Thursday, May 31, 2018

College Teachers Issuing High School Credit

In my school, we have several College Now courses. What a great deal. You take one class, and you get not only a high school credit, but also a college credit. Sign me up! What's not to like?

Well, there are a few things, actually. One is you might have 40 students in a College Now class. I wouldn't know this except that I count class sizes several times a year, and often the English class with 35 kids in it is a College Now class. The NYC Department of Education, which puts Children First, Always, sits across from me and tells me it's exempt from the contractual class size limit.

It's a college course, they say. We don't need any of your frivolous rules and regulations. Kids need to learn what it's like to be in obscenely huge classes. It will build character. They'll learn how to sit down, shut up, and be anonymous. It's a WIN-WIN!

Of course I don't actually see it that way. I don't actually believe it does college students any more good to be in oversized classes than it does high school students. I was fortunate in that most of my college classes were not in huge lecture rooms and I was able to participate in class discussions. But I guess it's good to learn how to function in a huge room with hundreds of participants, even though it goes against everything I've ever been asked to do as a high school teacher, and even though it's totally contrary to everything demanded in Danielson.

Of course these classes aren't rated by Danielson, because even though Danielson is the bestest thing ever, these are College Now classes. They meet a higher standard than mere piddling high school classes. Except, of course, that's absolutely untrue.

First of all, allowing oversized classes reflects a lower standard, not a higher one. Ignoring what New York City has deemed to be the bestest way to rate what's desirable in a classroom means that standard, whatever you may think of it, will not be upheld in that classroom. But that's not even the biggest part.

The biggest issue with College Now was one I discovered earlier this year, when I found a health class with 39 students. This can't be right, I thought. But no, it turns out it's a College Now class. Most of our College Now classes were taught by teachers in our building, or retired teachers who used to be in our building.

This one, it turns out, was taught by a college teacher. Is the college teacher certified to teach high school? No. Has this teacher been trained as we have? Has the teacher received PD? Was this teacher schooled in the all-important Right to Know? Is this teacher informed on Chancellor's Regulations? Has the host school given any training whatsoever to this teacher?

No, no, no, no, and so forth and so on.

Do you know what the regulations are to get a job as a college teacher? I'll tell you. The regulation is you have to get someone to hire you. When I taught at Queens College you needed a Master's Degree in TESOL or something related to work at the English Language Institute, but when they couldn't find someone who met the standards, they hired someone in the Master's program. I know because that's how I found out about the job. I went and asked for one, but they wouldn't hire me until I got my MA. (In their favor, they kept me around for 20 years. It was only when I became chapter leader that it became too much.)

So in my school, we have uncertified, non-UFT members teaching our kids. Hey, maybe they'll do a good job. Who knows? But honestly, why do we need all this training, why do we need to pass all these tests, why do we need to follow Danielson, why do we need to make tenure portfolios, why do we need to put up with Boy Wonder supervisors when they can just take anyone, qualified or not, stick them in a classroom, and say, "Poof. You're the teacher."

I've filed a grievance. We'll soon learn whether state and city regulations apply only to us, or to everyone working in a UFT school.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Imperial Principals and Double Standards

Principals could do no wrong in Joel Klein's Universe, and when Bill de Blasio came into power, he left Joel Klein's Universe utterly intact. He even brought back Carmen Fariña, who was somehow supposed to represent change even though she'd played part in JKU. I primarily recall Fariña as the worst weather forecaster of all time, but it's significant that she failed to move any of Klein's deadwood out of Tweed.

Thus you find stories like this one, of principals who do the most awful things, keep their jobs for years, and when finally caught, are reassigned to shuffle papers somewhere at full salary. Nice work if you can get it. Teachers caught committing such acts would go to 3020a and lose their jobs. I've seen people lose their jobs for far less.

Many more problematic administrators manage to fly under the radar. Every teacher knows the stories. Every teacher knows who the abusive administrators are. Of course not all of them are Harvey Weinstein. But you really don't have to be sexually abusive to be callous, cruel, or stupid. And even if you are, being reported in the press once or twice is not necessarily enough to get you moved. Who even knows how many have not yet been reported at all?

I can think of several principals who need to be removed right now. Some of them have been in the papers, but evidently that's not enough for the DOE to take action. It's different for lowly UFT members. We can be accused of virtually anything, be it true, false, or a product of a voice in a supervisor's head and there you go--a letter in your file. Stack the letters high enough and it's 3020a--they try to fire you.

Most people don't get fired. Most people get fined a few thousand bucks for minor or meaningless infractions, and are then placed in the Absent Teacher Reserve. That's still a win for the principal who put the person up on charges. That principal doesn't have to deal with that individual anymore.

I would fare very poorly in the ATR. A central facet of my daily life is being a teacher and I hate to sub. I do it twice a year, as the contract requires, and I'll cover for my friends in a pinch. But I just hate it. I don't love dealing with people who don't know me and who feel obliged to test me. I like to get that over with in September.

I've seen the ATR do terrible things to some people. After floating around in it for a while, they aren't who they used to be. I'll spare you specifics, but it does something to you. I also know people who've learned to deal with it very well, people who've made it a life project of some sort, but I only know a handful of such people.

I'm not sure exactly what to do with abusive principals, but I'd argue giving them jobs at Tweed doing crossword puzzles and going out to gala luncheons would be far from my first preference. It's funny that we get dragged through the mud on such a regular basis for our supposedly cushy working conditions, yet principals have it so much better.

There are a few reasons for that. One is that there are so many more of us than there are of them. Another is that we're a female-dominated profession and America is rapidly moving back to the nineteenth century. Equal rights? Fairness? Reason? Due process? What do any of those things have to do with Making America Great Again? Also, a whole lot of education reporting doesn't bother to consult with those of us who actually do the educating.

I'm chapter leader of a very large school. We have some administrators I'd certify Not Insane, and no, I'm not naming names. Still, the most frequent complaints I get are about administration. It's rare that's not the case, and it ought to be the exception rather than the rule.

If I were Chancellor Richard Carranza, I'd get right to work changing that culture. Of course I'm just a lowly teacher, so I'll deal with the hand I'm dealt.

But I'll do my bit to change that culture anyway.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Dignity in Teaching

Here's a very sad story about a teacher who was treated badly. It's not the first story of this sort I've heard, and I'm sure it won't be the last. A callous school district full of tone-deaf administrators dismissed her. She had a dying child and took time off to care for him. There was no good reason for her dismissal, but since she was untenured, they did it anyway. The writer concludes there is no dignity in teaching.

I'm not sure I can agree. Is your dignity defined by the actions of other people? If so, you're in a very bad situation. Let's say you have a Boy Wonder supervisor, as many people do. Let's say Boy Wonder criticizes you because you asked a question and only two people raised their hands in response. Let's say 14 people actually raised their hands, and just to make it interesting, let's say you have video evidence.

Who does this reflect on? Does place your dignity in question? Is it your fault if Boy Wonder forgot his glasses? Is it your fault if he listened to the voices in his head rather than observing objective reality? Is it your fault that admin hired him instead of finding someone Not Insane? If so, you have an insurmountable problem.

I've actually known people who said they wanted their dignity back. They didn't like something a supervisor said or wrote. I understand that, at least somewhat. I've been the target of withering criticisms. These criticisms can come from supervisors, or pretty much anyone. Sometimes they're valid, in which case you have to think carefully and adjust future behavior. Other times, as in the case of the teacher cited in the story, they are nonsensical.

It's very tough to take criticism, but it's important to be able to discern which criticism is and is not worthy of consideration. Some people, like the Boy Wonder supervisors and the President of the United States, cannot take criticism at all. They deflect everything without a thought. They dismiss all questions as fake news or whining. Thus they never learn anything, and wander on their merry way.

As teachers, we need to do better. Can you imagine what your classes would be like if you routinely dismissed questions as stupid and unworthy of consideration? It's our job to get students to open up and examine their feelings and ideas. It's our job to encourage them to think and reflect, so they don't grow up to be Boy Wonders or Donald Trumps.

There's a little controversy now about Donald Trump blocking people on Twitter. Evidently when he does that, he's infringing on their First Amendment rights. Me, I'd love to be blocked by Donald Trump. I've been blocked by Campbell Brown and Dr. Steve What's-His-Name, the charter school guy who jukes the stats to show 100% college-bound in his test prep factories. I'm proud to have offended them to the point where they can't even bear to read my comments.

