Saturday, April 30, 2016

On New Suspension Policies

Recently we had a consultation with our principal in which we discussed a member being cursed out in the hall. We asked what could be done about it. From the consultation notes we sent membership:

AP Security quoted the city discipline code, which indicates suspendible offenses but offers notable exceptions:

Level 3—“Defying or disobeying the lawful authority or directive of school personnel or school safety agents in a way that substantially disrupts the educational process and/ or poses a danger to the school community (this behavior does not include Level 1 or 2, uncooperative/ noncompliant or disorderly behavior, such as using profane language, B15; or wearing prohibited clothing, B09; or bringing prohibited items to school…

Note—This basically says there are very mild consequences for things like hats, phones, or mouthing off to teachers. They talk very tough, but the most extreme thing you can do in most of these cases is teacher removal from class and a parent conference.  AG

We were pretty shocked.  Read my column in today's Daily News for more.

Related: A former NYC teacher left this comment on Facebook: I worked in an NYC middle school for 10 months. They had outlawed detention and told me that I was supposed to simply call a parent when a student acted up. There was also no in-school suspension. Result: Absolute chaos I had no power to control. I wasn't even allowed to intervene when students fought. I had to call security and wait around 20 minutes for them to come and separate the students. Then I'd have to call the janitor to come clean up the blood. It was a nightmare.

MIchelle Baptiste on the UFT Election

I'm excited and proud to be part of MORE/ New Action 2016, offering hundreds of involved, activist candidates as an alternative to the Unity machine that has monopolized our union forever. Win or lose, we are all in. I'm running for HS Executive Board, and I'm excited about having real opposition voices inside the union for the first time in years.

Below is a video by my friend Michelle Baptiste, who I meet at various events and demonstrations around the city and elsewhere. She's just one reason, one person, of many that I'm excited about. I love her quote about how teachers are not supported and how they should actually expect to be supported. It's the Wild West for us, and if you don't happen to have a supportive supervisor, you're on your own.

We'd like to offer teachers alternatives other than 40-50% junk science. We'd like to have, for example, a fair contract. And we'd like to move the conversation from, "All teachers suck," to, "All supervisors ought to be competent." I realize that's a big ask, but doing absolutely nothing about it hasn't precisely worked to our advantage either.

Of course Michelle can speak for herself.

Friday, April 29, 2016

UFT No Longer Supports Working Families

Our union backed the Working Families Party for a long time, but those days are over. The Working Families party supported Bernie Sanders, and the United Federation of Teachers has no use for anyone who doesn't do what they say. That's why every single person who represents us in NYSUT and AFT has to sign a loyalty oath

I was very upset with the Working Families Party in the past because they endorsed Andrew Cuomo. This was really a terrible move as far as I'm concerned, because I'm a working person and Andrew Cuomo hates me and everything I stand for. I mean, what the hell is the point of a party that declines to support someone like Zephyr Teachout against Andrew Cuomo? In fact, what the hell is the point of a union leadership that can't see the value of someone like Teachout?

In fact, UFT failed to support Teachout in her bold challenge to Cuomo in the Democratic primary. Perhaps they thought this would make Cuomo like us or something. Far from that, Cuomo went and pushed the most anti-teacher legislation I've ever seen, raising the percentage of junk science, adding strangers as observers, and placing schools under the threat of receivership. For this, UFT President Michael Mulgrew thanked the Heavy Hearted Assembly. 

Of course Randi Weingarten endorsed Hillary. This happened early, and it was based on what the AFT called a "scientific" poll. I haven't got the faintest idea what that means, and I've never seen the questions they asked. It was entirely predictable that AFT would endorse Hillary, and New York education bloggers were universally not surprised. I got onto an AFT call regarding the endorsement, and the very fist speaker happened to be a NYS Unity propagandist who'd written a really nasty article about me. Randi tweeted the piece, which was how I saw it. It called me a part-time teacher and a part-time union rep. Randi was OK with that until I pointed out it offended not only me, but each and every working chapter leader in the city.

Perhaps it was a coincidence this guy got called on first, and perhaps there was indeed a scientific survey randomly asking people their opinions. All I know is I work in the largest school in Queens, and no one ever asks me or anyone I know any of these questions. When teachers are polled and come out in support of Common Core, I can never find any teachers who agree. But what do I know? I talk to teachers all day long, and I guess the only way you can really be in touch with what's going on is sitting in an office in 52 Broadway.

But here's what's clear--UFT leadership cannot abide dissenting opinion. When Working Families decided to endorse a candidate that actually supported working families, that was the last straw for Michael Mulgrew and company. And while it's a great honor to financially support the Hillary Clinton office at 52 Broadway, a whole lot of politically active teachers I know do not support her. I don't know whether that office is paid for exclusively by COPE, but I do know my union dues keep the lights on over at 52.

It's a disgrace that once the Working Families Party takes a clear stand for working families Michael Mulgrew takes his ball and goes home.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Common Core Not Doing Its Job. Too Bad for You, America

Naturally, I'm as shocked as anyone to hear the NAEP scores are not skyrocketing. Reading scores are stagnant and math scores are actually going down. Who would've thunk it? After all, we've made kids do close reading. What could be better for a student than reading and analyzing the Gettysburg Address with absolutely no context? It's about time we got rid of those ridiculous methods that insist we actually understand what we read.

And now we can stop wasting time reading novels. Finally we can take excerpts from them and analyze them until the end of time. What's more valuable than that? Or we can take a short story and analyze it for 17 days. What motivates students more than that? I, for one, am sick of all this "loving literature" and "loving to read" nonsense, and it's about time we let kids know that reading only exists so that we can answer questions about it on tests.

Along with that, of course, is the new visionary approach to math. I mean, finally we're doing away with simple equations and making things more creative. I mean, why make math simple when you can make it complicated. There's nothing people like more than solving problems in ways that are more complicated than necessary, and using common core math will surely make people love math as much as it makes them love reading, which is to say, not at all. That's what we call "rigor."

And the point of "rigor," of course, is to develop "grit." Once you have "grit," you can accomplish the most tedious and pointless tasks in the most inefficient fashion, and still get up and say, "Thank you sir, may I have another?" After all, children are work product for our highly respected corporations, and someone's got to do this kind of work. Our friends over at the Walmart family contribute big money to refominess, and of course people trained like this might not run screaming to jump out of tall buildings after lives as Walmart associates. That's good for Walmart, as the alternative might be to pay a living wage or something.

Fortunately, we have Common Core champions, like Hillary Clinton, who will make sure our children continue to be trained in these things. The fact that they don't actually benefit anyone is neither here nor there. Hey, it must be OK because even AFT President Randi Weingarten supports it. And if that's not enough, UFT President Michael Mulgrew will punch your face and push it in the dirt if you don't.

The fact that none of this actually helps our children understand anything better is neither here nor there. Bill Gates spent a bazillion dollars funding this stuff, and that ought to be good enough for anyone. So shut up and sit down, America.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Good News

Perdido Street School returns.

Hillary's Haters

Now I may have spoken a word or two against presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. After all, she's got some rich history. But I'm surprised at the reaction I've gotten. I've been told that I hate Hillary, that I hate women, that I'm stupid, that I'm a "Bernie Bro," and that I don't understand high school civics. I've been told I support Donald Trump. I've been told that I have to vote for Hillary. I have to! I've been called a fanatic. (This writer is hearing pretty much the same.)

What is a fanatic, exactly? I think a fanatic is someone who has one point of view that supersedes all others. But that's not enough. A fanatic is someone who says, "This is the way I do this thing. Everyone else must do this thing this way too." So I'm gonna defend myself against the charge of fanaticism by saying I don't insist everyone else do as I do. I mean, it would be great if everyone voted for Bernie. It would be great if he'd won more contests. You vote for whom you like. I won't insult you. But whatever happens, I'm not planning to vote for Hillary.

