getting out of bed to play basketball or swim or explore this great city.  He needs company and someone to talk to more than anyone else.  I'll stay in touch with him via e-mail over the summer, but is that really enough?

I think it speaks well of our school that we have such great systems in place during the school year.  We have three full-time guidance counselors, all of whom are wonderfully proactive and empathetic when it comes to troubled kids.  We have partnerships with several community agencies to provide extra counseling and activities like creative writing and peer mediation.  All of this is wonderful.  But I still fret over my kid who isn't doing any of this even with all of the support and encouragement we offer him in the school building, and he certainly won't do any of it over the summer.

If you know of any offerings in the city that you can share for the benefit of city kids who might need some extra support that's not necessarily academic over the summer, please share in the comments.

Monday, May 14, 2012

No Impossible Demand Left Behind

That's what you're expected to do, and you've got just about a year and a half to do it. NCLB says all children will be proficient by 2014, and every year you fail to get 100% of your kids to pass is another year you risk your school being closed. Why don't we judge other professions by that standard? Let's begin at the top.

Are 100% of Americans employed? I don't think so. If that isn't corrected by 2014, we'd better close the White House, toss out the Congress, and have the whole government taken over by privatizers. Sure, you say, it's those same folks who put the economy in the crapper, left it there, and had us bail them out. Yet that's how we run education, what with Joel Klein's hotline to hedge-funders, so obviously we need to replicate this system elsewhere.

Are 100% of crimes solved? Are 100% of criminals in prison? If not, we'll need to close all the police stations, fire 50% of working cops, and replace them with temporary TFA workers. Maybe what we need is smaller police stations, each with 6 captains rather than one. Probably cops would do a better job if criminals were tested on a regular basis, and if said criminals failed tests two years in a row we could dismiss them. Surely Pearson could devise questions on safecracking, murder, extortion, or any topic under the sun.

How about banks? Is there enough cash in your account? If not, it's surely the fault of incompetent bankers who've failed to ensure you have enough to pay your bills. It certainly couldn't be your fault you blew a wad of cash on a Hawaiian vacation, neglecting that mortgage and car payment. If they can't figure out how to balance their books before 2014, they're outta there!

Finally, let's get on those darn doctors. It's already 2012, and lots of people are still sick! In fact, some people are still dying. Many, truth be told. If those health providers can't stop providing excuses rather than the health we pay for, they ought to be severely penalized. Heads must roll at hospitals, and not only those of patients.

Let's get the word to Mayor4Life Bloomberg, Governor 1% Cuomo, and faux-Democrat President Barack Obama that standards must be universal, and if our demands are not met, we will close down the city, state and country.

After all, that's what they want from us, isn't it?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Friday, May 11, 2012

President Obama Makes a Stand, Sort Of

President Obama made a historic announcement supporting same-sex marriage the other day. I agree. Why on earth is it any of my business, or yours, who marries whom? So good for you, President Obama. Yet there's this:

The president stressed that this is a personal position, and that he still supports the concept of states deciding the issue on their own. 

So if your state is inclined toward narrow-mindedness and bigotry, this President is okay with that. You can vote for him and still discriminate against your fellow citizens for their sexual orientation. He personally feels you should not be a simple-minded, ignorant galoot, but this is America, and you absolutely have that right.

Oddly, he does not feel the same way about education. His signature program, Race to the Top, dangles dollars in front of cash-starved states and offers them money only if they agree to baseless nonsensical mandates favored by the likes of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Walmart Family, and Michelle Rhee. I should not be surprised. In a debate with Maverick Johny McCain, Obama called Rhee a "wonderful new superintendent." I figured he would learn on the job and went and voted for him anyway.

Of course now, after having watched him give GW Bush a third term in education, I won't be making that mistake again. I can no longer vote for people simply because they call themselves Democrats. Our unions have made the egregious error of endorsing him while extracting nothing in return. The rationale,  that Romney is even worse, resonates somewhat with me. I shudder to think of a Supreme Court that will once again take the election from the people, as it did with Bush v. Gore. And I do like Obama's health care program better than what we had before.

But one of his promises was to get us out of these wars, and that's not done. Another was to repeal the Bush tax cuts. A very significant broken promise was to pass the Employee Free Choice Act. He not only failed to pass it, but as far as I can tell, never even advocated for it. Most importantly, he reneged on a promise to the NEA to do things "with you, not to you." My state now faces an evaluation system seemingly designed to randomly pick off working teachers based on junk science, another outrage supported by our unions for reasons utterly unfathomable to me.

