Saturday, June 30, 2012

Friday, June 29, 2012

UFT Wins!

UFT has won the arbitration against closing 24 schools. Teachers will be able to return to their jobs if they haven't found jobs elsewhere. Teachers who have found jobs elsewhere can take them if they wish. Finally, someone is standing up to the living lunacy that is Tweed.

Last week I met a young woman who'd found a teaching job at one of the "turnaround" schools. Her mom works in my school. I congratulated her, as she was in a discipline in which finding a job was pretty tough. Then she asked me if there was anything she needed to worry about.

I had to tell her that UFT was in arbitration to stop the school closings. She was shocked. No one had told her. It's kind of amazing that none of the folks on the 18D panel or anywhere else deemed that worth mentioning.

"Let's hope the UFT loses," said her mom, who is not a teacher.

I had to tell them that I was sorry, but I was very much on the side of the UFT. We were likely looking at thousands of ATR teachers, wandering around, unable to find permanent spots, for no other reason than being in the wrong place in the wrong time. That's unethical, despicable, if not outright criminal, and it appears the arbitrator thought so too.

I feel very sorry for the young woman, but she will find a job elsewhere and get over it. I did the same, multiple times, when I started out. Still, it probably won't be all that rosy for those folks who've already been rejected to go work for the very people that rejected them either. What idiocy to go forth with such a hurtful process when there was no need.

There were multiple news stories last week that wrote of the closures as though they were absolute fact. It made me worry that they were. I'm glad to see their crystal balls were faulty after all.

It's nice to get a little good news for a change. Given yesterday's SCOTUS ruling, I'm hoping there's a cresting trend. There has been so much needless destruction under the idiotic policies of Michael Bloomberg, Joel Klein, What's-her-name, and Dennis Walcott. It's time to build on this victory and move ahead into a city, country, and world we can proudly call not insane.

Mayor4Life Must Be Kept Cool

While more than a million kids swelter in hundred-year-old buildings and tin-coated trailers, New York City is investing in innovative ways to keep billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg cool. Mayor4Life travels in SUVs, and they must be equipped with home air conditioners, because regular auto AC simply does not meet his discerning standards.

Mayor4Life is a regular guy, of course, and wants to conserve energy.  That's why he takes the subway to work after two SUVs drive him there. I mean, you don't expect Mayor Bloomberg to simply take the subway near his home, do you? Don't most New Yorkers take two SUVs to the subway stop? For goodness sake, how else would you get there?

This is the mayor who made a no-bid deal with Alvarez and Marsal that caused schoolchildren to stand outside on the coldest day of the year waiting for buses that never came.

There's no mistaking the implications here. It's important that billionaire mayors travel in comfort, and whatever ridiculous measures that entails, we're ready to embrace.

On the other hand when it comes to extreme heat, extreme cold, and all-around terrible conditions, it's Children First. Always.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Happy Summer Vacation, Here Are Two Classes' Worth of New Kids

On the second to last day of school, the principal at my school got a phone call from a parent.  His daughter's charter school was being closed, and he'd received a letter in the mail saying that my school was to be his daughter's new school.  Could he, the father asked, come by to see the school and meet the principal?

My principal's response: Sure, come on down, we'll be happy to meet you.

My principal's next response, after hanging up the phone: WHAT LETTER

Later that day, Principal got an e-mail stating that about 50 kids had received letters sending them to our school due to the closing charter school.  This is about 2 classes' worth of kids.  This will probably necessitate hiring 2 more teachers.

Now, don't cry for my Principal, necessarily--this is his job, he's good at it, this is why he gets the big bucks.  Still, this is a crazy situation to put someone in, no?  Send out the letters to the parents and THEN, by the way, tell the principals?  Did anyone at the DOE look at our capacity before they slapped our name on letters that got sent home to (already stressed-out) parents and kids?

So my principal's vacation (such as it is, I guess, since principals work most or all of the summer) is off to an exciting start.  I wish him the best with it.

And I wish you all a happy summer vacation.  I'm up bright and early to post and then to start my first trip of the summer, so I hope you're all off doing something equally pleasant today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's Summertime!

I suppose everyone plans to do something interesting. Me, I'm gonna do nothing interesting. I've done interesting things all year and I'm gonna find the most boring thing possible and get started with it right away. Fishing seems a good possibility. I've never actually done it, but as far as I can tell, you just sit there and wait. But not on some line or anything. It all seems very Zen.

Alternatively, I could get some reading done. I have a bunch of books on my ipad, though it somehow seems odd to me to be reading on the ipad. Isn't a pad something you should scrub your pots with, when you get right down to it? So perhaps I'll take up cooking, and see whether or not the ipad has another magical use.

Whatever you decide to do, congratulations from Miss Eyre and me on your well-earned time off. If you've put up with the nonsense hurled at us in the press, on TV, and by administrators echoing and endorsing nonsensical, stereotypical unscientific notions favored by the likes of Mayor4Life, you deserve this break and more.

We wish you a happy, healthy and fun summer! And we aren't going anywhere. We'll be right here, with our laptops at the ready.

What are your summer plans?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Packing Up and Hitting the Road

At my old school, we used to get this memo telling us when we could and could not start packing up our classrooms and what could and could not be packed up.  By the time I left, the memo was three pages long.  So if any of you are non-teachers, that gives you a sense of the (possibly needless) complexity of the task of packing up classrooms while, theoretically, learning and teaching are still going on.

Now that I teach high school and my principal is a sane and reasonable person, one who does not routinely issue three-page memos, I don't have to deal with that anymore.  Classroom packup starts before Regents even start because classrooms are supposed to be stripped of posters and other materials that could assist students on the Regents.  So it's June 26th and I have maybe 30 minutes left of work to do.

Of course, part of the work that remains involves outsmarting the summer school teachers and the custodians.  My classroom library, painstakingly sorted and tidied, is covered with craft paper and KEEP OUT signs. I've freshly covered my bulletin boards with nice new paper and stapled DO NOT USE UNDER PENALTY OF DEATH notices to them, though somehow those did not work last summer.  And anything I might miss come the first week of September gets taken home or ingeniously hidden under, say, stacks of 90 copies of the August 2009 English Regents exam.

