Sunday, July 31, 2016

Joe Biden's Cryptic Message

I'm really puzzled by this quote. To me, what you do pretty much is who you are. I am, first and foremost, a teacher. That's how I see myself.

I did get some pushback on this when I posted it on Facebook. People said, hey, I go to work every day, but I hate my job. So people don't see themselves as drawbridge oilers, clerks, fortune tellers or whatever the hell it is they do for a living.

I'd argue that what you do is not necessarily simply what your job is. For example, I do a whole lot of other things besides teach. At this very moment I'm blogging. You may know me more as a blogger than a teacher. I'm also an activist. And believe it or not, I can play the fiddle. I have a lot of bad habits. You may see yourself as a mother, father, churchgoer, anarchist, civil war enactor, public nuisance, or pretty much anything. It doesn't necessarily matter if you spend your days doing something else.

I guess I'm lucky. I love my job. I don't dread going to work each morning. I hate a lot of the nonsense that swirls around my profession, but I have no complaints about the kids I serve. Sure, some of them are a pain in the ass sometimes, but I'm a pain in the ass all the time.  So it doesn't really faze me.

I teach my students to find what they love and pursue it. I teach them to be open and pay attention. I teach them to try new things and see if they like them. You never know when you're going to fall into something you love. I hated math, but if my students love it maybe they can build careers around it. And I'm grateful if they do, because then people like me won't have to. The world is a better place for that.

It makes me very sad to hear from people that they hate what they do every day. That's a big chunk of your life to surrender to drudgery. One of the reasons I support union so strongly is that it offers options to working people. While the exterior conditions and pressures of our job are increasingly ridiculous, what we do still matters, and the kids never change.

The only thing that really changes is when reforminess creeps into our classrooms and makes it harder for us to serve them. That's why we have to be open and pay attention just as the kids should. We need to seek opportunities to stop demagogues like Trump's VP and his ilk so as to do our jobs better.

And I think we need to dispense with the legend that teaching is a calling and thus different from other jobs. The main difference, as far as I can tell, between a calling and a job, is that a job pays more. There's really no crime in asking for or getting more money. This may be a calling or not, but NYC still owes me around 40K it's not paying until 2020, and the people who collect my tax bills want their money now, calling or no calling.

I don't think Joe Biden had bad intent when he said that. But I'm not exactly sure what he was talking about, and I'm not entirely persuaded he knew either.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hillary Needs to Tread Carefully to Win in 2016

by special guest blogger Organizing Teacher

A Clinton presidency will put the Left on good footing for organizing after the election. A Trump presidency will put us all on the defensive and will kill the strides made in the national conversation about income inequality.

I supported Bernie with a vote and a small donation. I think a Bernie presidency would have put us on the road to another New Deal era. This would include some social democratic reforms that would improve the lives of the working class, but would also stave off the possibility of real structural change. The New Deal was effective at thwarting the specter of revolution in the U.S. This led to years of prosperity as the right wing worked tirelessly to upend any gains because the system itself was still dependent on capitalism.

So, this is where we’re at now. Sanders will not be president, but his campaign did accomplish some important things on his journey.

1. It organized and activated people new to the political process
2. It heightened the contradictions in the Democratic Party
3. It made people talk explicitly about the failures of capitalism

So now we have scores of new activists, not afraid of words like “socialism” and “revolution” who are willing to knock on doors, organize marches and protests, and do whatever it takes to get us out from the mess we’re in.

These are people on the political left who don’t understand the need for realpolitik around universal healthcare or free higher education. They know what they want and don’t care if it’s not politically expedient. They don’t want another war. They are willing to go toe-to-toe with the establishment.

We need to organize these people. They will be the ones forcing the Democratic Party to do what’s right. They will fight the right wing zealots in the streets, instead of adopting their language to “seem serious” and win votes.

I'm thinking back to the anti-globalization movement that organized in the late 90s, largely in response to NAFTA and Bill’s other awful policies. It was a growing movement that was starting to be seen as a real threat to capital. In its last days, it had labor and other more established groups, like environment groups, on board.

This was the movement that made the race between Gore and W. far closer than it should have been, which made it easy for the GOP to outright steal it. Had the establishment Dems taken note from this movement, they could have won easily. The Dems lost the Left and could only regain large segments of it with a boogeyman like Bush.

Under W, the anti-globalization movement folded into the anti-war movement, which was a Left/liberal coalition. The tent got really big and with it, critiques of capital went to the wayside. It wasn't globalization that was bad, it was specific companies like Haliburton. Bush and the GOP were clearly the enemies of anyone left of center and he became the target, not so much his policies, but his personality and his party.

He made great fodder for the Daily Show, but the Daily show speaks in an echo chamber and didn’t move people who were unmoved by John Kerry’s run.

Kerry lost because merely not being Bush wasn't enough. Bush, for all his faults, had an agenda that was clear. Kerry had cobbled together positions that polled as inoffensive to “the middle” and OK by those left of middle, but did not inspire people to fight for him to win.

Obama won because he had a big tent behind him. The far Left was never for him, but progressives and activist groups were all for him. He skated through easily by not just being not a Republican, but because he was marketed to liberals and left-of-liberals. He had artists and activists and public intellectuals singing his praises to their diverse audiences.

After Obama won, the anti-War movement shrank to almost nothing because the liberal caucus of the anti-war movement did not want to harm Obama’s approval rating. We could end up with another Bush, they said.

A Trump presidency will force another big tent that will organize around getting rid of Trump. It'll be a coalition to get him to lose in 2020 and demand nothing more. I think this will only empower him because the Dems/establishment Left will take the reigns of this coalition and be completely uninspiring. He'll be re-elected. Bernie will be painted as the boogeyman (like Nader) who hurt Hillary. Many of his supporters will give up on politics or join the establishment.

In a Trump presidency, things will not get “worse before they get better,” things will get worse before they revert back to the status quo.

This is the reason why I want Hillary to win and why it’s painful for me to see the missteps her campaign is making trying to appeal to the center. This isn’t 1994. I see Kerry and Gore all over again.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Time to Update UFT Phone Banks

We're facing a really important election. While I am not jumping up and down about the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, I find the notion of a Trump presidency unspeakable. Let's face it, UFT is the big dog in teacher unions. It controls NYSUT and it controls AFT. UFT is a tank that aims to crush any inconvenient force within the union, rolling over everything with no consideration whatsoever. In fact it changed the UFT Constitution to make sure we uppity high school teachers can't even select our own Vice President.

That said, we can't have a United States President who uses the UFT anti-democratic model, shutting out entire ethnicities, nationalities or religions just as UFT leadership freezes out the high school teachers. In order to use our awesome power for good instead of evil there are a few changes we're going to have to make.

1. Let's not waste our time calling locally for Hillary Clinton. Under our stupid and undemocratic American electoral system, New York votes are meaningless. As long as Hillary holds a lock on NY State we ought not to spin our wheels calling people whose votes are not going to influence the election. It's nice to encourage people to vote the way we want them to, and it may encourage some small feeling of solidarity, but that's not the goal here. The goal is to defeat Donald Trump. Trump is odious, shutting out Muslims and Mexicans just as UFT leadership shuts out high school teachers. We can't have that in a United States President.

If we are to show up to call centers, we ought to be calling our people in Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and places TBD where votes will actually make a difference. Sadly, under our electoral system, those votes alone will determine who is President of the United States. We could do this by identifying ourselves as AFT rather than UFT. We do, after all, pay dues to AFT, and AFT represents members on a national level, except for NYC high school teachers.

