Monday, June 30, 2014

If Union Is a Choice, Why Not Government?

Today the Supreme Court is expected to have a decision on whether the entire country will be subject to so-called right to work laws. Basically, a union in Illinois unionized, union officials negotiated over a 50% raise in wages, but some workers were dredged up by anti-union forces to protest the outrage of having to pay for this service. In RTW states, union dues are not mandatory and thus union is not all that strong.

It's human nature to be selfish and wonder why we ought to pay for things we can get for free. With a Supreme Court that voted to hand an election to GW Bush rather than count votes, freeloaders may have reason to rejoice later today. I hope not.

But since we have a choice, I fail to see why it ought to apply only to union. For example, I didn't vote for Barack Obama the second time he ran. Therefore, why should I be subject to the junk science his idiot education secretary blackmailed the country into? I choose to be rated S or U. I choose not to have a rubric that pretends to foster objectivity when everyone knows a supervisor with an agenda will see what he or she wants no matter what.

In fact, I didn't vote for GW Bush either. I therefore demand a refund of any and all of my tax dollars that went to support wars in Iraq I did not support. I also decline to fund a Supreme Court that will consider breaking the back of union in the United States. That's not what I voted for when I voted for Al Gore or John Kerry. It's certainly not what I had in mind when I chose Green candidate Jill Stein for President.

Furthermore, I didn't vote for Andrew Cuomo. He was the first Democrat I chose not to support, ever. It's my feeling that taxes on the rich are too low, and taxes on people who have to work are too high. I therefore demand an adjustment on my state taxes. While I actually worked for Tony Avella because he seemed to support us, he no longer appears to do any such thing, having joined the IDC. I therefore demand a refund on whatever portion of my salary that goes to support him. In fact, given the legislature has chosen to support Eva Moskowitz over Bill de Blasio, I say screw all of them and demand a refund.

Not only that, but since we can already demand refunds of portions of union dues, I'd like a checklist of absolutely everything federal and state government does. I will approve or disapprove on an itemized basis.

A union is a group that works together for the interests of all, and so is a government. If the Supreme Court determines union to be something otherwise, I fail to see why they shouldn't apply the same logic to government.

There are also a lot of laws in which I do not believe, and therefore ought not to have to follow, but that's another blog altogether.

Update: The decision is in, and it appears to affect only what the court deems "partial public employees," not full public employees like teachers and police. Perdido Street School says unions dodged a bullet for now. "No doubt Alito, who specializes in union-busting, is looking for a better case to sweep away the old precedent."

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Good, the Bad and the Really Ugly

I learned of the death of Eli Wallach on the way to grade Regents last week in someone else's school.  The star of stage and screen had died at the age of 98.  I will always best remember him as Tuco, "the Ugly," part-time sidekick to Blondie, in Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."

Eli Wallach was a New Yorker; while Wallach was building a career in film, his brother, Sam, faced some pretty big challenges of his own.  He served as president of the Teachers Union, 1945-1948, a more radical precursor of the UFT.  He was instrumental in pushing the Teachers Union to include substitutes.  He, ultimately, suffered in 1948 under the post-WWII anti-communist hysteria that led to the passage of the Feinberg Law, requiring the firing of anyone advocating the overthrow of government, and the imposition of loyalty oaths.  Teachers were asked to renounce all past associations with Communists as well as to inform upon other teachers.   There were even undercover informants, including one "Blondie" or "Operator 51."  Wallach penned a statement published in The New York Times, co-signed by sixty others, including Albert Einstein, arguing for a teacher's right to his or her own personal and political beliefs.

This period was documented in a film entitled, "Dreamers and Fighters:  The NYC Teacher Pages," narrated by Eli Wallach.  Although in 1967 the Supreme Court found the firing of teachers amid this Red-Scare hysteria unconstitutional, Sam Wallach never taught again. He went on to help mentally-retarded children at Maimonides Developmental Center.  As he was about to retire in December 1976, the NYC Board of Education reinstated him with nine others.  They regained their pensions.  Sam Wallach died in February of 2001.

In retrospect, Sam Wallach stated that the radical Teachers Union (replaced by the UFT in 1964), "frightened large chunks of teachers, especially the obvious red positions.  We should have steered clear of controversial issues and concentrated on the practical, day-to-day concerns that all teachers have."

It seems to me that the issues facing our AFT as it gathers to meet in two weeks' time (July 9-10), are far from controversial.  We must stop the privatization of public education which further lines the pockets of the already wealthy at the expense of democracy.  We must stop those who would demolish the rights of a unionized teaching force and deprive us of the due-process rights of tenure.  We must motivate our teachers to stand against a media image that largely uses us as scapegoats for poverty.

We must oppose the Common-Core, despite Gates' "Fistful of Dollars" and Weingarten's hesitancy to listen to the popular uproar against it.  We must oppose its test-based view of teacher accountability, standardization that enriches the likes of Pearson, as well as those who would reduce our children to data points.  I do not view these goals as extreme or "red."  I view them as common sense.

Many will be watching the convention very carefully, including the actions of the reflex-hand-raising, loyalty-oath swearing Unity faithful, the UFT tail that wags the AFT dog.  In the immortal words of Tuco, "There are two kinds of people in the world, my friend:  Those with a rope around the neck, and the people who have the job of doing the cutting."  I would hope the AFT does some serious cutting at the convention.  If it doesn't, dissension will only grow.  

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Ms. Tisch and the Fabulous Idea

Thank goodness we have great thinkers like Merryl Tisch working for us. If it weren't for her, teachers would still be grading Regents exams of their own students. Back in the bad old days, that would translate into rampant corruption. Sometimes, in fact, a bunch of evil teachers would look at a grade of 64 and try to find ways to make it a 65.

Obviously that's unacceptable. It's vital that any kid with a grade of 64 be forced to go to summer school, or take another year of that course, or whatever it takes to learn that this is a rigorous world. Because this world is not about curiosity or joy, but rather rigor and grit (unless your father is Andrew Cuomo, Bill Gates, Barack Obama or John King, but that's another story). In public schools, we let kids know life is filled with tedium and unnecessary nonsense. Otherwise, how will we persuade people to make careers at Walmart?

Since Merryl Tisch has determined that public school teachers are a bunch of lowlife animals, unworthy of the public trust, we can't allow their favoritism to sully our practice of giving kids grades of 64. We've placed incredible pressure on teachers to have their kids pass tests, and it's important that we preclude their giving any comfort or aid to the kids they work with. Again, it's kibbles and bits. Or rigor and grit. Or something we need to teach the kids who don't go to Montessori schools, like John King's kids.

In NYC, we've taken this thinking to a whole new level. One year, we took all the papers to Connecticut or someplace, and teachers couldn't even touch the physical papers. Unfortunately, some of them fell off the truck or something before we could scan them. I guess that meant more rigor and bits for the kids who just had to take the test again.

Now it's different. Before, city teachers would sit and grade papers. Now, they travel to other schools and do it. But for some reason, it just doesn't get done on school time. Therefore we now pay teachers to grade the papers of kids from other schools. How much? Who knows? But friends tell me they're offered all sorts of extra hours to do what used to get done on school time.

I get emails from the DOE offering me hours if I'll go grade English Regents exams. I don't do it because I'm not at all interested in reading papers of strangers. But a lot of people need the money and they have no problem getting enough people to do it. Is that a good use of taxpayer money?