I may have mentioned, somewhere or other, that I'm a teacher. I may have also mentioned that I'm a UFT Chapter Leader. In my capacity as chapter leader, I get to hear what anyone wishes to tell me about what they go through. I'm not hearing the love for Race to the Top, which imposed junk science ratings on me and everyone with whom I work. The lone exception is when I go to UFT meetings. In these meetings, people from the President on down, none of whom have ever been rated by Danielson, toss out statistics and easily proclaim that things are incontrovertibly better.

And yet, each day at work, people tell me how unhappy they are. Young, brilliant teachers tell me they can't take it any more. The most relentlessly positive people I've ever seen in my life get up and walk out. And let me add, I work in one of the best schools in the city (in my highly prejudiced opinion).

But in my school, like in every school, there are all kinds of pressures. Sometimes the pressures ease. No more letter grades. But you cut off one head, and another grows in its place. Test scores no good? Close the school. Fire everyone. Put it into receivership and give it to Moskowitz. Test scores good? First overload the school to triple capacity. Then yeah OK, the scores are good but you're not asking the right questions. What's the point of having 97% of the kids passing the math tests if they can't have profound and reflective discussions about whether or not one plus one is really two? I mean, why is it two?  You can't reserve these discussions for works of literature, and anyway we don't do those anymore. We close read pieces of them with no context, and analyze them until we're blue in the face.

And if you do get those good scores, they're not really good unless you have teams of teachers discussing the work. They have to sit every day and analyze it just like the students analyze out of context fragments of literature. If it's perfect, then they have to figure out how to make it more perfect. And for God's sake there has to be PD. Who cares if 99% of the PD you've sat through for thirty years has been useless? You never know. This might be the one. This might be the one percent. And anyway, since the support networks have been broken up, there are all these companies that charge tens of thousands of dollars for PD. How the hell are they supposed to make tens of thousands of dollars if no one pays them for PD? Have you even considered that?

I've considered it. I've considered it in great detail. Every day when another thirty-year-old teacher tells me how lucky I am that I can retire, I consider it even more. I consider that Barack Obama's children attended the Sidwell Friends School, a place that subscribes to absolutely none of the Common Core tests or junk science ratings that so torture my young colleagues. I consider that Hillary Clinton sent her kid to Sidwell too, yet thinks Common Core is good enough for the rest of us peasants and our children. I consider my beginning kids taking the NYSESLAT exam, answering ridiculous and redundant questions about Hammurabi's Code and whatever other Common-Corey Crap the geniuses over at Questar have dreamed up for them.

I'm not voting for people who enable this crap. Not anymore. I've had enough.

Hey, if you want to vote for Hillary, be my guest. But when you come at me with ad hominem nonsense, when you tell me I have no choice, I'm not the one who's fanatic.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Danielson Dials it Down

Charlotte Danielson, she of the Danielson Framework we all know and love, has penned a missive in Education Week. Danielson is concerned with the way teachers are rated. Let's get right to this jaw-dropping statement:

I'm deeply troubled by the transformation of teaching from a complex profession requiring nuanced judgment to the performance of certain behaviors that can be ticked off on a checklist.

Me too, actually. Maybe they don't have irony in Charlotte Danielson's neck of the woods, but she actually wrote the damn checklist and took a pile of money for having done so. I'm not altogether impressed by her crocodile tears years after the fact. If she's so troubled, she could always give the money back on principle and insist her framework not be used in this fashion.

My former co-blogger Arwen wrote a fabulous piece comparing the old process and the new one. It's quite clear which offers more value to a working teacher, and it isn't Danielson's model. A thoughtful and helpful supervisor could evaluate a lesson and offer valuable advice to working teachers. Of course, like many teachers, I would not take it for granted that supervisors are thoughtful or helpful. Danielson, of course, fails to consider that and why should she? It's not like she has any familiarity with or experience in the system she helped create, or even the largest school district in the country, the one that's using her system.

Where does Danielson go when she needs information? In her article she cites only only a few sources. One is TNTP, formerly The New Teacher Project, formed by Michelle Rhee, and another is Bill Gates, who funded a project called Measures of Effective Teaching, or MET. I've found TNTP to be less than thoughtful or credible, but of course I'm a New York City teacher, and unlike Danielson, I'm familiar with the system upon which she's inflicted her framework. I've also seen Gates MET program up close and personal, and found it less than impressive.

Charlotte Danielson doesn't look that closely at such things. She takes them at face value. Has she read Diane Ravitch? Who knows? What we do know is whose opinions she values. Those of us living through this reformy era know precisely what those opinions are worth.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of principals and supervisors have never taught under Danielson's system. Some may understand it, but there's really no evidence to suggest they do, or how many do. With Carmen Fariña openly advocating its use as a gotcha system, there's no reason to presume its validity. Fariña actually instructed some principal about a teacher she wants gone. Does any reasonable person think that teacher is going to get a fair observation, rubric or no rubric?

Full disclosure--there's a lot to like about the Danielson rubric, in my opinion. But it ought to be used as a growth tool rather than the gotcha tool it's become. That is, in fact, how Danielson first conceived it. For her to complain now, after having sold her idea for a whole lot of cash, that it's being misused, is the height of hypocrisy.

Again, if she really wants to impress us, let her give back the money she took and fight to withdraw the right of New York City to use her framework as a tool to fire teachers.

UFT Unity Demands Fairness

In a surprise move, all UFT employees took to the streets yesterday demanding equal treatment. UFT President Michael Mulgrew spoke first.

"Well, I personally haven't taught a class in years. But I'm demanding to be rated on my performance anyway because the whole Danielson experience is so wonderful. Every single one of the people with whom I speak, all of whom have signed loyalty oaths, tell me it's the bestest thing ever."

"Anyway, it's unlikely we will get the whole Danielson experience, what with so many of us who don't even teach at all, but as long as we're out here demanding it, well, it looks like we care about this stuff, and that's what's important, if you know what I mean."

Special Representatives in the UFT do not teach at all. District Representatives and officers in the UFT only teach one class and are therefore not rated by Danielson. Most of them, in fact, have never been rated by Danielson and have no firsthand notion what it's like. Of course, that doesn't mean they haven't got strong opinions.

"I'm tired of getting this S and U and being rated entirely by the principal," said District Representative Beatrice Babosa. "It's not fair that the teachers have all the fun. I can't wait until they finally observe me six times a year and hand me a checklist that neither I nor anyone else actually understands," she said. "After all, since we relentlessly criticize our opponents for opposing a junk science-based system, the very least we can do to demand that we participate in it."

The District Reps say they will march each and every day until the DOE awards them the equity they demand. "All of my staff is unhappy," said Mulgrew. "It's quite unfair that only working teachers are afforded the fantastic benefits of this system. Why should they be the only ones facing the burden of proof when the DOE tries to fire them?"

Martin Menteur, UFT Vice President of Truthiness, had this to say. "It's not fair that all of my colleagues get to be judged by Danielson and all I get is this stinking S or U. That's 100% based on principal evaluation, and that's unfair. I demand to be rated on the test scores of students I may or may not teach, just like all my colleagues."

Tempers ran hot, but cooled down just before noon, when all parties left to go to a gala luncheon at the NY Hilton.

"It's tough running off to gala luncheons day after day," said Menteur. "Sometimes you just don't know what to order. Sometimes I miss my old job," said Menteur, who then appeared to be overtaken by sudden spasms of uncontrollable laughter.