It's different, of course, when you work for a Boy Wonder supervisor. It's especially tough under the new observation system, where you can be observed, sometimes literally, to death. You then have to listen to him lecture you on why the kids need to hold up the green cards when they understand, the red cards when they don't, and the yellow cards when they aren't sure. You have to nod your head and act as though this isn't complete nonsense, or face even worse Danielson interrogations.

And there are indeed people who lose their jobs as a result of crazy supervisors. The woman in the story is just one. Again, she's not the first and won't be the last. There are distinct disadvantages of being untenured. One is the fact that some supervisors need to get up on their high horses to condemn and fire people simply to show they can do it.

I know a teacher who got several extensions of tenure because she was in a so-called failing school. When she transferred, a superintendent said that many extensions constituted a red flag. She instructed the supervisors in the school to discontinue the teacher. The genius supervisors observed her several times while she was giving tests, and rated her unsatisfactory both times. That was it, and she was discontinued.

You have to ask, though, does that reflect on her dignity? If you measure your dignity based on what crazy people think of you, you're bound for disappointment. If I give a big loud hello to Boy Wonder while I'm walking down the hall, and he turns, sneers and saunters away as fast as he can, I'm good with that. If he can't deal with me, that's not my problem.

I hate seeing union members abused, and I do what I can to fight back. This notwithstanding, there is certainly dignity in teaching. It's one of the most important jobs there is. This story also underlines the need for teacher tenure. When crazy supervisors undermine us it's difficult. Nonetheless we have to make our own decisions. Sad though I am that this teacher was treated so poorly, I'd argue she showed great grace and dignity.

Her supervisors, on the other hand, don't seem to know the meaning of the word.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

As Opposed to Gas Station Sushi

I'm kind of glad we're off tomorrow. If we weren't, I might not have gone in anyway. I'm a mess. I'm constantly sneezing, occasionally coughing and all I really want to do is enjoy a good sulk. Despite this, Toby is constantly demanding I take him our for walks. Even though he's my best bud, he clearly places his needs before mine.

Today was pretty awful in the morning. It was raining, and Toby does not much care for the rain. Truth be told, I'm not so crazy about it either. The only thing Toby hates more than the rain is the red raincoat I make him wear. He's horrified by the little hood, and constantly shakes it off. When it's really bad, he will absolutely refuse to move. He wills himself to Be a Tree.

That didn't happen today, though, Things were pretty clear outside by three PM, so we were able to do full walks on the Nautical Mile. I'm fascinated by that sign I pass each and every day. Fresh sushi available. To me, that suggests they serve some other kind of sushi unless you specifically request the fresh kind, for which they surely charge a hefty premium. Otherwise, they serve you the gas station sushi they give everyone else.

Are we serving fresh sushi in city schools? Not by a longshot. Forget about the actual food. We're placing kids in classes of 34, though there was actually legislation demanding we reduce them to 25. Man, if that isn't gas station sushi I don't know what is. Why is it hard for teachers to focus? Why is it hard for students to focus? Because we have a two-tier education system in this country. The pols who run it place their own kids in private schools with classes of 20 or fewer, and then they say we can't afford to help anyone else's kids.

Most mornings I walk Toby all the way to the end of the canal. There aren't that many people out there at 5:30 AM. I have to take him at that hour because if I don't get to work an hour early, I will have no chance to do schoolwork. I never know what's going to happen during the day, but if I get in by 6:30 or 7 there are only crazy people like me trying to prepare before 4600 students join us.

Every morning I see a man collecting deposit cans and bottles from the garbage cans. The man looks to be 80 years old and he drives a recent model midsize Japanese car. I wonder why a person who can afford a relatively new car has to spend mornings collecting cans. I mean, it's certainly more efficient here in suburbia to use a car rather than a shopping cart, but it still makes me sad to think of being that old and having to do that.

Nonetheless, the folks who brought Janus envision that as the future for all of us. They want fewer dues-payers and then they'll target collective bargaining. Trump's lunatic Supreme Court will deny working people anything they can. Next they'll go for pensions and we'll all be collecting aluminum cans, because that's how you Make America Great Again.

I remember the first day I woke up and saw that Donald Trump was going to be President of the United States. I thought he'd be the worst President ever, but I also thought that about GW. Trump makes GW look relatively tame, and that's a tough thing to do. But if there was someone worse than GW, there's also someone worse than Trump. It might be Pence, and we might find out after we impeach Trump.

I hope I get better, and I hope the weather gets better. Here's a word to the wise--Don't eat the gas station sushi, and in November, don't vote for it either.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Measuring a Chancellor

I got to see Richard Carranza up close and personal the other night. I'm not going to write exactly what happened at our meeting, because I've pretty much agreed not to. I will say he took some pretty tough questions and answered most, if not all, very well.

I'll go out on a limb and predict there will be no gaffes on the level of, "It's a beautiful day. Macy's is open." He's very smart and has instant recall of more statistics than anyone really should.

Here's what I'd like to see from the Chancellor--I've spent the entire year fighting grievances that ought not to exist. I've heard so much preposterous blather from the cowboys at DOE legal that I'd just as soon fight it out with them face to face at the OK Corral. Of course that won't happen, because it's their job to sit around in offices giving principals telephone advice on how to get around the UFT Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here's how they do it--by blatantly disregarding clear and unequivocal language.

It's not necessarily a bad strategy, particularly if it's your goal to let people know you don't give a golly gosh darn about violating their rights. I mean, I file a grievance, the principal listens. The grievance might be about a letter to file. Letters to file are tough ones, because you aren't allowed to grieve them simply because they're outright false. And yes I have seen letters that are outright false. I've also seen letters that paint nothing as though it's something, and you can't grieve the letters simply because they are preposterous beyond belief.

So what are you left with? You're left with things like the right to remove letters from file after three years. You're left with the right to remove letters if they fail to consult with you about them. You're also left with the right to remove letters if they describe occurrences over three months old. I've been at Gold Street fighting all of the above.

Now here's the problem. Step One is with the principal. The principal is right no matter what the contract says, because legal says it's perfectly okay to interpret things that aren't at all open to interpretation. So that's all good. Then you go to Step Two. You take a whole day and go downtown. You're with a UFT rep, and I've been with some pretty aggressive ones who were very much on point. Although DOE has lawyers, they don't argue any better than teachers.

On the other side of the table is a rep from the Chancellor, who presides over the hearing. There's also a representative of the superintendent. The principal does not actually have to show up, and can call it in, literally. After all, who do you think the DOE is gonna side with? You or their own? In fact, the person supposedly judging the hearing might rationalize things to the principal, and say you did this because of that.

What's the principal supposed to say. "Yes of course I did this because of that. The only reason I would do this would be because of that." You walk out thinking, well, the decision will come back and say the principal did this because of that. After all, who wouldn't do this because of that? Then you think, wait a minute, it's still a violation of contract, and neither this nor that has any relevance.

And then you wait. They have 48 school days to write a decision. But they don't, because rules are for the little people. Rules are the things they use to give UFT members letters in file. Actually, they don't even need rules. They can say they didn't like the tone when you said good morning to the security guard, place a letter in your file, and leave it there for three years. Then you can have it taken out, and they can just put it back. I mean, how the hell would you know? And if you checked and found it there, well, that's another grievance, another 48 school days, and another decision to await.

So the thing happened more than three months ago? No problem. They can say the thing that happened wasn't an occurrence. After all, just because it happened, it doesn't necessarily follow that it occurred. You understand that, right? Yeah, neither do I. Of course they don't have to do that. They can simply say that the thing didn't become an occurrence until the principal found out about it. You see the beauty of that?

This way, if you said good morning the wrong way to the security guard, and it was twenty years ago, but the principal found out about it yesterday, you still get a letter in file. That makes sense, right? No? Well it makes sense to DOE legal, and when the chancellor affixes a signature to it, you have to figure it makes sense to the chancellor too. Who cares if it's a rubber stamp and the chancellor never actually read the thing? If the chancellor's signature is attached, that's pretty much approval.

The issue is, though, that these things tend to be overturned in arbitration. Of course, you may not get to arbitration for a year or more. You have to be really determined to fight this sort of nonsense.

Let's say the arbitrator reads on at least a fourth grade level, and thus dismisses these nonsensical letters. Still, you've placed members through a year of hell for no good reason, and that's a win for the DOE. More importantly, when things that are not entirely ridiculous come up, when there's a gray area, maybe the arbitrator rules for the DOE, just to balance things out.