Obama sends his kids to a school with small classes and little high-stakes testing. He paid lip service to overtesting at SOTU but his policies belie his words. At this rate, his legacy will be the degradation and destruction of one of the best and most important jobs in the country, a job I love and would like to urge my students to follow.

I simply can't and won't vote for that. I'm thinking very seriously about Dr. Jill Stein. I realize her chances are not very good, but I no longer care.

Who are you voting for, and why?

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Testing My Patience

As the (soon-to-be-nonexistent-anyway) Regents exams approach, I cannot help but notice that we are starting to lose a lot of instructional time to test prep and practice testing, even in my fairly enlightened and rigorous school.  Entire halves of days are commandeered for mock Regents exams, on the theory that the kids need to see the tests at least once in their entirety before they actually take them and the results will help to inform instruction for the last few loosey-goosey weeks of school.

(Sidebar, Your Honor: WHAT DO YOU MEAN THE LAST FEW WEEKS OF SCHOOL?  Yes.  Go count if you don't believe me.  High school teachers have just about 20 days of instruction left.  Friends, we are almost there.)

Anyway, preparing my kiddies for the English Regents exam makes me wonder what kind of teaching, for eleven years, would have enabled my kids to pass the Regents with no test prep whatsoever.  The kind of teaching that demands lengthy, calm, focused attention on the part of the students?  Yes.  (Which, I realize, is well nigh impossible for some of our students.  Point taken.)  The kind of teaching that would have included wide and deep reading in multiple genres with extended time for independent reading and interpreting with meaningful feedback about tricky literary elements like theme, tone, and figurative language?  Yes.

I want to provide that kind of teaching, but it's not always possible.  Many of my students will rebel with apathy and/or disruption if they become bored or frustrated.  The kind of deep teaching about the difficult work of interpreting literature...well, difficult is the first problem.  It's hard to do well, especially for kids who still work to decode words or have such limited life experience that texts from outside their own time period, place, or culture might as well be written in Russian.  And then teaching them to persist in the face of that difficulty is its own work.

And then trying to do that kind of teaching, when I have to teach them how to take a test, when they could pass that test without any preparation if they had just been taught well (and prepared from home well) in the first place?  That vicious circle is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night and, well, tests my patience.

So good luck, Regents prep teachers.  Remember, if too many of your kids fail, you'll get fired and then you won't get that awesome Teacher Appreciation Week e-mail from NYSED.

Obama to Teachers--Drop Dead

To show how much he appreciates the endorsements of NEA and AFT, President Barack Obama declared this week, Teacher Appreciation Week, to be National Charter School Week. So all you public school teachers wasting your time with kids who don't speak English, kids who have special needs, kids who need alternate assessment, and all the other kids who don't improve the test scores can go straight to hell. The President has taken your week and given it to Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michelle Rhee and the Walmart family.

In fact, this President does not appreciate teachers. Otherwise, why would he push for value-added/ junk science evaluation methods that depend as much on chance as on skill? Why would he applaud the firing of an entire staff of teachers (that largely served ESL students)? And for goodness sake, how on earth could he tolerate a Secretary of Education who declared Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in NOLA?

President Obama takes us for granted, as well he should. We endorsed him solely because we've determined his opponent is even worse. Were I a union bigshot, urging you to vote for him, I'd need to say, "Vote for him, because he doesn't stink as badly as the other guy!" Or perhaps I could say, "Vote for Obama! Next to the other guy, he appears almost adequate."

These are hardly slogans that make me jump up and down. Obama fooled me once. Shame on him for that. And far more shame on him for disrespecting every working teacher in America just to kiss up to his corporate buddies. Those who teach our children ought to be celebrated rather than reviled.

Have you got a message for this President?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

I Sure Do Feel Appreciated

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!  I know it's Teacher Appreciation Week because I got this lovely e-mail from State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. informing me, among other things, about the great new teacher evaluation systems that are going to be put in place despite the fact that the vast majority of working teachers don't like them.

I try not to be paranoid about such things.  I tell myself that I work hard, that I have good relationships with my administration, my students, and their families, that I have nothing to fear.  Usually that works.

