Friday, April 28, 2017

Playing the Stereotype Game with Teachers

Another day, another story about how terrible it is that teachers get due process. Evidently two teachers are in jail and still drawing salary. How exactly that works I don't know. I'm pretty doubtful they let you leave the jail to go and teach. Maybe they're using their sick days. Who knows? A telltale clue to the validity of the story is the fact that it bemoans the drop in teachers up for termination. Evidently, last year there were 392 candidates while this year there were only 381.

The need to make an issue out of a drop so plainly insignificant suggests to me borderline desperation for something to talk about. This, coupled with the prominent use of Mona David, who started some sort of parent group whose membership is a mystery, who went on an anti-tenure crusade after being dumped from UFT payroll, and also a Students First shill for anti-teacher quotes, suggests to me there's not a whole lot of "there" there.

We're talking about a total of two cases. Many readers of this piece will draw conclusions about all of us because two jailed teachers are temporarily on payroll. That smacks of stereotype, to say the least. To suggest that tens of thousands of teachers have too many due process rights because of this is faulty logic, to put it generously. And make no mistake, there is another side to this story that did not make the article.

I've seen administrative abuse all over the city. I know teachers on the verge of stress-induced breakdowns. In my own building, which is very good relative to others, I've seen some of the most positive people I've ever met walk out rather than continue dealing with the nonsense that passes for an evaluation system. I've seen members have dangerously high blood pressure,  minor cardiac episodes, and even outright heart attacks in the corridors as a result of administrative abuses.

Elsewhere it's worse. Principals run rampant and utterly ignore the contract. There are schools full of newbies, none of whom have the due process rights that would protect them from being fired for no reason. Lately I've been writing a lot about the incredible staff and community at CPE 1. Over there, if you criticize the principal you're up on charges. The chapter leader is up on charges. The delegate is up on charges. Others are up on charges.

Now it's possible they ran around and committed heinous crimes, but we don't even know what most of them are accused of. Given what we do know, though, it's much more likely they're being intimidated and punished for speaking out against an abusive and power-hungry administrator. And hey, not every administrator is as bad as this one. But there's something that happens when you give a little person a little power, and just about every teacher in the city knows what that is.

It could be just a little thing. For example, I was pretty good friends with a former APO. But when she got the administrative job, she changed. She was no longer friendly. I had to make appointments to see her. She was not abusive or cruel. She was just a little aloof. When I had real issues, she gave me real assistance. So she wasn't bad or anything. She was just changed, and in my view, not for the better.

But other things happen too. You may have read the continuing saga of Boy Wonder on this blog. Boy Wonder is every abusive administrator in the city. He's every young and incompetent person climbing to the top on the backs of the people he's hired to support. And make no mistake, he is everywhere, somewhere in just about every school in the city. And despite that, he isn't yet quite as outrageous as the principal of CPE 1, empowered by Carmen FariƱa and the DOE to not only make teacher lives a misery, but also ruin one of the most visionary schools I've ever bumped my head upon.

There will always be a handful of outrageous stories about teachers. I know some that the reporters will never hear. But judging all of us by the actions of a few is blatantly stereotypical. People like Mona and the Students First hack might be happy to enact regulations based on stereotypes, but American history is full of such nonsense, and it benefits no one. In fact, I'm sure there are guilty people who've been exonerated in court. Personally I'd rather see that than innocent people convicted. Yet there are plenty of innocent people convicted. How often do we read of people on death row exonerated because of DNA evidence? How often have people been executed for lack of it?

While stories like this one are sensational, while even I can't help but read them, the implications are disturbing to say they least. I doubt any arbitrator will rule in favor of teachers jailed for abuse of children, but who knows? If they do, and they're wrong, I'd determine it's the fault of the arbitrator, not the law.

I'd like to see some paper write a story about some murderer who got off, and then determine that we ought to do away with trials so as to preclude this in the future. Because when I read stories like this one, that's pretty much what I see. I'm completely persuaded that, given unfettered power, Monika Garg would have fired the UFT chapter leader and delegate, among others. In doing that, she'd have destroyed an extraordinary school. I have no doubt that many other administrators would fire many other teachers for no good reason if given half a chance.

It's important we not give them that half a chance.

Update--Two jailed teachers are now off payroll, but new story complains that a teacher charged with assaulting a student is still on payroll.  Holy guilty until proven innocent, Batman!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Class Size Regulations v. Reality

I've been chapter leader for eight years now, and at least six times a year I need to go through our 50 plus page master schedule and identify oversized classes. I'm not particularly drawn to spreadsheets, and it isn't exactly fun for me. But it's my job nonetheless, so I do it.

Most years we have a handful of oversized classes, and we work it out one way or another. Sometimes they rule against me, saying this or that class isn't subject to the Contract. In the fall, some arbitrator decided we should just keep all the oversized classes, but that teachers would get one day off from their C6 assignments, e.g. tutoring. This struck me as so absurd that I wrote an op-ed for the Daily News over it.

I see simplicity as a virtue, and I admire writers who are able to make points simply. Though my job sometimes requires it, I do not much love wading through convoluted nonsense. Therefore when the Contract says there shall be no more than 34 students in a high school class, I interpret it to mean just that. If there are 35, you move one out.

But the Contract cites various exceptions, and if you don't meet them and are oversized anyway, it specifies that there should be a "plan of action." As I mentioned, last Fall, that was relief from one C6 period per week. To me, that seemed more like a plan of inaction. I mean, the problem was oversized classes. How on earth does granting me one additional weekly prep period make the class smaller? How does reducing my tutoring load help me to give more attention to my students?

This semester was a little better. The arbitrator did the right thing, and told our school, among others, to just fix the class sizes. I thought we had finally achieved something.  But it's a month in and nothing has happened. Now they tell me there's something called a "compliance call." This phrase is not in the UFT Contract.

Evidently, though, if you follow all the rules, if you get a favorable ruling, there is this extra step. Who knew? So the principal sits around and does nothing. What's the consequence for this? There is none, of course. Where does this stuff even come from?

In my school, it appears to me that compliance is possible. In other schools, there is no space, there are no rooms, and there are fewer options. What kind of system admits children to school when there is no place to put them? Even now the mayor is planning to expand pre-K and is giving no thought to the number of additional seats that will entail. Even now the Moskowitz machine is taking up even more space as teachers, students, and communities are displaced to make room for test-prep factories that toss out kids who don't get the grade, literally.

So here's my question--how do you bargain in good faith and make agreements with people when rules and rulings mean nothing? How do you make deals with people who have no regard for rules they themselves have already agreed to?  If they won't follow them anyway, why bother? What's the point of SBOs and PROSE in a system that can't or won't follow minimum standards in serving children?

What's the point of spending time examining and rewriting rules that only bind one side? How are they helpful? In fact, if they apply to only one side of the table, they're not only useless to us and our students, but also counter-productive.

I never heard of a compliance call. Maybe when that doesn't work, they'll go out and sacrifice a goat to the god of bureaucracy.  That would make as much sense as anything I've seen this year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

UFT Executive Board Takeaway

It was remarkable to once again see CPE 1 out in force trying to save their school. Can you imagine what the school system would look like if we were all 50% as activist as they are? People told stories of outrageous abuse and irresponsibility. This is not simply a neighborhood school, but rather one in which the community has a tremendous stake. It's nothing short of disgraceful that Tweed holds that concept in such low esteem and demands they just sit down and shut up while they steamroll the entire concept of a community-driven democratic school.

Activism is not expected of the NYC school community, or even the UFT. It seems like a hot potato that no one knows exactly how to handle. At the request of CPE 1 teachers, we asked to take the resolution full of real problems and real solutions off the table. That request was unanimously denied by the loyalty oath signers, who outnumber us 95-7. It's hard for me to understand why we can't simply say an abusive principal is abusive, explain why, and then demand she be replaced with someone who isn't abusive. It just happened in Townsend Harris, so it's not impossible. Of course, that was also a result of student activism. It's not really reasonable to expect such activism from six and seven year olds.