And maybe that's the game. Here's the thing, though--it's a dirty little game, and a chancellor who respects working teachers simply will not play it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Signing People Up

I've been using an app to get people to pledge to stay in the union. A lot of people in my building seem to know about Janus, and I haven't had to do a whole lot of explaining. I send a weekly email with links to articles about education, and I've focused a lot on Janus. I've had to stop sending my 400 plus member list via Gmail, and I now know that about 60% of my members actually open and read my email. This explains why some have never heard of it.

May is slipping away and I can't keep up. I There are 30 or more people in our school doing this job. I'm very proud of them, especially the ones who are actually doing the job. There are so many of them that it's impossible to keep track. But I kind of like doing it.

Do you know about the SCOTUS case called Janus?

Do you think it's fair that people should enjoy all the benefits of union without paying?

Can we count on you to stick with UFT once Janus passes?

The app words these questions better than I did, but that's essentially it. (They also ask if you're willing to receive texts or calls from UFT, but I don't care much about that.) At the training, we were told to approach people, ask how they were doing, focus on whatever the problem was and work toward some sort of solution. Likely any such solution would involve union. This is probably a good strategy for door knockers, who don't know you and have never, ever seen your face.

I don't think it's the very best strategy for dealing with people in your building. Everyone doing face to face in my school, for the most part, is in the same department as the people they're facing. I certainly hope we know each other better than having to introduce one another and find out what's bothering the other person. If we don't know one another better than that after working together for months, years, sometimes for decades, there's a deeper problem, likely one with our culture.

I've been walking up, starting a conversation, and going right into it. I've gotten some very nice compliments about my newsletter. Evidently, not all chapter leaders are insane enough to do this every week. It's important, though, for those of us who obsess over education to share what we find out there.

It's my goal to sign 100% of the people in my building for union. I honestly don't understand how you go to work every day in a big building and say, "Screw you all, I'm not paying." I would feel pretty uncomfortable. I suppose you can go the other way, get no one to pay, and say, "Screw every other building in the city, our school isn't paying."

I'm pretty sure the Koch Brothers will put out a whole lot of propaganda saying you can give yourself a raise, or whatever. I guess you can take the $1400 and buy yourself some thing or other. That's pretty short-term thinking, though. With all its flaws, the UFT is all we have. We can work to make it better, or we can abandon one another and hope for the best.

The latter alternative, given what's happening in West Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and half the country does not much appeal to me. With all our complaints about UFT, we're much better off than they are. With no union, we will be exactly where they are. If you think this mayor, or any mayor, will grant us raises just because it's the right thing to do, I have a historic bridge to sell you.

If you don't pay, you are essentially giving the Koch Brothers a very early Christmas present. You're giving Donald Trump exactly what he has wet dreams about. If that image isn't sufficiently disgusting, imagine what it will be like to deal with your Boy Wonder supervisor with no union behind you.

I know some people who probably won't pay. Some complain of one incident where union didn't help. I know how they feel. I try to help a lot of people. I'm very happy when I'm successful but alas, I'm not always successful. I always try, though. I try a lot of things. I seek advice everywhere. If one thing doesn't work, I think of another. Sometimes I fail. I don't like it, but I don't give up.

Almost nothing I do would be possible without union. Now that Janus is literally trying to destroy us I value it more than ever.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Putting Students First by Firing 251 People Who Help Them

That's what they're planning to do in Yonkers. They're having a budget crunch, and this is how they're choosing to deal with it. It's important to note that this comes after years of Governor Cuomo's edict that school budgets shall not be raised over 2% except under extraordinary circumstance.

Any time they want to go over 2%, they need to get the budget passed by a super majority. Not precisely democracy. if you ask me. Of course, Governor Andrew Cuomo never does.

Why, exactly, does Yonkers have this issue?

In the case of both the school and municipal budgets, the deficits are primarily due to rising employee wages, benefits and health care.

How inconvenient, to have to compensate people for their work. What a burden it is to offer health care to people who work for the government. Why are these people so greedy? Why do they demand enough money to be able to have decent places to live? Over at Walmart, they pay people diddly-squat, and teach them how to apply for food stamps and other government aid? Why can't the government do that too? Wouldn't it save money?

Well actually, no it would not. Though it's federal rather than local, government pays for those benefits too. And with Trump in charge, all those benefits have targets on their backs. Why can't people just pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Hey, do you even know what a bootstrap is? And if you did, do you think pulling one would help you make a living? What if you pulled both of them? Me, I'm not seeing it.

So how can we solve this issue? Why don't we ask the community to break the 2% cap, and push for a super majority vote? Wouldn't that be better than depriving the children, the ones we put first, of people whose job it is to support them in school?

On Thursday, Mayor Mike Spano said he wouldn't support breaking the state tax cap unless unions agree to wage or benefits concessions.

"I wouldn't entertain one without the other," Spano said.

So evidently,  if public employees agree to do more work for less pay, the Mayor will ask for more money to support them. If I were Mayor Spano, I'd call in E4E and get them to give pizza parties, explaining to employees that giving more work for less pay is the way we put children first. By telling the public how worthless we are, and how little we think of ourselves, we'll show that we put the children's needs before our own. Except for our own children, the ones we won't be able to feed or clothe, but hey, you can't have everything.

On the other hand, if we're putting children first, do we want to bring them up in a system where they can't make a living? Do we want teaching to become a job that requires two or three other jobs just to make ends meet? That's what it is in Oklahoma and West Virginia, and we've all seen how that's working out. Do we want to move toward wildcat statewide teacher strikes in NY State?

Judging by Mike Spano's words, I'd have to say yes. On the other hand, union leaders have a different vision:

"Stop thinking that you're going to do this on labor's back," said Louis Picani, the Teamsters Local 456 president at a City Council public hearing Tuesday. "It's not going to happen."

Picani warned that city residents would see a repeat of a 2010 budget crisis and layoffs that led to uncollected garbage on the streets.

Frank Marino, vice-president of the Yonkers Uniform Fire Officers Association, said laying off public workers to close deficits will lead to an unsafe, unsanitary and poorly educated city.

"Taking away services that people rely upon is wrong," Marino said at Tuesday's City Council budget hearing. "Blaming fairly negotiated contracts that included many concessions for financial mismanagement is wrong

You probably wouldn't be hearing that if you lived in Wisconsin, or one of the other right-to-work states. In Wisconsin, for example, they've not only hobbled union, but they've also killed collective bargaining (except for police, because someone has to protect the governor's mansion when the public comes bearing torches and pitchforks).

Were Janus to be successful, you wouldn't be hearing it anywhere. Make no mistake, if the Koch Brothers succeed in hobbling us by allowing freeloaders, they will certainly target collective bargaining. They'd very much like to erase the last century or two and move us back to feudalism. Despite Cuomo's recent happy talk and ostensible support, his 2% cap directly contributes to this cause.

There's an apocryphal Chinese curse, "May you live in interesting times." These are the interesting times. The Koch Brothers will flood the airwaves with ads saying keep your money, don't give it to that stupid union. That way you'll have a little money in the short run. In the long run, of course, there will be far fewer people like me willing to go to the wall for you and defend your rights.

Blanche DuBois always depended on the kindness of strangers. Personally, I'd rather depend on a hundred thousand educators who stand with me. Otherwise, we're at the mercy of hacks like Mayor Mike Spano.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Executive Session w/ Mariachi Chancellor

I will have no report from the Executive Board tonight because we are going into Executive Session. This means no outsiders are allowed. We have strict security procedures. You have to go through an ocular ID and take batpoles down to the sub-basement at 52 Broadway. (Actually I have no idea what it really entails, because I've never been in Executive Session.)

I've been doing Executive Baord for two years, and I've never heard of Executive Session. I know that the last meetings of each year were closed to visitors, but my understanding was that these were basically dinners rather than meetings, so I didn't even go. Personally, my favorite thing to do at the end of a school day is go home and walk my dog. I suppose I once held more lofty ambition, but that's where I am now.

Perhaps Executive Meetings are for hazing and I'll finally learn the secret initiation ritual. There could be masks. Maybe there's a secret handshake and a decoder ring. Hard to say. Nonetheless, I've gotten by without it for almost two years, so I'm not sure it will make a difference. 