But this "Teacher Appreciation Week e-mail" was a real head-scratcher.  Usually when I tell someone that I appreciate them, I don't tell them that I'm going to be figuring out a new way to evaluate their performance (and presumably re-evaluate exactly how much I appreciate them) in the next breath.  But maybe that's just me.

I'm thinking of getting a different Mother's Day card for my mom, for example.  "Thank you for everything you did as my mother.  In the next few months, I'm going to roll out an evaluation system that will allow me to compare you with other moms across the state on a variety of metrics, including post-college income and marital happiness, among the similar daughters of similar mothers."

Maybe that will make her feel even more appreciated.

Monday, May 07, 2012

The Emperor Speaks

To kick off teacher appreciation week, Mayor Bloomberg has unilaterally declared that there will be no retroactive pay for teachers. In Mayor Bloomberg's New York, as in much of the country, putting "children first" means teachers, alone among city employees, get nothing. They should be happy they get paid at all. Billionaire Bloomberg takes a dollar a year to run his fiefdom and thinks that ought to be enough for anyone, except cops, firefighters, clerks, and everyone else but educators.

This is a remarkable position for several reasons, and particularly so if you've followed the contract history of the United Federation of Teachers. There were many of us who opposed the 2005 contract, viewing its draconian givebacks as highly detrimental to the profession. If you doubt that, ask any ATR teacher who hasn't received a permanent assignment anywhere. Think about it while you patrol the halls, or bathrooms, or dodge a flying cheeseburger during lunch duty.

Denial of retroactive pay, of course, is not the Emperor's only salary decree. A few years ago he declared that he would avert teacher layoffs by denying educators the raise he'd granted all city employees--something in excess of 8% over a two-year period. The 05 contract comes to mind because the pattern at that time was crap, and PERB declared that if we wanted anything above it, we needed to surrender the sun, the moon, and the stars in exchange. And this we did. At that time, PERB specifically declared the pattern to be sacrosanct. Haven't heard a peep from them this year.

Now, Mayor4Life, while demanding we accept an evaluation system designed to fire as many teachers as possible, simply says, "Screw the pattern, you guys get nothing." I'm very curious in what astral plane this is acceptable. Does the pattern apply when it saves money for the city, but when working people are screwed, become strictly optional? That's tough to understand. In case you haven't been paying close attention, teachers have been without a raise for four years this month. And employees who got the last round of raises were not asked for givebacks, let alone to evaluate themselves out of their own jobs.

It seems to me that collective bargaining entails negotiation. Clearly Mayor Bloomberg feels otherwise, preferring to spout nonsensical merit pay schemes rather than acknowledge that even teachers have cost of living increases.

Bloomberg is an anachronism. Having gotten absolute power over schools via his PEP, our fake school board, he thinks he is royalty, a feudal lord who requires tribute from the serfs. In this case, Lord Bloomberg demands we forgo the raise granted everyone else, and loudly proclaim, "Thank you sir, may I have another?"

I have a slightly different message for this mayor. What would you like to tell him?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Friday, May 04, 2012

Can I Buy a House?

That's what one of my colleagues asked the other day. I told him it was OK with me, but he was neither comforted nor encouraged. "No, will we have jobs in five or six years?"

That's a tough question. Easy answer is yes, but who really knows? If ever the ATRs are given a time limit, it's giving Mayor4Life a free hand to close every school, then close the new ones, then keep closing and closing until the only thing that's left are non-union charters. Lots of teachers are unable to keep up with the pace of charter schools because, oh, they want to get married, have lives, or do things other than worship at the pedestal of Eva Moskowitz.

We haven't got all that much to give away anymore. With the new evaluation system, the best case scenario is 20% of your rating will be based on junk science. We already know how that's been working out around the country. We also know that the tabloids can't wait to seize on any evidence, no matter how flimsy or unreliable, to label teachers the worst in the borough, city, country, universe, or whatever.

In fact, the entire "reform" movement is predicated on the fallacy that there is a bad teacher plague that must be eradicated at any and all costs. And folks like Klein, Rhee, and Bloomberg can't wait to fire as many teachers as possible, for any reason or no reason, and decimate the profession. So will my friend have a job in five or six years?

I'll do everything I can to assure he does, but that won't be nearly enough. We're all wearing targets on our backs, and we need to be really careful, really smart, and ruthlessly efficient in fighting the propagandists and billionaires who hate us for having jobs, benefits, unions, contracts, and time off. Americans read the papers and say, "Boy, those greedy teachers have too many benefits." They read the Post and think anyone can do this job. They're sorely mistaken.