Well, I'm off to professional development here, since my school is one of the many not-crazy buildings that made yesterday and today non-attendance days for the kids.  This being a sensible institution, one of the items on the agenda is a brief reminder of final pack-up and return instructions for classrooms before tomorrow.  However, it's only down for five minutes.

See you Thursday, when I'll be coming to you from SUMMER VACATION LAND.

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Vision

One of my daughter's friends, now 17, got a summer job working at IHOP. She was really excited. We went there a few weeks ago and were pretty happy to see a nice kid like her had gotten a job. Daughter was jealous, but at 16, they wouldn't hire her.

A few days ago, my wife saw this girl walking home in her IHOP uniform, and stopped to pick her up. Apparently, the folks at work felt they didn't need her that day. So, after she'd walked a half-hour to work there, they just sent her home, saving whatever pittance they'd have paid her for the day. They must have been too busy to give her a call so she wouldn't waste her time like that. Of course, if they were really busy, why the heck did they send her home?

I don't think I'll be going back there anytime soon, however good the pancakes may be. And I'm pretty sure that even one visit from my little family would more than pay the girl's daily salary, so IHOP is not profiting much from this move. But that's not really my point.

What is? Well, more and more we're accepting the unimaginable. Years ago the UFT went on strike because 19 teachers were involuntarily transferred. Now almost a thousand teachers wander week to week like gypsies and it's sanctioned by our contract. Now we're looking at being judged by methods that are utterly unreliable, flat earth, nonsensical, and the debate with the union is whether it's 20% crap or 40% crap. Actually, the precise amount of crap necessary to evaluate a teacher, or anyone, is zero.

And now there's a shield, supposedly to protect us, so only parents can see our evaluations. Problem is twofold. One--parents will not be aware how much crap the evaluation entails, and may assume it's zero. That will almost certainly be their assumption if they're reading the papers. Second, there's simply no way we will be able to keep parents and the press from attaching names to the public evaluations. They will likely show up on both the net and the tabloids, perhaps even in the Times, whose editorial board likes us about as much as Rupert Murdoch does.

Of course now, no one imagines going to work and being told, "Go home. The kids don't need any more English today." But if this could save money that could go to important things, like the salaries of Eva Moskowitz or Geoffrey Canada, or more importantly, reducing the tax bill of Steve Forbes, it's tough to imagine "reformers" failing to suggest it in a few years, as yet another way to put "children first."

Unless, of course, we get the truth out, and stop them in their tracks.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

NY Pretends to Protect Teacher Privacy

Now that there finally is a bill regarding the data in your junk science VAM evaluations, we know a few new things. First, we know that parents will be able to look at the data supplied on the basis of phony and invalid nonsense, and will therefore be able to determine how they wish to proceed from there. There will be various options open to them.

For example, if you've had a good year, parents can tell their friends what a great teacher you are. This will let other parents wonder why their kids aren't in your wonderful class, and they can go to the principal and demand their kids be transferred into them. The principal, who apparently has nothing else to do but oversee transfer requests, will either accommodate them or listen to their bitter complaints about the inferior education the junk science says their kids are getting.

And next, you'll see the tabloids demanding we relax those ridiculous class size restrictions in that awful UFT contract.  Since Miss Eyre is such a fabulous teacher, why should she take only 34 students? Why not 44? Why not 104?

Of course, if you've had a bad year, parents will demand their kids be taken out of your classes posthaste. After all, it's solely your fault the test scores, which are the only things in the universe that matter, have gone down. Junk science has become indispensable in President Obama's brilliant and visionary Race to the Top, and if we don't make serious use of unproven and discredited methods like value-added and merit pay, we could lose the millions of dollars devoted to funding it.

Smart principals will relinquish the merry-go-round detail of transfer requests, dumping it on APs. Thus they will have to deal with it. The fortunate thing here is that after two years of negative junk science reports, their loads will be considerably lightened as teachers are dismissed based on nonsense with preposterous margins of error. Meaningful negative rating appeals will be available to only 13% of city teachers, and the rest will be pretty much a fact of life.

On the bright side, you will get observed by someone a few times after your first negative junk science rating, and it's possible the city will still have to prove its case for your incompetence. If, however, the evaluator single-handedly determines you are not doing a good job, the burden of proof will be on you to prove you wouldn't be better suited to a gig at Kinko's or Baskin-Robbins.

Thus will Mayor Bloomberg's long-cherished dream of firing teachers for no reason be achieved at last. "Reformers" everywhere can rejoice.

And make no mistake, there is nothing here to prevent parents from dropping a dime to reporters. A few well-placed calls and it could be you on the cover of the NY Post as the worst teacher in the city. They will have aggregate data and if they get enough reports that your figure is the lowest, they can print it and camp out at your doorstep, humiliating you in front of your neighbors and making it very difficult to go outside and face the onslaught of unmerited scrutiny. Because this, ladies and gentleman, is what the press does in the 21st-century United States of America. Humiliating teachers is apparently essential to the news process.

Shame on everyone who supported this nonsensical bill, which makes about as much sense as placing clothes on Michelangelo's David so we can all tell ourselves there's no such thing as nakedness.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

They're Just Kids (and Teachers)! They Don't Need No Stinkin' A/C

Well, for once, I applaud Mayor Bloomberg's approach to answering questions about students in non-air-conditioned classrooms taking Regents exams and, theoretically, teachers still trying to conduct classes.  Man up, kids, says the Mayor.  Life is full of challenges.

The Mayor, of course, is right.  And I'm so excited to hear that he and his staff are foregoing air conditioning in solidarity.  After all, running all these air conditioners is expensive, and we can't afford everything we want!  These are tough times!  If kids can take tests that determine their graduation in sweltering, smelly rooms, and teachers can be judged by the results of those tests, then by golly, the mayor's staff can work on their plans for his seventeenth term in office in similar rooms.