So now we see there will be a lawsuit and a restraining order. That's positive, but we also know the problem has been quite clear for over a year. This means that until a very public stink was made, there was no lawsuit, no restraining order, and not even a MORE/ New Action sponsored resolution to vote down. The given justification for voting it down, that the UFT cannot negotiate once it takes a position, continues to puzzle me.

We are also looking at the shredded remnants of JHS 145, steamrolled so that Eva Moskowitz could take it over. UFT says it will help excessed and displaced teachers by assisting with resumes and applications. This is helpful, but more helpful still would be saving the school, or even the pre-2005 system in which they would be placed. I'm working at a viable school only because I took advantage of the UFT transfer plan. UFT leaders can tell me from now until doomsday that the current plan is better because there is a larger number of transfers, but had I stayed in John Adams High School I'd almost certainly be an ATR even as we speak. It's positive that newer teachers can transfer more easily, but leaving teachers with years of experience entrenched in the ATR is no victory.

Howard Schoor, who as secretary runs the meetings, prides himself on answering our questions, and once told us that the panel answered all of our questions. This they do, but simply giving an answer is not necessarily tantamount to giving a satisfactory or reasonable response. Here's a case in point:

Arthur GoldsteinMORE—Much to my surprise and delight, Francis Lewis, Hillcrest, Flushing and Forest Hills High Schools all got reasonable rulings about class sizes this semester. The arbitrator ordered, on March 28th, that all schools come into compliance or create classes so as to enable compliance. However, actual compliance is another issue. I know in my school, absolutely nothing has been done pending something called a compliance call, which was supposed to happen last week but did not. A full month has now gone by. I worry the DOE can wait us out five weeks and the ruling will be meaningless. In other buildings, there is simply no space to place new classes. This is problematic, to say the least.

At my school, thanks to the welcome intervention of Elly Engler, we should have some substantial relief in three or four years. In the others, who knows? Mayor de Blasio just asked what would happen if all teachers were to openly criticize every educational policy they disagreed with. I think our schools would be much the better for it, and I think that’s a large part of our job. Our numbers plummeted under Bloomberg, and we’ve just endorsed the sitting mayor. Considering complex issues like class size compliance and DOE gaming of the rules, and that we’re now expanding PreK for 3-year-olds without even counting the cost of new seats—how can we work with him him to not only hire an adequate number of teachers but also provide adequate space for our students, both current and future?

Schoor—Will work with them just like in preK program. 

Not being a mind-reader, I can't say whether or not Howard understood my question. However, I can say with 100% certainty that I didn't understand his answer. Who are they going to work with? What exactly did they do with the pre-K program? How will that help them find seats when there is no budget to do so? If there are no new seats, which old ones will be taken away?

While I did indeed mention pre-K as part of an expanding class size issue, I fail to see what that has to do with the main thrust of my question, which regards high schools. My school and others have finally gotten a strong and unequivocal class size ruling. Four weeks have gone by, five more remain, and none have come into compliance. In fact, it may be physically impossible for some to do so. If that's the case, isn't there another problem altogether? How will working "work with them just like in preK program" begin to resolve it?

In my school I believe there are ways to come into compliance. Yet nothing has been done, and nothing will be done pending something called a "compliance call." When is that going to happen, and what's to keep the DOE from delaying it until the year is finished? And if they can do that, what on earth is the point of class size regulations at all?

I've sat in the principal's office more times than I can count with UFT members accused of violating one rule or another. Sometimes they get letters in file. Sometimes they get counseling memos. Sometimes they are fired. I may or may not agree with these consequences, but they are consequences nonetheless.

UFT leadership is free to reject resolutions we introduce on class size. They're free to pay tribute to those who placed limits in the contract 50 years ago, when virtually none of us were teachers. I certainly share their respect for those who introduced them. Yet, if DOE is able to weasel their way out of them because they haven't provided enough space for students, or worse, by simply delaying meetings, what's the point of these regulations?

I'm glad we're there, and UFT should be glad too. We're facing a right to work nation, and we now have a chance to show members our relevance. Leadership can jump on that train any minute. We're ready and willing to work together.

I can only imagine what went on in the Executive Board before we arrived. My best guess is nothing.

Monday, April 24, 2017

UFT Executive Board April 24th, 2017 CPE 1 in the House

 Secretary Howard Schoor starts meeting.

Guest speakers--

Chris Mott
—NYC teacher 17 years, parent of CPE 1 students, CPE formerly a jewel in crisis. Garg has harassed master teachers. Turned school that celebrated parents to one that made them enemies. Daughter afraid to go. Principal lies, hurts students, avoids responsibility. Has seen many admin styles, no adult has poisoned environment like she has. Few parents support her. Making things worse every day. Had previous problems but will not be fixed with this principal.

Supe committed to support Garg. Needs UFT to stand today and get new leader. Will you stand with us?

Yvonne Smith—Feels like she speaks at great risk, because there will be retaliation and has been against others. Taught at CPE more than 30 years. 32 year UFT member. We are under attack. Came there after ten years of day care to enter community of teachers who regularly came together. I am African American, resent racial divide principal has created. Divide growing. We always worked together, celebrated cultures. This happens in a culture that comes together. Under present admin it’s impossible. Please stand with us against this attack. Grateful you came two weeks ago.

Schoor—no taping or recording of this meeting.

Smith—I’ve been accused of speaking badly of teachers but I’ve tried to shield them. I hadn’t gone outside to resolve them. Would like for us to share practice, rebuild community. Please stand and support us in this move.

Sub—Schoor did not ask her to say name
--We need you to speak for all teachers. After filling in for Katlin Preston Garg gave me U rating with no observation or substantiation. Union secured reversal immediately. Principal Garg did not want to talk about it. She said I may have observed you doing something unprofessional, but offered no examples. Is that what leader should be doing? Terminating career until that was reversed? Please make sure these actions are dealt with not only individual, but for this entire community. We need you to speak against harassment, retaliation, incompetence. That’s what we need UFT to do.

Tamara Parks
—Against abuse of power. Garg was AP at Pan Am International. Principal resigned. Zarka appointed Garg as AP. By end of year one 13 of 30 left, 2 discontinued. Garg caused more to leave. Asked me to stay after or get bad eval. US sued DOE for engaging in discrimination. Principal dismissed, Zarka because guidance counselor. Used to yell at people, Garg did nothing as teachers broke down and cried. Two took health leaves. Garg tried to order teachers to wear uniforms. She changed what I said to students, but I had videoed it. Observation ratings then went up. We cannot allow Garg to destroy city schools. She’s shown her behavior in two schools. We can’t tolerate this. We are strong when united.

Jia LeeMORE--Supports CPE 1, sister progressive school. Two sides of story, but this is not how we approach problem solving. DOE wants to pretty much destroy school. Divide and conquer, push out vets, to get control. Teacher followed her, Laura Benning, was UFT CL under Garg. Knew her as fellow teacher. Thought she was positive, friend. Turned out to be destructive force. Not surprised at CPE 1. Belittled teachers, raised voice, bullied them.  Teachers felt discriminated against but were untenured. I filed complaint, had probable cause. Garg wrote statement full of lies.

Schoor—We don’t usually comment, but I will. Appreciate solidarity. Heard what you said. We are involved, working with CL. Will file lawsuit. Will file grievance for CL. Will follow through for delegate. President will be here. He has been involved with DOE.

Guest speaker—from Mayor’s office. Cecile Noel

Thanks us. About intimate partner violence. Every 9 seconds woman assaulted. Victims lose work. 91K in NYC, 250 per day. 10% of homicides. Means everyone is likely to know someone impacted. Young people also at risk. 1 in 5 girls reported abuse. Many attempted suicide. 3 of 4 adolescents victimized.

Mayor’s office wants to help. Develop policies to help, raise awareness, and work collaboratively with communities. 5 family justice centers, one in each borough, saw 62K people. Many services available. Free and confidential. Students need to understand there are resources and training available. We have website.