Actually, there's a much more likely reason for the Executive Session. In fact, we're going to meet the chancellor. It will be worth it to me if I get to ask him a question. I have one in mind. He was at my school a few weeks ago for his "listening tour," but I had an Executive Board meeting that night and could not stay. From everything I heard, he did a lot of talking but no listening at all. He took no questions from the audience. He took them instead from a few aides who either culled them from the crowd or made them up. Who knows?

We do know that Mayor de Blasio took over the city government over four years ago. We know that a whole lot of Bloomberg appointees are still hanging around Tweed, flaunting their particular brand of anti-union, anti-teacher ideological fanaticism. For me, this was a huge disappointment. I supported de Blasio against UFT''s first candidate, what's-his-name, the guy that told the Daily News editorial board that the city couldn't afford to give teachers the same raise it gave NYPD and FDNY. Understandably, he was mad that UFT didn't support him against Bloomberg Mach 3. But the fact that he stabbed us in the back after we stabbed him in the back did not suggest strong character or conviction to me, at least.

UFT tried very hard to get me to work for what's-his-name. In retrospect, perhaps what's-his-name was going to do the right thing by us and we would've gotten a contract that didn't cause us to wait until 2020 for money we earned in 2009. Maybe my friend who's jumping to a Long Island district next year would have all her retro pay. It's hard to say. I have this thing about trust--once you violate my trust I never trust you again. What's-his-name, in my view, was not to be trusted.

In any case, tonight I expect to get to ask a question of the chancellor. I kind of wish it were public, but I don't make the rules. In fact I had a blog I was going to put out about this chancellor a few days ago, but I'm holding it back until I know a little more. Maybe tonight I'll learn something.

What would you ask the Chancellor? Now let's be fair. He's not actually responsible for the state law that mandates all the nonsense in evaluations, and almost everything you've experienced has not been under his supervision. He wasn't the one who kept all of Bloomberg's people on at the DOE well past their sell-by date. It wasn't him who hired your Boy Wonder supervisor.

Honestly, until the man has actually done something, it's hard to say much about him. He certainly sings and plays better than any of his predecessors. I'll tell you something--the violin is a real challenge. Basic mastery of it is a lot harder than guitar. When you first pick it up, it's like your strangling a cat. People you live with toss you out of your apartment and you can hardly blame them. You know what you sound like. Of course, when you can finally make music with something like that it's a thing of beauty.

So without piling on for things over which he's had no control, what would you ask? If you come up with a better question than the one I have, I'll use it. Alas I won't be able to write about this top-secret session. But most things get out eventually, one way or another.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Teachers Strikes Are a Moral Imperative

Diane Ravitch wrote about how Bill Bennett, Reagan's former Secretary of Education and part-time degenerate gambler, opposes teacher strikes. Bennett gets on his high horse and rationalizes this on moral grounds:

When coal miners strike they lay down their equipment. When teachers strike, they lay down their students’ minds.

First of all, I'd expect children's minds to be active if their teachers walked out. Wouldn't they wonder why it happened? If I were a kid and my teachers went on strike, I'd probably jump with joy for the time off. But I'd also wonder why they did it. This is a teaching moment, and I'd certainly teach my children why their teachers went out.

Let's go with Bennett's other misconceptions. There have been numerous instances of teachers striking for not only their working conditions, but also student learning conditions. In places like Detroit and Chicago, schools have been left behind not by teachers, but by governments thoroughly indifferent to the children they're paid to serve. Sure, teachers could hang out in rat-infested crumbling buildings and let the kids know they're okay with it. On the other hand, they can let communities know that there are certain things we ought not to stand for.

Oklahoma teachers, faced with a $6,000 pay raise, had other demands:

"This package doesn't overcome shortfall caused by four-day weeks, overcrowded classrooms that deprive kids of the one-on-one attention they need. It's not enough," Priest said. "We must continue to push for more annual funding for our schools to reduce class size and restore more of the 28% of funds they cut from education over the last decade." 

Certainly class sizes benefit not only teachers, but also children and communities. If teachers cared solely about compensation there'd be no need for them to bring this up. I recall the Chicago teacher strike being not solely about money, but also about learning conditions. Who will advocate for learning conditions if not us? Rahm Emannuel? Joel Klein? Michelle Rhee?

I don't recall any of these reformies trying to get lower class sizes. In fact, uber-reformy Michael Bloomberg advocated for firing half of working teachers and establishing classes of 70. I know some super teachers, but I don't know anyone who could handle 70-student classes very well. In NYC, classes of 34 are already tough to deal with.

In the United States in 2018, over half of our states are "right to work," which means it's optional for people to pay union dues. (Oddly, none of the politicians who push this nonsense seem to think taxes should be optional.) Some "right to work" states have outlawed collective bargaining. I'm not sure exactly what they expect teachers to do when they can't earn a living. I'm also not sure why the people we present as role models for our children should be expected to clean stables or deliver papers before they teach, nor am I sure why they should have to work at the car wash or Applebee's after.

Most importantly, and I've made this point before, it behooves us to leave this world a little better for our children. And in case it isn't clear, students are our children. If we leave them a world of crap jobs with no future or possibility for enjoying life, we haven't precisely delivered.

I don't see New York going the way of those other states, and I'm glad we aren't up against a wall like a lot of our brothers and sisters. But neither are things peachy keen. We need to work to improve teaching and learning conditions, which are largely one and the same. We can't slide into complacency and we can't settle for nonsense like this Janus case. The clear and only aim is to strip us of our voice and leave us just like Oklahoma and West Virginia, among many others.

That's the way the United States is moving right now, and it's on us to grind this movement to a halt. It's a large burden, but it's all ours.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly May 16th--We Offer Lessons for Janus and de Blasio

President’s Report—Michael Mulgrew

Mulgrew asks moment of silence for Queens music teacher Keith Johnson.

Says this is last DA before Janus decision. Compares Sandy to Maria, brings St-Thomas-St.John Federation of Teachers president up.

She thanks us for prayers. Says things on islands depend whether or not your home is intact. If you have no roof, not so well. 13 schools housed in 8 buildings. St Croix—13 in 5 buildings, triple sessions, quadruple in on high school. Cannot wait for end of this school year.

In state of limbo waiting for modular schools. Goal to avoid double sessions. Modular schools ordered only last week. Infrastructure not in place. Promised for August, but not much confidence. Students have adjusted, moving forward, please send prayers, supplies, donations. Loves to see solidarity. We stand with you. What we do together affects all our children.

Mulgrew—We will continue to send more support. Forced them to open schools so teachers could watch water dry. Want to extend school year even though teachers were there. Same garbage everywhere with these idiots.

Federal—Secretary of Ed. came to our city. No bears met her. She had proposed 2 billion in cuts, stopped majority. Some things got through. Non public schools can use title one with outside vendors. We have to watch her. First year not so good, but has a lot of money and influence. Have to remember she wants, in the end, to get rid of us. Would love us with no union or fight back.

Wisconsin now walking out as state cuts funding for public ed. State after state, no raises 10 years, benefits slashed and schools don’t have basic supplies or many, exploding class sizes. That is their goal for all of us. States saying we have nothing to lose. What else can they do to us? We will continue to work with those states. Big picture is using them to show real blueprint for ed—weak union, no collective bargaining, no funding, and then blame teachers and privatize. AFT pushing to get this narrative out.

State—Attorney General—now temporary, will be that way until general election. Appointment process, but legislature will not do it. We have to change our plans for November. Most expensive statewide race will be AG in NY. AG office has sued sitting President at same rate as CA, but because the Trump Corporation is in NY, have sued them too. GOP will want the seat that controls the cases. We will only support those who support our profession, workers’ rights, and NY State.  We will go after congressional seats that oppose these things. Didn’t expect big AG campaign. Will readjust.

180 days issue going back and forth. OK in NYC. Important to know what’s going on in schools, and prefer not to ask principals. Big debate at SED, say no state counts passing time, actually only three that don’t.

NYSUT RA was in Buffalo. Asks if they had a nice time. Seems to be growing solidarity across state. Everyone knows Janus. Bill passed that no one will mandate testing for evaluation. Governor supports. Assembly passed it. Comes down to Senate. NYSUT doing good job with this, wants nothing tied to it. About misuse of test scores.

Consultation Committee with new chancellor. Says he’s very nice guy. You can be a really nice guy, but taking over that office is another issue. They want to know if we have to renegotiate. Law says we have a year. If moratorium lapses and we don’t have law, all teachers 50% standardized test scores. We have to take people out if they don’t vote for this. Whatever happens, it doesn’t matter. In NYC evaluation is toxic because it isn’t being used properly, and it’s getting worse. Members are observed day after they speak up about something, and admin who do that should be fired. Basis of law is about supporting work of people in classrooms. If professional admin perverts and twists it to lord over and beat people, they shouldn’t be allowed near children.