And to all you nay-sayers out there pointing out that Mayor Bloomberg hasn't actually said anything to that effect, I ask you: Would the Mayor ask his fellow New Yorkers to do anything he wouldn't do himself?  Would he call on us to make sacrifices he didn't truly believe in?  Would he ask unionized employees and poor kids to suffer while he enjoys air-conditioned comfort in his chauffeured vehicle and spacious office?

Would he?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tough Days for Teachers

Open up any paper and look at the madness that's infected our nation. In Chicago, the government has reneged on an agreement to give teachers a 4% pay increase. Instead, they want to raise their number of hours worked, give them 2% the first year of a five-year contract, and have them hope for the best for the next four years. Now, the CTU has overwhelmingly authorized a strike.

That doesn't mean there will be a strike, of course. If Chicago wants to work out something reasonable, it can be averted. Here in NYC, we've been without a raise for four years. All non-educators got raises in excess of 8% for the 2008-2010 round of pattern bargaining, without givebacks. So now, we are headed to fact-finding at PERB, which brought us, among other things, the 2005 contract.

What creative solutions will PERB recommend? Since other unions got a raise giving up nothing, is that suitable for us? It should be, actually, since we had to offer massive givebacks to supersede the pattern in the past. Also, PERB has declared the pattern pretty much sacrosanct. The question is, does that apply when the pattern is attractive, or only when it's total crap? It appears we're about to find out.

A new contract will likely include a new evaluation system, bringing us innovative junk science ratings for teachers, the likes of which have gotten our colleagues plastered on the pages of the NY Post as the worst in NY. Legislation in Albany seeks to restrict access, so that parents will have to go to principals' offices to find out precisely what junk science has to say about teachers. Doubtless principals have nothing better to do than spend hours offering invalid nonsensical information to parents who demand it.

The thing is, what's to keep a parent from calling up the NY Post and saying, "Mr. Educator has the worst rating in the history of time and space and you therefore need to camp out on his doorstep and humiliate him in front of his neighbors?" Nothing. What's to keep parents from telling one another that junk science says this teacher is good, that one is bad, and en masse demanding transfers? Nothing. Is it beneficial to kids to send their teachers to the verge of paranoia, for virtually no reason whatsoever?

And bad as this is, it's worse elsewhere. Read Diane Ravitch's blog and it looks like, nationwide, teachers are public enemy number one. This is because they've become used to due process before being fired, which is now under attack. When the economy is in the crapper, as it is now, our job becomes highly desirable. Never mind that most of our careers we've made way less money than our similarly qualified friends and family in other fields.

The economy can turn, and if teachers continue to be treated poorly, things will revert to where they were in the 80s--municipalities begging for teachers, initiating intergalactic searches, taking absolutely anyone they can find, and then blaming us if their choices prove not to be the best. That's the one constant here. We are always at fault for everything. I've been listening to Mayor4Life for a decade now and that's the only part of his policy in which I've absolute confidence.

In fact, the only time I feel really good about this job is when I listen to the kids, from whom I get a message utterly at odds with what I read in the paper and see in the media. That's what keeps me getting up every day eager to go to work. And make no mistake, the only people in this city and country who really place public school children first are their parents and teachers, those of us who actually work with and for children every day of our lives.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tell Us How You Really Feel

Did you know you can evaluate the Regents exams and the administration thereof?  You can.  The State Education Department wants your feedback.

Here is an excerpt from how I plan to fill out my survey*:

Did the examination as a whole constitute an appropriate measure of the commencement-level expectations set forth in the New York State Learning Standards and core curriculum?

Well, considering that the English Regents asks students to write an essay in a single draft in an hour or less, not really--not when the state learning standards say that students should use the writing process of brainstorming, drafting, revising, and publishing.  

Was the examination generally appropriate in difficulty?

Was it appropriately difficult for my students who read The Great Gatsby independently?  Not so much.  Likewise, was it appropriate for the young lady I teach who still struggles to write in paragraphs?  Not exactly.  Standardized testing will only ever encourage teachers to teach to the middle.

Was the time allowed appropriate for completing the examination?

Is a lifetime enough?  Is an hour too much?  

I'm still too emotionally exhausted to comment much beyond that.  You can look at the survey if you want, though.  Me, I'm far too likely to be inappropriately honest right at this moment to fill out a survey that requires me to give my real name and school location.
*Not really.  I don't know if I'll even fill one out.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Geniuses at Work

Today, while I was marking papers, someone came into our office with a question about Spanish. I thought they were looking for someone to speak Spanish, so I volunteered. After all, it seemed like a nice break from reading papers.

But it turned out that there was a problem with the city's Spanish test. The instructions said pick two questions from 31, 32, and 33, but question 33 turned out not to exist. This posed a problem for our young test-takers.

I spoke to some Spanish teachers who told me that 33 would have been a picture, and that their students were prepared to write about a picture, but there was just no darn picture.

And this, dear readers, is what is wrong with standardized testing. Last week, I gave a final exam, and left some words out. I was able to write them on the board when a student pointed it out to me. However, no one can correct the city, since Mayor Bloomberg already knows everything. Otherwise, why would he have all that money?

So city kids, I suppose, have to work it out for themselves. If Mayor Bloomberg's test designers can't be bothered to check whether or not they included the last question, the last question simply doesn't belong there. After all, 8 of 13 members of the PEP are selected by Mayor Bloomberg, and if they say the mayor is never wrong, that ought to be good enough for anyone.

Could be my school got a bad batch. But the question is, who's accountable? In Mayor Bloomberg's ideal New York, teachers would be fired for offenses they'd already been cleared of. Will heads roll for this, or does "accountability" apply only to unionized teachers?

Update: A commenter states this happened at another school. Did it happen at yours? Any Spanish teachers out there

Update 2: Tweet from Leonie points to what looks like confirmation.

In a Hurry

This morning, I'm off to read 5 million papers. Our ESL department is going to read the papers of our ESL students. They are all taking the Regents exam, because NY State has decided, in its infinite wisdom, that there is no difference between kids who were born here, kids who have spoken English all their lives, and kids from other countries, who have spoken English only weeks or months.