Can affect anyone. No one should suffer in silence. We can all make a difference. Please ask us for training and services.


Mike SchirtzerMORE—Was motion to table last time. What is process to remove from table?

Schoor—Unless body votes to bring back, it stays there.

President’s Report—Mulgrew arrives 6:26.

Mulgrew—Thanks CPE people for coming. Everyone just keep pushing. Have feeling we will get to good place. We are moving on case and temporary restraining order.

State budget—Takes a few weeks to unpack. Was great piece of work. We got over billion dollar increase, much in foundation aid. Increases in many places. Tuition frozen. Was very good deal.

This morning, mayoral control in news. I say officially we do not support this format of mayoral control. Policy not based on personality. This is bad form. Glad mayor used it for pre-K. Do not want to go back to old school board. When State Senate says no MC without charter cap, we need neither. We will hold to those things. MC sunsets June 30th. Will see where conversations go. Will make sure budge is reality, will be tough to raise charter cap just for MC.

Randi went to public school with DeVos. Was interesting, smart. School in Ohio, high needs, no vouchers, great after school program. Community raises money to feed students. Perfect place for DeVos. School had not met 11K target. People chipped in. Guess who didn’t?

Arizona just made vouchers for everyone. Sad to report. Felt since feds believed in choice, states controlled by GOP would push. New Mexico, Wisconsin, following. Kansas spends 4K per student. Charters in NY spend 14K. Kansas unconstitutional because of tax cuts. Brought in moderate GOP to repeal tax cuts, Governor vetoed. States doing bad things to ed. and labor. Must amp up Public School Proud. Can’t just be we’re right and you’re wrong. Moving largest schools system in positive direction, unlike under Bloomberg. Current DOE believes research matters. Texas good on Public School Proud, outdoing us. Feds don’t want to fight every PTA in US. In September we will make loud noise.

6:35 Mulgrew leaves.

LeRoy Barr—State NAACP town hall meeting. Called for charter moratorium. Called for town halls, on this coming Thursday Harlem Hospital. To speak be there 5:30 meeting at 6.

Friday, High School Awards 5:30 PM second floor.

May 1st—Rally at Foley Square. 5 PM.

5K run May 6 MCU Park.

May 8 Exec. Board, UFT financial report, 4:30 PM will be extended report. EB will hear short version.

Spring conference May 13. Next EB May 8.


Jonathan HalabiNew Action—PROSE something that we’ve agreed to. One thing important has been collaboration. We have new situation—Have we got a protocol when collaboration is broken along the way?

Jackie Bennett—We have PROSE panel meeting. We do review schools at end year. Talking about whether schools no longer fit. Collaboration is big thing with UFT. If schools get along, you can implement innovation. Can we use PROSE in schools to turn them around? Sometimes no, sometimes yes. Focused on process.

Mike SchirtzerMORE—Few weeks you promised update on JHS 145. Are many vets, problems with budgets. Any plans to support them?

Schoor—Still looking to see if law was violated.

Rich Mantel—We do have people helping with resumes and applications. Best we can do. Will help and do whatever we can.

Arthur GoldsteinMORE—Much to my surprise and delight, Francis Lewis, Hillcrest, Flushing and Forest Hills High Schools all got reasonable rulings about class sizes this semester. The arbitrator ordered, on March 28th, that all schools come into compliance or create classes so as to enable compliance. However, actual compliance is another issue. I know in my school, absolutely nothing has been done pending something called a compliance call, which was supposed to happen last week but did not. A full month has now gone by. I worry the DOE can wait us out five weeks and the ruling will be meaningless. In other buildings, there is simply no space to place new classes. This is problematic, to say the least.

At my school, thanks to the welcome intervention of Elly Engler, we should have some substantial relief in three or four years. In the others, who knows? Mayor de Blasio just asked what would happen if all teachers were to openly criticize every educational policy they disagreed with. I think our schools would be much the better for it, and I think that’s a large part of our job. Our numbers plummeted under Bloomberg, and we’ve just endorsed the sitting mayor. Considering complex issues like class size compliance and DOE gaming of the rules, and that we’re now expanding PreK for 3-year-olds without even counting the cost of new seats—how can we work with him him to not only hire an adequate number of teachers but also provide adequate space for our students, both current and future?

Schoor—Will work with them just like in preK program.

Marcus McArthurMORE—Transfer schools—Hearing that DOE thinking about removing admission responsibilities, centralizing so schools won’t be in charge. What is UFT position?

Schoor—First I’ve heard. Will check.

Pat Crispino—What they changed was HS admission under Paul Rotundo. One transfer school turned kid away. Chancellor ruled against that. Will be transfer school superintendent.

Ashraya GuptaMORE—People’s climate march—Is there UFT contingent? Any buses?

Schoor—In DC, not here. In SI there is a march. We have no plans to hire bus. Seems to be march every week.

Report from Districts

George Altomare—Labor month poster, calendar, will be film festivals, marches. Please read it. We have to focus on labor education. People’s history important. Only way to win is incrementally.

Anthony Harmon—At last NAACP convention passed moratorium on charters. Was a lot of heat for that. Since then, national NAACP called for hearings. Want to also see what quality public ed. looks like. NY last of hearings before report issued. Please come and tell your story. Open meeting. Will be panels pro public and pro charter. Will also be public comments and questions. 506 Malcolm X Boulevard. Immigration clinic May 13 Bronx UFT office.

Sterling Roberson—UFT with Association for CTE hosting region one conference here 52 Broadway. Educators, admin, ensuring students have pathway to career. Will be networking opportunities. Invites us. Goes along with PSP campaign. Thursday and Friday, registration Wednesday.

Unidentified speaker—Today Holocaust Memorial Day. 54% of American adults never heard of it.

Legislative—Paul Egan

Moving into city budget season, pushing teacher’s choice, CLS, PLC. Will meet with various council people. Asking for increase in teacher’s choice, but 350K not used. Makes it difficult if we leave money on the table. Make sure you spend it or give it. If you don’t spend it you don’t get it following year.

Other point is Constitutional Convention. You have chance to give up your pension. I would not trust anyone to protect it. We need to vote NO. We need to get word out. Poll, Sienna, says 59% support. Then when they ask there will be opportunity to vote, great deal 5%, somewhat 8%, nothing at all 61%. We need to vote. 42% didn’t in presidential election. Members in same category. Every person with pension should be out voting, getting others to vote.

Resolution—Anthony Harmon—Supports Mayday Rally. Speaks to worker and immigrant rights. A lot of unions will participate, will be constitutional convention conversation. With talks of Muslim ban, immigrant rights, please support.

Passed unanimously.

Mike SchirtzerMORE--Resolves to remove resolution on CPE 1 from table.

No debate.

Voted down on party lines.

We are adjourned.

Photo by Norm Scott

Home Improvement

I'm a sucker for gadgets and computer stuff. Just like the kids, I have to run out and get the new iPhone whether I need it or not. And I never go anywhere without the Macbook Air I'm using right now. I have no idea how I ever survived without a computer. The word processor literally changed my life. So when I got an offer to buy a Nest Thermostat from my gas supplier for a discounted price, I jumped on it.

I mean, it's Santa Claus. It knows when you are sleeping, it knows when you're awake. You can adjust it from your cell phone. You can get one of those Amazon or Google things and give it verbal instructions. What more are you gonna want?

Now I'm not what you'd call handy. We bought our house over twenty years ago and fixed everything ourselves, but I hated every minute of it. I'm like the father from A Christmas Story, cursing and complaining every moment he worked on that boiler. But I read the instructions and watched the YouTube video, and it looked pretty easy to install the thing, so I went ahead and did it.

Only it didn't work. Every time I installed the base, the thermostat gave me a message that said, "Please install the base." It was maddening. I made unseemly noises. My little dog, against whom I've never lifted a finger, got frightened and ran upstairs to hide in my daughter's room. I listened for the click, heard the click, but the thing just would not work.