I'm a taxpayer, and I don't think so. Why should we pay extra just to make sure more kids fail?

I'm really curious why not one education writer has even noticed this. It would make a great story if some enterprising writer could find out how much extra money the city pays in per-session in order to maintain this idiotic policy.

But I guess with Campbell Brown out attacking tenure as the civil rights issue of our time, there just isn't enough space.

Friday, June 27, 2014

When's the Best Time to Activate UFT Activists?

I'm amazed at how we're under attack on so many different fronts. Aside from Vergara and its copycats, the US Supreme Court appears to be contemplating making the United States a Right to Work country. This is really not what its supporters would have you believe. If dues are optional, a lot of people simply won't bother paying them. Thus it will be tough for union to survive. I've read accounts of unions collapsing under such weight.

In our school, we collect 12 bucks a year for our Sunshine Fund, which buys gifts and does luncheons and such. Some people will say they don't have it, they didn't bring it, they have bills, or whatever. And that's over 12 bucks. When it's a thousand, it'll certainly be a tougher sell, and a lot of people will be thinking about a big screen TV, a new Mac, or whatever.

I'll pay, but I'll be cognizant that neither I nor my school gets any representation in the UFT, NYSUT, or the AFT.  Why the hell is that? It's because my union is run by an elite political machine that not only treats differences of opinion with outright contempt, but also requires loyalty oaths of anyone who wishes to act as a representative or advance within the ranks. And those who act as representatives are free only to represent leadership, under pain of expulsion. Thus there's no grassroots representation whatsoever. This extends to NYSUT and AFT, since UFT's rubber stamp is the tail that wags the dog.

I pay into UFT COPE, but when they send me a list of people who haven't contributed, I don't make it a large priority to solicit more contributions. It's hard for me to forget that UFT sat out term 3 of the Michael Bloomberg Experience. It's hard for me to forget that, for a few pennies, they enabled the ATR. The reformy nonsense we've enabled boggles the mind.

A few years ago, when it appeared the UFT was hanging tough on the junk science bill we helped write, I invited our local COPE guy to come speak to my staff. He didn't show up, forcing me to improvise. That was a little stressful for me, as I like to prepare before I speak or teach. When I checked my phone I found he'd called asking when to show. I told him now.

He didn't have time to do much of a drive, though I made a point of upping my contribution and signing the card in front of staff. This seemed to me a good opportunity for a pitch but he didn't bother. Instead he offered us a speech about how smart leadership was, and told us we would get our contract. Bloomberg, he said, couldn't have the evaluation unless he gave us a contract.

We later learned UFT was willing not only to negotiate the evaluation without a contract, but also to allow Reformy John King unilateral control over it, deeming him an impartial arbiter. If John King is impartial, I'm the second coming of Bill Gates.

The line from UFT now is that Bloomberg never wanted the evaluation. So why didn't they know that a few years ago? Why, given our extensive history with Mayor Mike, couldn't they anticipate his lack of cooperation?

Should the anti-union legislation pass, should Campbell Brown and the other reformies we've enabled gain a stronger foothold, I'll continue to contribute to union. But UFT leadership will need more help.

It's time for leadership to give up the insane shunning of the 25% of members who say no to two-tier due process, who reject the shallow logical fallacies leadership expects us to mistake for argument. These are our most fearless, passionate and active members. As Karen Lewis and the CTU have shown us, an inclusive union is a powerful union.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Last Day

Tomorrow, vacation starts for me and most of my colleagues. I want to wish you all a happy and restful break. Despite the corporate-produced crap you read in the papers, your work is vital to all that we do. Remember that corporate reformers, despite their crocodile tears, don't give a damn about us or those we serve. No matter how creative and convoluted they make their arguments, they are dead wrong.

The most important resource we have is our children, and it's our job to prepare them for happy and fulfilling lives. Those who preach test scores above all are not only ill-informed, but fail to put their money where their mouths are. There are good reasons why Barack Obama, Andrew Cuomo, Bill Gates, Mike Bloomberg and Joel Klein don't send their kids to public schools. Prime among them is they don't want conditions for their own kids like those they preach for ours.

The reformy leaders don't care for large class sizes for their own kids. Though they publicly call Common Core essential, for some mysterious reason their own children have no need of it. You won't see John King's kids sitting in trailers. And you won't see his kids sitting in a room with the special needs kids I serve exclusively.

It's our job to do the best we can for these kids, and it's these kids who motivate us. My kids don't speak English, and doubtless Michelle Rhee thinks I'm ineffective because they can't score as well on tests as those who were born here. No excuses, they say, as they tape mouths shut and ship their own kids to private schools.

My point is that we can't take this stuff in. We can't take it personally when we're stereotyped and attacked in the media. It's a new day. Racism is no longer as chic as it once was. Gay marriage is rapidly becoming the norm. Troglodyte senators who attack women are being voted out of office. Who's left to vilify?

Right now it's us. But as far as I can tell, there's no job short of medical doctor more important than ours. Last time I looked, 100% of the patients of those doctors end up dying. Yet you don't see op-eds in the New York Post by Campbell Brown expressing her outrage that things haven't improved since the dark ages.

Put everything in perspective and enjoy yourself. Come back ready to help the kids who need you, and not Campbell Brown. When they write about how easy we have it, with our break, remember they are jealous and they need breaks too. In other countries, giving everyone a break is the norm. Of course, those countries don't have geniuses like David Coleman empowered to tell them no one gives a crap what they think.

It's our prime directive to give a crap what our kids think, because it's clear neither Coleman nor any of his reformy pals will do that very important job.

We do this not for Coleman, not for Rhee, King or Tisch, but for the millions of children who need our understanding and guidance. And we will wake up and fight every day to make sure they get the sort of education the reformy crowd wishes for their own children.

Be proud. Enjoy your break. Don't even contemplate guilt or embarrassment. Continue to fight so the kids we serve, one day, will get the same consideration, more consideration than we do. Remember that better working conditions for us mean better working conditions for the kids it's our job to serve.

Let's get in the faces of the corporate reformers, wake the union leadership, and wake the country.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Does Killing Tenure Equal a "Sound Education?"

No surprise!  Campbell Brown has recruited and sponsored six NY students to legally challenge tenure and seniority laws on the basis that they violate the Constitutional right of children to a "sound education" by protecting ineffective teachers.   Doubtless, Brown and her team hope to secure a decision similar to that in the Vergara Case in California, soon to fall under appellate jurisdiction.

One of the NY plaintiffs is Jada Williams of Rochester, the author of a seventh-grade essay complaining about ineffective teachers.  It is nice to know that the testimony of a seventh-grader holds so much weight.  One wonders how much of the world this seventh-grader has seen.  One wonders how much she understands about cuts in school budgets, over-sized classes, the social and emotional issues facing some of her peers, any learning disabilities, language deficiencies, etc.    

In the words of Jada's Mom, "When a child is educationally neglected, that's a criminal act."  I agree, only the entire framework of the debate needs to be redefined.   

I must state the obvious, even if it spoils the day for union-busting millionaires who hope to cheapen labor and simultaneously profit through the privatization of  public education:  

When classrooms are OVERCROWDED, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education."