It's important that we have a standardized test because teachers can't be trusted to construct their own. I, for example, would never exhibit the wisdom of NY State. I would test my kids on things like grammar and usage, the things that show up in their writing, the things they will be tested on when they enter college, and the things they will take no-credit remedial courses to correct. I'm thoroughly corrupt like that, teaching them what they really need rather than what Pearson or Common Core says they need.

And next year, because teachers cannot be trusted even to grade tests that don't measure what kids need, I'll be grading tests from somewhere else. That way, I will not be personally involved with the kids whose papers I grade, and will have no stake in whether or not they pass or fail. This is because I, like all teachers, actually want my kids to pass and therefore cannot be trusted to evaluate them. Kids will benefit from graders who don't know them, who couldn't care less whether they do well or not. At least that's the thinking from the geniuses who run education in New York.

So, as a thoroughly corrupt teacher, as the state assumes all of us to be, I bid you good morning.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Something Worth Considering

Please take a few minutes to watch this, and feel free to comment on it. If anything, it would appear the "reform" movement is exacerbating the situation.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Governor 1% Forms a Panel

Andrew "I am the government" Cuomo has established a panel to discuss education matters.  He was criticized for its composition:

The commission, which is being led by the former Citigroup chairman Richard D. Parsons, has also gained two more well-known names from Wall Street: Sanford I. Weill, another former Citigroup chairman, and Stanley F. Druckenmiller, a billionaire hedge fund manager.

Naturally, one can't establish an education panel without a billionaire hedge fund manager. That's key if you want to discover the opinions of people who wouldn't send their kids to public school on a bet. The other Wall Street folks will surely reinforce that important point of view.

Governor Cuomo has added a few people who might be closer to education:

The new appointees include a parent advocate from Rochester, a newly elected school board member from the Adirondacks and a district superintendent from Central New York — three constituencies that the governor was criticized for not including on the panel when he announced it in April.

Fortunately, Governor Cuomo has not one single working teacher on the panel.  To really round out the voices heard, it's important that not one single person who will be personally affected by the choices it makes have any voice whatsoever on it. There will be some retired teachers, who don't have to worry about Governor Andy's newly established Tier 6, or spending their twilight years eating cat food. Surely there will be gala luncheons for them in Albany, even as NYC teachers face their fifth year without a raise in salary.

The important thing for Governor Andrew Cuomo is to gauge the opinions of those upon whom his "reforms" will have no effect at all. For example, it won't be them with their junk science ratings on the front page of the New York Post after concerned parents leak them. And it won't be them with long lines of parents outside their offices demanding transfers to 100% rated Miss Eyre's class from abysmally rated Mr. Educator's class. That will be the working principals, who surely have nothing better to do than ward of hordes of parents angry about ratings that are essentially meaningless.

But if the editorial pages of the local newspapers say they have value, that should be good enough for anyone. In this modern age of the New York Post, Fox News, and "Democrats" like Andrew Cuomo, reality just won't do.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (Sometimes)

As I've mentioned in this space, I looped for the first time this past year, keeping my 2010-11 darlings for another year.  Two years is a long time to spend with any group of kids, especially a group of high school kids going through the dramatic changes that take place from 14 to 16.  Herewith, now that the year is complete, is my reflection on whether or not you should consider doing something ostensibly crazy like this if you ever have the chance.


  • Looping works really well for a certain subset of kids who need and want more stability and predictability than others--think your fragile, awkward kids who tend to withdraw rather than explode.  I developed something of a Mom-like vibe with some of these kids.  All that time and same-ness allows some of them to open up and form relationships, with the teacher and the classmates, that might be hard for them otherwise.
  • Starting a new school year without the weird "getting to know you"/establishing routines and expectations period really does allow you to get more done.  You know them, they know you, everyone knows how it rolls.  In many cases, the especially loyal and vocal kids start to take on some of the classroom management roles themselves, which saves you a lot of grief and effort.
  • If you want to increase rigor as the second year goes along, most kids are responsive to that because they already trust you and have seen the results of their hard work (ideally).
  • And, honestly, it can be a lot of fun.  By the end of this year, I would be worried about getting observed in one of my classes because our conversations had become so convoluted and full of inside jokes that no one would know what was going on.
But there are drawbacks, too--serious ones.  Here are the pitfalls to keep in mind.
  • Familiarity can breed contempt.  If there's a kid who doesn't like you (or, heaven forfend, if the feeling is mutual), the cracks will really start to show in that fourth semester.
  • On a related note, the experience can teach you more than you ever wanted to know about how kids see you and relate to you and how you feel about certain groups of kids.  I had some recurring problems this past year, especially in the second semester, with a handful of young lady students who were not getting the stellar results they always had.  They took it out on me and I perhaps took it a little too personally.  That wasn't good for anybody.
  • Despite vows from administration to work with you on this little looping experiment, school is a real place with real kids and real concerns.  You will still get kids new to the school, or kids who had personality conflicts with other teachers, and they will be dropped into a group of 27 other kids who have developed that crazy-close barnacle-like environment with you.  You have to work hard to bring those kids into the fold so they don't feel like spare wheels.
  • Remember those delicate withdraw-y kids I mentioned above?  They have opposites; namely, your kids who will, if they're having a bad day, throw chairs and scream profanities.  These kids perhaps benefit from having more of a rotating cast of authority figures.

So would I do it again?  I think I would.  I'm returning to ninth grade next year, and I'm already thinking about planning to stick with my new group for two years.  I really liked most of the kids and I think looping made enough of a positive difference for most of them, and for me.

But, as always, your mileage may vary.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Thank You for Touching Me."

One of my female students said that to me yesterday, and I was a little freaked out by it. Actually, she's only been in the country a few months, and she meant, "Thank you for teaching me." But these days, you can't be too careful, and I wondered about it for a moment before I corrected her.

I told my classes it was my honor and privilege to be their teacher, that I was very proud of them, and that none of them, in fact, would need to go to summer school on my account, though I'd threatened them with it so many, many times. (The one student who would actually have to go happened to be cutting, making my statement true.) One of my students drew a picture on the board that compared "beach" and "summer school," sort of the heaven and hell visions in our little trailer society.