When this reporter asked Menteur whether he'd rather eat at the school cafeteria with his colleagues, he said, "No comment," and rushed into a stretch limo, from which several popped corks seem to emerge all at once.

But the Unity reps say they will be out protesting each and every day until and unless they find something better to do.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Fariña Wants to Fire Her Way to Success

I've read and heard a lot from Michael Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus about how fabulous the new teacher evaluation system is. Obviously Mulgrew cannot be bothered lowering himself to mix with rank and file teachers who haven't signed his caucus loyalty oath or he'd be hearing a different song altogether. But they have their talking point set, and they're sticking with it.

This is the talking point--if you oppose the junk science/ Danielson system, you therefore want to place 100% of the rating power in the hands of principals. The junk science somehow mitigates the principal evaluation even though it's largely a crap shoot. So, therefore, ipso facto, shut up and stop complaining. That shut up and stop complaining theme is very popular among Unity folk. It's pretty much their greatest hit, and I've personally been hearing them sing it since 2005.

But then along comes Michael Mulgrew's BFF, Carmen Fariña, and she's singing another song altogether. In fact, she's talking about "purging bad teachers," counseling them out or firing them, whatever it takes. Now this runs counter to the Mulgrew talking point. Mulgrew says only 700 teachers were rated ineffective this year, as opposed to 2,000 unsatisfactories under the previous system. We are, therefore, supposed to spring up on our hind legs and applaud wildly.

The problem is, though, that teachers don't much feel like applauding. Teachers feel the Sword of Damocles over our heads. We feel tremendous pressure to do all sorts of things that may or may not benefit our students. We worry that we will be fired for no reason. While Mulgrew can boast about the wonders of junk science and how it mitigates the judgment of those awful principals, I personally know a great, smart young teacher who was rated ineffective last year solely on the basis of test scores. Had this teacher not moved schools last year, another such rating could've led to a dismissal hearing.

On one issue, I think Mulgrew is right. A lot of supervisors are incompetent. I know plenty of people working for various Boy Wonders, and their lives are a misery. I mean, if you're a vindictive, small-minded, self-serving narcissist, it's unlikely you'll inspire great work, let alone enable or encourage it. And the fact is teachers with figurative guns to their heads are not likely to be of the very best service to children we serve.

But here's a fun fact--Mulgrew and his Unity Caucus have done absolutely nothing to improve the quality of administrators. It doesn't seem all that well-known that it's the  job of administrators to help teachers improve. Adminstrators seem shocked when I bring that up at meetings. Rather than help those who need it, adminstrators walk around checking off boxes and consigning teachers to Danielson hell. I know supervisors I very much doubt could perform better than the teachers they relentlessly criticize. People driven by ambition rather than care for what they do are not necessarily "effective." Those who rose in the ranks to "escape the classroom" weren't good teachers, and can't be good leaders of teachers either.

I question whether Fariña, who is on a mission to fire rather than support teachers, is really contributing either. It's pretty well known that this was her MO when she was a principal, but the fact is she not only selected the teachers, but the kids as well, rejecting 6 of 7 applicants.  I am unimpressed with those who lead highly selective schools and then boast of their results. For those of us who teach in community schools and serve everyone, it's apples and oranges. If Fariña, or Moskowitz, or anyone reformy wishes to impress me, let them go to Detroit and work their magic on a crumbling school full of high-needs kids.

Until they do that, this whole blaming the teachers thing isn't going to make me jump up and down, let alone actually help children. And as long as Fariña is trying to fire her way to the top, Mulgrew's happy talk isn't going to resonate with those of us on the front lines. Maybe it's time for Mulgrew himself to be "counseled out," and turn over the reigns of our union to a working teacher.

Boy Wonder Strikes Terror in the Hearts of Teachers

This is gonna be great. No one will mess with me after this. Let me just drop this casually.

"I'm gonna be out tomorrow. I have to go testify against Mrs. Grubelwitz at her 3020a hearing. What's that? Oh, that's when we fire a teacher."

Heh. This one's a blabbermouth. She's gonna tell everyone.

Once this gets out, no one is gonna miss another voluntary mandatory meeting. That old bat Feinstein missed one last week, and I want to put a letter in her file. But that bastard Chapter Leader keeps saying that if I call the meetings voluntary people don't have to come. Doesn't he know that they are voluntary mandatory? Why does he keep harping on the voluntary part? Once we fire Grubelwitz, I'll put letters in anyone's file if they miss a voluntary mandatory meeting. Let me stop this new teacher.

"Hey I'm gonna be out tomorrow. Send me an email if you need anything. Yeah, I have to go and testify against Mrs. Grubelwitz. Yeah, we're gonna fire her." 

It's all finally coming together. I used to have to worry about bulletin boards but now, with almost everyone going to voluntary mandatory meetings, I have the bulletin boards full of all sorts of crap, with rubrics and everything. That damn mock election was a gold mine. I mean, here I am in New York City, with all those liberals, and I have all the bulletin boards covered with the life stories of just about every Republican candidate for President. I mean, sure most of them have lost, but where else is there an entire bulletin board full of stuff about Carly Fiorina?

The only thing is people keep talking about that bastard Walsh. Why can't he just go away? He looks old enough to retire. Everyone here is all, "Oh, why didn't you go to his ceremony?" The next time someone asks me that, I'll just say, "Hey, I had to prepare my testimony so I could support firing a teacher, and maybe you'll be the next teacher we fire." Screw with me, will you?

Look at them out there talking. They're starting to look worried. Yeah that's right, you could be next. Look at me the wrong way and I'll have you up on charges, you bastards.

I wonder what they have to eat around that place. I'm thinking Mexican. Maybe I can grab some enchiladas around lunchtime. Yeah, that would be good. Maybe I can get home early and take a nap. Here's another one I can tell.

"Yeah, I have to cancel our meeting tomorrow. Yes I know I've canceled five times, and it's been two months since I observed you, but I may be popping in again next period. Or maybe not. Who knows? Anyway, yeah I gotta testify against old Grubelwitz. Two strikes, and she is outta there! You like baseball don't you?"

This will be the talk of the department. They will tremble as I walk by. The voluntary mandatory meetings are gonna be full. That stupid Chapter Leader can shout that the sky is falling, but he can't stop mandatory meetings as long as they're voluntary. Jeez that guy is a pain in the ass. I hope the sewers of Rangoon back up in his breakfast. Wait a minute, let me strike up a casual conversation.

"Oh, hey, listen, Mr. Washington, I won't be able to attend your mandatory voluntary meeting tomorrow, but could you please take copious notes and post them on Google Docs? I'd like to check them out in between testifying against Mrs. Grubelwitz. Oh yeah we're gonna fire her. You see what happens to people who don't do voluntary mandatory meetings? Could you be next? You never know. Nah, just kidding. Or am I?"

Keep 'em guessing, that's what I say. This is gonna be a great week. And next year I'll get that bitch Feinstein too.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Still Not Feeling the Love for Hillary, Part 2

I'm getting just a little pushback from people I generally respect about my decision not to vote for Hillary. I decided this when I saw her say she wouldn't keep any school open that wasn't above average. Later, her aides "clarified" or something, saying she wouldn't keep schools open if they weren't good, or something.

I was also kind of disappointed when she announced that America was never going to get single payer. After all, it's plainly horrifying that Americans, unlike a whole lot of other countries, are still going bankrupt over catastrophic medical emergency. But then, of course, when I read she took $13 million from the health care industry, it became a little easier to understand.