2. It's time to replace the button phones in the call rooms with computers. No efficient call center uses such outdated technology. It's ridiculous that we're still mired in the 1970s when there is technology that can eliminate all that paper along with a whole lot of human error and mistaken button pushing. I don't know about all the offices, but I know the Queens office already has at least one room full of computers. We could get headphones, call with a mouse click, and record the results the same way. There is already a database for city voters and it's ridiculous we have to print it out and hand back papers.

There needs to be a national or state based database and it needs to be coordinated by AFT. It could be apportioned to various unions, or better yet shared by locals along with the responses. I would volunteer to participate, and I would encourage others to join me.  I understand that Michael Mulgrew doesn't believe in new-fangled stuff like Twitter, Facebook, or answering email from anyone who hasn't signed an oath to agree with him no matter what.

But sometimes it behooves us to forget our personal differences, stop sneering at people for no reason, and move together to realize our common goals. Sure, you can work against democracy and endeavor to suppress the voice of city high school teachers by any means necessary. But just because you're intent on screwing 20,000 working teachers and taxing them without representation doesn't mean you can't fight against a potential President who'd practice the same disenfranchisement against entire religions and nationalities.

Let's not only move the phone banks to the computer rooms, but also replace the ridiculously outdated telephones with new computers. We have to do all we can to make sure our Muslim and Mexican brothers and sisters aren't disenfranchised. Those of us who know what it is to be disenfranchised will do all we can to help.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Even the Rat Squad Doesn't Know Everything

Yesterday I heard about a teacher who was terminated. I'm always sad when I hear that happens, but I guess it means the system, designed to fire teachers, actually works the way it's supposed to. Maybe I should alert Andrew Cuomo, but I'm pretty sure he won't read my message unless I enclose it in a suitcase full of cash.

Of course it doesn't matter, because Cuomo decided the system was "baloney," and he did so well before we got to examine its results in the largest school district in the state. After all, we're a little less than a third of the entire state population, so why bother with us? What does it matter that we picked up the junk science system a year later than everyone else? Why not just move ahead and condemn your own signature system, making it even more unreasonable while taking absolutely no responsibility whatsoever?

UFT President Michael Mulgrew is very proud of this system. He says it's a model for the state. However, in this model, the UFT Rat Squad, designed as a check on the system, rates 70% of those it observes ineffective. This means you have a very large chance of having the burden of proof on your shoulders, rather than those of the city. It would be on you to prove you are not ineffective. I've seen UFT Unity members defend this, saying the teacher should control the process. However, people who actually understand burden of proof will tell you that it's extremely difficult to prove a negative.

It's easier to prove a positive. That's why this person, despite having not been rated ineffective by the Rat Squad, is now unemployed. I can't go into specifics for a few reasons. For one, I'd be betraying a confidence if I were to give details to which I were privy. For another, I haven't actually got any details beyond those I've shared anyway.

Here's what I do know. Even with that miserable 30% Rat Squad save rating, if you're facing 3020a, you're guaranteed absolutely nothing. The only thing they win for you is the right to face the same 3020a people have faced over the years previous to the new APPR law. I hear you can appeal, but that appeals are rarely successful. I suppose when you're fighting for your life you do what you have to, and I suppose you have nothing to lose by fighting to the end.

Still, I question this system. It's tailor made to fire teachers, hardly a worthwhile goal. If indeed there is a zombie plague of bad teachers, which there is not, who gave tenure to all the zombies? In fact, even if there are some incompetents, which there are in absolutely every field, who gave them tenure? With years to observe people, how could you overlook something as fundamental as incompetence? Why are there no consequences for people who don't see it? Doesn't that mean they are incompetent? And aren't they the very same people judging whether or not we are competent?

I don't know enough to judge this particular verdict, and as I said, I have no notion on what it was based. But I don't believe people pretend to be good teachers for a few years and then just do whatever when they get tenure. I do the best I can in the classroom, and it's hard for me to understand why anyone wouldn't. There's nothing quite as miserable as running bad classes, which I did pretty frequently my first year or two. It's absolutely imperative to get support in the beginning.

What happened here? Were administrators giving away tenure like candy because they were too lazy to do their jobs? If so, why do they still have their jobs? If not, how did people slip through the cracks? Is the system working, or are incompetent administrators working the system?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Tale of Two Cartoons

The cartoon on the left is something that Hillary supporters have been posting on Facebook lately. I first saw it a few months back when the nomination was still in question. Evidently, if you're a Sanders supporter, someone who believes in universal health care, college for all, and other such trivial nonsense, you merit personal ridicule.

To me, this is not precisely the most persuasive tactic, and it doesn't really make me want to vote for Hillary. In fact, I don't much like being insulted for my beliefs. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that sentiment.

I still see people who I generally respect referring to us as "Bernie bros." Perhaps they feel by stereotyping us we'll be more likely to jump on the bandwagon. Or perhaps they'll deny this is a stereotype. Who knows? I see "Bernie bro" and I read "sexist thug." And I've read stories implying precisely that--those mindless Bernie bros went out and did this or that, and are therefore not worthy of consideration.

It's odd to be attacked like this, particularly since I've pretty much resigned to vote for Hillary anyway. A much more eloquent case for this position is given by Shaun King in the NY Daily News. Had I not already made my decision I'd perhaps have been persuaded by this one. It's a whole lot more persuasive than the arguments I've heard from Hillary supporters---that I don't understand politics, that I'm unrealistic, that I don't understand high school civics, or whatever nonsense is aimed in my direction this week.

Now cute as the above cartoon may be, it's actually not the original. It's copied, almost certainly without permission, and pirated from the
one on the right. As you can see, the original is simpler, and thus funnier and more effective. There's some irony here too. The original ridicules Wall Street types--you know, the ones whose money Hillary takes hand over fist.

I'm not exactly sure why those of us who want real change, rather than someone better than the awful Donald Trump, merit ridicule and abuse. I'm not sure why Hillary supporters want to be sore winners.

Here's what I do know. Right now Five Thirty Eight gives Donald Trump a 55% chance of winning the election if it were held today.  I don't know about you, but I find that pretty scary.

Some Hillary supporters come to curious conclusions. I'm not a mind reader, so I can only speculate as to why. Perhaps they think that by ridiculing us it will bring us around to their point of view. Actually it has the opposite effect. It makes us angry. No one likes being stereotyped and ridiculed. Maybe they just hate the fact that people see the obvious flaws in candidate Hillary. Maybe some of them are borderline fanatical and cannot tolerate differing points of view. Who knows?

Whatever the reason, if Hillary supporters want their candidate to win, if they really want to Dump the Trump, they're gonna have to start treating Bernie supporters with something akin to common courtesy. If the goal is to Defeat the Donald, that's a necessity. And if the goal is to actually pile on and reject him decisively, it's even more important.

To help Hillary or defeat Trump, this stuff simply needs to stop. But if the goal is to further alienate Sanders supporters, well, keep up the personal insults. Call us thugs. Call us selfish and immature. Try to get us to take out our frustrations with you on Hillary. Maybe you'll succeed. Maybe I'll even change my mind and vote for Jill Stein. And even if you fail to persuade me, you'll surely persuade others.

So if that's what you want, go right ahead. After all, when Trump is President, you can always blame us.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

AFT and DNC Joined at the Hip

In this piece from Education Week, there's a clear connection between the DNC, which has recently been exposed as in the tank for Hillary, and the AFT, which has pretty much always been in the tank for Hillary. Tweets from AFT President Randi Weingarten are now peppered with anti-Trump items, but before Hillary pulled ahead the flavor of the month was those awful "Bernie Bros" and their terrible abusiveness.