When some children are banished to TRAILERS to learn and others are squeezed to the limit by CHARTER-SCHOOL CO-LOCATION, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education."

When classrooms are UNDERFUNDED, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education."

When children are either excluded from or kicked out of publicly-funded CHARTER SCHOOLS, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education."

When KIPP students are sentenced to padded cells, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education." 

When experienced teachers trying to educate children living in POVERTY are blamed for their low test scores and summarily fired, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education."

When CHARTER SCHOOLS increase SEGREGATION, children are being denied their Constitutional right to a basic "sound education."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oopzie! UFT and NYSUT Goof Again

Education/ legal expert Campbell Brown is at it again, and this week, rather than simply labeling teachers a bunch of shiftless perverts via stereotype, she's going after teacher tenure for all of us. She won't tell us where her money comes from, but I'm pretty sure it comes from our good pals in Reformyville.

Do you know where Reformyville is? It's the place where teachers can be judged by value-added via test scores. I watched up close and personal while former NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi was excoriated for his participation in the NY State evaluation law. This couldn't be tolerated. And thus Michael Mulgrew's UFT leadership told Unity's loyalty-oath-bound faithful to dump him, leaving him with a 34% vote deficit before he lifted a finger to protect his job.

And yet--pardon me if I'm not recalling correctly--Mulgrew himself was part of the team that negotiated this law. It was the bestest thing ever. Finally, he told us at the DA, we would have multiple measures. Before, principals could do whatever they liked. Now, everything was perfect. We could negotiate evaluation ourselves. Unless, of course, we couldn't, in which case totally objective John King could just do whatever he wished.

The point is, we played ball on evaluations. We played ball on mayoral control, not once, but twice, after we knew it was an unmitigated disaster. We sat on the sidelines while Bloomberg changed the law and bought himself a third term. We supported and helped enable Race to the Top. We supported Barack Obama, who promised he'd find comfortable shoes and stand with labor when we were under attack. We supported Common Core and Arne Duncan, the man who stood in front of God and everybody and stated that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans, the man who ridiculed suburban mothers when their kids failed tests for which they were utterly unprepared. And we didn't say boo when Andrew Cuomo took mayoral control away from Bill de Blasio and passed it to Eva Moskowitz.

And here's what UFT leadership told us when they sold us the sellout 2005 contract, the one that created the wretched absent teacher reserve--they won't like us if we don't take it. The tabloids will attack us. What will they say? Actually, I saw the same questions asked as they sold the current contract.

But here's the thing--self-proclaimed progressive Wayne Barrett just wrote a piece that basically condemned de Blasio for paying us the retro that matched a previous pattern. Chalkbeat NY penned a column about how their reformy pals consider it a waste of money to pay us for our work. And now, because it is not enough that we've decimated seniority with the ATR, because it's not satisfactory that they now get second-tier due process, because junk science is not firing enough teachers, they are using a nonsensical rationale that the only way to protect children is to make us at-will employees.

We, the UFT, NYSUT, and the AFT have played ball with the reformers. When we give them an inch, they want a yard. Appeasement doesn't work. Guess what? They don't like us, they never have, and they never will.

And if NYSUT, UFT, and AFT don't support Zephyr Teachout's primary bid against Charter Champ Andrew Cuomo, that only proves we've learned nothing.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Statement of Purpose

There's something about the picture on the left that really touches me. When you think of all the kids who've driven you crazy over the years, especially the ones who were really good at it, it's sometimes hard to understand why. I always say it's their job.

For me, it's easy to forgive kids. The one who caused me the most trouble this year ended up with a 90 average. This kid was particularly perplexing because the behavior simply did not match the very high test average I kept seeing.

You have to remember, I guess, that as a high school teacher you see the kids for a short time, but whatever troubles them follows them home, and everywhere else. You hope that in some small way you've touched them, or relieved whatever troubles them. You can't always know. Unless of course, you're running your room like this:

Personally, I find that painful to watch. I suppose this is the logical conclusion of David Coleman's contention that no one gives a damn how you feel or what you have to say. I guess it's a lot cleaner to have routines like these and rapid-fire drills than it is to run a classroom like I do. I'm sure with my classroom style I could never prepare, say, the North Korean Army. On the other hand, I'd be horrified if my kid (or yours) were in a classroom like that in the video. And, of course, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Andrew Cuomo, and John King don't put their kids in classrooms like that either.

I teach teenagers, who frequently complain about how much their lives suck. I try to tell them that their lives will only get better, and that being a teenager is likely the most painful part of life for everyone. I'm lucky to be teaching ESL, because I can promise them the quality of their lives will improve if they can learn what I have to offer. I aim to have maximum spontaneous participation without lapsing into absolute chaos, and that's a tough goal. Optimally, I'm kind of just on the edge.

I don't want my kids to be little memorizing martinets. I don't want them to clap and jump at prearranged intervals. I don't want them to spend my class like that, and I particularly don't want them to spend their lives like that.

I want them know that life is unpredictable, full of surprises, full of joy. I want them to know they have a shot at a happy life. I want them to know that whatever bothers them can pass and that they can fix it, bypass it, or overcome it.

It's just awful what these places, these tests, these fanatical ideologues want to do to our children. If we can stop it in any small way, it's well worth doing what we do.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wayne Barrett Is Shocked, Shocked

It's important to Wayne Barrett that you know he is progressive.

I am a progressive, 

How can you argue with that? After all, that's clear. You are, therefore, supposed to take his argument against union that much more seriously. But that's not all:

...have been one since the 1960s, when I became a New York City public school teacher for a few years and learned that my union, the United Federation of Teachers, was much better at representing my interests than those of the kids I taught. It shouldn't have come as such a surprise.

Wait a minute. Is Barrett stating that the United Federation of Teachers represents the interests of (gasp!) teachers? Now I'm shocked too! But what Barrett also does here is advance the meme that the interests of teachers are counter to those of students. Why aren't we out rallying for more work for less pay? After all, isn't that what the children of America need?

Despite Barrett's boast of how amazingly progressive he is, teacher v. student is precisely the argument you'll hear from Michelle Rhee, Scott Walker, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Chris Christie, and virtually all other supporters of corporate reform. Are we to determine, then, that there is no possibility they could be wrong? That appears to be the conclusion. Were Barrett to oppose abortion, gay rights, or a woman's right to choose, I can only suppose there'd be universal opposition to those issues as well. Barrett continues:

Seen through a progressive lens, all that should matter in these school skirmishes is whether a charter, a contract or an employment rule benefits students. Whenever progressive Democrats instead choose teacher power over the futures of minority kids, they are putting a big bucks lobby ahead of a core but comparatively powerless constituency.

It's pretty remarkable that Barrett forgets all the money billionaires Gates, Broad, and the Walmart family have invested in charters. Does he seriously expect us to entertain the outlandish notion that they are powerless? Does he expect us not to realize all the power and money they put behind charters? Does Barrett expect us to ignore the fact that their money dwarfs that of unions, or that Gates' has basically imposed his agenda on the nation, with the full cooperation of President Barack Obama?

Does he expect we don't know the attrition rates of charters? For example, the fabled Eva Moskowitz Academy just graduated its first class. Over half of its students not only disappeared, but were not even replaced. Are we to ignore that, as uber-progressive Barrett did?