Another girl, one who'd had some problems I'd helped her with, actually started crying. I think that school is a refuge for her, and I was very sad to think she would be without it for a few months. I was sad I couldn't help her further.

I have great kids. I am so lucky to be able to teach kids from all over the world, kids who constantly surprise me, kids with stories many of us could not even imagine. And I'm very proud for the small part I play in these stories.

Of course, none of this will be on the test, or registered on a galvanic bracelet, so it's probably of no importance whatsoever.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Crazy Things People Say to Teachers

I admit in advance that this is kind of a cop-out post because I'll have a lot more time to write something good tomorrow, after classes are over--WHAT? CLASSES ARE OVER?  Yep yep.  Today is the last day of teaching for high school teachers, WHAT WHAT.

Anyway, Mr. Eyre, who ordinarily is very thoughtful and sensitive when it comes to my work, is all confused about the last day of school.  He asked me if I could come and have lunch with him in the non-outer-borough this coming Thursday (answer: no, I do still have to proctor Regents exams) and then asked if he could have the shower first for the foreseeable future (answer: no, I do still have to show up to work).  My poor dear husband aside, people say lots of crazy things to teachers, including this list that popped up on a teacher friend's Facebook last night.  My favorite?  "You're welcome to observe my classroom anytime you want--please let me know when I can come to your house and observe your parenting."

So enjoy the last full day of lessons, high school friends.  A long post (or several of them) about Regents, the joys and perils of looping, and what to do with all that per session you earned this year (!) is forthcoming.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Bad Business of Being a "Bad" Teacher

 by special guest blogger Turnaround Teacher

I am working at one of the dozens of high schools that Mayor Mike, in his wisdom, has decided to "turnaround." "Turnaround" really means "closing," with all teachers put in excess and forced to reapply for their own jobs. Rumors circulate about how many teachers will be re-hired, but we all know that if only 50% of the staff is rehired, the school gets some extra $1.5 million.

The teachers at our school are all obviously feeling various emotions about these events. Angry and pissed-off are probably the most common, followed closely by worried and sad. But of all the things the school is going through, I think the one that teachers find the most degrading is that we have to re-apply for our own jobs. The inference is that we are teachers of a failing school, so we must all be bad teachers. That's certainly what the NY Post blares in its papers every day, and I'd gather it's what the general public thinks as well.

Of course, the teachers actually teaching in the school are too busy to really think about how much this situation sucks. Besides putting together our portfolios and scouring the open market vacancies every night, everyone knows that June is the time for the annual student begathon. This is when students who have done absolutely nothing all year long all of a sudden decide that they really, really doesn't want to go to summer school. So they go to the teachers, and the script is always the same:

"Hi, Mr./Ms. ____." (Lowers head. The too-cool-for-school attitude that they've sported all year is gone.)

"Hi, ___. What can I do for you?"

"Um, I know I'm not passing your class right now, but is there, um, uh, any way I can make up the work?" (Head rises a little, to see the reaction of the teacher. If the teacher turns away, that's bad. If the teacher gives an exasperated sigh, that's good.)

For us Living Environment teachers, the yearly begathon is more complicated than most other subject teachers. Living Environment students are required to complete about 28 labs to qualify to take the Regents Exam. For most students this requirement is a piece of cake, as most teachers do labs weekly, and often more than once a week. But there's always a handful of students who don't have 28, even after the multiple Saturday make-up sessions and repeated warnings by the teachers.

But despite finding themselves in a predicament that is entirely their fault, the students also have the upper hand in this begathon. They have the upper hand because they know that underneath, most teachers are softies at heart. So if they lower their heads, apologize for that time (or the multiple times) they screamed and cursed and called the teacher names, and perhaps cry a little, the teacher will give in. And at our school, that's exactly what is happening every day, every period, with every Living Environment teacher. Lunch and prep periods are now really "desperate last minute make-up lab" periods. One teacher I know has an after-school session, and every day, after 11th period, I see a swarm of students following her into a classroom. She has a daughter and husband at home, but she has been staying till 6:00 every day to accommodate the students.

She's not alone. My 8th period I now spend in an empty classroom along with another teacher, as we conduct joint emergency lab makeup sessions. Having another teacher in there helps me a lot, for situations like "Hey I really have to use the bathroom. Can you help ____ with that lab and ____ with another lab?" So I run to the bathroom, run back, just in time for the other teacher to ask me, "Hey, can you help ___ with the labs, I need to run to the office to print out more labs." It's like a Cooperative Team Teaching Emergency Lab Makeup class.

Sometimes I ask myself, "Why am I doing this? I'm getting fired in less than a month." I'm sure that many teachers have thought the same thing, as yet another kid initiates a begathon. But we're giving our students one last chance, because we want them to succeed, even if they weren't good students, didn't come to class, didn't do much to deserve to pass the class. In other words, we're treating them the way the Mayor is NOT treating us -- with compassion and consideration, because that's what teachers should do.

So as I see this begathon play out every day, every period, with every teacher, and I see even the strictest ones give that exasperated sigh and reach for a stack of labs, I think, "If this school is really full of bad teachers that deserve to be fired, then I'm proud to be among all these bad teachers."

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Another Lesson for Bill Maher

Last night on Real Time, Bill Maher said it's impossible to fire a teacher. That's patently untrue, and it's irresponsible of him to be propagating such nonsense on the air. I'm reposting this column for him, which originally ran March 30, 2009, just in case he has any passing interest in reality. It's particularly galling to hear boilerplate anti-union crap from someone who makes films labeling religion as mythology. People like that, in fact, ought not to be promoting mythology.

It's always illuminating to hear things from people who have not the remotest notion what they're talking about, and as a teacher, I get to hear things from all sorts of people. For example, you get folks like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walmart family, who toss money about to make sure unionized employees are marginalized, all under the guise of "protecting the children. "

Never mind that when the children grow up they'll have to choose from the crappy jobs Bill, Eli, and Wally World have left them.