Evidently Common Core is now the third rail of American politics, loved by virtually no one except Randi Weingarten and Hillary Clinton. Even UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who was gonna punch our faces and push them in the dirt, now talks of Common Core as though it's dead and buried. Of course it isn't. I fully expect the Common Core name to be erased and replaced. Maybe they'll be the Happy Smile Standards. But it'll be a while before we teach love of reading rather than close reading.

Clearly the AFT wanted to avoid that particular third rail and focus more on Mom and Apple Pie. I sat there for four days and the only really interesting parts of it were when someone stood up and started trash-talking Mom, or saying the Apple Pie was full of cyanide. So while AFT leadership can pat itself on the back for having passed a bunch of resolutions about how the world would be better if people were nicer, it's not difficult to have the appearance of unity when you avoid talking about topics that really trouble teachers.

That, of course, is not to mention that almost 30% of the delegates came from UFT, who'd have nominated a ham sandwich for President of the United States if Leroy Barr told them to. In fact, Mulgrew called Hillary the most qualified presidential nominee ever, or some such thing. Everything is pretty black and white when you're bound by loyalty oath, and you can't or won't look at the gray areas.

So it's better to have 2600 delegates stand around and pretend we don't have Common Core. They can pass some watered-down amendment suggesting some nebulous opposition to testing up the wazoo and continue to trash the opt-out activists who actually caused Emperor Andy to make some superficial concessions.

Let's be clear--it is the job of AFT to represent us, the working teachers who do this job each and every day. It is not the job of AFT to represent the DNC, or their clearly unethical priority to get Hillary nominated by any means necessary. In fact, while the Republicans are fairly awful, it's not the job of the AFT to work with the DNC unless it's advancing the education goals that will help us and the students we serve.

I'd argue that DNC has done a wretched job of that over the last few years. President Obama is the reformiest President ever. He's pushed charter schools, insisted that teachers be rated by junk science, appointed some of the very worst people on earth as Secretaries of Education, and ignored the concerns of activist parents and teachers. He's allowed Arne Duncan to make some of the most offensive comments I've ever heard, like Katrina being the best thing to happen to NOLA education, and shows virtually no awareness of what is actually going on in K-12 education.

How that merits our support, let alone our loyalty, is beyond me. And frankly, given our evident unconditional support, let alone the dollars flying to Hillary from Broad and Walton, I fail to see any reason to believe she will do any better than Obama did.

Monday, July 25, 2016

UFT Unity and the Vision Thing

Over at Ednotes Online, a bold Unity Caucus member is making anonymous comments to the effect that CTU has been assimilated and resistance is futile. CTU voted as a bloc, and therefore, with no evidence whatsoever, this commenter declares that we are stranded, alone, and that things are hopeless. That's a wholly ironic vision because a whole lot of teachers in NYC feel the same way.

They feel this way because they're caught in a vindictive and unreasonable system. UFT Unity would like you to forget that the new rating system was ushered in by a law their leader, Michael Mulgrew, proclaimed he had a hand in writing. This law made junk science 40% of teacher ratings. Andrew Cuomo loved this, until not enough teachers got fired. He then pushed another law that made junk science 50% of teacher rating. Mulgrew likes this because, he says, this gives less power to administrators.

When we in MORE openly oppose junk science, Mulgrew's people make up nonsense, saying that we want principals to have 100% discretion over evaluations. That's what's called a strawman fallacy. When you can't address your opponent's argument, you just change it, and try to make your opponent address the argument you just invented. It's ridiculous. What we say is that teachers ought not to be evaluated by invalid criteria. In fact, a vindictive administrator could make stuff up and sink a teacher based on observation alone. I have seen video evidence of administrators simply fabricating what happened in classrooms.

Mulgrew argues that more teachers have their ratings brought up by test scores than brought down. That's fine if you fall into that category. But I personally know someone whose rating was brought down to ineffective via test scores alone. If I know one person, there are plenty more. There's an old tenet of English law called Blackstone's Formulation, that says:

It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer.

In American parlance, that means you are innocent until proven guilty, and that is the bedrock of American justice.  Another portion of the Mulgrew-endorsed agreement is that teachers, twice judged ineffective and confirmed so by the UFT Rat Squad, are guilty until proven innocent. I have actually seen UFT Unity people defend this, saying teachers should own the process. What this tells me is that those people will say any damn thing to defend their actions, whether or not said actions are beneficial to UFT members. When your core value is justifying what your caucus has done rather than representing members to the best of your ability, there's something very very wrong.

UFT Unity has no problem smearing opt-out based on outright lies to justify their position. They'd
would like to portray us as a bunch of lunatics who run around screaming for no reason. Now anyone who knows me, including my students, will tell you that I don't do that. I scream for effect, to grab or focus attention. My tendency when angry in the classroom is to be very quiet and think about how to fix things. I let the children scream while I figure out the best way of dealing with it. My default is certainly not screaming mode. 

I was elected by the high school teachers of NYC to represent them, and that I will do. What I see is a lot of uncertainly and misery, and that is fostered by ridiculous policies that benefit no one but reformies who hate union and wish to see it eradicated. What I see is a leadership that supports mayoral control, charter schools, colocation, and an erosion of seniority benefits. I see a leadership content to offer 20,000 high school teachers no representation whatsoever in NYSUT, NEA or AFT. I see a leadership that offers ATRs no representation anywhere at all.

I see a leadership that lives in a virtual fishbowl, communication only with people who've signed oaths to support them. I see a leadership that fails to engage rank and file. I see a President who shuns social media but musters the audacity to urge the rest of us to use it as he instructs us. I see a top-down model that criticizes top-down models and perceives no irony whatsoever in doing so.

And now I see seven voices on an Executive Board of 102 who will speak truth to bureaucracy, to reforminess. I'm proud to be part of this long overdue breath of fresh air in Dracula's castle over at 52 Broadway. They can continue to raise petty objections and indulge in juvenile nonsense behind our backs, but they will find the truth in their faces at the Executive Board and elsewhere.

To maintain that we do this simply to be contrary is another strawman. It would be so much easier to simply join Unity, go on free trips, and get some cool union gig in some office somewhere. But someone has to represent the people in the trenches, the people subject to the APPR endorsed by Michael Mulgrew. If he says this is the best of all possible worlds, every single one of his loyalty oath signers is bound to say, "Yes Mike that's absolutely correct.

In fact it's absolutely wrong, and the misery of people doing the work is palpable. Someone needs to be the voice of these people. Right now we are that voice. I'm very proud to represent my long-neglected brothers and sisters, and I will try to work with UFT Unity to do that. If they wish to move forward rather than indulge in petty nonsensical squabbles, I'm happy to do that too.

Time will tell whether or not they are up to the task.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Which Evil Do We Pick? This Year, the Lesser

I stand by everything I've said about Hillary Clinton, but will probably vote for her anyway. None of the insults Hillary supporters have hurled my way were persuasive. But a few things were. I am disgusted on some real primal level by Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country. I’ve heard he’s since modified it, but that it could even enter his mind is abhorrent, even more abhorrent than school closings entering Hillary’s.

Everything I read suggests the DNC was in the bag for Hillary. Like many others, I was disgusted from the beginning at how Bernie Sanders was treated by both them and the mainstream press. The system is rigged and the superdelegates are there for no reason other than to assure it remains that way, thwarting the will of the people if necessary. They've chosen to stand by that system. I have never really felt I had to hold my nose to vote before, as so many people have. But I've been moved by a few things. 

Fred Klonsky, in a blue state like me, said we needed to pile on against Trump whether or not our votes affected the outcome. That was the very first argument to vote for Hillary that I found remotely persuasive. Donald Trump is really such a vile person he needs to be repudiated as strongly as possible. Even my meaningless blue state vote, perhaps, could be used as a point against him and his vomit-inducing agenda. The Washington Post calls him a menace to democracy, and democracy's in bad enough shape without the likes of him placing his ass print in it.