You may, for example, have gotten the impression, when the WFP appeared poised last month to nominate charter foe Diane Ravitch to oppose Gov. Cuomo, a charter champion, in his reelection bid, that these nonprofit-run public schools are a Republican hedge-fund conspiracy. That's what the WFP, a sometimes-blunt instrument exploited by the interests that bankroll it, and 75-year-old Ravitch, the adopted guru of the UFT and de Blasio administration, would have us believe.

I wonder why Ravitch's age is of any relevance to Barrett's argument. Nonetheless, it's one of the most preposterous arguments I've ever seen, particularly if Barrett is as progressive as he claims. There's no evidence whatsoever that Ravitch was poised to win the nomination, and if that's not clear to you, you can ask Zephyr Teachout. Teachout lost the nomination, and it's pretty clear the teacher union did not support her.

As if that's not enough, the fact is the UFT, far from labeling them a "Republican hedge-fund conspiracy" not only supports charter schools, but has opened and co-sponsored them. AFT made Bill Gates the keynote at its convention. UFT and Ravitch differ on not only issues like charters, but also mayoral control, Common Core, and VAM ratings, all of which UFT has supported and Ravitch has opposed.

It's remarkable that someone as "progressive" as Barrett fails to comprehend the corporate influence on the modern Democratic party.

Even Zephyr Teachout, the Fordham professor who ran unsuccessfully against Cuomo for the WFP designation after Ravitch dropped out and now plans to challenge him in a Democratic primary partly because of his "support of corporate school reform," is the protégé of new charter school backer Howard Dean.

This is classic guilt by association. Barrett, despite acknowledging her opposition to Cuomo's corporate reform, sees fit to extrapolate Teachout's positions from those with whom she's acquainted rather than her actual words criticizing Cuomo's education positions or the obvious act of her opposing him.

Aside from the pyrotechnics involved in constructing Barrett's arguments, it's pretty disappointing that the self-styled progressive appears to oppose higher wages for those of us who, unlike him, have chosen to continue to educate all of New York's children, whether or not they meet the selective standards of Eva Moskowitz. I'd say one bottom line for anyone progressive is supporting working people. And lest Barrett shed further crocodile tears for the children he sees as well-served by charters, they will grow up and need jobs too.

It's my hope that we can offer our children something better than what Walmart has spent millions and millions creating for them. And like many of my colleagues, I'm poised to support real progressives to counter the Walmart message.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Alert: $1,000 Signing Bonuses and Delays in Teacher Taste-Testing of Rotten Common-Core Pie

I received two e-mails from UFT President Mulgrew yesterday.  I'm sure he's pretty much trying to allay our fears that we're "totally screwed" before we leave for summer break.  First, in an early morning e-mail sent on behalf of President Mulgrew and Chancellor Farina, I learned that the $1,000 signing bribe bonus will hit our direct deposit before the end of the month.

I know for many, money goes a long way towards buying loyalty.  In my mind, it doesn't come close to making up for the second-class due-process rights of ATRs or the inclusion of merit pay to divide membership.  But, then, call me #151.  After many years of waiting, I wouldn't have minded waiting for something more worthwhile.  I voted, "No."  So, morally, I may not be entitled to that money:  It's "not that I loved the Idea of Working Under a New Contract less, but that I loved True Union Solidarity more."

I received a second Mulgrew e-mail later in the day.  Here's an excerpt:

Dear Arwen,

Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature heard our concerns and have agreed to a two-year pause in attaching high-stakes consequences for teachers to student performance on Common Core-aligned state tests. Everyone recognizes that the Common Core, while the right direction for education, had a terrible rollout. Students aren’t being judged on the Common Core tests and state lawmakers made the smart decision not to judge teachers on those tests either.

Off hand, the news is good.  I was horrified to read Mulgrew's implicit assumption, however.  "Everyone recognizes that the Common Core" is "the right direction for education."  How can he make this claim?  I guess everything to the contrary goes in one ear and out the other.  Does he not know how states are pulling out like it's the plague?  Louisiana pulled out just recently.  I believe only 36 states are still with the CC program.

I don't care how much PD is provided and how many CC-aligned lesson plans are sent along, I don't want the Common Core.  I don't want test companies and data companies profiting off of the misery of little kids.  I don't want to teach to someone's test today, tomorrow or ever, to save myself from professional annihilation--when I already know students living in poverty with language deficiencies and many special needs will never on average surpass the scores of children in wealthy suburbia.

As I think about it, I am sure that America has not so much bought the Common Core as been handsomely paid to adopt it.  As states begin to realize the federal morass in which they are now mired, I am sure many more will agitate for withdrawal.

I have often wondered if all of Bill Gates' money (and all his horses and all his men) had not propped up the Common Core, how far it might have reached.  Bill Gates money has gone every which way, including to the AFT and NEA.  This year, at about the time of the NPE conference in Texas, due to rank-and-file pressure, Weingarten announced the AFT would end its five-year relationship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  The states, as well, jumped on board when offered money.  They stood to gain handsome RttT grants.  They are now realizing that the money will run out and they will be left to foot the big bills for implementation.

I have always believed education should be a reserved power, as the Founders intended.  The states must be in the driver's seat.  I believe the closer education comes to the grassroots, the better it will serve community needs and our larger democracy.  Our federal government already has enough business and thorny issues to keep it occupied.  And, I am very worried about much of that business.  Why would I want our federal government taking on even more?  We are not communist and we are not a dictatorship.  We do not need federal hands in every pie.  In my mind, the Common Core is a recipe for one rotten pie and we would all do well to keep our hands and those of our children clear of it!

Friday, June 20, 2014

School Rule--Teachers May Not Talk to Parents

By special guest blogger Nouveaux Pauvres

I am now working at an after school/college prep/tutoring company in a Very Expensive Town in Long Island. To give you an idea of what kind of kids these are, one day I said to one boy, “Pack up, your mom is going to be here soon to pick you up.” The boy said replied, “My mom doesn’t pick me up. Our driver picks me up.” Well excuse me, I didn’t know you had a driver.

Anyway, the place is pretty disorganized. And expensive (for the parents). I guess the parents feel that since they’re paying, their kids get to do whatever they want. This was made abundantly clear to me when on my first day a 7 year old boy was repeatedly throwing himself on the floor and saying “I want to break a bone!" I tried to stop him but he said “You can’t tell me what to do.” Soon thereafter the mom arrived, very swank looking lady. I was so relieved. I rushed up to the mother to try to tell her about her son’s disturbing habit of throwing himself on the floor. To my shock the owner of the place grabbed me and led me away. “Teachers are not allowed to talk to parents!”


“These parents are very wealthy, and I know how to talk to them, because I am like them. But teachers are not diplomatic enough … just trust me.”

I was gobsmacked. I’ve never had anyone imply that I was too low class to talk to a parent.

Sure enough the kid went home with some chafing on his arms that resulted from him repeatedly throwing himself on the floor. The mom called, irate. The owner wanted to know why this happened. I pointed out to her that I tried to tell the mom exactly how it happened: he was repeatedly hurling himself on the floor. “Hmm, but we can’t tell her that,” she said. Okay then. What would we tell her? “I don’t know,” she said, with a ponderous expression.