It certainly gives me pause when I read that hedge-funders, you know the guys who support all things reformy, are supporting Hillary. I mean, even our good friend Charles Koch is starting to look favorably at a Clinton presidency. And of course our good friends from the Walmart family, you know, the ones who hate us and everything we stand for, are pumping money into her campaign. And why shouldn't they? After all, she was on the Walmart board for 6 years, right up until Bill became President. She's also got pretty longstanding connections to reformy Eli Broad, which concerned a whole lot of teachers. Broad was going to deny her contributions, but when she promised to support charters, he reconsidered.

Hillary's also come out in full support of Common Core. Like everyone who backs bad ideas, she blamed the disaster it's proven to be on the "rollout." In her favor, she's yet to say she'd punch us in the face and push us in the dirt if we opposed it, but even the guy who did that is no longer pushing Common Core. So what can educators expect from someone who talks school closings, supports not only the charters that undermine public schools, but also Common Core? Her new notion of experimenting with poor children by sending them to boarding schools is repugnant. 

A big argument, the one that trumps anything you can possibly say to Hillary supporters, is that she'll appoint someone better than Trump or Cruz to SCOTUS. I certainly hope that's true, but it's tough to say. After all, her top aides have lobbied for a whole lot of things that are antithetical to those of us who actually support working people. In fact, her top aide, John Podesta, is a big supporter of pretty much all things reformy. Maybe I'm slow, but it's hard for me to understand how a person like that could possibly have our interests at heart, let alone those of the students we serve.

As for trade, we all now know how well NAFTA is working out for working Americans. What about TPP? Well, she now opposes it, and I'm grateful for that, but here's a clip showing 45 times that she pushed for it. So I guess it's not popular anymore. But she's unable to let go of her support for fracking.

A lot of people insist that Hillary has never been influenced by the millions of dollars she takes from special interests (and no, unlike John King, I don't mean parents and teachers). Well, there was this bankruptcy bill that now-Senator Elizabeth Warren persuaded her to oppose. But waddya know, after Hillary took millions of dollars for her campaign, and millions of dollars in speaking fees from the industry, she came around and supported credit card companies over consumers.

I don't suppose I need to go into a lot of detail on her speeches to Goldman Sachs at 225K a pop. I mean sure, she and Bill made a few bucks giving speeches. But who knows? Perhaps Hillary will protect us from predatory banking practices. Perhaps they only hired her because they enjoy the dulcet tones of her speaking voice. Maybe it relaxes them. Of course, it that's the case, I'm mystified as to why she won't release the transcripts.

So maybe Hillary will do the right thing by us. Maybe she will appoint someone to SCOTUS who represents our interests, rather than those of her contributors and campaign aides. Maybe she will be guided in education policy by voices that aren't insane, as opposed to those of say, her campaign manager or well-heeled donors.

But I've yet to see the remotest evidence of any such thing. If you have any, please share. I'm all ears.

Is it Unfair Independents Can't Vote in NY Primary?

Full disclosure--I prefer Bernie Sanders head and shoulders over all other Presidential candidates. Lately I've been hearing and reading from a lot of people who think the NY State primary system is unfair. After all, only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primaries, and only Republicans can vote in the GOP primaries. Is that unfair?

I don't think so, actually. I'm a registered Democrat, but only because it allows me to vote in the primary. There is nothing stopping anyone else who'd like to vote in the primary from registering. It's not like you have to be invited to be a party member. It's not like I'm enjoying any special privileges because of my affiliation.

It's not like the UFT system where you have to be invited and sign a loyalty oath to be a party member. (Hey, that's a little reminiscent of communist societies where parties are elite and members have special privileges, isn't it?)

I distinctly recall Sanders supporters urging people to register as a Democrat so as to be able to vote in the primaries. In fact, I have a Republican friend who changed parties simply so he could vote for Bernie. If you waited until primary day to try to vote, only to find you hadn't registered as a Democrat, that's kind of on you. As long as the rules apply to everyone, they're fair.

I'm more upset with the idea that we have to register to vote. If I'm not mistaken, Bernie thinks everyone should automatically be registered and you ought to have to opt out only if you don't want to vote. I know, for example, Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in voting, and they ought to have the right to opt out. But registration ought to be the default.

Hey, if you want to register as a Democrat, go ahead. It doesn't cost anything, and it doesn't oblige you to vote for every Democrat that comes down the pike. When they presented me with Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat who ran on a platform of going after unions, I knew he wasn't getting my vote. I discovered Howie Hawkins of the Green Party, for whom I've now twice voted. And after Barack Obama gave GW Bush a third term in education, I discovered Jill Stein of the Green Party. Maybe I'll vote for her again in November.

In some states, everyone's allowed to vote in the primaries. I recall reading of Republicans voting for Al Sharpton in order to screw with Democrats. I'm not really sure that's a great idea. I don't want to vote just to spite someone, and I don't really want people to vote just to spite me either.

Hey, if you want to register Democrat in New York State, go right ahead. Maybe this election cycle was a learning experience for some independents. And hey, I'd have loved to see Bernie beat Hillary. But we're all grownups here. I know the rules. If you don't, that's not really Hillary's fault. She didn't make the rules.

Maybe independents ought to be able to choose which primary they vote in. I think that's what they do in California. But the time to discuss that, and particularly the time to change the rules, if that's what it takes, is not right after a primary with results that disappointed you. 

I still support Bernie. I don't mind if you don't. After all, it's still nominally a free country. One thing, though--I've had it up to here with being called a "Bernie Bro" for not supporting Hillary. That's stereotypical and ignorant. Anyone who has to resort to ad hominem hasn't got much of an argument.

Of course, if it's true that 125,000 Democratic voters were systematically purged, that's another story altogether. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Instead of Saying, "You're So Smart"

I was pretty surprised by this poster. It was on an office bulletin board. Evidently, it's not a good thing to tell your students how smart they are. It's better to say they did this or that well.

Now I've got no problem saying any or all of the things on this poster. Of course it's good to tell students when they do things well. And of course it's good to acknowledge a positive attitude, something I've come to appreciate more and more in my old age.

Now a few of these things don't sound exactly like me, so I might not use those words. But that's not really my issue here.

I guess my issue is that I don't freely call people smart. I really say that to very few kids. But if I say it, it means I've noticed something very special in them. Kids who think fast, who come back immediately, who aren't afraid to say directly what's on their mind, and who have clever, creative or impressive things on said minds really impress me. I have to tell them how smart they are. I never know whether or not anyone else has told them, whether anyone else has even noticed, and I think they need to know.

Now I'll freely acknowledge that the smartest kids don't always do the smartest things, and don't necessarily have to be the best students either. Some of the most creative and brilliant people I've known have also been among the most self-destructive. You have to imagine that a mind working that fast is never quite at rest. Maybe they should do yoga or meditate or something. I don't know. But I think it's the least I can do, when I notice, to give them credit for this.

Oddly, being smart is probably not entirely an achievement. Kids are born that way, or nurtured that way, or guided that way or something. Just because kids are smart doesn't mean they will pass tests or excel in school, or even in life. Teenagers need guidance just like everyone else, likelier than not more, because it's such a tough stage. But anything you can do to help their fragile self-esteem can help. And when they're smart, when they think as fast or faster than you do, it's really tough to keep them on track. Of course it's kind of our job to do the best we can to help them reach their potential .

Of course you should give students credit for doing a great job. Of course you should encourage excellent work and good achievement. But that's not at all the same as telling kids they are smart. Great positive attitude will take people a long way. Smart people with relentlessly negative attitudes are not precisely the best people to be around.

But I think there's a time and a place for everything. Calling people smart just because they did the homework is kind of lazy on our part.

I'm kind of surprised someone produced a poster that fails to make that distinction. Maybe that person isn't smart enough to be a teacher. On the other hand, maybe that person didn't try hard enough, think deeply enough, or work hard enough to tackle this problem.