His penchant toward personal vendetta toward anyone who dares disagree with him, including members of his own party, suggests a juvenile mindset. His regular dissents into name-calling, that everyone's a loser, say to me that he's a junior high school student with a shiny tie. It's pathetic that we buy this person as a potential leader. Clearly all this Common Core stuff is failing to make us think.

But what really changed my mind was having several teachers argue with me on Facebook in defense of the ban on Muslims. I know what stereotypes are, and when you say we cannot trust an entire group of people, over a billion people, to enter our country---that is one hell of a stereotype. And when you act on it, that's the textbook definition of discrimination.

Where are we, in 2016, when teachers openly endorse stereotypes and discrimination? Not anyplace I particularly want to be. I'm personally horrified to see my brother and sister educators, all of whom ought to know what it is to be stereotyped (for example, from Donald Trump Junior) indulging the same sort of nonsense we expect from the talking heads on Fox News.

Another thing that changed my mind was when a friend of mine from Pakistan told me she feared for the safety of her children. Why should she have to live like that? How can we allow an avowed bigot to be chief executive of our country?

That's something I'm very willing to work against. If UFT decides to phone bank for Hillary in swing states, perhaps on behalf of AFT, I will be there. I will bring people with me. I hope they aren't just calling NYC teachers because that doesn't appear to me where Trump needs to be defeated. I don't envision Trump taking the NYC teacher vote so easily, particularly since he had Junior lay into us for no good reason. If Hillary needs us badly enough she needs our help to take NY, things are dire indeed.

Friday, July 22, 2016

On Union---I Like You, I Just Hate Your Family

Though I've never supported GOP policies, I kind of liked Bob Dole at one time. He's quick-witted and sarcastic. I have a weakness for people who can think on their feet, and I've always kind of felt there were too few of them. But one day Dole started attacking teacher unions. He made a distinction--not the teachers, but their unions.

I was more or less gobsmacked at this. I mean, who the hell did Dole think was in our unions? Space aliens? Crabgrass? Could someone as obviously smart as Dole not realize that teacher unions were groups of teachers? I took serious offense, and did not send Dole a Christmas card that year. It looks like teachers are once again targeted by the GOP. Baby Trump specifically condemned us, and Daddy, while a little more circumspect, was not much nicer:

We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice. My opponent would rather protect bureaucrats than serve American children.

What are "failing" schools?  They are always correlated with high percentages of high-needs and poverty, neither of which is addressed by either Daddy or Junior.  Who are the nameless bureaucrats? I'm thinking we are. School "choice" is about folks like Trump sticking their greedy little fists into public funds earmarked for our children. If they had to send their kids to public schools, you'd better believe they wouldn't be treated like the ones in Detroit.

I am not in love with Hillary, but you don't need to be a genius to see Trump adjusting the targets on our backs in preparation for a direct assault. On Facebook, I now see people rationalizing this by saying he isn't going after teachers, but rather the teacher unions.

In case it isn't absolutely clear, you are the union and I am the union. We are the union. Michael Mulgrew is the elected President of the union, but I happened to see him walk past me yesterday, and I can assure you he is one guy. I counted, and I was wearing my glasses at the time.

Regular readers of this blog know I have an issue or three with union leadership. I have issues with the way the union is run. I have issues with what passes for democracy in our union, and I may perhaps have mentioned this once or twice in this space. But, as a friend of mine used to say, "There are two problems with the union--the leadership and the membership." I agree, and if there are problems with OUR union, it's on US to fix them.

But outsiders don't get to say, "I have no problems with teachers. I just don't like the union." It's kind of like saying, "I have no problem with you. I just hate your family." Or, "I don't mind your family. I just hate your mother."

Sorry, guys, but it's OUR family. If you don't like our family, you don't like us. We call one another brother and sister, and it's not because we have the same parents. It's because we have chosen to stand together. When you attack our union, you attack us, and we stand together against you.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Happy Days Redux

Day 4 in Minneapolis and they've slipped the hotel bill under our door. $548.47 to stay at the Normandy Inn, which is kind of a cool place. Jonathan Halabi and I debated sending the UFT a bill as this is related to our Executive Board duties--we ought to know what the hell is going on--but have decided against it.

Normandy Inn has a great restaurant and a bar with local beer on tap. You have to pay for breakfast but the breakfast is amazing. I'm splitting the room and hotel tab with Norm Scott, but Norm can be difficult. For one thing, he strenuously objected upon locating various forms of pond life swimming in the puddle the shower somehow made on the bathroom floor today.

OK, that was my fault. I don't have a shower curtain at my house so I haven't quite got the swing of closing it. But Norm has his idiosyncrasies as well, For example, the night before last he went out bar hopping with a bunch of CTU people. He came back with half a bottle of Diet Coke. I tried to explain to him what bar hopping was all about but he couldn't seem to grasp it. (Some people don't understand anything.)

Minneapolis is actually a very cool place. Everyone has been friendly and there seems to be an abundance of great bars with great food and drink. I was pretty happy because I had no expectations. You can't be easily disappointed when you have no expectations.

The convention itself was a lot less interesting than I'd expected. You know, when you're an activist who's shut out of virtually all union activity you're curious about this stuff. But when the dominant Progressive Caucus held its meeting right out in the open for the whole world to see, all the mystery was pretty much gone. Some guy stood there and told everyone how to vote on everything, and all that passed after that was very little sound or fury, signifying whatever the caucus leaders said it would.

Now UFT Unity says they discuss this stuff behind closed doors, and I believe they do but only at a very high level. With all due respect, I do not believe a typical Unity chapter leader gets up and argues with the people who pay for the trip to Minneapolis or LA or wherever. That's kind of a shame, because people at our level are the ones who witness and experience what goes on each and every day.

If you only speak with people sworn to support you, you really get very little idea of what the hell is going on. That's why Michael Mulgrew can get up in front of the entire crowd, say virtually nothing of consequence, and assume he made a great presentation. I've no doubt there are 749 people here who will tell him his presentation was Brilliant Beyond Belief. Imagine that each of them comes here at two or three times what it cost me to, and that they come for the express purpose of doing whatever they are told.

The NYSUT event in NYC two years ago was a lot more interesting, UFT Unity decided to topple the popular sitting President, Dick Iannuzzi, along with his team. Secretary Treasurer Lee Cutler was much loved by virtually everyone with whom I spoke. I ran against EVP Andy Pallotta, and it was a great experience. The convention itself was fascinating, specifically because there was actually this ongoing tension as to who would win.

Of course it was an uphill battle, but here's the thing--UFT Unity is the big dog not only at AFT, but also at NYSUT. UFT had 28% of the state's teachers, but 33% of the NYSUT vote because small locals can't all afford the trip (let alone the NY Hilton). So while UFT had to recruit only 18% of the vote to win, we had to get 51%. Sadly we failed, and state leadership is just as timid as city leadership. Except, of course, when it came to making sure they had two pensions because Priorities.

This union needs to wake up and smell the coffee. Teacher morale is at an all-time low. This is not something we debate about for the next four years and hope for the best. This is a crisis. I'd love to just hang at Murray's, pictured above, and have the union pick up the tab for my silver butter knife steak, whatever the hell that is, but I'm gonna work to alleviate this instead.

First I'm gonna go home to see my wife, my kid, and Julio the Wonder Dog, who knows nothing but pure joy (except during thunderstorms).

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

From AFT16--Mulgrew Demands Apology for My Little Pony (and says some other stuff)

I've been tweeting the AFT Convention for a few days. My style when I tweet things is to report what I hear. If I have any sort of commentary, I make it clear or do it here.