So I took the whole thing down, packed it back in the box, and I'm gonna send it back. Then I replaced the old thermostat. One of the smart things the Nest instructions made me do was take a photograph of what the old wires looked like. I placed them just the way they were. It seemed like a complete waste of time, but at least it was over.

Then this morning I got up and noticed how cold the house was. This was not good. But there was an emergency switch to turn of the gas, and I noticed I had left it off. I turned it on and it still didn't work. Now one thing I don't do when I'm in a rush to get to work is remove and reinstall a thermostat. Fortunately, my wife knows a great handyman who can come around and fix anything. His name is Juan. He's a great guy, but he only speaks Spanish. I can speak Spanish, but Juan's accent is such that it's hard for me to understand him. But that's not a problem, since my wife can call him.

Except she can't. You see, Juan did some work for my wife's sister, and for some reason, he decided to take photographs of her. I can't specify as to why he made that decision, but I can tell you that when his wife saw said photos, she did not approve at all. So not only did she cut Juan off from my wife's sister, but she also cut him off from my wife. So my wife can't call him, because then his wife will know. I tried calling him myself, but my cell number is just one digit away from my wife's. it seems his wife has either noticed that, or knows I'm married to my wife,  or something, so that's out too.

So when my wife wants Juan to come and help us with something, she has to go to a friend's house. Now this friend has never been photographed by Juan, is not the sister of anyone who's been photographed by Juan, and is not married to the sister of anyone who's been photographed by Juan. Therefore she's OK.

The problem is my wife has drawn jury duty in Nassau County today and won't be home. We're hoping they let her out early enough that she can get to her friend's house and call Juan. It's problematic because she'll have to wait for him to call back. In a pinch, I guess he can call her friend and her friend can give her the message.

But I've learned my lesson and from now on I'm leaving home improvement to the professionals. I mean, me doing home improvement makes about as much sense as Juan coming in to teach my English class.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Unsafe at Any Speed at CPE 1

I sat down today with people from a school we'll call Central Park East 1, and I heard stories. This is a school conceived in democracy, now taken over by a former accountant. (I have nothing against accountants, by the way. Mine is a great guy, though I wish he'd have gotten me a better refund this year.)

Let's say that the CPE 1 principal had hired a former friend upon arrival. I don't actually see any issue with hiring a friend. Maybe your friend is a great teacher. One the other hand, if six months later this friend was up on 3020a charges, it kind of makes you wonder what friends are for.

CPE 1 has a different culture than that of most schools with which I'm familiar. For example, when the former principal left, the school community took it upon themselves to search for a new one. The superintendent found this inappropriate, and told them to cease and desist. In July, current principal Monica Garg was brought in.

The school held a C30 process in September, and the community, which had wanted to be part of the search, was not notified until candidate selection had closed. I've been a chapter leader for eight years and I've been to many C30 meetings. They're different, depending on whether you're choosing a principal or an assistant principal. For an assistant principal, you meet, make recommendations based on what you saw, and then the principal chooses whoever she likes, regardless of what you've suggested. For the principal, you meet, make recommendations based on what you saw, and then the superintendent chooses whoever she likes, regardless of what you've suggested.

Maybe in the past, at CPE 1, it was a meaningful exercise. From my experience, C30 is a pro forma process that attempts to leave you with the impression that you are part of the choice. But really, you are not. Mercifully for the folks at CPE 1, there were only three candidates. I believe I've sat through as many as seven. I wasn't at all surprised to hear the sitting principal got the gig. It was only then that the big fun started.

The new principal, I'm told, did away with classes, reduced the roles of people who'd been valued by the school community, and did not seem to see eye to eye with the school's mission. Therefore, in January, tenured teachers signed a letter of protest to the community. This was sent out through school email, something I'd never do, but was evidently not unusual in their school culture.

Within that month, I'm told, Principal Garg dug through years of files, and started filing investigations. Teachers had gotten pay for summer retreats. Evidently the principal did not approve. We don't know exactly why the CPE 1 chapter leader and others are sitting in the rubber room, but we know the place had changed. A lot of teachers chose not to return this year.

Such practices, evidently, are a big part of the playlist of city-trained principals. Dump all the vets. Kill institutional memory. Let the new teachers know that they need to take a side, either the school leader's side or the one that gets you fired. And make no mistake, probationary teachers are fired for bad haircuts with no due process rights whatsoever.

Of course if you're the sort of person who does things like that, you might as well try to get the teachers who remain to rat out one another. It doesn't really matter whether or not the person you want them to rat out is guilty. If, for example, the UFT chapter leader isn't inclined to rat out a colleague, you can always send said chapter leader for 3020a, you know, to join your former friend.

And it doesn't matter who says it's not true. Let's say, for example, you charge some teacher of some atrocious act against a student. Let's say the principal improperly interviews this elementary student alone. Let's say the young student later denies the charges to the parent and had wanted the parent present at the interview with the principal. In fact, let's say the parent defends the charged teacher against the charges.

That means diddly-squat to the DOE.  Let's say UFT says it's DOE’s job to fix it. Let's say DOE says it's UFT’s job to fix it. What's a school community to do? What if this school community is extraordinarily astute and doesn't buy pat excuses? Let's say it compiles an extensive portfolio of violations of chancellor's regulations and outrageous behavior on the part of the principal. Let's say the schools chancellor, a Bloomberg remnant, is no help at all and speaks to the school community like they are a bunch of spoiled children, exactly the way teachers ought not to speak to students. Let's further say that DOE sent a person to check things out. Let's say that person said the sitting principal has to go, and the Bloomberg remnant chancellor ignored the advice.

I have sat with some of the most intelligent and persuasive people I've ever met, and I'm persuaded that this school was created with a mission that's being perverted by its current leadership. I heard that one of the very first changes introduced was the introduction of test prep. It's like they want to replace a progressive school, a beacon in our community, with a Moskowitz Academy lookalike.

Curiouser and curiouser. At last week's DA I heard Howard Schoor explain that we could not pass a resolution against this principal because once we do that, we can no longer negotiate with the DOE. That's hard for me to understand. Of course I'm just a lowly teacher, and a lowly elected Executive Board representative, so I have no idea what goes on in high-level negotiations between DOE and UFT. 

This notwithstanding I don't understand this UFT-DOE negotiation process at all.Why is negotiation finished once you make demands? I'd always thought that was how negotiation began. But according to Schoor, the UFT cannot do its work if we support a resolution to support CPE 1. That's why we have to, you know, support them without actually writing we support them. Once you write it, evidently, you aren't really supporting them.

Go figure. If anyone better versed than I in the nuance of negotiation can explain why resolving in writing to support our brothers and sisters under attack at CPE 1 would hurt the cause of defending them and preserving their school, I'm all ears.

Inquiring minds want to know. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

500 Students a Week

That's how many students PE teachers can see. Under NY State regulations, a student in a five day gym class gets .58 credit a semester. But a student in a three/ two class, that is three days a week semester one, and two days semester two, gets .50 credit a semester. Not much of a loss for half the time, right? And easier to make up now that it's only half the time.

On top of that, you can actually reduce your PE staff by half with no issue. The gym teacher used to teach only one class period two, but now teaches two classes. And on the other three, or two days, you can program a music class, or an art class, because consistency in those subjects is just as unimportant as consistency in PE classes. And the music teachers, who also have fifty students per class, can also see 500 students a week. What could go wrong?

Let's start with the 500 students. How do you even learn their names? Are you even supposed to? And if you aren't, where do they come off judging you by the one-size-fits-all infallible Danielson rubric? I mean, if I'm teaching kids to play basketball, am I supposed to act like a coach? Or am I supposed to stop every twelve minutes and have them do a writing exercise? Should I have them turn and talk? What did this basketball game mean to you? How did you feel when I interrupted it to have you write a paragraph so the person observing me wouldn't rate me ineffective? Let me show you this PowerPoint presentation explaining the History of Cement, which was the precursor to these wooden planks on which we play today. You will love it. But if you don't you will watch it anyway.