The boy is very troubled. He’s 7, but he’s made comments about how much he wants to kill everyone, and then proceeded to tell me in graphic detail how everyone would die. He also told me “I’m going to whip out my weiner and pee in your drink.” I talked to the other teachers about this, they said “oh at least he didn’t say that he wanted to slit your throat, which is what he told me.” But we’re not allowed to tell the parents about this. We’re not allowed to tell the parents anything. No wonder turnover is so high — no one at the company has been working there more than a few months.

Most of the kids are pretty inoffensive. They talk casually about attending country club parties with their parents, and how they have butlers at home who clean up after them. But they’re okay, I can talk to them. Country club parties and Lexus models aren’t my favorite topic of conversation, but whatever. It’s the owner who has decided that apparently, I’m too low class to talk to the parents.

I’m reminded of that conversation between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. “The rich are very different from you and me.” “Yes, they have more money.” Well now this needs an addendum: “And they don’t have to talk to teachers."

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Little? Or Nothing?--On Cuomo's Common Core Deal

There's a deal in place with Governor Cuomo to shield some teachers from Common Core junk science ratings. This is positive for those who are rated ineffective or developing due to Common Core junk science. Regrettably, those who are rated ineffective or developing due to non-Common Core junk science are out of luck.

John King isn't worried about it because only 1% of teachers were rated ineffective last year. Of course, NYC has 28% of the state's teachers and wasn't rated at all, so that's a significant portion to overlook. But John King's not worried about that. After all, if statistics mattered to John King, he'd be worried that 70% of our children were declared failures by this program whose merits he praises at every opportunity. (Funny how he sends his own kids to a Montessori school, where they won't benefit from this incredible program.)

This is yet another band-aid. First, we temporarily shield the kids from CCSS high stakes. Then, we temporarily shield the teachers from CCSS high stakes. With the incredible statewide anger we saw the King face last year, someone had to do something. The problem is, there's this underlying assumption that the problem is in the rollout. It's the execution, not the program itself. What is this based on?

There's never been any proof that Common Core has any validity whatsoever. It's never been field tested. Perhaps the most extensive field test to date has been the NY State rollout, and that's been an abject failure. What do we learn from this? That we should fail more slowly?

We know what works for our kids. Our kids need good teachers, and we don't measure good teachers by Common Core junk science, by non-Common Core junk science, or by any variety whatsoever of junk science. Despite the druthers of self-appointed education experts like Bill Gates, there are some things you just can't quantify with mathematical formulas. Were that possible, teenagers everywhere would be clamoring for Windows phones.

I don't really mind the band-aid if it will help even one teacher in the state. But a much better program would be to get rid of junk science altogether. To do that, we will have to get rid of the politicians who are in the deep pockets of Gates, Broad, Walmart, et al.

Let's see whether UFT or NYSUT takes an active stand against Quid Pro Cuomo. Bear in mind that doing so does not entail merely sitting out the AFL-CIO nomination, but rather opposing and therefore precluding it. Anything short of that is enabling our "seat at the table." We need that seat as much as we need junk science, just as much as unions need Andrew Cuomo. So wait and see.

But in fairness, I must advise you to sit while you wait.

Chalkbeat NY---All the Reformy News that Fits

I rarely read Chalkbeat anymore. I appreciate that they send me their Rise and Shine every morning, as I'm kind of an ed. news junkie, but I haven't got the time to plod through their ponderous site and figure out what is new, what is recycled, and what is just glitzy nonsense. The comments on the sidebar used to grab me, but they're not there anymore. Nonetheless, when I see links like this one on Facebook or Twitter, I check them out.

Apparently, a bunch of reformy folks got together and criticized the UFT Contract for not being draconian enough. I'm the first to credit the Chalkbeat staff for their keen perception of the obvious. Michelle Rhee's brainchild, TNTP, and whatever Rheeplacement leader they have determine it doesn't benefit kids. Chalkbeat offers typically trenchant commentary:

The criticism is unsurprising...

I imagine someone at Chalkbeat shouting stop the presses, even though it's a blog. Another brilliant pundit suggests that if the city pays teachers more, there will be less money to pay for other things. Naturally I'm amazed by his financial acumen, and grateful that Chalkbeat deemed his insight worth sharing. I would never have guessed if you spent money on one thing you could not spend it on another.

Yet another pundit suggests that people who have relationships sometimes disagree. I was poised to read about how the world would be better if people were nicer, but alas, no one saw fit to inform the reporter.

The thing that most amazed me, though, was that anyone sees a bunch of reformy people saying reformy things as news. Chalkbeat is the outfit that brought us the world-shattering news that 100 E4E members supported more work for less pay, or some other such thing. I actually asked whether anyone could send a petition signed by 100 people and have it merit a story. One of their writers said yes it did.

At the time, NYC was having ESL teachers grade English Regents exams of schools that contained high percentages of ESL students. My large school had more ESL students than many of those schools, but a lower percentage. I got 100 signatures asking that ESL teachers grade ESL papers citywide. It took me about an hour.

Chalkbeat, or Gotham, or whatever they were called that week, had a reporter call me. She asked me for other names to contact and I gave them to her. She never followed up and the story never appeared.

Because, like UFT rallies when they can't be bothered to walk around the block from their office, such things are not reformy enough to tell people about. It's a shame that an education news outlet with such potential sees fit to push the corporate junk science agenda rather than informing those of us who really care not only about education, but also the overwhelming majority of American kids being educated.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

On Class Size--Night and Day

I taught two double-period classes this year. One had 32 kids and the other had 14.

I had a great year with both of them, to tell the truth. But they had quite different characters. The prime difference was that the large afternoon class required a lot of handling. I go quiet when I'm not happy. I stare the class down until we can continue. Every moment spent staring is a moment of instruction lost.

It was particularly tough this year because of four personalities in the PM group. None of them were bad kids, and three of them passed, but they were all problematic in their way. The most troublesome was a young woman who seemed to require my attention every minute. She had a piercing voice that could not and would not be ignored. She also had a very high average.

I tried contacting her parents, but they were pretty tough on her. She'd come in and go silent for two or three weeks. I found that even worse than being interrupted and basically put up with her for the rest of the year. It's perhaps my most significant defeat as a teacher. (Don't tell my students, please.)

Another kid basically could not sit still. Another could not refrain from speaking his first language. Actually there were two kids like that. Neither could comprehend fully that when I said the class was all English, I really, really meant it. In a way, it's understandable. Imagine yourself sitting in a foreign country with 25 English speakers and having some guy tell you that from now on you couldn't speak English. It's a hard sell, but my job is a hard sell.

Here's the thing, though--in the morning class I had a few very outgoing personalities too. In fact, one of my PM problems had been transferred from the AM class, and he was passing the AM class at the time. I knew moving him into the other class would be trouble.

But in the morning, I could let the kids say what they liked. I could let them speak as much as they liked. There was no place to hide and speak your foreign language, and it was rare that anyone even tried. One girl, who I think would have failed the PM class, was able to pass largely due to excellent participation. What was amusing in the morning, sadly, would have needed to be shut down in the afternoon. I think that was the case with several of my PM kids.

I like to encourage communication. It's one of my prime responsibilities as a language teacher. While I've got very few good things to say about Mike Bloomberg, one great thing he did was liberate teachers like me to place our classrooms in horseshoes. Before he made his much-despised push for that, you'd need special permission. Now I push the seats the way I like them, the next teacher pushes them how she likes them, and no one seems to care all that much.