The question is, what do we need to do to get Americans to ask, "Hey, why the hell don't I have a contract, a union, benefits and time off?"

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Can DOE Higher-Ups Read, Or Is It That They Just Don't?

This is the second news article I've read in the last month that suggests to me that the bigwigs at the DOE either can't read or just don't.  The first was the hubbub about "transforming" Bushwick Community High School, one of the city's most successful and beloved transfer schools, because not enough of its students graduate high school in four years--completely overlooking the fact that the entire stated purpose of transfer schools is to serve severely undercredited students, many of whom are dropouts seeking a second chance at a high school diploma.  The second is this piece in today's Post, not-so-subtly suggesting that teachers are "shirking" work to which the city taxpayers are entitled.

Michael Mulgrew wakes up long enough to mention that the audit does not consider comp time positions like serving as a dean, which is an excellent point.  Teachers serving as deans, department chairs, and other positions are valuable to schools.  But, more to the point, teachers are not responsible for designing their own schedules.  Teacher programs are overseen by principals and in some cases delegated to programming teachers, but in any case, principals have the responsibility for assigning and signing off on all teacher programs.  If indeed some teachers are underutilized, that is the fault of principals, not of teachers.

So they can't/don't read their own guidelines and definitions for different types of schools, the teacher contracts, or principals' job descriptions.  What else is collecting dust on the collective DOE Kindle?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Not My Job, Man

That's essentially the DOE policy on Facebook and social networking. They recommend you not friend your students. No, wait, they STRONGLY recommend you not do so. I recommend the same, to tell you the truth. But my motivations are quite different.

I think it's a bad idea because it's entirely possible your Facebook comments could be printed out and sitting on the principal's desk the next time you get called in for a friendly chat. Do you really want to explain why you chose that particular string of obscenities? Did you mean to imply something about the principal? Your students? It doesn't matter all that much because you can't grieve the letter in your file until you're at a 3020a proceeding and they're trying to take your job. My advice? If you don't want your principal, your class, and your grandmother to see it, don't write it.

DOE has a different perspective. Go ahead, they say. Do whatever the hell you want. But if it blows up in your face they'll be right there, saying see? We told you! You shouldn't have said that. You shouldn't have done that! Now look. We have to tell the New York Post and they say you're the worst teacher in the world, even worse than the last worst teacher in the world!

That's the late Freddie Prinze above. Not my job, man, was part of a comedy routine he did years ago on the Tonight Show. It was pretty funny. But if the DOE catches you on Facebook, they won't hesitate to go after your job, and it won't be funny at all. It's not wabbit season, and it's not duck season. It's teacher season, and you'd better believe Bloomberg, Walcott, and all their hedge fund buddies are coming after me, you, and anyone else who commits the unpardonable offense of teaching children and demanding to be paid for their services.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Teachers' Rights Are Students' Rights; Also, Some Clothing Companies Like Teachers

So Kenneth Cole has decided to remove their teacher-trashing billboard.  Well, that's nice.  One billboard down, but meanwhile, Michelle Rhee hasn't yet moved on to doing something more constructive with her life, like watching paint dry.  Still, we'll take all the victories we can get.

As I've pointed out in this space before, teachers' rights are students' rights; they are not in opposition to each other.  Schools that are clean, orderly, and safe are in teachers' and students' interests.  Teachers who are well-supported and, yes, well-compensated are teachers who are comfortable and confident enough to grow into passionate, energetic educators, constantly challenging themselves and their colleagues to improve--and all of that is good for the children.  Manageable class sizes mean that students actually have some room to move around and the teacher can provide more of them with individualized attention and warm, personal relationships.

Fighting the pernicious false dichotomy that is "teachers' rights vs. students' rights" is a battle that we'll probably have to take up for some time.  But in the meantime, lady teachers, do you need some new duds?  Loft loves teachers.  No, really, they do.  They put their money where their mouth is.  And, pro tip: if you ask nicely, they will almost always let you stack the teacher discount on top of any coupons or other promotions they are running.  There's a reason why so many of us have closets full of Loft-wear, and not just because Ryan Gosling digs our collective dreams.  Because, hey, if we're going to fight the system, we may as well look good doing it.

Happy May Day, by the way.  I vote for taking the day off!...from, um, voracious consumerism.  Or, say, Twitter.  Workers of the world the coffee maker.