Then you get lower-level hedge fund guys, like Whitney Tilson, who invest heavily in companies like MacDonald's and Walmart, and want to make sure we have a ready crop of low-salaried drones to keep pumping bucks into the pockets of rich people. All together, they form odious groups like the "Democrats for Education Reform," which push non-unionized charters to exploit teachers, one of the last bastions of organized labor in the country.

It's very disappointing to find someone like Bill Maher lining up with these demagogues. Maher, as you may recall, was dismissed from his ABC show in 2002 for making controversial remarks. You'd think he'd have some empathy for teachers who could find themselves in the same situation. Maher thinks unions need to be broken, but it's pretty clear what can happen to teachers without unions. It's also clear that folks like Joel Klein and Al Sharpton are fine with working people being treated like that, but I'd think Maher would question the privatization of education, particularly given what he said about the Bushies for eight years.

Personally, I'm not much enamored of bad teachers, and I'm afraid I have little sympathy for them. On the other hand, teacher unions neither hired them nor granted them tenure. What does Maher have to say about the administrations who did? What does Maher think about Chancellor Klein going to Albany to plead for the right to retain 14,000 teachers who couldn't pass a basic competency test, some of whom had failed it dozens of times? While these tough times may allow cities the luxury of denying employment to these folks, the fact is they'll drag them back as soon as the economy looks up and they need to continue paying the lowest wage in the area.

And personally, I value tenure a great deal. A few years ago I identified two kids in my ESL classes who were fluent in English but could not read. I remember one of them had remarkable listening skills, and was very good at participating on the basis of what he'd heard, but was unable to identify words like "house" and "mother" when I wrote them out for him. I found out he'd been kicking around the city system for years, and when I called his mom, she knew about it and asked me to help him.

At the same time, I'd been communicating with a NY Times columnist who wanted to use this info. He asked if he could use my name, and said it would be OK if I had tenure. This in itself suggested without it, I couldn't have told the truth.

Nonetheless, when the writer used my name in a fax to the DoE, I got called for a marathon session in the principal's office, in which school leaders of every stripe made sure their posteriors were covered, and not one word was uttered as to the welfare or future of the kids I'd identified, both of whom had somehow stopped attending by the time things hit the fan. This was regarded as a positive thing by some, who claimed it provided additional cover. I was later told by an uninvolved administrator there were no programs available for such kids.

And I found myself unable to get textbooks for my students for over a year. Ironically, when some geniuses from Tweed came and saw my kids sharing the decrepit books I kept in my classroom, they complimented me for utilizing cooperative learning. Still, I have no question I'd have been fired if I hadn't had tenure. And lacking Mr. Maher's celebrity, I've no doubt my teaching career would have ended right then and there if that principal had half a chance.

Where I live, teachers are thoroughly interviewed before they get to set foot in a classroom. And tenure is not granted as a matter of course. But teachers who bother to question the often preposterous things that occur in places like Mr. Bloomberg's New York, teachers like me, we need tenure.

It's sad that Bill Maher has opted to join the ranks of the wealthy and ignorant, who can't be bothered with those of us who need to support our families, let alone our kids, who will need to support theirs as well.

Friday, June 08, 2012

If It Quacks Like a Charter School

NY charter school supporters are getting just a little antsy over the prospect that Mayor4Life may decide not to purchase a fourth term. It's even possible, though not highly likely, that someone not insane could become mayor, thus scuttling the drive to privatize all schools in the city. Thus, the charters are busing the parents all over the city and buying ad time to try to persuade people that charter schools are public schools.

The argument that they are, in fact, public schools is central to charters’ stance that they deserve to receive space rent-free in public school buildings. That allowance is made in New York City but is rare elsewhere.

Of course, it's very important that they be public. That way, no one will think folks like Geoff Canada and Eva Moskowitz are making almost a half-million bucks a year. How could they afford salaries like that if they had to pay rent, like normal private schools?

Though they happily take public money, and have no problem taking neighborhood schools away from actual neighborhoods, they are not public schools. They are not managed by we, the people. To be fair, since the reign of Emperor Michael the First began, neither are public schools. We're saddled with a fake school board on which the Emperor controls eight of thirteen votes, and fires people if they even think of voting for him. Nonetheless, neighborhood schools still have input from the neighborhood.

More importantly, neighborhood schools like mine take all comers, without exception. They walk in all year long, and I personally got a half-dozen students less than a month ago. My students are all ESL, and I'm not sure charters are equipped to handle them. When the charters say, "We take X% special education students," you need to check a little. Special education students vary from kids who need a little extra time to take tests right up to alternate assessment--kids who will never graduate. Ask Eva Moskowitz how many alternate assessment kids she's accepted this year, last, or ever.

There is a surefire way to make a good school--get good kids. By the very fact they've filled out an application, parents indicate they are involved. For my money, parental involvement is the single best predictor of student quality or lack thereof. Of course it's not perfect, and kids don't come with guarantees. However, it's sheer lunacy to solely blame teachers if kids fail tests. If it is indeed the teacher's fault, you'll find out by observing what happens in the class, rather than by from scores. Many things influence test scores, and it's patently idiotic to suggest they're a reflection of the teacher rather than the student.

I teach 100% high-needs kids every day of my life and I'm very proud to do so. I cannot guarantee you they will all pass the English Regents exam. I can, however, guarantee you that I could help them a lot more if they weren't measured by such a plainly inappropriate standard. It doesn't take much for me to be presumptuous enough to say that I know what they really need. As their teacher, that's pretty much my job.

It's not merely the application process that renders charters selective. We still have to account for factors like demanding parents spend hours working in them, thus excluding those who can or will not. That's before we account for kids whose parents are asked to send them to the real public schools. And that's before we account for their juking the stats by taking no responsibility whatsoever for the kids who did not make it to graduation. When they spout ridiculous 100% graduation rates, ask how many kids did not actually make it.

Public schools take everyone. That's what makes them public. And a good public school embraces union, thus empowering both teachers and students.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Revolving Door

One of our most respected colleagues announced his plans to leave TMS2 a few days ago.  It was a surprising announcement, and while he's moving to what are probably greener pastures, it's hard not to have mixed feelings about someone who was so integral to the school community departing.