Of course, as a teacher, you have to carefully figure when you show that PowerPoint. Because, you know, your Monday, Wednesday, Friday class is 33% ahead of your Tuesday, Thursday class. So you have to calculate mathematically which lesson to give when, because perish forbid they should be one solitary minute ahead of your other class. No, plans must be followed, and it will be eighteen days exactly before the Tuesday, Thursday class can see this PowerPoint.

Naturally, you have to give essay tests to your 500 students. The only way to prepare for that accurately, according to your supervisor, who claims to have been trained in this stuff, is to have PE notebooks. And the only way you can make sure your students don't copy into this vital PE notebook info is to have them never, ever use computers. Also, you can't trust the kids not to copy from one notebook to another, so you need to keep the notebooks in school, all 500 of them, in some location TBD by teacher. After all, it's important that teachers get a voice in how this work is done. That's what makes their jobs so fulfilling. That, and grading 500 essays on the inner workings of volleyball, because they have nothing better to do. Of course they will use a rubric for this.

So just pass out the 50 notebooks every day, after the kids change, and after a brief warmup, and have them sit on the floor to write the essays. After all, PE isn't just running around and indulging in sports. This is about rigor, not enjoyment. If you were to teach the kids to love to play volleyball, well, then they'd just want to play volleyball and they'd never want to write that all-important 500-word essay on why they love to play volleyball, even though your meticulously crafted Danielson-based lesson ensures they will hate volleyball whether they would have liked it or not.

So, yeah, give all the PE teachers so many classes that they can't even learn student names. That's a good step. Then ask them to do all the crap that every Danielson lesson wants. For goodness sake, don't acknowledge that their goals may be different than the goals in the algebra class, because every class is really the same, and it's important to formulate questions based on degrees of knowledge. All that joy in sport and physical exercise, well, that's for the pros. If we'd wanted students to enjoy physical exercise we wouldn't have placed them in a half-time class. We wouldn't have let them know we care so little about this discipline that we're not even bothering to reinforce it each and every day, like we do with every other class.

And hey, for the other half, we'll dump in music and art, because we don't give a crap about that either. If it doesn't terminate in a state exam, if teachers and students aren't rated on it, we're not gonna worry about it. All that enjoyment and passion stuff is for losers. We at NY State Education Department know what's important.

And no we're not telling you specifically what's important, because we might change our minds tomorrow morning.

That's how we roll.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

UFT Delegate Assembly--We Still Love CPE 1, But We Still Won't Pass a Resolution in Favor of CPE 1

President’s Report

Mulgrew welcomes us.

Says last DA wasn’t happy.


Says we did hell of a job at state level.

Randi taking DeVos to a school. Says it’s good. Says he invited her here. Is going to Ohio district that voted 80% for Trump. She proposes to cut their budget. Best thing nationally.

Many budget cuts on horizon. Calls it circus. Who’s got worse haircut, guy in Korea or US? People who think a lot about themselves walk around with hair like that.

Everything is cuts, going after workers, new SCOTUS justice. We will prepare, but when all you see is ed. cuts, and we know Janus, new Friedrichs coming later this year, we have a clear path on what we have to do. What Randi is doing is important. Public school proud important, but Texas is outdoing us. They have sustained statewide campaign. Fought vouchers.

We in NY need to work with other teachers across country to protect and support our schools. Do they want to fight every PTA in US? We will see they do that. PTAs not red or blue. Not political—people love their kids, their kids’ schools, and will protect them.

We have to remain focused here.


Good news—was talking about eliminating charter cap and removing geographic cap. Wanted to change regs on use of public school space. Wanted to unfreeze tuition. Went to Albany to educate people that charters asked for freeze. Used to be three year lag. We faced cuts in recession. Charters got increases because they had a three year lag. When it was their turn to get cuts, they froze their tuition. Charters felt they were owed money. Not understood by media.

Also wanted to get rid of millionaire tax. Media was focused on DC. We beat them at every turn. Caps in place. Space regs unchanged. We didn’t unfreeze, and also got rid of their lag. We should get more per student because we have all the challenging students. They can be expensive. Very proud of work of this union. Always Senate GOP opposing us. We asked local GOP to stop voting for this. Visited them, made it happen.

We have 1.1 billion increase for ed. NYC 4.7% increase. Foundation formula helps. Millionaire tax extended two years. 40% increase for NYC Teacher Center. Union dues tax deduction for state of NY. Next challenge is Constitutional Convention. Vote no.

AFL-CIO hired campaign manager for Constitutional Convention. Will not be easy fight. Really bad people working against us. First goal is approval, will say anything to anyone to get it. Will be real fight. From now until end of summer, it’s engage members.

We think it’s important that state keep deals with working people. We will remain diligent. Please remind everyone. Will be heavy push in September.

We are pushing back on ESSA and value added scores. We believe in May we will see changes in CTE regs.


Our political action coordinators working hard, need meetings with city council people. City in good shape right now, but everyone keeps talking about what feds will do to us. Many contingency plans. Many potential cuts. State also worried about cuts. Told pols you can’t cut schools once you set up school years. We are at highest funding level. NY State setting up to be anti-Trump place. Rejects idea of rejecting safety net.

Says people tell him governor should burn in hell. Says NY Post in 11th circle of hell. But we talk to them when they call. Look at budget this year, protecting schools. He had a part in it and we helped him get there.

With city budget teachers choice, positive learning and many issues, but wants us to engage. We need to know if our locals will stand with public schools when feds come to destroy us. Worked with city to change lead in water protocol.

We can’t be outdone by Texas. Want to do a lot of grassroots events. School and borough based. We need to make big loud noise in September. Will do UFT van and celebrate. Asks we engage. Asks we engage in Public School Proud.

On May 1st 4.5% pay raise. Will be reflected on May 15 paycheck. Asks we make it clear at workplaces. Ends report 5:02.

Staff Director’s Report

Howard Schoor stands in place of LeRoy Barr. HS awards April 28th, 5:30 PM. May 6, 5K run. May 13th spring conference, Rev. Barber. May 15th, immigration meeting 4-6. Will give advice.

Mulgrew says first Dreamer has been deported.


CL—On lead in water—PS 289 had high level—worse than Flint—what are our procedures?

Once spigots identified, they are turned off. Schools are informed. Staff should be told. Recommends you see doctor. Asks you be tested. Refer parents to principal.

CL—Now that ELA finished, math coming, teachers told they won’t receive preps that day.

Tell DR they must contact superintendent, if that doesn’t work, contact me. We have rules and laws. There’s a law that says you can go to bathroom, in fact. This is not an emergency. They knew two months ahead of time.

CL—Student led parent teacher conferences—Some teachers volunteered, was flagged in principal’s PPO that not all teachers did it. How do we go forward?

You need SBO, cannot be mandated. That means superintendent is an idiot, doesn’t understand that she has to work with people. We have schools who SBO them. They like them. Cannot be mandated.

CL—After election of Trump many members ushered in Prez. Now they see what we’ve been talking about and feel union pride. How can we keep that going?

Our strategy is to take pride in what we do. Tactic we need is to embrace schools and have communities feel the same. We will deal with Janus. We will attack them on anti-union stuff. Asks they do Public School Proud piece.

CL—mayoral control will come up. Heard you say you are for it with changes. Can you tell me what those changes are? Chancellor not accountable to parents, abusive principals problems.

We are on record. We have a resolution. We want mayor to lose control of PEP panel. We want CEC approval on spaces. NY is only one form of mayoral control. We have most stringent. Doesn’t matter who mayor is, they think if you change it it won’t be control. We decided our form better than school boards. Were not good old days. Funding and nepotism issues. We didn’t get our form, don’t know when it will get done. Union has official position, has been voted on by this DA.

Delegate—NYSUT catastrophic insurance—are we communicating this to members?

Plan hasn’t been open for almost six years. Open period for first time. Gives you additional medical coverage. Has saved a lot of union families. Will put out a blast on this because it’s very important. You don’t know you need it until you do and then it’s too late.