But a few months into this school year, I pushed my PM class back into rows so as to hinder conversation. It was simply unworkable otherwise. Throughout the year I frequently reassigned seats. Nothing was ever quite perfect. But I know one thing--if my PM class had been split into two groups, I'd have been able to give them more attention. I'd have been able to indulge my louder kids a lot more. I'd have been able to make them love English more.

Making them use and love English is kind of my prime directive. It's very important for my kids, particularly if they choose to stay here. I'm absolutely sure I could do it better with class sizes of 25, or ideally 20. One thing I've noticed is whenever the most verbal kid leaves, another kid steps up and becomes the most verbal kid.

I would like to let each and every student of mine to step up and get a chance to be as verbal as possible. How about it, Mayor de Blasio? Chancellor Fariña? Shouldn't we reduce class size every half-century or so?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

UFT Unity's Solidarity v. Real Solidarity

I read in NY Teacher that our contract places parents and "educators back in the driver's seat in our city's public schools."  I find the claim humorous.  I doubt UFT Unity asked many parents what they wanted and I know they certainly didn't ask me.  The lack of democracy in my Union is for me, perhaps, the single most depressing aspect of this whole educational war over "reform."  The people who are supposed to be protecting me forge ahead, caring little to listen to my concerns or those of the rank and file.    

When UFT Unity says "Solidarity," what exactly do they mean?  

1.  Does solidarity mean signing a loyalty oath to uphold Unity policies come hell, high water, your conscience or the differing views of your constituency? 

If that's solidarity, I am sorry for democracy.

2.  Does solidarity mean voting for a contract for which you have never seen the M.o.A. (the 300-member Contract Committee and the Executive Board) or for which the M.o.A. was only released on the eve of the vote (Delegate Assembly), allowing little time for any delegate or his or her constituency to digest it?  If solidarity means having so little faith in your own ability to analyze things or so much faith in Unity's ability to spoon feed grown adults, I cannot stomach that flavor of solidarity.  

3.  Does solidarity mean looking the other way when the contract enshrines principles like selling out your workforce with a second-tier, due-process ATR status, test-based accountability, merit pay and more PD at the expense of time with the children?

If that's solidarity, I'll leave it!

4.  Does solidarity mean forging a pre-election system that gives retirees, many of whom are far removed from the current onslaught against public education, even more voting power in leadership elections (when most unions don't even allow their retirees to vote)?  Indeed, Unity won the majority of its votes from retirees--who must have golden memories of a very different Unity than the one I know.  Does solidarity mean removing the vote for District Representatives from the rank and file?

If solidarity means muting the voice of the current membership, you can keep your solidarity.  

5.  Does solidarity mean sending out Unity propaganda as you brand ed bloggers (except your own) as myth makers, but won't even engage in debate to point out those myths?  

If solidarity means censorship, I say to hell with it.  

6.  If solidarity means sending reps to every school to sell the contract instead of canvassing the rank and file prior to negotiations to see what it wants and listening to its concerns (as in Chicago), then I say I've already had too much of your trickle-down solidarity.

7.  If solidarity means having delegates spread fears that the contract is the best we can do and they can become #151 on some line if they do not like it, then I say the word "solidarity" is an insult.

8.  If solidarity means buying the loyalty of your own delegates through double pensions, whopping salaries for after-school office work and perks, including nice vacations to AFT conferences at which Unity reps must close their minds to a spectrum of views as they raise their hands at the appointed time, then I say God help us all.

9.  If solidarity means never having to say you're sorry for things like mayoral control under Bloomberg and 22 domains of Danielson, then I am sorry for your brand of solidarity. 

10.  If solidarity means selling out our brother unionists by setting a pattern and supporting politicians who would lie to us and then destroy our union, then solidarity spells suicide!

In my mind, "solidarity" means:

1.  Delegates must encourage the rank and file to educate itself on current national threats to education.
2.  The needs and concerns of the rank and file must be valued by the UFT.
3. The rank and file of the UFT must help set the terms of the current educational debate.
4.  The rank and file must be encouraged to build its bonds with parents, community members, concerned activists and unionists to identify and support common causes.  Indeed, we all must help set the terms of the current debate, not the businessmen who send their kids to elite, private academies and not an elite cadre of union leaders well-removed from the realities of NYC teachers.
5.  Membership must be empowered to act.

If Unity really cared what we thought, it wouldn't build a buffer of retiree votes around itself  to muffle the voice of its active membership.  It wouldn't put its faith in loyalty-oath swearing, reflex-hand raising caucus members who don't seem to care that Unity doesn't value their independent thought enough to allow them adequate time to even digest the M.o.A.  

I will not accept solidarity on terms that stifle my voice.  When only 17% of current membership cares to vote in leadership elections, and leadership seems unfazed so long as it is reelected, there is no "solidarity," only sickness. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Teacher Season Begins Nationwide

In the wake of Vergara, corporate reformers are smelling blood in the water, and see this as the time to pounce. How else would you explain the sudden return of education expert Campbell Brown to the tabloids, and the banner article on the cover of yesterday's Post? (I'm not linking to it.)

The recipe is quite simple. Take a few cases, sensationalize them, and apply them to every member of a group. This sort of argument resonates with the public. I hate that group of people. They get too many privileges. Who the hell do they think they are wanting to sit in front of the bus?

And no, I do not see the distinction between using this line of argument against teachers or against racial or ethnic groups. I'm honestly not certain the Post, or the DOE even knows what a bad teacher is. Thus, they grab whatever they can find, blow it up to define the teacher they pick, and then display that image as representative of all teachers. That's simply ridiculous.

When demagogues like Bloomberg pack children like sardines into trailers, hallways, bathrooms and worse, these self-appointed protectors of our children are completely silent. When money-grubbing parasites establish virtual charters in which kids don't even turn on their computers, you hear crickets. When the saviors of the universe, the charter school owners, fail to take in kids with extensive special needs, when they make parents jump through hoops, when they indulge in practices that exclude those who need the most help, that's fine as long as Eva Moskowitz can be compensated at a higher rate than, say, the President of the United States.

This is only the beginning. And unfortunately, PR is one area in which the UFT is even worse than other areas. I've repeatedly asked UFT to step up and work with the press, but they tell me they're afraid it will backfire. In fact, it's tough to imagine worse PR than what we get nowadays. I can find an outrageous misrepresentation, give it to the UFT, watch them do nothing, and write about it myself. Mind you, they actually pay people to deal with the press.

When my school was in danger, I courted the press. We were covered in every major paper and even made the nightly news. Bloomberg and Klein even acknowledged us on TV. Sure, they lied and twisted the truth, but that's what demagogues do. These things can be done.

The only thing is they can't be done by timid people whose concept of doing the right thing revolves around loyalty oaths and gala luncheons. It's rather pathetic that none of the brain trust at 52 Broadway can conceive of anything better than what is, for all intents and purposes, nothing.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Go from "Grossly Ineffective" to "Highly Effective" Overnight


Feeling out of sorts and grossly ineffective in your inner-city classroom?  Do students occasionally hurl objects at you?

"Vergaraitis" getting to you? Afraid you'll be booted from your job after twenty years of hard service? Want to become Highly Effective overnight?  We have a school for you!