Mulgrew began by speaking about how the GOP is evidently hurling accusations that Michelle Obama was plagiarizing from My Little Pony. This, I think he said, proved to be mistaken. So he asked us to begin using the following hashtag:


Now that's fine, but Mulgrew himself doesn't use hashtags. He isn't on Twitter. He isn't on Facebook. In fact, he doesn't even answer email. If I want to send Mulgrew an email, I cross-post it to the blog because that way I know at least someone will read it.

He then discussed organization. I listened intently because I'm very interested in organizing. He basically said that if you showed people you shared their interests they would become more involved. He showed pictures of the UFT bus with a bunch of new teachers in front of it.

I didn't actually hear much beyond that. At least twice I wrote beginnings of sentences that he didn't end, and had to wipe those tweets. He did say this:

Being empowered doesn't mean yelling loudest about the thing you're mad about.

I wasn't sure who he was talking about. Was it us? Was it BAMN, whose elected leader had been tossed out? They were pretty upset with Randi, and repeatedly blamed her for this happening.

Hopefully, he was making a generalization. I also believe it doesn't pay to walk around screaming at everyone for no reason. When people who work for UFT scream at me for no reason, I often wonder why they're doing it. If, for example, 

But here's the question I left that talk with--what exactly does Mulgrew do to engage members? We are the most active members there are, and they spend an awful lot of time building brick walls to keep us out. It's one of the most unproductive and stupid practices I've seen in my entire life.

We know that everyone here in UFT, by far the most dominant force in the hall, signs a loyalty oath and votes any damn way he tells them. That's why they are here on our dime. We know that not one single person the high school teachers selected has a voice or a vote in this place. Do you want to organize? Give us a voice. Or don't, and we'll organize to get one. 

I'm ready to organize. I'm ready to engage the members right now. I'm gonna need something more than a picture of Mulgrew standing in front of a van with a bunch of teachers, though.

Social Justice Is for Everyone, Including Teachers

Norm Scott says it's hard to "out social justice Randi," and in a lot of ways he's right.  AFT and UFT leadership are certainly diverse. And Randi hits every note when she speaks. There is no doubt whatsoever that she's aware of racial inequality. She's a great advocate for the LGBT community. Communities are well-represented at the AFT Convention. In fact, the only community I know of that has no representation whatsoever at this convention is UFT high school teachers.

That said, social justice does not apply only to race, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation. Social justice applies to all groups, and one of them is working teachers. Another is unions. I'll admit to being a little biased here, as I'm unabashedly in favor of both. I oppose things that hurt working teachers and unions, and I think it behooves us to fight them with everything we've got. And if we haven't got what we need to fight them, it's on us to go out and get it.

That's why I am mystified as to how Hillary Rodham Clinton can stand in front of us and babble nonsense about how we can learn from "public charter schools." I don't even know what that means, or what we're differentiating. The fact is every charter school is privately run, judged by different standards, and no charter is on a level playing field. For charters to boast of their stats when people like me are teaching kids who have been in the United States only five minutes is ridiculous.

I'm also mystified as to how my union, the most powerful in the country, can support things like mayoral control. How on earth do we support giving absolute power to a fanatical ideologue like Michael Bloomberg? And when we finally get a mayor who is not insane, why do we not fight tooth and nail when they demand he pay rent for the likes of Eva Moskowitz?

How do we not only support, but also have our President take part in writing a law that has us rated via value-added junk science? How does our President determine the reformiest man on God's green earth, John King, is a reasonable and unbiased arbitrator for our evaluation agreement?

How can UFT leadership attack the opt-out movement, a grassroots uprising of parents outraged about reforminess? How can those who control our union call allies of the movement "reckless and feckless," and make ridiculous arguments about how they cost schools money they don't even have?

I could go on, but here is the point---MORE fights for social justice for teachers. That's why we took the high schools, and that's why we will move ahead and win further. MORE opposes judging teachers by test scores. MORE opposes using our kids as puppets who sit for tests just to prove how much we suck. MORE believes teachers are under assault and need help.

We reach out with both hands to working teachers. We want to help, and we want to force our leadership, if necessary, to help too. I am an open book. I don't work behind the backs of Unity to thwart them when they are trying to support children. But I will fight them with everything I've got if they want to block social justice, say, for ESL students just because they can. MORE believes our working conditions are student learning conditions, and I couldn't agree more.

If Unity wants to play stupid games and write baseless nonsense to discredit us, that's fine. But we are standing up for teachers, we are standing up for children, and we are standing up for communities. We are not afraid, we will not be deterred, and we will not be intimidated by the usual nonsense.

We're open to working together, but we expect nothing. You can't have any social justice unless you include working teachers, and you can't put children first if you put teachers last. And you can't represent teachers if you sign loyalty oaths to leadership and vote as told.

Democracy is from the bottom up. UFT Unity is top down. We will fight for the voices of high school teachers and all teachers. Social justice applies to us too, we aren't going to forget it, and we aren't going to let UFT Unity forget it either.

Trump Jr. Shares His Insights On Public Education

Nothing like watching the GOP Convention.  It turns out that we teachers are to blame for almost everything. The whole narrative about money moving more and more to the 1% is completely false. Otherwise, how could Donald Trump Jr. say this?

The other party gave us public schools that far too often fail our students, especially those who have no options. 

It has nothing to do with the fact that politicians, likely as not Republicans, have cut funds to enable tax cuts for the likes of Junior and his orange Daddy. But the real whopper is below:

Growing up, my siblings and I we were truly fortunate to have choices and options that others don’t have. We want all Americans to have those same opportunities.

Well of course they had choices and options with a Daddy who's known mostly for being rich.  Make no mistake, neither Daddy nor Junior is proposing that we be rich, and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. The vouchers the Donalds love so much are not going to enable the riff-raff, i.e you and me, to attend the schools their kids go to. You'll have a choice of a crumbling public school or maybe a Moskowitz Academy where your kids can pee themselves.

Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class, now they’re stalled on the ground floor.

There he may be right. In Detroit the schools are rat-infested and falling apart. In Chicago a Democrat, Rahm Emanuel, closed 50 schools because he could. Kids understand what it means when you send them to a place that looks like a pile of trash. When I started teaching in the trailers, I started wearing suits to work. I wanted to send kids the message that even though Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks this pile of junk is good enough for you, I think you're important.

Now maybe it's a Trump family tradition to plagiarize, and Junior just wants to get in on it too. Maybe it's OK for them, and maybe it's OK for Republcians, as Chris Christie says, if you keep it at seven percent. Maybe he got away with it in his elite private school. Could he have paid off the teachers? Who knows? Were Junior in my class, I'd give him an F. Maybe someone did and that's why he hates us. Anyway, let's see what other words of wisdom he has:

 They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students. 

Yes, teachers are having a big party. There's nothing we love better than being observed and rated on a checklist. And best of all, we get judged on test scores! What teacher doesn't love being judged by a system that has no validity whatsoever? All we care about is ourselves, and that's why we took this gig! We're all fabulously wealthy, do nothing whatsoever, live in mansions and drive obscenely expensive cars. Okay, that's a joke. I'm not describing teachers, but rather the Trumps. 

You know why other countries do better on K through 12? They let parents choose where to send their own children to school.

You know why other countries do better in K through 12? Because, unlike us in the US, 51% of their kids do not live in poverty. Because they have nationalized health care. Because they have day care that parents don't have to work second jobs to pay for. In fact, we made one minor move toward health care for all, and Orange Daddy wants to kill even that.

That’s called competition. It’s called the free market. And it’s what the other party fears.