We don’t want to do anything about evaluation until we understand that this needs to stop. Some people are left alone, Some schools do this the right way, and every one of us wants to work in these schools, really talking about craft of education. Then, we have really bad people. Observation and evaluation should not be a benign activity. We should be in secure environment evaluation ourselves and letting others look at it.

Chancellor agreed if that’s what’s going on it’s no good.

Real possibility Janus released on Monday. It’s coming. Important we have great spring conference on Saturday. Please get people here. First big public speaking event for chancellor.

What if mayor comes with parental leave issue? He’s not doing so good. He’s mad because I called him gender-biased, said if he could get pregnant it would be solved. Mayor needs to own up. He also said we just make up sexual harassment complaints. Generally policies good, but we can tell him to stop the nonsense.

Paid parental leave coming along, city council helpful. We did fed, state, and now doing city budget. NY State has increased 4.3 billion last three years. We don’t see it in our schools. City says it’s in salaries but it isn’t. Council likes that we use money as intended when they give it to us. Makes difference in communities. We have several former teachers in council. Isn’t it time we baseline Teachers Choice?

Shanker awards last night. Children very thankful. NYC teacher union donates 1 million dollars a year. Harmon and Mulgrew got thank you letter from student, close to retirement, who said 40 years ago Shanker scholarship changed his life. $250 a year isn’t a lot now, but he used it then to feed family. Now a chief physicist at NASA.

Janus—All working hard. Don’t know what more we can do but will think of it. One to one conversations important. Door knocking has been great. Next piece membership teams.

We don’t want to fall into position of having nothing left to lose. We need to lead fight to show what unionism needs to be. Agency fee numbers lowest ever, under 1%. We have to have these conversations. When people have correct info, they make good decisions. We flipped vote on Constitutional Convention.

We will have to find every new hire and explain to them what union it is and why they should be part of it. We make sure someone watches after them, ask for raises, make workers part of political process. Won’t let them take away our rights and abilities. Will be shocked if it hasn’t come down by June 13th. Our destiny is in our hands. We are ready. We will give members facts, face to face.

Staff Director’s Report—Leroy Barr—Saturday was 5K run. May 11, UFT provider awards ceremony. Jun 2, first Denny Drumm scholarship brunch UFT central. Tuesday June 12 counselor recognition. Next DA June 13th.


Q—Last month, said legislation would mitigate Janus. What can we tell members?

A—One section about communication between employer and employee clarified. We have cooperation. Lots of things union does outside of collective bargaining. In state law that is gray area and open for litigation. Law now is definitive anything outside of collective bargaining not for non-members. Mistake to withhold all service. Right now we have exclusivity. In other states they will have five or six unions repping same group, some financed by Koch Brothers. Charge less and give fewer services. Many services have nothing to do with CBA. In disciplinary process, we go further than contract. We no longer have to supply attorneys for non-members. NY State now has strongest union rights laws because of that.

Q—Lab specialist CL—hearing that CLs are not permitted to attend step two with members.

A—They have a right. We will straighten this out. Maybe new chancellor will end this.
Tell borough office. System is crazy. Superintendents tell people to do anything. This is a right. Permission not required.

Q—Recently we had contentious CL election, got heated. Was divide. Now with Janus, I’m concerned about uneasiness. How do I bring them together.

A—Booze. No, not really. As someone who never had an uncontested CL election I was through it. You have to have meeting right away, bring staff together. We broke school into subject areas. I let departments pick reps. Do it through actions and find time for people to socialize.

Q—Many members antsy about new tax plan. Haven’t seen effects yet. We know in NY we will get slammed. Governor offered protection. How can we help and prepare.

A—Different provisions in state budget to move money from things that can’t be deducted. Tax package attacked us and ten other states. Is a donation process, and process on how you can use piece of payroll tax, which is still deductible. I’m not an accountant. We might want to use accountants who deal with teachers and specialize. We will develop that.

Q—SS department had PD options out of building, but many had costs attached. Teachers told they wouldn’t be reimbursed. What are their options?

A—I would’ve tried to have conversation and negotiate something.


Peter Lamphere—Moves to resolve on gubernatorial election. Primary next month.


Lamphere—Says we should have input into decisions. Need to examine closely. Asks for poll, interviews for Democratic candidates and Green Party candidate.

Point of order—Rich Mantel—Says motion out of order. NYSUT makes gubernatorial endorsements.

Mulgrew—All state endorsements by NYSUT in August unless NYSUT frees up locals. Under current rules UFT does not endorse. Resolution is out of order. In terms of process, there are many people who do this work.

Point of information—Lamphere
—Is it possible to make a recommendation to our delegates to NYSUT?

Mulgrew—As duly elected delegates they are free to do what they want to do.

Tim Myer—Possibility of making CTLE hours in two parts. Are now too long.

Mulgrew—Good idea, but this is motion period.

Special order of business

Resolution to support poor people’s campaign—Anthony Harmon
—Speaks in favor. Campaign led by Rev. Wm. Barber, friend of UFT, much momentum around country. 50th anniversary MLK assassination. NYSUT passed similar, asks endorsement.

Passes unanimously

Resolution to End Sexual Harassment

Janella Hinds
—Every employee should feel safe. Discrimination disrupts work. Comments, all forms disruptive to safe work spaces. Attacks victim’s confidence. Security threatened. We stand for respect, safety, security. We ask for full, fair and complete investigations.

Arthur Goldstein--As an ESL teacher, as a human, I’m deeply offended by stereotype. It’s the product of ignorance and never valid.

That’s why I’m so disappointed Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken stereotype to a whole new level, claiming that 98% of UFT sexual harassment victims suffer from a “hyper-complaint dynamic,” whatever on earth that may be. Mayor de Blasio seems to feel that the threshold for dealing with sexual harassment is reached only when the city pays out $830,000 over an administrator we’ve known about for years now. In our workplaces, in the schools our children attend, if there’s anything that cries for zero tolerance, it’s sexual harassment.

I know people who’ve been victimized, some very close to me. The very last thing victims need is to be publicly humiliated by the supposedly progressive mayor of New York City. It’s particularly egregious when his information comes from the blithering incompetents  at OEO, who as far as I know, have never encountered a deadline they could meet. It’s even worse if it comes from the 30 dollar an hour thugs at DOE legal, many of whom can’t comprehend the most unequivocal language in our Collective Bargaining Agreement. I’d be humiliated to discover any of them had gone through my beginning ESL class.

We are educators Let’s teach the mayor no, you don’t get to stereotype teachers. Let’s teach the mayor no, you don’t get to stereotype victims of sexual harassment.. Let’s teach the mayor what a terrible idea it is to take advice from fanatical ideologues left over from the Bloomberg administration. Let’s teach the mayor the United Federation of Teachers stands up for our own.

Let's vote yes for this resolution and show unequivocal support for those among us who most need it.

Passes unanimously

We are adjourned.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

On Formative Assessment

It's funny to see administrators hyping formative assessment. Of course it's a great idea to give students low-risk environments in which to demonstrate mastery of material, or to encourage improvement. I've always marveled that we give these big tests as semester's end, frequently don't even return them, and then tell students, "There you're a 78," or whatever. What does that even mean? What did they miss? What can they do about it?

Our goal, as I understand it, is to support student achievement and improvement. And just by the way, we're supposed to be something like role models. We're supposed to show them that they have potential in this game of life, that your boyfriend dumping you, or your last math test, or losing your cell phone is not, in fact, the end of your life, and that there are more things than you can imagine awaiting you when you finish high school.

Yet all too frequently administrators decide there is only one form of formative assessment, only one way to do it and that any variation from said way is Ineffective. You didn't use an exit slip? You suck. You didn't have them raise right hands for comprehension and left hand for befuddlement? You suck. You didn't hold up green cards for understanding, red cards for lack thereof, and yellow cards for I don't know whether or not I understand? You also suck.

When you have an administrator who Knows Everything and Must Be Obeyed, your options are limited. Oddly, whenever I have students doing work in class, I circulate and look at said work. I can tell whether students understand based on what they do. Call me cynical, but what they say is not entirely relevant to me. I'm not actually suggesting they're liars. Rather, they're teenagers, enveloped in the most insecure and stressful stage of their lives, and the likelihood of their raising their hand to admit they don't follow is not sufficiently high for me to depend on.