Me, I'm not psychic enough to discern which.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Letter to Staff


Dear colleagues:

There is a UFT election coming up. I am running for High School Executive Board with MORE/ New Action. Running for High School Academic Vice President is James Eterno, longtime chapter leader of Jamaica High School. James is one of the most competent and knowledgeable chapter leaders I’ve ever met. I often go to him for advice when trying to help members at Lewis. He seems to know everything.

We are running a great slate for High School Executive Board. While of course I would like you to vote for me, so that I can represent you both in and out of our building, we also have Mike Schirtzer, a friend of mine who’s dedicated himself for years to growing MORE, a relatively new opposition caucus. Mike helped lead MORE to a coalition with the oldest opposition caucus, New Action, which finally ended its long partnership with the controlling Unity Caucus. Together we expect to win these seats and finally achieve a real opposition voice in our union.

At the top of our ticket is Jia Lee, recently featured in the NY Post and on NBC news for defying the Chancellor’s admonition to not speak of opt out. I personally believe opt-out to have been the most effective pushback against the nonsense that’s been imposed on us over the last fifteen years or so. Also on our ticket are my friends Lauren Cohen and Katie Lapham, among other opt-out activists.

Unfortunately our leadership, Michael Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus, has supported, to one extent or another, almost every single education reform that’s come down the pike. They supported teachers being rated by test scores. They supported the Danielson Framework. They supported a contract that got us paid eleven years later than NYPD, FDNY, and most other city unions.

Teachers facing dismissal go through a process called 3020a. In the past, the city had to prove teachers were incompetent in order to fire them. Now, most teachers who face that process will have to prove they are NOT incompetent. I find this tantamount to being guilty until proven innocent and therefore un-American. Michael Mulgrew and Unity Caucus, amazingly, not only support this but have thanked the Assembly for enabling it.

Mulgrew’s Unity Caucus is an elite, invitation-only group that operates in secret. All of its members sign an oath to support its decisions. Those who fail to do so are thrown out. While I would love to be more active in union, like everyone in MORE-New Action, I refuse to sign an oath promising to support leadership rather than membership.

I’ve been teaching for over thirty years. It breaks my heart when young teachers approach me contemplating job changes, and that’s been happening more and more frequently. This is the best job there is, and it’s on us to keep it that way, Please vote for MORE/ New Action, and demand the common sense changes that we support, that Diane Ravitch supports, and that both we and our students need.

Best regards,


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

UFT Delegate Assembly April 2016

President’s Report

Mulgrew welcomes us. Gets applause for saying we have next week off and an impending raise. Makes jokes about Sterling R. which he clearly deems hilarious.


Mulgrew thanks all who worked for Hillary. Suggests general election will be nasty and ugly, and that stakes will be very high. Ridicules GOP candidates for portraying Cruz and Katich in relative good lights. Says AFT will push hard nationwide. Says if other side gets in, they just want us gone. Says now it’s about making sure we take White House.

Mulgrew says SCOTUS decided Friedrichs, and tie is in our favor. Says there will be copycats, are close to 27 cases making same argument. If I bargain for your raise, I have deprived you of freedom of speech. Says we have to support Schemer pushing for SCOTUS justice while Obama is in office.

Vergara case overturned in CA, though Mulgrew says FL. Says there was similar suit filed in Minnesota. Says one of major components in NY is Vergara in CA.

Mulgrew talks of supporting Verizon. Says we will do a resolution today.


Budget—1.4 billion in basic education, 1.8 billion total, second largest % increase. 525 million for NYC. When principal says he has no money next year, he is lying. There will be plenty of money in school system next year. Money must get to schools. Mulgrew speaks of UFT classes and importance of budget workshops.

GOP leadership threw 14 charter issues on table, says UFT fought back. Says they tried to hold up budget on these issues. Ironic GOP senators have no charters in their districts. Wanted districts to build buildings for charters. In end, they got 54 million increase but Mulgrew says GOP senators paid for it out of their own slush fund.

New group—“New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany,” set up by Students First, or Moskowitz, or someone. They were very involved in McGrath Cuminsky race. This group poured a lot of money toward McGrath, and bought commercials. Was not endorsement from state union. UFT did a push, as there are 7,000 UFT members and 7,000 more NYSUT members in that district. Said if you’re going to work with privatizers, UFT will oppose. Democrat won the seat.  Dem thanked parents and teachers who came out for him.

Regents—Several came to UFT and met with ESL teachers. Teachers told Regents they needed to know actual effects. Says they understood problems of Part 154. Says they were shocked that NYSESLAT was still being used in teacher evaluations. Says that’s why it’s important that they meet with real teachers.

At Regents meeting this week they will discuss alternate assessment and NYSESLAT. Says they are sick and tired of policies being changed on an annual basis. Says it’s very important that we get in “authentic student learning measures” for NYC going into next year.

Mulgrew says he had a “great legislative breakfast” this morning. Talks about positive learning as a result of debate on new discipline regs. Says under previous admin, if you reported incidents you were labeled “persistently dangerous,” so no one did. Says Bloomberg felt restorative justice and such was nonsense and cared only about test scores. Says he pushed “zero tolerance.”

Moving forward, Students First, FES, are saying our schools are out of control and unsafe. He says that’s because they can’t cite test scores anymore and that we are beating them on test scores. Says charter classes are half empty after third grade. They are left with this argument. Says schools are doing better but will never be ideal.

Issue for us is we need to get back to things that make a difference. Team approach to discipline is right approach. Refers to “positive learning collaborative” as great success. Says we want this program and we want to use it. Says restorative justice is helpful but won’t fix everything.

Evaluations—Basically HS evals are same as last year. Says we are fighting to change law because we “don’t want to go back to the principal is in charge of my life.” Says some schools have principal with 100% control, some are 80-20 and some are 60-40.  Refers all questions to Amy Arundell.

Family leave—we are continuing to negotiate. We will keep moving forward, city wants us to pay 200 million but should be closer to 20. Says city refers to “child acquisition.”

Next months DA to be moved to May 18th.

Tests still count for school accountability.

Paras will no longer be suspended without pay as a result of any arrest. City now has a different process in place.

May 7th is Spring Conference. Moderate applause. Says elected officials will come

May 4th—Wants parents and teachers to simultaneously do events nationwide. Says we’ve already done this in NYC, and that we meet with many varied groups. Says while LA is ground zero for charters, but in NYC we will move public education by being respectful and working together. Says there are 100 schools now cooperating.

Mulgrew concludes report.

Leroy Barr—reports 5K run raised 15K to go to disaster relief, will send $ to Ecuador. Says UFT ballots go out May 5th. Please tell members to look out for ballots. UFT wants high turnout. Ballots counted May 26th.

Says we should post Union Loud and Proud posters. Wishes us good break.


CL—Asks about permanent certification. Will those with perm. licenses have to rectify?

M—Speaking of 100 professional hours, is a state issue, working with state to know what are the criteria for those hours. Says anyone under old criteria for 175 hours has to do that. Next year will encompass all teaching certificates and will be 100 hours. Believes PD should be in schools not in colleges.

Retiree—NYT had full page ad—says it’s looking to promote a third party. What effect do you think that will have?

M—Doesn’t think it will be successful.

Q—How can we bring new teachers in as we lose so many?

M—That’s why we have teacher leadership positions and PD. We need admin that thinks that’s important. Some schools people are valued, but in others they just say here’s the bathroom key and good luck. Says we want to keep 65% of this year’s teachers. Says we aren’t like other school systems. Teaching is always difficult but NYC has some of the greatest challenges and it’s harder here. Says those who come here understand what they’re getting into. Says we have programs to support new teachers, but it will be a long hard plan and we have to retain focus.