The problem was never you. It was your students.  As long as there are public schools, you need never face the neediest kids again! 

KIPP has rules:

We have rules, too. And children who cannot follow them will be "counseled out."  

And, we also have rules for you:

Coming soon to a location near you,thanks to colocation rights!

Friday, June 13, 2014

The Amazing Disappearing Mr. Astorino

A few months ago, I went to an anti-testing demonstration at Comsewogue High School. One of the speakers was gubernatorial hopeful Rob Astorino. Astorino spoke forcefully against Common Core, to the overwhelming approval of the crowd. Cuomo was awful. He was dancing around the truth. He supported this awful testing program. Who needs someone like Andrew Cuomo?

And no one really disagreed. Only while Astorino was ridiculing Cuomo for dancing around the issues, he somehow forgot that he himself opposed a woman's right to choose. His enthusiastic support for charter schools somehow never made its way into his speech that day.

It also slipped his mind that he opposed gay marriage. That was fortunate, because many in the crowd could have suffered a distinct slip in enthusiasm had they known that. In fact, it's pretty well-known that the Tea Party shares pretty much the same sentiments, and they wouldn't be likely to make much headway in NY without wearing a fairly convincing mask.

But there's even more reason to be wary of the slippery GOP candidate. Astorino opposes the Triborough Amendment, and wrote an op-ed in the NY Post explaining why. Astorino, like many tabloid writers, maintains that collectively bargained step increases are in fact raises, and wants an end to them while contracts are being negotiated. He claims working people have zero incentive to come to the bargaining table. Ask UFT teachers who waited over five years for a raise and then voted for delays and givebacks whether or not that's so.

He further claims having municipalities hold up the terms they've negotiated is a drag on the economy. Astorino also rails against retroactive increases. If working people have to wait years to get a contract, too bad for them. Astorino is worried about increasing health care costs. Why should cities have to absorb them simply because they can't be bothered negotiating with unions?

If you read the whole piece, despite Astorino's absurd claims he isn't anti-union (no doubt the zillionaires who financed Vergara weren't either), he wants government to hold all the cards in negotiations. In fact, he wants government to have zero incentive to negotiate with public sector unions. Why should they, really, when they could simply freeze wages forever and continue to expand deductions for health care costs? Eventually unions would owe municipalities for the privilege of coming to work, and we could revive that whole, "owe my soul to the company store" thing.

So be careful what you wish for when saying, "anybody but Cuomo." Would Cuomo dump the Triborough Amendment if he could? Absolutely. The only thing I can say in Cuomo's favor is that he's at least obliged to pretend to be a Democrat now and then.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Will the Vergara Case Make Us Rich?

By Special Guest Blogger Rolf M. Reformeo
I read the "tentative decision" in the Vergara case.  The concluding paragraph quoted my hero, Alexander Hamilton.  Having been so inspired, I will inform you of my "tentative decision" by introducing two more quotes of Mr. Hamilton:

"When the sword is once drawn, the passions of men observe no bounds of moderation."  And, "I think the first duty of society is justice."

Lend me your ear and listen to the relentless logic of my arguments for justice.  In the Vergara Case, Judge Treo pointed to BrownSerrano I and II, and Butt (p. 2) to justify the court's interference in the realm of education in the name of securing equality of educational experience.  I could not agree more that the "quality of  teaching is what matters most for students' development and learning in schools" (p. 7).  All sides confirmed that grossly ineffective teachers undermine the ability of students to succeed.  According to the evidence provided by Dr. Chetty based on his "massive study," a single year spent with a grossly ineffective teacher "costs students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings per classroom" (p.8).  These ineffective teachers who can only be removed by a "complex, time-consuming and expensive" procedure (p. 13) place a "disproportionate burden on poor and minority students" (p. 8).  

I propose a class(room) action suit.  So long as the statute of limitations has not passed, many people are due a heck of a lot of back pay.   I can recollect some pretty ineffective teachers in my past.  I met one years later and he apologized to me.  He had been undergoing cancer treatment and sapped of all his energy that year.  Oddly enough, he was my global history teacher and, now, I spend much of my life teaching the global history I never learned in his classroom to other students.  Oh, the irony of it all!  Imagine how much better I might be at teaching global history if he had been fired for suffering from cancer that year!  Society owes me something!

There was another teacher who was on the cusp of retirement.  He made sure to enjoy as many of his allowed absences as possible that year.  He was a teacher you didn't mess with though because he came to school with a gun in his briefcase.  He was my law teacher.  Although there was no regents for me to ace in his class, I finished with my only average of 100 in my whole high-school career.  I'm mighty glad I didn't have to argue grades with this gun-toting teacher!  But, imagine how much better I might have done if he'd only been fired (I don't mean his gun).

I'm sure you can remember many teachers who might have done a heck of a lot better by you.  Perhaps some were pregnant and left you stranded with a sub at the mid-year point.  Maybe they just should have been fired.  Why should we care if Mom and baby are put out in the street?

Stop and think about it.  If you had at least two bad teachers in your school career, thanks to Mr. Chetty, I can tell you that's $1.4 million per classroom for each year.  Let's imagine a crowded classroom of 34 students.  Now, that's $41,176.47 I am owed by the state for failing to provide me a spiffy teacher in just one classroom.  By the way, if my arithmetic is wrong, just blame my "grossly ineffective" math teacher, but realize you now owe me more in reparations!  Now, if I've had two such teachers, I'm not sure if the law of diminishing returns or the multiplier effect "kicks in."  Can you tell I had a great Economics IB teacher?  Regardless, I do have a feeling I'm going to be owed a heck of a lot of money.  Come to think of it, we're all owed that much and much more.  

So, join me in a class(room) action suit to reclaim all the earning potential that has been so unjustly stripped from us!  If we can only secure some of this money it might help offset the pension they intend to rob from us next!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

California Judge Strikes Teacher Tenure in Vergara Case

Details here. Could copycat cases be edging toward the east coast? This is the sort of thing that AFT keynote speaker Bill Gates would spread like cancer if he had half a chance.

On the other hand:

They are likely to appeal the lower court decision, and a final resolution could take years.
It's quite clear to me the zillionaires who brought this case don't give a damn about California kids, our kids, or any kids of the bootless and unhorsed. This is a head on attack against union from the usual suspects. If LIFO is unfair for teachers, how can it be fair for anyone else in a union? Apparently, it's better to rely on the opinions of junk science purveyors like Gates, Cuomo, and Duncan.

I have a lot of issues with our union but I'm absolutely certain we're better off with it than without it. It's time for unions to take a strong stand, not that this is anything new. Without seniority or tenure protections we might as well all go work for Eva Moskowitz.

I was pretty upset when UFT partnered with Steve Barr and Green Dot to bring his union-lite, no tenure, no seniority crap to NYC. If things like this are permitted to spread teaching will be a step up from Walmart associate, if that.  It is not ultimately helpful to our students to turn an available and worthwhile career into crap.

But there's big money in the US set on doing just that.

It's time to stop appeasing these people. It's time to stop throwing them mayoral control here, VAM there, and Common Core somewhere else. It's time to stop saying, "OK, ATR teachers can have a second-tier due process." It's time to stop claiming such things aren't tremendous givebacks for which we gain absolutely nothing in the long run.

It's absolutely clear what corporate reformers want, and no seat at any table is worth playing their game. It ends with knives in all our backs.