Nonetheless, the administrators do not practice what they preach. If it's important to do formative assessment, if formative assessment is in fact an integral part of learning, then it follows that those tasked with making us improve as teachers must practice it. I've seen very few administrators do so, and in fact the ones who demand that everything be done One Way are among the biggest hypocrites there are.

These are the same people who will observe you on a half day when there are 30-minute periods. They don't have any issue with the fact that only eight of your students show up. They vilify you for the fact that 26 students stayed home. That's your fault for insufficiently motivating them. Of course this is a full evaluation, and of course it will count against you, because that supervisor isn't gonna come back and do it again when your actual class is there and you are actually doing your job.

Formative observation is for the Little People, specifically you, and since your supervisor knows everything, it's assumed you do as well. If you don't, well, you suck and are therefore ineffective. That will be reflected on your observation report, of course.

How are you supposed to know what Does Not Suck? That's a tough question. Given that your supervisor, who officially knows everything, has never, ever been evaluated via the Danielson rubric, you can't expect him to demonstrate a model lesson. That's just one reason why he never comes into your classroom to do that. That's probably why his classroom isn't open as a model for us all to observe. In fact, that might be why he doesn't teach at all. Teaching is also for the Little People. It's your job to teach, and his job to tell you why you suck.

In fairness, he may have hundreds of observations to perform and write up each year. Most people don't write very quickly and he could be overwhelmed. If he were actually fair, I'd feel sorry for him. Nonetheless, if he were actually fair, his time would be better spent supporting teachers than running around endlessly rating them.

The argument that supervisors can be vindictive lunatics and therefore should be doing 200 observations a week to keep them busy is not necessarily a bad one. There are issues, though. First, if they're vindictive lunatics they ought to be placed in mental health facilities rather than public schools. Second, if they aren't, they'd be better off doing two observations a year, as required by current law, unless teachers need further support.

It would be nice if observations were used to support teaching rather than bash teachers over the head. In fact, it would likely benefit communities to have teachers who felt supported rather than terrorized. Maybe we'll be able to convey that to people in positions to decide. Here's NYC Educator's hot tip of the day to to UFT leadership--cut mandatory observations to two and it will be a whole lot easier to sign members post-Janus.

Monday, May 14, 2018

We Are Trained to Blame Teachers

That's a pretty depressing thought, isn't it? But you don't know when you're being trained. That's NYC Educator mascot Toby on the left. I have been training him for months. For example, every now and then, no matter where we are, I ask him to sit, and I might give him a treat when I do that.

Right there Toby sat of his own volition, and he's waiting for me to give him a treat. Someone pointed out to me that this meant he was training me. I wouldn't have even noticed that.

The public at large seems to think teachers are a bunch of lazy loafers, doing nothing all year and then taking summers and holidays besides. They begrudge us health benefits and sick days, vilify us for having pensions, insult us relentlessly, and try to suppress our voices. We weather it all and sort of take it for granted.

Why don't other Americans simply demand what we have? There's a joke about two Russian farmers. One says of the other, "He has a cow and I don't. I want his cow to die." It's unfortunate so many Americans see things that way. Why don't they want their own cows instead? Maybe Fox News says they'll have scores of cows if only we get rid of all this socialism. Having a cow, alas, is not everything.

In New York City I can't count how many teachers I've met who've faced dismissal because the principal woke up one morning and decided this one's got to go. I've seen people facing dismissal because a superintendent arbitrarily decided the person had too many continuances. The fact that no one at this teacher's last school was granted tenure, ever, did not factor into that superintendent's thought process.

Meanwhile, if you aren't watching a crazy administrator up close and personal, you read story after story about them and their abuses. A case in point is this one, from 2016, telling of a principal who's cost the city over half a million in lawsuits. Well guess what? It looks like it takes damages of $830,000 and counting before New York City sees fit to reassign an administrator.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has come under scrutiny recently for the handling of sexual harassment cases across city agencies, especially at the Department of Education. The city has admitted that it has no consistent system to track sexual harassment complaints against employees, making it difficult to analyze the total number of complaints as well as how employees in substantiated cases were disciplined.

That's kind of remarkable, particularly since the mayor decided that 98% of sexual harassment complaints from teachers were nonsense, and this there was some sort of hyper-complaint dynamic, whatever that may be. What's worse is he based this assessment on nonsense he heard from the idiots on city agencies, the ones who never met a deadline they could meet, and never read a contract clause they could understand.

I have no idea why there's so little accountability for administrators. I've repeatedly seen UFT members raked over the coals for nothing of significance while supervisors, who did things much worse, faced no consequence whatsoever. If it weren't for the fact that I would hate the job and be terrible at it, I'd aspire to be a supervisor. Who wouldn't want a job in which you could blame anyone for anything, judge people on a rubric you'd never experienced and never would, have zero requirement for demonstrating how said rubric would work? Well not me. But I know people who do.

Despite stories of the sexual harassment and malfeasance, I don't think we'll be seeing principals stereotyped anytime soon. There just aren't enough of them to make it worthwhile. There are reasons we are under assault. A big one is the fact that we're one of the last strongholds of unionism in these United States. The Koch Brothers don't love seeing regular people with adequate health care, defined pensions, and political clout. That's why they've propped up Janus to weaken us.

I'd argue that power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and that some people, given even a little power, need to lord it over everyone they possibly can. That's why there are so many flawed administrators in our flawed system. Too bad they haven't figured out that we're in this together. If our enemies shut down the teachers, the administrators won't fare well either.

Nonetheless, every working teachers knows or knows of that Administrator from Hell. And no matter how much we read about them, the general story is all about how teachers suck.

When and how are we gonna change that narrative?

Saturday, May 12, 2018

MORE and the Mission from God, Part II

I wrote a few years ago about how it was tough to come to grips with MORE. It was composed of several groups, and there were varying viewpoints coming together, I thought, to form a united opposition. That seemed like a great idea to me. There were people I admired, like James Eterno, who were part of it. Norm Scott is simply a force of nature, and he was instrumental in its creation.

It's been a learning experience for me, too, because I've always thought of myself as leftist and progressive. James would tell me he felt like a right-wing conservative at some MORE meetings. This was hard for me to understand, because I've always known James as a union activist, and he's forever been my role model as chapter leader. He knows the UFT Contract better than anyone I know, without exception, and has instant recall of what seems to be every clause, every comma and semicolon. He's been an enormous help as I've tried to navigate the borderline impossible task of leading a large chapter. (And no, I'm not complaining. I love this work.)

Yet when I went to MORE meetings, sometimes I understood why James felt like George W. at the Democratic Convention. I think my first experience with MORE was when they united with Long Island union activists. They were looking for someone to stand for Executive Vice President of NYSUT and I stepped up. For the first time, I went to a MORE meeting.

Much to my surprise, there was a great deal of debate about whether or not MORE would put people up in the NYSUT elections. Some people said you get corrupted if you win. I suppose that's frequently true. Yet for me, the drive to win was pretty strong. For me, if we weren't running to win we might as well stay home and blog, or read, or catch up on The Flash, or whatever. It was hard for me to understand why that discussion was necessary.

Of course we didn't win, but I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I got to meet great people within MORE, like Mike Schirtzer, and I'm still working with him today. I got to meet amazing activists, most notably Beth Dimino and Brian St. Pierre, who taught me what it was like to be union outside of New York City.Who were all those people standing around and advocating for ideas worthy of Diane Ravitch? How could they have been so close to me all this time without my knowledge?

I've had a few low points in MORE, too. I'm at a complete loss when I'm sitting around a group of white people and the question is how we can attract more educators of color. This has happened to me more than once. I sit there and think, well, if that's what our goal was, why didn't we just call them up or ask them to come? And if what we're doing is so great for them, why aren't they here?

A few years ago, I agreed to run with MORE for the UFT Executive Board. I was thrilled beyond belief when New Action offered to ally with us. I said, yes, let's do it, without a doubt. But there was some debate in MORE. Will this compromise us? Well, maybe it would. After all, you've already warned us that winning could corrupt people. But oh my gosh I really wanted to win. For me, there was simply no other reason to be opposition.