CL—Principal told us we were a focus school, and it is a problem. What is a focus school? Who can help?

M—About state test scores. Feds have changed law so now we have to change here. No state has yet changed law. We would like to be first.

CL—With passing of legislation in state for parental leave, how does it affect us?

M—Every person in state can pay in and pay for their own leave. Doesn’t go into effect for three years. Technically doesn’t work for us, but politically it does, because it’s becoming a big issue. Says Hillary spoke of it last night. Since everyone works, we need family leave. Same with retirement security. Says people are now asking these questions.

Q—Will retired teachers be required to get PD to keep their licenses?

M—Prefer not to discuss it, but we will look at it if necessary.


Delegate—for next month—moves to protect immigrant students. Says he passed copies around. I don’t have one, nor does anyone near me. Mulgrew makes many jokes about font on motion. Delegate reads motion. Reads a lot about concerns of deportation and need for services. Asks city to do more to protect students and welcome all. Bar ICE from entering buildings as has been done in CA. Asks for immigrant advisors.

Mulgrew asks to take this to immigration advocacy partners.

Delegate asks for vote, and for it to move to partners.
Dave Pecoraro—Has city got authority to ban ICE? Lawyer says no.

Motion is motivated.

Motion passes.


Sterling R.—Support of LA School District—Broad Foundation wants to convert schools into charters. Asks we support our brothers and sisters in that district.

Resolution passes unanimously.

R. Mantel—Michigan—Speaks of Flint water and Detroit Public Schools. Says governor appointed managers and results were a disaster. Says some people in Flint are being held accountable. Asks we support people in Michigan.

Resolution passes.

Emil P.—Speaks for resolution on discontinued probationary staff members. Wants to recommit that discontinued teachers have right to apply for jobs and go to work. Says they need a second chance.

Resolution passes.

Janella Hinds—Speaks in favor of resolution to support Verizon workers. Says they failed to honor NYC contracts, rejected offers to make savings in health care and job security and wants to outsource work, despite 39 billion dollar profits. CEO makes 200X wage of any employee. Want to eliminate benefits as cable and phone bills rise.

CL—If this passes, are we allowed to join picket line?


Resolution passes.

Emil P.—Supporting healthy workplace, anti-bullying, says this would give employee tools to deal with bullies. Person on my right, asks, “Does that include principals?”

Delegate—Contingent of 25 teachers were up in Albany, met with legislators, were told it’s best to sign a memorandum of support for the bill.

Mulgrew calls him out of order.

Delegate wishes to amend own resolution. Mulgrew says he is out of order but he is being lenient today. Asks we resolve to sign memorandum of support on healthy workplace bill.

Emil P.—says we are NYSUT and we support NYSUT’s memorandum. Speaks against amendment.
Resolution passes without amendment.

Mulgrew adjourns. Says May 15th we will see a raise.

Suggestion Box 2016

Every year I offer a reading about a suggestion box and then open one for my students. Answers are anonymous. This year I made a mistake--in trying to simplify it, I asked my morning class what they liked and did not like, and what they would change. This resulted in answers like, "I like coconuts. I don't like fish." I will spare you most of those answers. In my afternoon class I asked, "What do you like about the class?" This worked out a little better. Though I've cleaned up grammar and usage a little, I've changed nothing else. Here's what my kids had to say:

I like it when we can study a lot, and be with our classmates. I don't like when the teacher gives us "zero." (To be clear, I may write a zero on a piece of paper and hand it to a student. It doesn't actually mean anything.)

The class is nice and the teacher is the best.

I like to talk about stories. I don't like to do classwork. I would change myself and speak more in class.

I like that we can make jokes with the teacher. I don't like when we do classwork only in a book. It's boring. We can do something different in class. And I hope the teacher can cut all his hair. I think that is better.

I like English class, because in this class we have a lot of good students and teachers. I never saw another teacher better than Mr. Goldstein. He's an interesting and funny guy. I don't like when somebody sleeps in class. It's terrible. I like everything.

I like everything about this class. I think everything is good and this class too.

I like chocolate and taking a break. I don't like noise. I want to change nothing.

In this class I like the teacher because he's funny and active. I don't like when the teacher screams at me and that's why I went to the doctor for my ears. I would like to change the seats and only have one period of English.

I like this schools because it's very big and I think that it's the best school in Queens. I don't like the food because it's bad and I would change only the food. Sometimes the teachers are nice and other teachers are bad. I like it here because I have friends and my girlfriend is here, but I don't like the gym because I like to sleep every day.

Why don't we get tests every day? We want more tests.

I like this class because sometimes we try to make the class funny but it never happens. I like that we learn a lot. Well, I don't know about other people but especially me, I learn a lot here. What I don't like is we never do something different and it's always the same. To change it we should make something different at least one day a week and the students are not gonna be bored in this class.

I like food. I don't like tests. I would change my brain.

I like to listen to English. I don't like to do group work.

I like vocabulary. I don't like tests. Let's go outside to learn English!

I like to learn vocabulary because it helps my English. I don't like to talk and fight with friends. I don't like the open window because it's so cold. I don't like someone but I won't say who. I think this class is very good, but not very great. If people could speak a lot of languages it would be great because people can understand what you say. And I want this class to have food and drink.

I like when we read in English. I don't like much homework.

I like this class because the teacher is funny and I think it's relaxing.

I think this class is good because it's very funny and the teacher is good. I think maybe this class needs more games.

Don't worry about guys who come 1-5 minutes late and give less homework.

I like English class because he is so funny. I don't have to dislike something. I don't want to change something that is so good.

I like how we learn. I like how the teacher helps us to learn. I think we should watch more videos and discuss them. Also sometimes we should watch a movie.

I don't like people so much. I like that my classmates and teacher are all friendly.

I like the teacher. I like this class.

This class is great. I think we should do more speaking practice.

I like this class because I have a good teacher.

I like inglish se explica bien.

My idea is some teachers are nice like Mr. Goldstein. He is so funny and a good teacher and I like class in English.

Why don't you bring us our favorite foods every day???

I like this class because the teacher helps me to learn English and I like everything about this class. I think the class is perfect because the teacher prepares the students how to pronounce the language and helps me a lot for my future.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Today's Message

Danielson Can't Measure This

So said one of my colleagues at the ceremony we held for our fallen friend Kevin O'Connor. This is a photo someone took of the thousand people who came to our courtyard last Friday to pay him tribute.

We get checklists, rubrics, numbers and most of us don't even understand what they mean. If they say, "effective," we sign the sheets and don't even bother to read them. What's really the difference? Students didn't come out there wondering how he did on 4C, or 2B, or not 2B. 

Students lined up quickly. The school provided 300 carnations to drop in his honor, and the kids snapped them all up well before the ceremony even began. He listened to me, they said. He understood me. Even when I was wrong, he listened. He didn't judge me, he helped me. He made me learn how to play the guitar. When I got into a fight he talked to me instead of just dragging me off and writing me up.

He understood them. He couldn't help it because he still had a lot of teenager in him. He still loved all the music he grew up listening to, and oddly, a whole lot of the kids seemed to love it too. One girl spoke in detail about their shared love of Pink Floyd. Even as a teenager they didn't appeal to me, so what do I know? But Kevin inspired her to learn Wishing You Were Here and that was exactly what she was feeling at the moment.

Students choked up and broke into tears as they spoke. One girl got up and read a poem about him. Our students were passionate and eloquent. A portrait of Kevin, drawn by one of our students the day before, adorned the stage.