Fred and Wilma

My afternoon class is a little crazy. Of course I pride myself on being the craziest person in the room, but there are a few kids who give me a run for my money. For the purposes of this blog I'll call them Fred and Wilma.

I usually seat my classes in a horseshoe so as to encourage dialogue. I've moved this class into rows so as to impede it a little. And I've carefully calculated where kids should go. This is very tough to do because 90% of my students speak the same first language, and it's literally unnatural for them not to use it. But my job entails battling nature at every turn.

I do get quite a bit of English out of this group. But I get it at odd times. Fred likes to speak his first language, and I've moved his seat on multiple occasions. There are really no places to put him where he won't find people with whom he can speak. His verbal English is not bad, but he can't seem to control himself. The odd word in his first language comes out here or there, now and then, but several times in every class.

Wilma is different. She'll speak English all day long, but has a voice that can cut through anything, and she's not afraid to use it. She's challenging because she has a 95 average, and is likely as not the smartest person in the room. My go-to remedy for overly loud students is calling the home, but for her it's problematic. Last time I did that, her parents took her phone away and she sat in the class for two weeks with her arms folded, refusing to utter a word. I found that a lot worse than her outbursts.

But she's got a sense of decorum. For instance, she knows people aren't supposed to shout. And if anyone does, she will shout, "Stop shouting!" to that person loudly enough that the walls shake. Bright though she is, the irony of that escapes her utterly. She just can't help herself.

Yesterday, after Fred said something particularly amusing to those in the room who understand his language, I got a flash of inspiration. There's a vacant seat in front of Wilma, one of the few students in my class who does not speak Fred's language. I moved Fred to that seat.

I then started asking questions. Wilma is always ready to answer, even if it entails shouting above anyone else who'd like to answer. Yesterday I called on her more than usual. Actually, she'd prefer that I call on her exclusively and ignore everyone else. So she was pretty happy to get this attention. But I asked her to repeat her answers. I told her I couldn't hear. She was only too happy to oblige loud, louder, loudest, and well-beyond. Fred cringed from the seat in front of her.

Both Fred and Wilma understood exactly what I was doing and why I was doing it. I managed to throw Fred off-balance and channel Wilma's energy in such a way that its innate distraction was under my control. It was a miracle.

I wonder whether I can sustain it for the next five class days. It's a little tiring having to think of things like this. But there's always a way, somewhere.

Monday, June 09, 2014

They're Here to Replace Us

That's what Jerry Seinfeld says about our children. They look innocent enough, but their ulterior motives are not remotely hard to figure. To that end, one of my students took over my class last week. She decided she could do as well as me, and commandeered my notes.

Actually she did not do all that badly. The students gave her less of a hard time than they gave me, and were generally amused by her. She understood the material very well. I had to tell her to ask the questions first and call names later. She asked my why and I told her if she said the names first, only that person would actually listen to the question.

Still, I got in trouble. The girl sitting next to me raised her hand and claimed I was bullying her (I wasn't). I was pretty surprised she even knew that word. I had never heard her accuse anyone of such a thing before. The girl teaching the class made me sit in the back. None of that innocent until proven guilty stuff that day. There were a lot of remarks about the troublemaker in back of the class, and corrections made by me were questioned pointedly.

After all, who can trust the guy the teacher made sit in the back?

This was a pretty good moment, the sort of moment that Danielson might rate highly effective. And if you're going to use a rubric to encourage good teaching, it might be a positive thing to which a teacher could aspire. Of course, if you're shooting for one of those 20K master teacher gigs, you'd best have them all the time. (By the way, Mulgrew says these positions are not merit pay because they aren't based on test scores. The reality is they're based on our ratings, which are currently 40% based on test scores. A better argument, if you accept Mulgrew's premise, would be they're only 40% merit pay.)

I don't want the master teacher gig, so I don't have to sit and hope my students take over my classes on a daily basis. But the problem with using Danielson as a rating rather than guidance tool is that highly effective entails circumstances not precisely within your control. Students are simply not predictable, and you will have good days and bad. With particular groupings, any class could lean one way or the other.

I do everything I can think of to make my class a positive environment, and I really try to shape the culture, but I'm just one person. Within the culture of a classroom, one person, depending upon who it is, can make a big difference. Having a kid who's willing to get up in front of the class and take a chance like that is great when a supervisor walk in. On the other hand, one disruptive kid can change the environment a lot too. I had one kid absent from one of my classes on Friday and it made my life a whole lot easier. You don't realize things like that until they come up.

If your classroom is a lively place where kids feel free to express themselves you cannot predict from one day to the next what will happen. That's the kind of classroom I want to be in, even if it's a little noisy from time to time. I don't want the room out of control, but I want it right on the cusp. I always hope I get kids who will work with me so I can leave it right there.

But I never know what's going to happen. I can't just write a lesson plan and make it hit every Danielson bell. A lot depends on the kids who are with me, and I never know what they're going to do. That's one of the reasons I keep coming back.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

But Mister, I'm Not Using the Phone for That

There are a whole lot of reasons why we grab our smart phones. I'm as guilty as anyone. Though I wear a watch, I don't trust it anymore. My phone has atomic time or something, and it's always accurate. I will pull it out of my pocket in class to check the time. If a student doesn't know the population of her country or something, I just might ask Siri and have her tell the class.

Students have different reasons they may look at phones. Some of the girls in my classes say they aren't using it to text. They're using it as a mirror. Often it's evident that they're doing just that, so I tell them to put their mirrors away. That's what I tell kids using real mirrors. But that's just one more odd use for the phone.

Many of my ESL students use smart phone programs as translators. This is really helpful in that stand-alone translators, which I almost never see anymore, cost hundreds of dollars. These translators replaced paper dictionaries, which I used to frequently see. The thing is, I don't actually want my kids to depend on translators. Students who use translators are focused on whatever happened when the word came up, and they're completely tuned out of the moment.

Some of my least successful students spent an inordinate amount of time with dictionaries or translators. I tell them they don't need to do this in class, and that if they want to they can sit with a newspaper at home and translate the whole thing. In a live classroom, as in every live situation, they need to train their ears. They'll have ears even if they forget their translators. Also, a lot of translators are notoriously awful, giving my kids words that are either outdated or never used by those of us who are native speakers. Ears are almost always better.

I'm constantly suspicious of kids who have their hands under their desks, and more often than not find them using phones. Sometimes they defend themselves by saying they're using translators, but it's plainly visible that they're texting. Sometimes they think I can't tell they're texting because they're doing it in a language I don't understand.

It's a fact of life. I might place a phone on my desk for a period, but I won't have a phone confiscated unless someone does something really egregious. The cardinal rule in my class is that we use only English, and I don't care how inconvenient anyone thinks that is. Once, a phone rang, and a kid picked it up and began having a conversation in a foreign language. That phone got confiscated. Another time, a kid went into the trailer bathroom and deemed it a good idea to play music the whole class could hear. His mom had to come in and pick up that phone.

I have one kid who pulls out an empty case to distract me. When I call him on it, he proudly turns it around to reveal he isn't using a phone after all. Clever. "Don't bring your toys to class," I tell him, and make him put it away anyway.

With all the uses for a smart phone, I've yet to find the one that makes it OK for kids to use it in my classroom.