Paul Egan—DA endorses for Brooklyn DA and Manhattan DA—this month.

Delegate moves for resolution for next month—in support of CPE 1.

CPE 1, wonderful school and community, thrown into turmoil by abusive principal. Targets teachers, families, children. First LIF last Feb., second last Feb, reassigned quickly. All vet teachers under investigation. One found unsubstantiated but SCI wouldn’t use word. Parents working tirelessly to protect teachers, children, culture and school community. Chancellor unresponsive. Teachers need help of union. You said we will bring 800 pound gorilla down, please move this for next month.

Howard Schoor—Asks if it’s same as EB, told no. Says similar resolution came to EB. Voted to table it. Asks you vote against it, not that we disagree. If we pass this we shut down all communication with DOE. We would have to do all these things. LeRoy Barr was there at SLT. We had 15 people there. Names people giving support. Says it is DOE problem to resolve.

Motion defeated.
Mulgrew says we are having conversations. Says it’s nasty situation. We are trying to resolve it. Thinks we’re getting there. Says it was tabled. We’re asking DOE to stop playing games. Says you can write this on your blogs. Says we are standing and doing all we need to do.

Special Order of Business

Parliamentary inquiry—James Eterno—Last two meetings I was out of order. Told last month I could not move to amend resolution. Says he could have.

Mulgrew—will check

Eterno—five speakers in favor of de Blasio, one against, chair should alternate.

Mulgrew asks for inquiry.

Eterno—Says you should alternate with opposition.

Mulgrew says he’s out of order.

Eterno—Can you respect order of inquiry, or taking turns?

Mulgrew—We will continue to select everyone. You don’t think people have right to express opinions.

Support of Andrew Hevesi’s Proposal—Paul Egan asks for support of home stability. Help resolve homeless situation in NY State. 150K homeless kids right now. More than 80K NYC facilities on brink. Would help with rent and keep them in homes instead of shelters. Will save state and city millions. Will save 151 million in NYC in one year. Feds will pick up cost for five years.

Point of info—What is difference between this program and Bloomberg’s program to put homeless into apartments? Present mayor eliminating that program.

Egan—Provides families with income to stay in their own place until they are stabilized.

Speaker stands in agreement. Has two kids in class in shelters. Parents have to bring kids from Brooklyn to Bronx. Asks for support.

Health Care for All—Ellen Driesen—Saw show in DC when they decided to repeal and replace, was great entertainment, but many people are at risk. DC crew wants to eliminate health care for 24 million. Unacceptable. We need to push for single payer. We need to get word out and lobby hard.

Mike SchirtzerMORE--Motion to amend—additional resolved at end—Resolved that the UFT will not support any political candidate who is against the affordable care act or single-payer system.

Says in Unity there is strength. Says this is no brainer. Says IDC parades as Dems. We ought not to support pols who don’t support us.
Dave Pecoraro—Moves to divide resolved with ACA and single payer.

Says we have reality, fighting to keep ACA alive. Maybe in 2021 we can debate single payer. Says eventually there will be two separate votes.

Mel Aaronson—against both amendments—would make UFT one issue organization. Says we wouldn’t be able to support people who otherwise support us, would make us irrelevant.

question called on all matters by UFT special rep.

First resolved defeated.

Second resolved defeated.

Original resolution passes.

Chair asks if endorsements are timely. No, says Egan.

Initiative on Voter Registration—Janella Hinds—42% of Americans didn’t vote. 6th congressional district engaged people. NYS requires HS students to study government participation. This resolution says we will work with community based organizations and help students to vote. Asks for support.

CL—Rises in support. Was involved in school registration drive in middle school. Says voting discussions very rich.

Passes unanimously.

Paul Egan asks for extension, 6 PM, Mulgrew grants it without vote. For Gonzalez Brooklyn and Vance Bronx.

Gregg Lundahl—calls question.

Endorsements pass.

Mulgrew does raffle. Speaks of raise.

We are finished.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


That's what leadership calls us. Contrary implies simple-mindedness, as though you're a two-year-old who just says "no" to everything. Unity contends, during campaigns, that we oppose whatever they bring up, just for the sake of doing so. We disagree with everything, just because, they say. I've observed UFT elections pretty closely and that's one of their big arguments.

We in MORE are now aligned with New Action, and I couldn't be happier about that. Back when New Action was opposing us, they portrayed themselves as a more reasonable opposition. In fact, I agreed with many of their positions. The only major stumbling block, for me, was their endorsement of the UFT Unity President. I have, in fact, had differences with some things UFT Presidents supported, like mayoral control, the ATR, charter schools, co-locations, school closings, junk science ratings, Common Core, and failure to oppose Bloomberg or Cuomo, just to name a few.

But let's not rehash the past. It's 2017, and the UFT High Schools have selected MORE and New Action to represent them. And represent we do, twice a month at 52 Broadway. For the first time, anyone who wishes to know what happens at the Executive Board can read about it right here. My notes, unlike the official ones, contain the questions and statements from members and guests. I have no idea why the official notes omit them. Why shouldn't UFT members be able to know what goes on?

Now if you've been reading my notes (or even writing them, as I have), a pattern is emerging. The pattern, in fact, is precisely the opposite of what Unity Caucus says it is. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I only recall our opposing one resolution Unity has brought up. Ironically, we applauded it enthusiastically when it first came up, and if they had not brought up a resolution condemning Trump and the bigotry he'd not-so-subtly encouraged, we'd have done so ourselves. In fact we were in negotiations to do so together, but they introduced it before we could do that, precluding an opportunity for us to work together. However, when they removed Trump's name and attributed various atrocities to "the presidential election" we deemed it absurd and toothless, which it was.

On the other hand, Unity Caucus has either voted down, tabled, or severely cut every resolution we've brought up. Abusive administrators? No. Class size? No. Support CPE 1? No. It's too this, it's too that. We do this some other way. We took care of this 50 years ago, and who cares if it doesn't work at all? We fixed this in one place, and it therefore doesn't exist in other places.

There are a whole lot of excuses. And in fact, they don't even need them. When LeRoy Barr stood to table our resolution to support CPE 1, and to oppose the abusive principal in precisely the way Mulgrew suggested we should, several loyalty oath signers immediately raised their hands and said, "Second."

When UFT Unity says there is one caucus that is contrary, they're absolutely correct.

But it isn't us.

Monday, April 17, 2017

On Class Size and Contract

Readers of this blog may recall that, along with my MORE-New Action high school colleagues, I introduced a class size resolution to the UFT Executive Board last December. I did this in response to an outrageous ruling by an arbitrator. The arbitrator ruled that every teacher at Francis Lewis High School with oversized classes be relieved for one C6 period per week.

Evidently, the arbitrator believed an extra 40 minutes of prep time would compensate for having class sizes above 34. (Amazingly, the same arbitrator said Forest Hills would get one C6 period per oversized class, so if you had two oversized classes there, you got two C6 periods off, as opposed to the one you'd get at Lewis.)

I was just a little upset by that, and that's why I worked on that resolution. Predictably, Unity Caucus rejected our resolution outright. The reason they gave was that "we" had sacrificed so as to place class size in the contract. I found that argument ridiculous, as that happened 50 years ago when almost none of us were in the system, and when a whole lot of people in the room had not even been born.

So there I was, with an absurd ruling from a $1600 a day arbitrator, and with union leadership essentially siding with her, telling me she had made rulings that were not insane in the past. While I was encouraged to hear she'd had lucid moments, I was still outraged by the ruling. I decided to write it up and send it to the Daily News, and what do you know, they published it.

While UFT leadership did not accept the resolution, they had formed a committee to meet and discuss class sizes. Now it's great to talk about this stuff and try to work it out, but meanwhile we were still stuck with the stupid ruling from the arbitrator. UFT, my administration and I had a few meetings about this, and I contended if we were to have an action plan for oversized classes, it ought to demand a second qualified subject teacher help with them. For example, if I had 38 students, maybe a certified ESL teacher could take the students most in need of targeted assistance somewhere in the building and offer them assistance.