A math teacher spoke of how he was a fixture in our school. His only fault, he said, was that he was a Yankee fan rather than a Met fan, but he was willing to forgive this, much as it pained him to do so.

A great teacher inspires. A great teacher touches lives. A great teacher makes kids want to come to school. It's abundantly clear that Kevin did all three. I saw some of my own students, ELLs who'd been here a very short time, crying inconsolably.

 I was very touched by things students said about him. I know he was troubled by the rating system, but I'm going to offer his final evaluation on this astral plane. The kids loved you, Kevin. There is nothing more important than that, not the grouping, not test scores, not Danielson, not the Quality Review, not rigor, not grit, not anything else we do. They counted on you for support and always knew you were there. They may or may not have had support at home, but they knew they could come to you. They appreciated you, and they will miss you.

And so shall we.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Boy Wonder Confronts an Issue

Holy crap. This can't be happening. And just when I had all my ducks in a row.

That bastard principal went and held a ceremony to make Mr. Walsh teacher of the year. Blah, blah, blah, he rushed into a burning building and saved a baby. So what? Anyone could do something like that. A few stories in the newspaper, a feature on a network or two, and the idiot principal gets all carried away and makes a big deal out of it.

Doesn't he know how inconvenient this is for me? Isn't it his job to look out for me, for chrissake?

Now they had a big ceremony, and I hear everyone was speaking about how wonderful he is, and no one gave me any credit at all for sitting through three observations with him. That's 45 minutes of my life that I'm never gonna get back. Sure, I may have napped a little, but I mean, Jesus, how could a guy that old be a good teacher anyway? I told the guy he should retire, because there was no way I was gonna give him a good observation.

And Walsh was so rude to me, just because he didn't understand my low inference notes, which I didn't have to show him in the first place. I mean, so what if I drew a few pictures? Was I supposed to actually listen to all that crap about the industrial revolution, and child labor and blah, blah, blah? Doesn't anyone understand how boring it is to sit through all these classes? I mean, I did it when it was in high school and that oughta be enough for anyone. What does this mean? What does that mean? How the hell am I supposed to know? I rated him ineffective and that ought to be good enough for anyone.

And now the principal is all, "Why didn't you go to the ceremony?" Like I have time to sit through that nonsense. I had an important date with a Shake Shack Burger. Man I love Shake Shack. It's really a lot better than Five Guys. I mean, you can't get cheese fries at Five Guys, and man I love me some cheese fries.

So anyway, now it's April, and I have to do one more observation on that Walsh guy. So what do I do? If I just go in and trash him again, I look like an idiot because he's a "hero" and all and everyone "loves" him. But if I go in and give him a great observation I look like an idiot because I trashed him three times before. A black eye either way.

Can I just go back and change those three observations? Does anyone actually look at that stuff? I know Walsh did. That son of a bitch. Him with all, "No, this didn't happen," and, "This happened and you didn't write about it." Like I give a crap. If I wrote about what actually happened, how was I gonna give him that rating? People just don't think anymore.

Do they know how hard I worked to get into this position? Do they know how hard I'm working to get out of it? Of course not. People don't appreciate what I do. It's all Walsh this and Walsh that. Pretty soon he'll get a promotion instead of me. Well I'm not gonna let that happen.

Oh man, I've gotta take charge of this situation. If I don't want Walsh rated ineffective, I guess I could go in and observe him like maybe five times and say they were all great. But it's so boring to sit in classes. Maybe I could just copy some of my buddy's good observations without going in. Then I could just present them to Walsh and ask him to sign them. Would he do it, or would he make a big stink about my not having gone in?

You can never tell with guys like Walsh. Why the hell did he have to save that baby? Doesn't he even think about how much trouble that causes me? What an inconsiderate bastard he is. But if I don't make him look good, then I look bad. If I don't make him look bad, I can't get rid of him. What to do?

I'm gonna call Domino's. I have that coupon that gets two for one. Two with everything. It'll help me think.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Allergic to PD

In our school we have a monthly PD day. That's how we get all the indispensable info Carmen Fariña, who loves her some PD, insists we get. After all, when you're at 200% capacity or more forever, you can't just roll the 80 minute teacher torture on Monday, or even the 75 minute Tuesday. So you shorten the day once a month and hope for the best.

On Wednesday we had some woman from some company talk about formative assessment. You know, that's when you figure out what the kids know before you grade them, so they can do better. This is, of course, an absolute necessity when dealing with kids, especially if they are troubled. On the other hand, the same supervisors who so revere this process will do drive-bys on working teachers, label them ineffective, do nothing whatsoever to help them, and helpfully suggest they ought to resign or retire. Because rigor and grit.

So anyway, we were sitting there listening to this woman read a laundry list of ways you could do formative assessment. You know, because simply handing us the booklet and asking us to read it would not earn her company the big bucks they get for sending the likes of her in here. My friend, a language teacher, was sitting next to me and we suddenly noticed her skin was turning red. We couldn't figure why. She had eaten what she usually eats for lunch.

We moved on, and I got called into an impromptu conference with my supervisor. My friend knocked on the door. She was worse. She wanted to drive home. I told her no, let me take you to the urgent care. I asked Siri, who directed me to one half a mile away. I took her over and stayed with her until her husband came to meet her.

I went back to a PD run by teachers, which was better thought out in every way than the one for which our school likely paid a fortune. "Boy, this place is hard to find," I said, but I'm not at all sure anyone believed me. After all, I've been in that building over 20 years. But that always seems like a good excuse to me, at least.

An hour later, my friend showed up back at the school, looking a little woozy, but a lot clearer. She told us they'd given her a steroid shot but released her. She also waved around a note which she claimed the doctor issued, declaring she was allergic to PD. I'm not at all sure it really said that, but if it did, I'm pretty sure there will be a stampede as 220 more teachers rush to that urgent care, even if the co-pay is up to 50 bucks.

After all, you get what you pay for.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Best Meeting Ever

I go to a lot of meetings. The whole chapter leader thing places you on all sorts of committees at the school and every time anything happens there's a meeting about it. And then there are UFT chapter leader meetings. I usually go to the borough high school meeting and the DA. But when the HS VP comes to Queens I try to see her too.

Last night I got to Queens UFT around 3:30. I walked into the meeting room and it was empty. I was a little early, but that never happened before. But lo and behold, there were all kinds of sandwiches and salads and drinks. I figured I'd eat all the sandwiches and then call for an adjournment. It would be the fastest meeting ever, depending on how the sandwiches were.

I gotta say, the turkey was very good, but the eggplant looked and tasted like a dishrag. Anyway, a little after four, people started coming in. Three of them. There went 75% of my sandwiches. Eventually ten or twelve people showed up. It was disappointing because I like when the VP comes to Queens. In my opinion, she should hold all of her meetings there. But how do we persuade her when only a dozen people show up?

Well it turned out that Randi Weingarten was downstairs giving pep talks about Hillary, for whom UFT is phonebanking. I voted for Randi once. It was some time in the 90s. I was not at all involved in union politics but I had some primal instinct that told me union was a good thing, so when our President showed up at the school library, I ventured upstairs to listen.

She called Rudy Giuliani a prick, which very much endeared her to me. After all, I read the papers, and it was absolutely clear to me that Rudy was a prick. But I'd never heard anyone just say it out loud before. How perceptive, I thought.

She was with the High School VP, who at that time, I think, was John Soldini. Soldini got up and made a stirring speech about how there was absolutely not truth the the rumor that the UFT was going to make anyone wait 25 years to hit maximum salary. Anyone who told you such a thing was a filthy liar. I raised my hand.