That's called an outright lie. No country has a successful voucher system and those who've tried it are not jumping up and down about it. In Finland, regarded by even Bill Gates as the best public education system, everyone goes to public schools. There are not even the elite private schools that Junior went to. I'd argue that if folks like Junior had to go to public schools, there would be none that look like those in Detroit.

They fear it because they’re more concerned about protecting the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.

Wow. What planet is this kid living on? I live in New York, supposedly a bastion of liberalism, and we have a Democrat Governor who pushed an evaluation system specifically designed to fire more teachers. When that system didn't work as designed, he called it "baloney," and proceeded to push a new system, which hopefully will fire even more teachers. That's what Democrat Andrew Cuomo considers a victory.

Every teacher I know is acutely aware of this. That's why we're all so fidgety. We don't mind doing our jobs. Let me tell you something--this guy is stereotyping teachers just like Daddy stereotypes Muslims. In fact it's not teachers who are stalling the progress of the middle class. This started with Saint Ronald Reagan, and now Republicans are all about cutting taxes for the wealthy.

Who picks up the slack? We do. We teachers pay what people like Trump and Baby Trump used to pay. Our children pay what they used to. If Baby Trump gave a golly gosh darn about folks like us he'd have been out on the streets working for Bernie Sanders instead of driving his Lamborghini to gala luncheons.

It's absurd and obscene that we who devote our lives to helping children are vilified by the same people who make it impossible to fund their schools. It's even worse that their remedy for public schools is making it easier for zillionaires to profit from them.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

In Which a UFT Unity Member Lectures Me on Democracy

Here's something I posted on Facebook:

They just voted a dues increase for AFT. There are exactly seven people chosen by UFT high school teachers to represent UFT high school teachers. I'm one, and another, Jonathan Halabi, is seated at my right. Five are in New York. Zero got a vote.

A Unity person took exception that that, saying that the union selected other members to represent us at the convention.  I pointed out that the high school teachers did not choose those people. As James Eterno points out, UFT high school teachers number more than the entire Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. The number of people at this convention selected by UFT high school teachers, again, is precisely zero.

I'm pretty sure that represents taxation without representation. In certain circles that has been referred to as tyranny. My Facebook friend pointed out the name of one person I know who voted for him, but did not seem to grasp that one person, sadly, does not constitute a majority when we're looking at a pool of 20,000.

Not only that, but since he brought it up, I watched the controlling AFT Progressive Caucus meet last night. I'm not exactly sure why they chose to meet in the same room as the actual convention, why that's appropriate, or why they didn't choose to meet in private. But what the hell, I was there, Randi was talking to people in the press, and I listened.

The man running the meeting promised it would be short. He said we're voting up on this and down on that. He said this thing, we have no position, and therefore you may vote as you wish. It was unbelievable.

Truth is stranger than fiction. but it is because truth is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't. ~Mark Twain

I wasn't paying attention that closely, but another thing the leader mentioned was that UFT had 100% enrollment. Think about what that suggests--that our alleged representatives have not only signed a loyalty oath to do whatever UFT leadership instructs, but that they also sit at AFT and do as they are told as well.

So this guy, who is not a high school teacher,  is suggesting to me that he represents us. Sorry, but in a democracy, we choose the people who represent us. I watched the President of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers speak in support of Hillary today. We, the high school teachers, who number more than his entire union, have no vote or voice in the national union we support with our dues.

In fact, even the High School Vice President we chose, James Eterno, is not our Vice President.

You tell me how that remotely resembles democracy.

Clinton at AFT--Let's Learn from Public Charter Schools

I listened intently to Hillary yesterday. She hit a lot of notes that were clearly aimed to resonate with teachers. We need to pay you more. We need to fix crumbling schools. We need to support unions. You'll have a seat at the table.

I think Randi also mentioned the seat at the table thing. I am bone weary of hearing about that seat at the table. I mean, why the hell are we even at a table with the likes of Bill Gates, who places millions of dollars behind every baseless whim that crosses his mind? Why are we subject to the caprices of a man who sends his kids to a school that uses none of the methods he inflicts on our children? What the hell is this man doing at the table and what qualification does he have besides all that money?

Here's one thing that's already on the table--Hillary Clinton supports charter schools, the preposterous competition to our public school system. She makes a ridiculous distinction--that she supports "public" charter schools. Now what the hell are public charter schools? Charters, by nature, take public money and then do whatever the hell they please. If you allowed a kid to pee her pants in your classroom you'd be subject to CR A-420, corporal punishment.

Let me ask you this--what would you do if a teacher allowed your kid to pee her pants for test prep rather than go to a bathroom? Me, I'd want to throw that teacher out a window or something. I don't send my kid to school for that. In fact, I'd be upset with you if you caused my dog to have an accident.

But Hillary doesn't have these issues. After all, her campaign manager is a longtime reformy. Beyond the whole pants wetting thing, don't believe for one minute that "public charter schools" take the same kids we do. I teach beginning ESL students, and you won't see them at a Moskowitz Academy anytime soon. You see, kids who don't speak English tend not to achieve the test scores around which the Moskowitz Academy is built. Nor do special education students, for the most part. Eva can take kids with mild special needs, but you won't see her taking the alternate assessment kids my school accepts as a matter of course. Not on this astral plane anyway.

Charters can make all sorts of demands on working parents. You have to show up to help every now and then. You have to take the day off and come to Albany to lobby, along with your kids. And if you don't show up, they can toss your kids. If your kid is too much trouble, they can be placed on a got to go list. I mean, I guess you can sue the Moskowitz Academy if they do that to your kid, but why should you be placed in such a position at all?

Reformies used to push vouchers, but communities almost always voted against them. They quickly learned that charter schools were easier to sell. And they've done a fantastic job of selling them. Who'd have expected Hillary could push "public charter schools" without a whimper from the AFT crowd?

There was just a little hubbub during the speech. At one point, a group behind me started chanting, "Black lives matter." A larger group started chanting, "Hillary." During the back and forth, Hillary kept speaking. For a while I couldn't hear her, but I kept wondering whether she heard the protestors. After a while the protestors changed their chant to, "Stop the deportations."

I can't say whether or not it would have been a good idea for Hillary to engage the protestors. What I can say is that Hillary, who sent her own kid to an elite private school that does not embrace reforminess, said a test of a good school, for her, was whether or not she'd send her children or grandchildren there. The fact is she had exactly one chance to choose a school, and chose one that was not public, that most of us could not afford, and that certainly did not embrace programs famously used by the "public charter schools" we could "learn from."

And what can we learn from them?

I think Jim Horn is right on the money here, and I'm not inclined to learn that. I treat kids I teach better than that, and all kids deserve better than that. How we in the AFT can look the other way while Hillary blurts out such outrageous nonsense is beyond me.

Monday, July 18, 2016

From AFT 2016--Resistance is Futile--Prepare to Be Assimilated--Or Maybe Moved a Little

I'm here at the AFT Convention in Minneapolis. When Norm Scott and I arrived, we were met by several unionists from Chicago and Boston. They were very excited about our modest victory in the UFT. They, of course, have had more significant victories.

They're kind of in awe of the machine that runs the UFT. They can't believe it when I tell them retirees control around half of the votes in the UFT. (In fact, in 2013 they represented over half the voters. In 2016 they were a little less.) How can retirees vote on who gets to negotiate contracts for working members? Do they care about what working teachers go through?

I still can't believe we placed that little crack in the monolith that is UFT Unity. We worked very hard for around 16 months, in and out of the MORE Caucus, and managed to get the word out enough to squeak out a victory. We were very fortunate that New Action finally came to its senses and worked with us. We would not have been able to pull this off without them.

In a few hours Hillary is gonna be here, and it's quite clear that she is the star of this particular convention. Not everyone is enthusiastically on board just yet:

Of course that was just a rehearsal. I will try to tweet the speech as it comes, and if you want to read it, I'm @TeacherArthurG.