Of course we still had oversized classes in February, and UFT filed a grievance on our behalf. I received the rulings for Francis Lewis, Flushing, Hillcrest and Forest Hills and they are identical. Arbitrator Jay M. Siegel ordered that all schools reduce class sizes and come into compliance. He ordered, if it were necessary, that the schools create additional classes to do so.

My UFT contact told me this was the strongest language he'd ever seen. I'm happy about that, because honestly, this is how it should be done. If principals think they can overcrowd hundreds of classes and they'll lose one day of tutoring, why the hell shouldn't they continue to do so? How does it affect their bottom line? I don't see it.

If, on the other hand, principals know they can be ordered into compliance, it's a different issue. Principals may think twice before oversizing classes. Of course that ruling is only four schools, and I can't say how reflective it is of the city as a whole. I cannot say for sure that my Daily News article had any influence, and UFT leadership cannot say for sure that the committee changed anything. Maybe we're both right. Maybe we're both wrong.

Regardless of what happened or why, I'm glad of the result. I have differences with leadership, but this isn't one of them. I hope this is replicated all over the city.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Think of What It Would Lead To If Teachers Spoke Up

I'm sorely disappointed to read this exchange with Mayor Bill de Blasio at a Staten Island event:

An IS 61 teacher asked de Blasio why teachers are under a "gag order" not to speak ill about state tests, when teachers elsewhere encourage their students to opt out of tests.
"Think of what it would lead to" if teachers openly criticized every education policy they disagreed with, de Blasio said.
I'm thinking about it right now, and I think it would lead to better education for each and every one of the students I serve. Opt-out is relatively inactive in NY City, and that's a shame. The discredited Common Core exams drag down the whole state in the nonsense that passes for data here. For my money, the only reason Andrew Cuomo has slowed down his vendetta against pubic education is the principled and outspoken parents, teachers, students, and residents who fought it.

Standardized tests are largely crap produced by overpaid corporations who take money we could use to build libraries, school seats, and joy into the work we do. What they excel at is letting us know what zip codes our kids live in. Rather than make all schools good ones, rather than empower teachers to do what we know works, we hand out these tests and sort out the winners and losers. Great Neck wins, the Bronx loses, and we all pretend to be surprised.

I can't tell whether the mayor is misinformed or whether he knows better, but the effect is the same. His statement is upsetting to those of us who support opt-out, and to those of us who are going to be rated on nonsense, but it goes beyond that. It's one thing to oppose opt-out, and perhaps you could make arguments against it (though I myself can't think of any). This reminds me of nothing more than John Kasich saying he would abolish all teacher lounges.

De Blasio is attacking more than opt out here. What he's attacking is our free speech. In fact I do not believe I ought to make overt political arguments in front of my students. It's my job to encourage them to think things through, not to bully them into believing what I do. I do not believe it's my job to tell students whether or not to take tests. I believe that's a discussion for a parent to have. So I would not address the students.

But hell, I would address the PTA, and I would speak up in whatever forum afforded me, and I would write here and elsewhere. While I don't believe that my classroom is the best forum for political speech, there is a First Amendment, this is still America, and I will criticize each and every crappy educational policy with which I disagree.

Not only that, Mr. Mayor, but I will actively encourage my colleagues to do the same. Four years ago, I refused repeated and insistent requests from UFT to make calls for Bill Thompson. I donated to Bill de Blasio. I went to his inauguration in the freezing cold. More recently, I voted with the UFT Executive Board to endorse him.

Maybe this is a slip of the tongue on the mayor's part. I certainly hope so. What would happen if every teacher stood up and criticized all the crap that infects our education system, Mr. Mayor? Every kid in your city would get a better education. We wouldn't spend our time worrying about tests that measured zip codes and we wouldn't have parasites like Eva Moskowitz vilifying us for teaching every kid, no matter which zip code, which disability, or which level of English.

Teachers are great advocates for children. It's nothing less than a disgrace that a progressive politician would utter word one about shutting us up.

Friday, April 14, 2017

You May Not Be a Nazi. You May Still Be a Bigot.

 I don't know what to say when I see stories like these. I don't condemn people for how they vote, but I may object to some things they believe. Of course, you're entitled to your beliefs, and they don't need to jibe with mine. It's a little upsetting to see that teachers who post signs of welcome to students are asked to remove them. What on earth is controversial about expressing sympathy for the plights of those you serve? 

Of course there are other points of view:
Another public-school teacher in Brooklyn said she was warned to stop expressing her political beliefs to her middle-school students. A Trump supporter, she said she was harassed by teachers who disagreed with her politics.
“I was called a Nazi,” said the teacher Ann who asked that we not publish her last name. "They never had that complaint until they knew what my political affiliation was."
I don't think you should call people Nazis with no basis, and I don't think you're a Nazi because you supported Trump. I don't think Trump is a Nazi, even though he's appointed rabid anti-Semites like Bannon. I think Trump's a bigot, a pathological lair, and a malignant narcissist, but I don't think he's a Nazi.  
Ann said most of her students were Muslim and she stood by them. 
“Whether they’re here illegally or not, they're my kids and I love them," she said. "Once they come into my classroom, I don’t really care.”
But before or after they come in, it appears different:
 Yet, in her private life and on Twitter, Ann has said the U.S. should "ban Islam," and deport all immigrants. She said she considers activists with the Black Lives Matter movement "terrorists.”
How do you serve Muslim students and support a ban of their religion? How do you "stand by" them when you publicly demand a whole lot of them be deported? How do you serve students of color when you consider a movement to protect their lives "terrorist?" I don't think teacher Ann is a Nazi. But it's hard for me to argue she isn't a bigot and a xenophobe. How do you argue to ban a major religion? If most of your students subscribe to that religion and you find it unacceptable, how do you serve them?
Of course it could be that you hold those beliefs privately and don't express them in public. And "Ann" did indeed withhold her name. But she says in the interview that she encourages discussion in her class, and offers students the choice to hear her real opinions or not. Knowing that her real opinions include banning her students' religion, I'm not altogether sure that's a good idea. In fact, were I to advocate against a student's religion in my class, I'd be opening myself up to charges under Chancellor's Regulation A-421. I'm not sure what Ann does in hers, but I'd advise her against that if I were her chapter leader.
Advocating to ban a religion is textbook intolerance and I wouldn't want a teacher promoting intolerance to any child or student of mine. I don't rightly see how we distinguish Islamophobia from anti-Semitism or any other garden-variety strain of bigotry. For me, when I think of teachers, I think of role models. And when I think of role models, the word "bigot" is not the first one that enters my mind. 
I don't impose my politics on my students. I don't tell them who to vote for, or to support what I support. But like Popeye, I yam what I yam. I'm pretty sure my students know it. I'm pretty sure they know that I judge their effort and ability, and that their religious, or sexual or ethnic background is not my business. Like Ann, once they come into my classroom, I don't really care.
Unlike Ann, before they come in and after they leave I still don't care. And whether I'm getting paid or not, I am their advocate. I don't spend my free time condemning their backgrounds or advocating against them. And frankly, speaking just for myself now, I wouldn't want anyone who advocated against the students I serve teaching my kid. Or yours. Or anyone's.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

No Irony in Mr. Pallotta's Neighborhood

NYSUT President and UFT Unity loyalty oath signer Andrew Pallotta (pictured at left with illustrious NYSUT Secretary-Treasurer Martin Messner)  just sent me an email. It says, "New York's political insiders are throwing a party and we aren't invited." That's an interesting assessment of the NY State Constitutional Convention, which many politicians currently oppose. For the record, I oppose it too, and I ran a COPE drive in my school to help enable opposition.