For a school that is, by just about any measure, of pretty good quality, we have a fairly high turnover rate.  Not as high as some schools, for sure, but this past year we started nearly a dozen new teachers, including a handful of brand-new ones from TFA.  In a small school, that's about 25%.  There were years, when I was in school, when my school didn't get a single new teacher.  But in New York City, and particularly in some of the small schools, staff turnover is not so much a problem as it is a simple fact of life.

This particular colleague isn't my primary concern, anyway.  I'm thinking of another colleague who is capping the dry-erase markers forever after this semester, or two who quit last year to go to med school and law school.  I know this game isn't for everyone, and people who decide it isn't for them are likely going to be better at something else anyway.  But I've long worried about the people who could have been great teachers that the system just chews up.  The bureaucracy, the stress, the constant change, the lack of support in keeping a classroom and a school well-ordered and all adds up.

So I'm about to head down the hall to get the Brooklyn-Queens Day PDs underway, and I'm wondering if I'll see any new faces.  And while I'm always excited to learn what these new colleagues can bring to the table, I can't say that I don't worry about what's being lost with every swing of the revolving door, too.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

End-Year Evaluation

I've got a few more years before the geniuses who run the government institute junk-science VAM tests so I can be fired for trying to teach high-needs kids. Meanwhile, I'm fortunate enough to work in a place without Leadership Academy lunatics pushing abject nonsense as the next up-and-coming religious icon.
Every year, I pass around a suggestion box for my students. I let them say whatever they want anonymously, and then read the responses aloud. It’s pretty popular with the kids. So I'll consider this my assessment for the year. Guarantee--all responses verbatim, and only changed for grammar,  spelling, or to exclude the names of the innocent.
A good number of my students are happy:
Your class is the best because we work like a dog.
This class is very good. Mr. E. is the best teacher.
Hey, Mr. E., your class is the best because you make a lot of jokes.
Mr. E., Will you teach us forever? I love your class. Oh yeah.
This class is nice. I love this class.
This class is perfect. I love Mr. E. I love my classmates.
This class is the best. Every day we have fun.
Oh my God!!! Teacher. You make jokes every day. But I like your jokes. Happy every day! You are the best teacher.
This class is perfect. This class is interesting. This class helps me study English. I like my teacher and classmates.
Others have demands:
We need party everyday. Need more fun.
No class on Mondays.
No homework, no test, we need a lot of breaks, be a real man.
No homework, no test, no writing, no big fat zero. We need more breaks. Everybody needs computers.
Then there are mixed reviews:
I don’t like when Mr. E. screams at us but I like his class. He always gets us crazy and he always makes jokes. This class could be more interesting if we write more and if we do more exercises in class. I don’t like when he is absent because they always send us a substitute. Well, I like this class and I don’t think Mr. E. needs to change. 
I think the lesson is very good. I like it. But why don’t you study Chinese?
One. No homework for the class. Two. No vocabulary for the class. Three. No big fat zero to the students. Four. No more fun in the class. Five. More time to take breaks. Six. More free time to tell teacher. Seven. More ideas for jokes to have fun. I like your class.
We are best students but our teacher bala bula bula. I don’t know baby, baby, baby, oh, bula, baby, bula, baby….
I love your class. You are very funny. But I won’t do homework, and I won’t go to summer school.
This class is nice. Mr. E. is the best teacher. I hope we can have more jokes.
I don’t want to do homework and I don’t want tests. You can be more interesting than before and I love your class.
There is, of course, always room for improvement:
We need a machine gun and we need to make a lot of jokes. 1. Low homework. 2. Low writing. 3. More jokes. 4. Buy a lot of computers for this class. 5. Make people fight.
You should relax and smile often.
I don’t want homework. Why does the teacher give students homework everyday? I think if we play games everyday in class this class will be the best!
I hope this class will be serious. And I want to learn more knowledge. That’s all.
No summer school. No test. No homework. Every day Mr. E has a meeting.
Different activities. Talking about your students’ countries. Activities outside of class. Fridays without homework.
Some of my students are upset because I give zeroes. Actually, I draw zeroes on pieces of paper, hand them to kids, and don’t record them anywhere. My students have taken to making them into elaborate drawings, turning them into faces, turtles, eggs, pumpkins, and all sorts of things. Lately, the trend is running toward super-zeroes.
Zeroes, however, have become a two-way street. A colleague of mine walked into the trailer one Thursday and declared that Thursday was a no-zero day for students, so now the only one who gets zeroes on Thursdays is me.
No homework. We need lots of big fat zeroes for the teacher.
Seriously. Stop making big fat zeroes in the class. Thank you very much.
I don’t know. Maybe cancel zeroes, homework, tests, and big fat liars like Mr. E.
Every day is teacher’s zero day!!! Good idea!!!

My next door neighbor in the trailer, Ms. H., occasionally comes in and complains my class is too noisy. Or too quiet. Or too serious. Or not serious enough. Or something…
Why do you always say you are a serious guy? Why do you always say you are a real man? Why do you always say you aren’t scared of Ms. H.? Instead, you are a troublemaker. You are a chicken. You are scared of Ms. H. PS, though you always give me zero, I still like this class.
Mr. E’s class is nice. I love it. I can learn a lot of grammar, but only one suggestion. When you see Ms. H., don’t be afraid of her, and be a real man. I love this class. Everybody loves Ms. H.
All in all, it was a pretty good year.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Zombie Apocalypse Comes to TMS2

If you didn't pick up this brilliant post via GothamSchools' Remainders last night, you should go and read it now.  I LOL'd, especially because the "zombie apocalypse" definitely happened at TMS2 at lunch today.  I typically open up my classroom for lunch a couple of days a week so kids can get tutoring or make up work or just hang out, but today, I really needed those precious fifty (which became forty-three after a conference with a young woman who was trying my patience) duty-free minutes to regroup, for the safety of the children in my afternoon classes.

"Five more days," one of the zombies muttered.  "Five more days.  I can do five more days."

"If I have to write one more referral for one more kid randomly flipping out in my room and yelling profanity," another zombie, namely yours truly, mused.