"How come, if UFT doesn't want it to take 25 years to reach maximum, did I receive something in the mail from Sandy Feldman urging me to vote for a contract that called for a 25-year maximum? Didn't she say I must be smoking something if I thought I could do better?"

Soldini, clearly, had not been expecting that particular question. He hemmed and hawed for a few moments. Randi walked in front of him and gave some kind of answer. I don't remember what it was, and I don't remember it being particularly persuasive, but at that moment I really respected her for getting up to answer the impossible question. I decided she was the smartest person in the room and I had to vote for her.

That year, I spent 45 minutes splitting my ballot. I voted Randi for President, and everyone I could find in New Action for everything else. Sadly, my enthusiasm for Randi's negotiating skill began to wane around 2002. I thought it was a very, very bad idea to barter time for money. I remembered the zeros we'd gotten from Rudy and thought such raises could easily be washed away in another tide of zeros.

2005 was the year I finally woke up. It took me twenty years of teaching, which makes me question how successful the loud and proud campaign is gonna be.

Last night I was talking to a union rep. We got out on the 4th floor and someone came out to hush us. Randi was talking. Should I go in and listen?


Wednesday, April 13, 2016

A Fallen Colleague

I worked with Kevin O'Connor for thirteen years. He always had a kind word for everyone. The kids loved him. For the last two years he worked as a lunchroom dean, and everyone knew him. I know this because in my class yesterday, my students asked me about him. We talked about him for twenty minutes. It's kind of remarkable, because my kids have been here only a short time and don't tend to  know so many people around the building.

And all over the building, every kid with whom I speak remembers him.

"He was the first person I met here. He showed me around the building."

"I was in his first period class two years ago. He was so funny!"

"He was great. Whenever I felt bad I could talk to him and I'd feel better. Who am I gonna talk to now?"

On Monday I was texting one of his social studies colleagues, and she told me he had died over the weekend. He was sixty-one years old. I used to go out with him on parent-teacher nights to Gyro World on Northern Boulevard, which he loved. Last time we wandered from there over to an Asian cafe a few doors down. He was thrilled because they were playing the Allman Brothers. When the song finished, he asked the barista why there was no more, and she told him she had no control over the radio. He didn't seem to understand why.

He loved being a dean, and he loved the AP security. He always spoke about how he'd helped him out in times of need. It's so rare for a chapter leader to hear a supervisor being praised, but that's really the way it ought to be. We should be partners rather than adversaries. Too bad the great minds who run New York State prefer to indulge in a gotcha game with us as the target.

Last year he ended up with a .8 dean schedule because he took over for someone who'd left in kind of a hurry. He was thrilled. No Danielson for him. I dropped hints to anyone who'd listen that there would be no complaints from me if that were to happen this year, but for whatever reason, it didn't. But now there will be no more Danielson for Kevin O'Connor, ever.

He was 61 years old, and looking forward to retiring next October on his birthday, so the Danielson wouldn't have fundamentally affected him anyway. But he felt bad about it. I felt bad about it. Everyone, pretty much, feels bad about it.

He was a larger than life character, and of course our school will go on. But it won't be the same.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Why Not Opt Out of Midterms?

That's the question the Daily News asks. After all, the stakes are pretty low, as the state has agreed not to count the results for a few years. This is true for students and in many cases for teacher ratings as well. So what's the big hooplah, the News wants to know. Why don't these goshdarn kids just sit down and take their tests?

That's a much more reasoned approach than that taken over at the Post, where they concoct a ridiculous strawman argument suggesting that parents who opt out are simply petulant, over-privileged, self-serving lunatics who don't want their kids to fail. At the same time, they are helicopter parents making ridiculous demands for their pampered children. Patrick Walsh had a great piece on his blog in response: 

Its always a good sign when shills for those who are systemically attempting to undermine public education, the better to privatize it, are reduced to making public arguments that read like they are written by a person on a six day drunk.

Read the whole piece.  I'll just address the piece at the News, which makes a more reasonable argument. There's actually a pretty reasonable answer, too.

Midterms are usually written by teachers. They’re usually graded and returned to the students, so the students can see how they did and what they may have done wrong. That’s not the case with these tests, whatever the stakes. And if the stakes are so ridiculously low anyway, a better argument might be that they ought to simply be canceled.

A lot of us are labeled as anti-testing, when that's not precisely the case. We are against high-stakes tests that don't really help our children. And while it's true that there is a temporary reduction in the stakes, the tests still don't help our children. I don't know much about these tests, but from what I'm reading, even disregarding the fact that our kids will never get them back or learn anything from them, they don't appear to be of very good quality.

They don't necessarily test what kids need. They aren't necessarily developmentally appropriate. And the notion of kids sitting indefinitely to take these tests appears not so much a concession as an implement of torture. 

But even more important is the fact that we won't be fooled. You can't just tell us, hey, we won't count it for a few years. Please drop your organizing and go away. Maybe that's not what the Daily News editorial board had in mind. But it certainly appears to be what Cuomo had in mind.

And to Governor Cuomo, I have just this to say. We did not just fall off the tomato truck from New Jersey.

And we are not going away.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Overheard at our Chapter Committee Meeting

Math rep: You know, all the delis are disappearing. Deli Masters, just a few blocks away, is gone. They used to be everywhere.

ESL rep: Well, you know, people just aren't eating red meat anymore. It's bad for you.

Me: No it isn't. What's bad for you is that green and blue meat with white fuzzy stuff growing on it.

PE rep: Yeah that's right. I only eat that once a month these days.

Boy Wonder Rates a Teacher Ineffective

  Jesus do I hate this. The stupid contract says I have to actually meet with teachers before I give them their observations and I just had one thrown out because I forgot. That's not gonna happen again. Stupid contract. I don't see why I even have to go in their classrooms at all. I could just write the observations and email them to the stupid teachers. Don't they know how busy I am?

"Thank you for coming here today, Ms. Feinstein. Remember I'm always here to support you in any way I can."

"You'd support me more if you didn't rate everything I do ineffective," she says. The bitch.

"Of course I'm very sad to do that," I say.

"Why did you do it then?"

"For one thing, you didn’t differentiate your worksheets. What about the ELLs?"

"There aren’t any ELLs," she says. Wise ass.

"That’s not the point. How do you know every one of your students is on the same level as that worksheet?"

"I have 34 students in that class." Sheesh. Always with the excuses.

"How many of them are ELLs"


"Well that's not the point. The point is you didn't do enough formative assessment."

"Isn't it formative assessment when I walk around the room and correct the kids' work?" Again with the excuses. If I get rid of her I can probably hire my high school girlfriend. She'd dress up the place for sure! I make a serious face.

"What I'd like to see is something more interactive, like the green and red cards, for example. I love the green and red cards. You can't go wrong with the green and red cards."

"What are you talking about?" How can she ask me that? Didn't I give an entire meeting on the green and red cards?

"Well you give them green and red cards, and if they understand they put up the green cards. If they don't they put up the red cards. You can't go wrong with the green and red cards," I tell her, with a knowing nod.

"What if they hold up the green cards when they really don't understand?" Smartass.

"Then you use the cards again until they admit they don't understand," I tell her.

"What if they simply say they understand over and over and you don't find out they don't understand until they take a test? Isn't it better if I just look at their work and see what they can and cannot do?"

Man is she a pain in the ass. You know what I could go for? One of those Fiber One cheesecake bars. Man I love me a Fiber One cheesecake bar. But NO. I'm stuck sitting here with old Feinstein.


Oops. Maybe I shouldn't have said that. Everyone in the outer office is looking at me. I look back at them and they all turn away. I look again. None of them are gonna rat me out. They know they'll pay for that.

I wonder how long it will take before I'm finally rid of this old bat.