This is my eighth year as chapter leader and I never did a COPE drive before. That's because UFT supports some questionable causes and candidates. Pallotta, along with UFT leadership, ousted former NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi for objecting to donating thousands of member dollars to Cuomo. While Cuomo has backed off some of his more reprehensible comments and positions on education, I don't believe that has any fundamental effect on his overall lack of principles and integrity. It certainly doesn't save me from being rated on how six beginning ESL students perform on the Common Core English Regents exam this year. Who knows how many others are rated in an equally absurd fashion?

There was a pretty big party going on at the New York Hilton last week and I wasn't invited, not by Pallotta, not by UFT leadership, and not by anyone. Most UFT members probably don't even know it happened, but our dues sent 750 loyalty oath signers to midtown at a cost I'd guess to exceed half a million dollars. There they elected Pallotta and his gang to run the state union. I went anyway, as the guest of the Port Jefferson Station Teacher Association. Oddly, they wanted me there even though my own union didn't. I was pretty surprised to get a really dirty look from a Unity Caucus member I'd previously deemed myself on good terms with. But make no mistake, this was their party and it was completely private.

How private? Well, though we all know that Pallotta won a majority of the delegate votes of the 48% of eligible unions who could afford the trip to the Hilton, we don't know the percentage, and we don't know who voted for him. In a fair election, in fact, we shouldn't know who voted for him but NYSUT actually keeps records. That way UFT would know if some loyalty oath signer violated the terms of his agreement and needed to face expulsion. Expulsion for failing to two the line is a long and hallowed Unity tradition, dating back to the days that Al Shanker tossed people for failing to support the Vietnam War.

Some Unity people I respect swear up and down that they've never signed a loyalty oath, but you can read the Unity application right here and come to your own conclusions.Who voted to support mayoral control under Bloomberg? Who voted to continue it under Bloomberg when it was well-established to be an unmitigated disaster for working teachers and the schools they served? Why would anyone in a union support that if they weren't compelled to do so? Why did UFT Unity demand a few changes, fail to get them, and then support it anyway?

Yes, there's a party going on. Almost none of UFT rank and file were invited, and 100% of those who were voted precisely as they were told. Although a majority of my high school brothers and sister voted for me to be one, all UFT delegates are "at large." That's precisely because the high school teachers tend to vote their consciences and leadership is having none of it. So we have absolutely zero representation in NYSUT, though we enjoy the great honor of paying them dues. That goes for AFT as well.

Oh, and by the way, we will never be privy to the actual voting results. They are available only to delegates, and from what I hear they haven't even got them yet. Not a delegate? Screw you. Not only do you not get to see how your delegates voted, but you also don't get to know how much Pallotta won by. Just shut up and pay your dues, thank you very much.

Me, I don't want a party. I want fundamental democracy. So with all due respect, Mr. Pallotta, until 52% of NYSUT locals and 20,000 NYC high school teachers get a voice and a vote in NYSUT, you have some gall telling me about whose party we're excluded from.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Happiness and Teaching

Yesterday I wrote about a young teacher who was happy when she ate lobster. Today I'm going to look at something a little broader--what exactly makes teachers happy? That's a tough question, because there are a lot of variables. I know a lot of unhappy teachers, and the reasons for their unhappiness are varied, with some more valid than others.

I like my job a lot, and I feel blessed for that. I'd like to share this happiness, but it's very much about circumstance and point of view, so I'm not always able to do it. It's a little easier to give students optimism than it is to give it to adults. Because I'm happy with my work, I try to show students they can be too. I try to show them that they have choices. That's important to me. Alas, it's not important to the politicians who make the laws, or the bureaucrats who regulate my work.

For example, I wrote a few days back that I will be rated based on the NY State English Regents scores of six beginning ESL students. This is awkward because my main role is not to teach them whatever it is they do on the English Regents this year. My main role is to teach them to speak, understand, write and read English. If that means teaching them, "My name is ___________. What's your name?" then that's what I do. I want them to be happy here, and it's hard for me to see how they do that if they can't communicate.

If I were to judge myself by the same standard the State does, I'd be very unhappy indeed. I do not expect those six students to pass that test, and I will not waste one minute of my time or theirs preparing them to do so. They will pass that test when they are ready. I judge myself differently. Little things kids say to me mean a lot.

I have had one girl in my class for a long time. She arrived toward the end of the 2014-15 school year. In 2015-16, she didn't manage to pass my tests, and was very quiet. This year, for some reason, she started talking. She started making jokes. In fact, she recently went out and got herself a job as a cashier somewhere. I congratulated her, and told her how happy I was with her progress.

"It's great to see you speaking English like this, " I told her. "How did it happen?"

"I don't know," she said. "I was surprised too."

But it was her time. I may or may not have had something to do with it, but regardless, I'm very happy about it. This means a lot more to me than some test that measures things she may or may not know, and may or may not be ready for. It took her a little longer than many to acclimate herself, but she's here. And she knows I'm her friend. I'm happy to go in and support her every chance I get.

It's hard to rise above what's expected of us. I suppose I could research the English Regents and teach it to my classes, ignoring the over 90% of students who won't be taking it this year. Maybe I could cram for the NYSESLAT and make sure all my students went to the next level of English, whether or not they actually merited it. I could have them bone up on Hammurabi's Code so they could more easily answer the stupid questions about it, should they ask them for a third year in a row. (Perish forbid the geniuses who take all our money should write new tests each year.)

I see new teachers discouraged. I see them leave. Some of them, particularly those who work for vindictive and short-sighted supervisors, are afraid to even talk to me. I guess if you make it your mission in life to meet standards designed for your supervisor to more rapidly advance himself to principal, you're always going to be disappointed. This is particularly true if your supervisor is not all that bright, and won't get any better even if he becomes principal. Then you'll be working on making him superintendent, thus further surpassing his level of incompetence.

It's problematic when your happiness means nothing to your supervisors and you judge yourself by how closely you meet their expectations. I expect nothing from supervisors, have not done so for years, and I am never disappointed by them. I've been lucky in that I haven't had a crazy supervisor in several decades. This notwithstanding, I never judge myself by what crazy people think of me. That's an impossible standard.

Most of my energy at work comes from my students. As far as I can tell, they are who I work for. Of course getting along with your supervisor can make your life easier. I write an aim on the board. I always have a lesson plan. I could probably work just as well without either, but I don't need the hassle, and I particularly don't want other members having issues. (Maybe that's selfish. As chapter leader, every time anyone else gets in trouble, I do too.)

I haven't got a magic formula for happiness. I try to judge myself based on factors other than test scores. If the painfully shy girl smiles despite herself and I see it, I think I'm doing a good job.  When I manage to make a kid come to class on time with zero confrontational episodes, I think I'm doing a good job. When I see glimmers of a kid who hated school liking it, I think I'm doing a good job. I can't precisely put my finger on how I measure myself, but I can assure you it has nothing to do with test scores.

I'm also pretty happy since I let go of fear. I don't know when that happened. Maybe it was when I started writing. Maybe it was when I stopped caring who knew who really wrote the blog. But fear is useless. I've seen members refrain from reporting outrageous supervisory misconduct because they were afraid of repercussions. Guess what? The repercussions came anyway.

I did manage to put a bad supervisor behind me in the early 90s. Because the Spanish teacher always threw students out of class and I never did, she was going to make me teach all Spanish. I'm certified to teach Spanish, but English is my first language and I love teaching English. I don't know how I'd manage happiness if I hadn't grabbed that chance to transfer, back when there was a UFT transfer plan instead of the ATR. Given what happened to John Adams, I'd likely be an ATR right now, and that would not make me happy at all. Nonetheless, my friend Chaz has molded a very positive attitude into being an ATR and made it work for him. I'd hope to be able to somehow do the same.

Chaz looks at the absurdity inherent in his position and embraces it. Maybe that's something you have to do wherever you are. But one of the saddest things I ever hear is when a five-year teacher tells me how lucky I am that I can retire. For one thing, I don't want to retire. More importantly, I see a person who has to put fifteen, twenty, twenty-five years or more into something she wants to leave right this moment.

We've gotta work on that for ourselves, for our colleagues, and for our students. Maybe it's a long and winding route to happiness. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't be looking for it.