"Thank God it's not going to be too hot this week.  My air conditioner is on the fritz," yet another zombie moaned.

At one point no one around the table was actually eating.  We were just staring, zombie-like if you will, at the tabletop, wondering why we're killing ourselves trying to keep things engaging and meaningful for these last few days while the students still bothering to come at all are treating class like one giant social hour.  IT'S NOT LIKE THEY HAVE REGENTS TO TAKE OR ANYTHING, JEEZ MISS EYRE.  OH WAIT, THEY DO.

Anyway, the only more likely candidates for a Walking Dead casting call than the kids at this point are their teachers.

Five more days, high school friends.

If you teach elementary or middle school, my condolences.

Monday, June 04, 2012

What Teachers Get

As bad as things are in Mayor Bloomberg's New York, they're looking even worse in Chicago. Fred Klonsky highlights the offer teachers over there are looking at. Here it is:

■ A 2 percent raise in year one.
■ A pay freeze in year two.
■ Raises based on “differentiated pay’’ in years three to five. A joint district-union committee, to be seated in January, would decide how “differentiated pay” would work but it could reward teachers of high-need subjects, in high-need schools, or in teacher leadership positions, or those who rate highly in a new teacher evaluation system that is tied, in part, to student growth.
■ Elimination of “step and lane’’ increases for extra years of seniority and added certifications.
■ A longer school day that, under a new law, does not require union approval. The elementary school day will increase from 5 ¾ to 7 hours, and the high school day will increase from 7 hours to 7 ½ hours four days a week, with an early dismissal on the fifth day.
This is amazing. Even Burger King employees get 15% more pay if they work 15% more hours. Chicago teachers are expected, perhaps, to be too stupid to notice. Goodbye to increases you've gotten for sticking it out and staying with the kids for 20 years. Hello to "reformers" deciding whether or not you deserve a raise. Did you raise test scores? Did you wash the principal's car? Did you spend Tuesday afternoon in Motel 6 with your AP?

So many things to consider. It's not surprising that the CTU is holding a strike authorization vote. "Reformers" are always complaining that the system is strictly for adults, and this is the problem. How dare teachers demand wage increases, better working conditions, due process, or pensions? They should give it up, focus on serving the kids, and eat cat food in their twilight years.

 A lot of Americans watch folks like Gates, Rhee, and Bloomberg, and say, yeah, screw those teachers! If my life is crap, why shouldn't their lives be crap too? And sometimes, arguments like those win over disgruntled Americans. But times like these there are other questions that need to be asked.

Is that the kind of career you want for your children? Just because your job sucks, just because your boss is nuts, just because you work 200 hours a week, should your kids do the same? Because really, this is not about you, and it's likely not about teachers who've been doing this for a long time.

It's about the future. It's about leaving this job and this world a little better for those who will take it after we're gone. Perhaps the more work for less pay thing is not optimal after all. In any case, if we're too stupid to know that what we do here is what we're leaving for our children, we deserve just about everything these demagogues are trying to leave us with.

Here in NYC, we've been without a raise for four years. Doubtless if we gave up the ATRs, Mayor Bloomberg would dig into whatever he has in lieu of a heart and grant us one. But we are all ATRs, and if the UFT gives in, we'll all be subject to Bloomberg's fondest desire, random dismissal. That's unacceptable not only for us, but for our students as well. While most societies value experience and wisdom, "reformers" look at teachers and see only price tags. Let's dump that old teacher and buy two shiny new ones. In fact, this will not benefit the kids for whom "reformers" shed all those crocodile tears.

Giving up the ATRs leads us right where Chicago teachers are right now. I only hope we're smart enough to learn from their experience, forge a better direction, and lead rather than continue to get sucked into the endless vortex of "reform."

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Thought for the Day

Friday, June 01, 2012

Appearing to Take Action

Hi there, all you folks in education land! It's me, Chancellor "Waffles" Walcott, telling you that Mayor Bloomberg has decided to take action against "perv" teachers, and I agree completely! First of all, we've had it with those nasty arbitrators! Sometimes, they even decide against us! I ask you, is that reasonable? You don't see anyone ruling against us on the PEP, where Mayor Bloomberg has 8 of 13 votes. If any of them threaten to vote the wrong way, Mayor Bloomberg fires them before they can do so. That's great policy, and I agree completely.

Frankly, the only way we can represent children in the way Mayor Bloomberg wishes to, with which I agree completely, is to make sure he gets the final word. Well, technically I get the final word, but as you see with U ratings of teachers, I reject virtually every single case, whether or not there is evidence. That's the way the mayor wants it, and I agree completely.

So let's say that one of these "perv" teachers gets accused of something, and one of those useless arbitrators determines it isn't true? What the hell do they know anyway? Are they taking instructions from Mayor Bloomberg? If they were, I'd agree completely. But it appears they are not.

So what is it we want? Well, we found some NY Senator from Poughkeepsie to propose a bill that says, if the independent arbitrator finds their case to be baseless, we can fire that darn teacher anyway! That'll teach 'em a lesson! (Get it? That's just one of the cool education jokes we like to tell around Tweed! We are lots of fun when you get to know us. Really!)

So here's the thing. It probably won't get passed, as there are folks in the Assembly that insist on reading this stuff before they vote for it. (Mayor Bloomberg hates that, and I agree completely.) So it won't get passed. But even if it doesn't, we'll get teacher sex stories in the Post every day for a month. This way, we can not only put the union in the position of looking like they defend perv teachers, but also harp on those 16 cases that were dismissed! Sure, you'll say, these cases were found to be without merit. Well, let me tell you, you wouldn't know that from reading those darn tabloids! Joe SixPack, or whoever reads this stuff, thinks teachers do this stuff all the time, whether or not they actually did it.

So, given that, Mayor Bloomberg thinks we should fire teachers whether or not they're actually guilty, and I agree completely! It's another wonderful day in Mr. Bloomberg's neighborhood! And remember, if you're in the neighborhood of Tweed, feel free to step up to one of the food trucks and buy yourself a waffle!