I agreed to run, and was told I could pursue issues as I saw fit, but that I'd agree to support priorities of MORE. That sounded fair. I thought the only difference between me and those who were more ideological would be that I'd have a stronger focus on member issues. The first clue I got that I may have been mistaken was last school year, when I brought up a class size resolution.

I went to a MORE meeting and some guy stood up and complained that I hadn't run the class size resolution through steering. At the time I had no idea who or what steering was or why I might seek their approval. More importantly, I had no clue why fighting for reasonable class size was even debatable. Every teacher knows the difference between classes of 25 and 34. Every teacher knows that for every student they add, every other student gets less of your attention. (I'll likely have more to say about MORE steering later.)

Now MORE has effectively expelled my brother Mike Schirtzer. A few members secretly distributed some sort of manifesto stating the only work that was important was circulating their contract demands, or something of that nature. They also seem to wish to move NYC into being more like West Virginia, which is untenable and preposterous on multiple levels. They circulated this thing without showing it to their Executive Board members or anyone with an eye on teacher issues, and I'm sorely disappointed in every individual who signed it under those conditions. I got one person to withdraw his signature.

I'm willing to talk with almost anyone. My mission varies from that of MORE in that I want to win better working conditions for my brother and sister teachers, and that I want to do it in a way that will succeed. I don't care what this or that socialist organization considers a priority, and I don't care about putting up a noble fight just to fall on my ass.

Social justice is a priority for a lot of people in MORE and of course I support social justice. In fact, I believe when we embrace education issues we are demanding social justice not only for ourselves, but also for the children and communities we serve. Class size is social justice. Fighting crazy administrators is social justice. Family leave is social justice. Non-punitive evaluation is social justice. Protecting the ATR is social justice.

I've had it with failure. I've had it with sitting around and pondering issues about which I know little or nothing. We are powerful when we stand together. When we get into our little cliques and plot against one another we go nowhere.

MORE should know better.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

What Are We Leaving the Next Generation?

I'm getting much less demanding in my old age. The way I judge whether a day is good or not is often how often I get to walk the dog. If I work my school day, I walk him three times. That's a very good day. Alas, I'm frequently working nights. Unlike my smarter friends, I don't generally get paid. And by the time I get home, the dog has walked with my wife already, doggone it.

Last night we went to a training about what to say to retain union members. It was a good night because I made it back for the evening walk. But even then, there was irony in the air. (There was a fish store down the block, so it could have been something else, but I digress.)

We were told that we were becoming organizers. It's a good idea, to organize. Surely we'd be in better shape if we'd begun years ago, but now is the time. Hindsight is 20/20, and I guess I can't blame UFT leadership too much for not anticipating Trump's outlandish victory. Few people did.

We saw a sample conversation. A teacher is upset because she is always being observed. There's the AP, there's the principal, there are both of them, and they're always coming in. What can we do about it? Well, we have to stand together as a union. I actually believe that. On the other hand, I've been to a whole lot of meetings where I've been told the observations aren't so bad after all. What's the big deal? So they come in four times? So what? (It's kind of odd to see the same people telling us to organize against such things.)

The thing is, it doesn't really feel like that. A friend was telling me she knows someone who just got back from years of maternity leave. She walked in to a whole new world. Every moment she wonders whether this is the day the AP is gonna drop in and see her at her very worst. She preps and preps and it never ends. She goes home exhausted and terrified.

This is where a lot of us are. Even those of us with perfectly helpful APs live under a cloud. It's not rational, but that's how it feels. The system was created with the intent of finding and firing bad teachers, they told us, and they therefore made us all targets. Even though very few of us actually get fired, the feeling we're living under a microscope is palpable. When we asked at Executive Board for fewer observations, we faced strong objections. I think, though, at least for those who do well under that state minimum, that this would take the edge off.

There is the argument that doing endless observations keeps APs and principals occupied and therefore unable to cause other trouble, but I've found that to be untrue. I think I've spent ten days this year down at Gold Street and elsewhere fighting contract violations and seeing arbitrators. When I go there I see a whole lot of other people there too, so it isn't only my school where APs and principals find time to tie people up in grievances and such.

I'd actually like to see APs and principals work to support teachers, and offer suggestions that don't look like threats against one's person, against one's job, or against one's hopes and dreams. The thing is, not all people have that in them. We are asked to encourage the children we serve, and I certainly try and do that. I don't lurk around them and shout AHA! You missed a QUESTION MARK and you are INEFFECTIVE!  I'll admit that sometimes certain kids make me feel like saying things like that, but despite my extraordinarily big mouth I do not.

Still, that's about the level of constructive criticism a lot of teachers get from Danielson. I've seen reports that say you didn't have the kids raise their right hands when they understood, and their left hands when they didn't. I read this stuff and marvel that anyone could believe this is the only way to do things. In that same report, the supervisor criticized the teacher for walking around and looking at student work. Personally, I find that method much more reliable than the former. The same supervisor then criticized the teacher for using a method that was not 100% effective. Man, if I knew a method that was 100% effective, I'd write it up and get rich.

Oddly, the supervisor who wrote that nonsense is far from the worst I've encountered. And actually, this is the problem. Until and unless we find a way to deal with the lunatics tasked with leading us, from the Bloomberg leftovers at Tweed on down to the Leadership Academy Borg Collective, no rubric on earth will save us from their delusions.

I am absolutely convinced, though, that we are far better off with a viable union than without. I will continue to work to improve the union, to awaken the leadership, and to make conditions better for those of us on the ground. We owe that to our children, to their children, and to the people who will take our jobs when we leave.

It's on us to leave this place a little bit better than we found it. I don't plan to leave the next generation with no union, to drive them into what all the red state striking teachers have been facing. With all their raises, and all our issues, we're still better off than they are. We need to make things even better.

Otherwise, how can I look that little boy in the photo in the eye and say I'm doing my best?

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Executive Board Takeaway May 7, 2018

I'm a little shocked that this body can work together, but this week showed me that it's possible. When you are 7 people pitted against 95, it's not precisely a walk in the park. I've been doing this twice a month for two years now, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch to become cynical about it. But this was an odd week.

About a week ago I was walking my dog in the park, and I called Janella Hinds. I should've been tipped off that the week was going to be odd when she picked up the phone and said, "This is Janella." I mean, who expects a VP to answer her own phone? I suggested we write a resolution against the mayor's awful ideas about sexual harassment victims being a bunch of whiners. I was shocked, particularly in this "Me too" era, that the mayor would get up on his hind legs and utter such blatant stupidity. So was Janella, but she wasn't sure if a resolution was the way to go. I told her I didn't care which way we went, but we ought to make a statement.

A few days later she said let's write a resolution. This was the second time I was involved writing a resolution with Janella. Both times, I wrote a draft, and she sent it back to me much improved within ten minutes. This is pretty hard for me to admit, because I'm a little vain of my writing, and I've had long and enduring fights with editors. But there's no argument to be made when the words come back better.

Now here's the thing with UFT--I have no idea what the process is once someone like Janella submits something. But I was very sad when they cleaned up my semi-gratuitous swipes at investigators. Janella had left them in, but the UFT editing department, whoever they may be, appears to value diplomacy. They made them a bit nicer than I did.

Still, I was happy with the final wording of the resolution.

Robert Levine, who appeared in lieu of Mulgrew, actually touched on the incompetence of OEO. He said they have six months to issue a ruling, that they could exceed it in exceptional circumstances, but that they always exceeded it. This, to me, says everything you need to know about the Bloomberg leftovers who populate de Blasio's DOE. They are wildly incompetent and utterly indifferent to rules. And make no mistake, these boobs are the ones who advise principals. That explains a lot.

I was reminded of a now-retired member in my school was up on charges for a thing he was alleged to have said. It was years ago and I don't even remember what it was. I do remember that we were brought into the principal's office, that I noted the untimely nature of this complaint, and that I told the then-principal that a letter in file was not possible. The principal came back with something called a "Non-file letter." I advised the member that this letter, for the purposes of the school, did not even exist and ought not to be acknowledged.

OEO then put this member through 3020a, which resulted in a six-month suspension without pay or benefits. This was a pretty harsh result for something in which OEO clearly screwed up. Of course, they always screw up, but nonetheless I was quite surprised they could pull that off. Levine tells me, now, that it was improper, but the hearing was in the hands of NYSUT lawyers. I can only hope they didn't miss anything, but it was years ago.