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm not in love with Hillary. I have not been persuaded at all by friends of Hillary who've beseeched me to vote for her. Usually these efforts at persuasion entail telling me how stupid I am and that I don't understand high school civics.

I don't expect Hillary to change my mind today, but I am coming around for two reasons. The second best reason came from Fred Klonsky, who lives in Illinois. Like me, Fred could vote third party and have no effect whatsoever on the general. But Fred wants to pile on against the odious Donald Trump.

The best reason I've seen to vote for Hillary came from two conversations I had on Facebook. I was bemoaning Trump's vile bigotry, particularly his decision to ban Muslims. Several people argued with me. One defended the Japanese Internment, which I thought one of the most shameful episodes in American History. Then he said we'd banned German and Japanese immigrants during World War II. I thought the fact that we were actually at war with those countries was a fairly good defense. Banning Muslims would be almost waging war against a major religion.

Another Facebook friend said that Trump no longer took that position, and that he now only wanted to ban people from certain countries. That didn't much impress me. The thing I really don't like about Hillary is that she talked school closings. Yeah, I know, she explained it, it was a mistake, it was out of context, whatever. The fact that her brain could formulate the words that came out of her mouth, saying she would not keep any school open that wasn't above average, well, that was too much for me.

On the other hand, you have Donald Trump, who likes right to work, who has actually ruined lives of working people in Atlantic City and elsewhere. You have this guy who wants to bounce countries from NATO if they don't pay, and if they don't pay all what they've owed in the past. On the other hand, he's personally had multiple bankruptcies and bounced back to the point he may be President. He wants to do something similar with our national debt, and that's pretty odd, since one thing the US has never done is default on our debts.

But the ban Muslim thing is beyond the pale, more beyond even than teacher issues I hold dear. For a nations Presidential candidate to stereotype an entire religion is an atrocity. For folks to tell me it's a good idea to practice active discrimination is even worse.

Those are the people who are now pushing me toward voting for Hillary and piling up against the execrable bigot Donald Trump.

Best Parental Contact App

I saw a headline saying that on Twitter. I like apps. I like new things. Now maybe you can find an app that will do all sorts of stuff. Maybe it will send emails. Maybe you can check off a list of stuff you want the parent to know. Maybe you can make one report and send it to ten parents at a time.

I can imagine all sorts of possibilities. But no matter how good they are, I wouldn't use any of them. Since I began teaching, we've had paper checklists we could send out. I've never much trusted them because when I was in high school, I went through the mail and tossed them all in the trash. Once or twice, when supervisors insisted on it, I may have used them. I don't even remember.

In our school we put all grades online, so any parent who's interested can see a kid's grades at pretty much any time. That's fine, but alas, a whole lot of the parents we wish to get in touch with couldn't be bothered. I've sat with parents at conferences and shown them step by step how to use it. I've watched as they installed them on their smartphones. And yet, often things don't change.

So now I come to my favorite app. OK, the one in the picture is pretty old. It's been a while since I used a dial. But I still find that to be the very best way to get in touch with a parent. I mean, sure, it's inconvenient. Email and texts are much cooler, because I don't need to look at them right this minute. I can look at it when I get out of class, off of work, out of the car, out of the bar, off of the plane, or away from wherever I am now. I can look at it tonight, tomorrow, next week, next year, next millennium, or whatever it takes.

But hey, when your kid has a problem, I want to talk to you right now. I don't want to leave you a message and wait until you feel like getting back to me. I want to let you know that I'm worried about your kid, and that I know you are too, even if you aren't. I want you to know that I have great faith your kid can do better, and that I'm sure you do too, even if I'm not at all sure you do. Mostly, I want you to know that we can work together to fix this, and that we'd better do it right now.

I can't wait until you sign in to some program, check your kid's progress, consult the tea leaves, or whatever it is you need to do. I need to let you know that I'm really concerned about your time, and that I know how inconvenient it would be for you to come in during work hours. That's why we need to work out this situation. Oh you can't come? That's too bad. I would hate to have to complain to ACS. That would probably be even more inconvenient than coming in. Oh, you'll talk to him for me? Well thank you very much, I knew we could work this out.

Actually I don't usually need to have those conversations, though I have had them. Mostly I just ask parents to give good advice, and they agree. Mostly I see positive effects, and if I don't I call back. I really believe the phone is the very best app there is for contacting parents, and I've yet to see one that improves on it. Sure, it's time-consuming, but it cuts down tremendously on time I'd have to spend dealing with nonsense in class.

Now nothing is perfect, and this won't always work. But so far it works better than anything else I've seen or tried. If you have a better suggestions, I'm all ears.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Teachers--Guilty Until Proven Innocent

The NY Post knows a failing teacher when it sees one. Anyone who wasn't hired back at John Adams, to the NY Post, is a "failing teacher" and "inept." One good thing, for the NY Post is this--they make these assertions with no evidence whatsoever, and evidently the libel laws in this country are lax enough that they do so with impunity.

I worked at John Adams for about seven years. I transferred because my supervisor gave me an ultimatum. She had a Spanish teacher who threw kids out of the class all the time and I never did that. So she wouldn't have to be bothered with the kids being tossed out, she wanted me to teach all Spanish. Otherwise she was going to give me a schedule late enough that it would preclude the second job I had taken to pay my mortgage. I left on a UFT transfer.

If I hadn't done that, the NY Post would likely be calling me inept and failing. I don't think anyone with a choice would hire me as a teacher. While I don't get complaints about my actual teaching, I am fairly confident my principal would back me up when I say I am a pain in the ass. Seriously, who wants to deal with the likes of me when you can pick and choose anyone you wish? It's a lot easier to run a school when you can just ignore the contract and do whatever the hell you like.

Actually I was not such a pain in the ass when I worked at Adams. My then boss had no reason to be upset with me. But the fact that I love teaching English, as well as the fact that I am much more competent in English than Spanish meant nothing. I was gonna teach Spanish, because it was convenient for her, and that was it. Decisions like those don't factor into the equation, as far as the NY Post. So what if teachers are assigned where they are not their best? Administration is not to be questioned, and anything wrong in the building is the sole province of the teachers, who suck and must be called out for it.

Naturally the Post enlists the opinions of pro-charter folks. Their opinions are of paramount importance because they, unlike us, know how kids should be treated. Clearly children should pee their pants doing test prep and not be subject to namby pamby liberal gobbledygook like bathroom passes.

“Shuffling ineffective teachers from one school to another isn’t a sign that the administration is willing to prioritize students above the bureaucracy,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, a charter backer.

Isn't it cool that you can say stuff like that with no evidence whatsoever? In fact there is an agreed-upon standard for declaring a teacher ineffective. Well, there's one in the public schools. Charters aren't subject to that, opting to do any damn thing they please. They aren't subject to chancellor's regulations about corporal punishment, verbal abuse, or pretty much anything. They can dump students, not replace them, and not include them in their stats either. And despite their claims, lotteries are most certainly not random. A parent has to be proactive enough to apply, and agree to whatever extra demands the charters have.

But hey, FES says we suck, and if that's not enough for Post readers, they round it off with some predictable blather from the same Students First NY mouthpiece who seems to comment on everything.

In fact, public schools take everyone, every kid, every special need, every kid who doesn't know a single word of English, every kid with interrupted formal education. They are then subject to the baseless and abusive comments like those of Mr. Jeremiah Kittredge, likely as not taken as gospel by readers of the NY Post.

I'm fairly confident that John Adams wouldn't want me back either. Maybe I'd be an ineffective Spanish teacher, though I'm appointed to teach ESL. And even if I weren't, I would fight to enforce our Contract. Well, who needs that? Not charter school supporters, who generally can't be bothered with union. Here's what the NY Times says about Moskowitz Academy teachers: 

For teachers, who are not unionized and usually just out of college, 11-hour days are the norm, and each one is under constant monitoring, by principals who make frequent visits, and by databases that record quiz scores.

Why are they usually just out of college? Doesn't that suggest that their predecessors didn't last? Doesn't that mean, by NY Post standards, that their predecessors were failing and inept? And if the new teachers don't last, as history suggests, aren't they failing and inept too? Heavens to Betsy, how can that be, with the high standards FES and all the reformies hold so dear?

We're on a merry-go-round of arbitrary standards and random vilification. If we want people to become teachers and hang around longer than they do at the Moskowitz academies, we're gonna have to start treating them like human beings rather than convicted felons.  By their standard, I'm as failing and inept as any teacher labeled by the Post, and so are we all. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

PROSE and Its Mysteries

Politico just did a feature on the PROSE schools. After reading it I have no idea why they are an improvement over the SBO feature of the standard contract, which allows schools to change class time, rearrange schedules, and basically do whatever they need to achieve their unique goals. I also see no advantage whatsoever in allowing the program not to sunset at year's end. What if it turns out to be a disaster?

I can only suppose it's an effort to compete with charters in doing things differently. Unsurprisingly, those representing charters decline to sing its praises: 

The program has been largely dismissed by the city’s influential charter sector; its leaders call it an unproven strategy that has not yet shown tangible improvements for schools.

Of course, "tangible improvements" are open to interpretation. Last I looked, charters had not only failed to show them, but in NYC were also not subject to Chancellor's Regulations that prohibit, for example, allowing children to pee themselves rather than granting the fundamental dignity of allowing them to go to the bathroom.

A Daily News story from last year has some less than encouraging words on the PROSE program, from none other than sitting Chancellor Carmen Fariña:

“You see something here that in some other schools would raise people's eyebrows,” she said. “You have one teacher with almost 40 kids in the class and you have another teacher with eight kids in the class. And no one is saying this is how many I have, this is how many you have. They're saying in order for me to do my job here, you're gonna do your job there.”

I'm not sure when it was that Carmen Fariña last worked as a classroom teacher, but I still do, and I also represent over 200 working teachers. I can tell you with 100% certainly there are a whole lot of things teachers don't tell their immediate supervisors or principals. The likelihood they would tell such things to the school chancellor hovers somewhere below nil.

So we have 48 kids. Eight of them, according to someone or other, require individualized attention. 40 of them evidently do not. In this scenario, over 80% of the students are in an oversized class and we're supposed to celebrate that because the teachers, as far as Fariña knows, aren't complaining. That's not the most persuasive argument I've ever heard. Why couldn't there be two classes of 24 without the PROSE initiative? In fact, if she feels so strongly about it, why doesn't Fariña ante up so all those kids could work in groups of 8?

In fact, an SBO could be used to enable an oversized class. We had a strings class in our school that was one over the limit, and we had an SBO to allow it to stay that way throughout the year. In exchange, the teacher was relieved from his C6 assignment, repairing instruments. Admin agreed not to overbook the class in the future, and it seemed a better decision than removing a kid at that point in the year. The teacher even did his C6 assignment, as no one else was gonna do it if he didn't.

If the PROSE programs are so fantastic and innovative, why are oversized classes their calling card? How about letting us see, now, each and every program so we can assess them? How about letting us know why these things could not be achieved via a regular SBO process?

Are these programs just a propaganda tool to show that public schools can do new things just like charters? For my money, that's nothing worth aspiring to in the first place. Also, the UFT has already kowtowed sufficiently to charters. Not only did we drag the trash talking Steve Barr and Green Dot to NYC,  but we also opened and colocated our own charter. Just how far backward do we need to bend in order to prove a point?

If it's about showing we are flexible with the contract, I absolutely don't believe the contract favors us. In fact since 2005, I've seen it favor us less and less. This notwithstanding, it happens to be constructed by both the union and the city. I've seen it work in favor of UFT members, and I've seen it work in favor of administration. I don't think we need to hold it in contempt, and show our enemies we're willing to push it aside to show how open-minded we are.

If there is some great value in the PROSE schools, I'd like to hear about it. What exactly is it they can do that a general SBO cannot?  Why are they better than the UFT Contact, and if they're so wonderful why isn't everyone using them? When are we going to see exactly what goes on in these schools rather than vague allusions in Politico?

If they are as good as Mulgrew and Fariña say they are, they have nothing to lose by showing us the full picture.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Shocking Teacher Shortage

It looks like Governor Cuomo's plan of painting targets on the backs of all teachers has not worked out as well as planned in NY State. Evidently there is a shortage, and to ease it, the geniuses in Albany are relaxing standards. Their thinking, evidently, is people from other states will be anxious for the chance to judged by Governor Cuomo's matrix, and potentially be guilty until proven innocent. After all, there aren't many opportunities like that in the United States.

Another point of view, of course, is that Governor Cuomo is bought and paid for by Eva Moskowitz's BFFs at Families for Excellent Schools, and that he pretty much jumps at their beck and call. Maybe that's why he was so happy to appear at Ms. Moskowitz's field trip, you know, the one where she boarded all her students on buses and dragged them to Albany to lobby for her own political cause. If you or I did that, we'd be fired. But of course we didn't, so that's not why there's a teacher shortage.

There's a teacher shortage because we're tired of being used as punching bags. We're tired of being vilified in the press, and by every tinhorn politician that takes suitcases of cash from DFER and FES. We're tired of hearing people like Cuomo enact rating plans to fire teachers, call them "baloney" when they fail to fire enough teachers, and revise them for the express purpose of firing more. We're tired of being judged by test scores which the American Statistical Association correctly asserts have little or no validity.

We're tired of being told the only way to teach is like this, like that, or like whatever Bill Gates wakes up and decides children other than his own must be taught. We're tired of endless testing and being forced to teach nonsense that does not help our children. We're tired of underlying assumptions by people with no credentials or credibility that the children we serve lack "grit" and must be treated with "rigor."

I'm particularly tired of so-called leaders who create problems and then try to solve them in ways that don't address the problems at all. When I started teaching, pay was particularly low. The city didn't bother addressing the huge disparity in pay between the city and surrounding suburbs. Instead, there were ads in the subways and on buses to try to attract teachers. There were intergalactic recruiting campaigns. It turned out, though, that people from other countries and universes just couldn't afford to live in NYC.

And then, of course, there is the issue of quality. I was one of the people who saw a subway ad and took a teaching gig. I had no idea what I was doing. On my ninth day of teaching, my supervisor wrote me up and said I had no idea what I was doing. But I had told her I had no idea what I was doing when she hired me. To this day I wonder why she expected more. She wrote that I should try to be more "heuristic" when I taught. Naturally that cleared up everything for me. Doubtless with excellent advice like that every teacher will become instantly excellent, no matter how much they raise or lower the standards.

Cuomo is an empty suit, with loyalty to no one but Cuomo. He just said he won't support his party in its effort to retake the State Senate. This is they guy Hillary's people have representing the DNC for New York. He has no moral center whatsoever, does whatever the people who pay him say, and happily supports whatever the privatizers tell him to. And, oh, if the people rise up and say screw your ridiculous tests, he can always make some empty gesture, like a partial moratorium, and say, "See? I care what you think, sort of."

This is step one in addressing a teacher shortage created by Albany. There will be more. But until they start listening to teachers and learning why people no longer pursue this job, they will be empty gesture after empty gesture, likely helping no one but those who see education as an opportunity for profit.