This week represented a sea change, for me at least. The last resolution I brought was about class sizes. Howard Schoor said he'd be happy to meet about it but never answered my requests for a meeting. I gave up on meeting and brought the resolution. Some Unity guy got up and hacked the guts out of it by removing all references to class size. Although it passed, it was very hard for me to understand how a class size resolution with no actual target could be effective.

This was a much better process. Though not much of my original language survived, we condemned the mayor's ridiculous statement about a "hyper-complaint dynamic," stated his proposal for 11 additional investigators was woefully insufficient, and demanded the mayor provide full and fair investigations. I may have been more direct in language, but certainly asked for all of the above. The words are different, but the demands remain.

As far as language goes, Kate Martin, the newest of New Action, found some sentences that didn't make sense. We were all surprised she was a math teacher as opposed to an English teacher. She said to me, "Look at all the English teachers around me who didn't catch this when I did." Being one of them, I decided not to comment. 

This was an example of us working together, a model I hope. This was an example of teachers having a real voice in union, an example I'd like replicated on a regular basis. The resolution we passed is below, in its entirety. I'm afraid I haven't got the exact edits Kate made, so the last resolved is a little rough. Still, the idea is there.

Resolution to Support the Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the NYC Department of Education

Whereas, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has defined sexual harassment in its guidelines as: “Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment”; and

Whereas, sexual harassment is absolutely unacceptable and harmful to school communities; and

Whereas, many in our society are speaking out about the negative effects of workplace sexual harassment and calling for the creation of workplaces that are safe for all employees, regardless of gender expression, age, appearance, or other indicators; and

Whereas, 471 complaints of sexual harassment were filed by employees of the NYC Department of Education between 2013 and 2017 with only seven substantiated; and

Whereas,  before expressing support for the New York City Council’s Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, Mayor Bill de Blasio unfairly attributed 98 percent of sexual harassment complaints to a “hyper-complaint dynamic,” and

Whereas, by mandating training on appropriate workplace behavior and requiring reporting of incidents of sexual harassment in city agencies, this legislation will  all workers feel safe in their workplaces across our city; and

Whereas, the United Federation of Teachers strongly supports vigorous, just and timely investigations of cases involving sexual harassment, and

Whereas, based on previous investigations, we have reason to question the fairness, speed, comprehensiveness of investigations; be it therefore;

Resolved, that the United Federation of Teachers finds the mayor’s proposal for 11 city investigators to be woefully insufficient, and be it further;

Resolved, that the United Federation of Teachers demands a full and fair investigation of every allegation of sexual harassment, and be it further; 

Resolved, that the United Federation of Teachers demands all such investigations be expeditiously by unbiased and independent parties at the city’s expense.

Monday, May 07, 2018

UFT Executive Board, May 7, 2018--We Condemn Mayor de Blasio's Crass Stereotype of Sexual Harassment Victims

6 PM Howard Schoor, secretary, welcomes us.

No speakers


Mulgrew is not here.

Robert Levine—Brooklyn rep, handles most OEO cases citywide. OEO is empowered by chancellor’s reg a-830. Numbers in papers don’t match ours. 16-17—280 interviews in Bklyn office. This year, 200 so far. On track to do the same.

UFT represents all sides in cases, subjects, witnesses, and complainants. 190 subjects, 73 witnesses, 17 complainants this year. Union believes every witness is potential subject. Complainants don’t always seek union reps.

OEO handles harassment and discrimination—Discrimination 60%, 50% of whole are student based claims of discrimination. Others are sexual harassment cases, 40% of total, mostly student based. Employee cases 10%, not a frivolous number.

We have issues with OEO, biggest is timeliness. Violate timeliness on almost every single case. There is 90 day rule for them to complete, unless circumstances dictate otherwise. All seem to do that. There is six month rule. Any investigation must be completed within six months, Problematic with suspensions of paraprofessionals. These cases being moved along but still problematic. 11 new investigators insufficient.

Arthur Goldstein--I know a member who get suspended for six months after OEO ruled against him, even though they took well over six months to accuse him. Are they allowed to do that?

Levine--No, that is a violation, should be a grievance.

Staff Director LeRoy Barr—Last Friday there was an assaulted nurse. 40 or 50 UFT at sentencing hearing, person received 2 to 4 years for that crime. Saturday was 5K run thanks Rich Mantel for organizing. First book event at PS 15, gave 40K books. This Thursday better speech and hearing celebration, 5-7 here. May 11, awards for guidance, next week, Shanker ceremonies, give away 1 mil each year. DA May 16, conference 19, EB May 21, chancellor will be here. June 12, UFT school counselors recognition ceremony.

Schoor—Press conference at city hall for parental leave, 10 members of city council there. When these people become candidates, we interview them. If we support them and they win, they never forget. You can see this when they come out for us. We must continue political action. Pres. testified for City Council on parental leave, was fired up. City council people said this is right, not benefit.


Arthur Goldstein—This year the DOE has decreed that annualization is out. Thus, if I think a student failing in January might pull it out before June I can no longer have her grade reversed at the end of the year. I’ve seen a lot of outrageous credit recovery schemes but annualization is not one of them. This is allowing a student’s teacher to give that student a second chance. If indeed the student has mastered the material by June, why should she have to go to summer school, night school, or even another year of school to catch up?

I realize this came down via Carmen Fariña, and that unlike her I lack the ability to tell that it’s a beautiful day simply because Macy’s is open. Nonetheless, I am the teacher of my students, and with all due respect I believe I’m a better judge of their progress than Ms. Fariña, who never once bothered even setting foot in my school.

Is there any mechanism for us to negotiate moving this option back into the hands of teachers, where it belongs, and if not, could we create one? We have a new chancellor, it’s entirely possible he is not insane, and perhaps this is an opportunity for us.

Janella Hinds—We are engaging in conversation about all of this, about different ways we can deal with this. We will bring responses.

Schoor--Please send a link or get papers to document this.

Ashraya Gupta—What is format for chancellor’s visit?

Schoor—We don’t know yet. Sometimes we go into executive session, members only.

KJ Ahluwalia—Chancellor has made integration a priority. Has union taken a stand?

Janella Hinds—reps UFT on committee representing DOE, educators, and students. We talk about integration and how to ensure all our students have needs met. Still working in sub committees. UFT committed to equity across barod.

Jonathan Halabi
—Thinks me too movement caught us by surprise, not that we condoned that behavior. These things are far more pervasive and now we see them better. Part of city hasn’t understood they need to rethink. We ourselves need to look at how we handle our own in our own house. Have we checked or updated our own procedures?

Schoor—We do have it, People responsible not here. Will get report.

Halabi—Can we look at policy again?

Schoor—Yes. I will ask for a report.

David Kazansky
—began anti harassment and anti discrimination training. Were on this before new things came to light.

—77% teachers female. We are concerned.

Reports from districts

Anthony Harmon—First book even—serviced over 700 teachers, 500 parents. Thanks people from Queens office. Also an immigration clinic in Bronx. Over 100 people to begin a path to citizenship. Also first of three part series on parent leadership. 80 parents from across city participating.

Pat Crispino—Thanks Betty Zohar for assisting with programs. Lost at PEP, but organization was amazing. Will be future leaders. HS in Bronx organized very well. Lost but in long run really won. People will do amazing things.

Karen Allford—City Council breakfast, thanked them for being part of our program, showed that we put their dollars to great use. Showcased, Dial a Teacher, Brave, Teachers Choice and other programs.

Rosemarie Thompson
—Flyer for save the day June 12 at Brooklyn UFT. Asks that counselors who are union activists are nominated.

Camille Edie
, District 16 rep, was D16 diversity summit to address growing issues, like gentrification and charter schools. Well attended, thanks Anthony Harmon. Students gave play on diversity. Not just about race, crosses many different lines.

Rich Mantel
—JHS VP—200 runners at 5K, raised 8K. Good weather, was perfect. This Thursday we are hosting anti-bullying contest for MS students. Will report on 21st. NY Jets involved. Tony Richardson is keynote.

Rashad Brown—co chair of LGBTQ committee. sponsoring scholarship. Encourage seniors to apply. Rosemarie Thompson, It wil bee June 2 12-3

Janella Hinds—School closing fight this year Wadliegh HS—Jewel of NYC crown up for truncation, but phenomenal organization stopped it. Community and UFT worked together. Chancellor Carranza went to see them and sang with their mariachi band. Thanks educators and UFT.

George Altomare—great committee of SS teachers want more in service younger members. Can keep doing good things but we have to get in service and younger people. Wine and cheese reception May 11 from 4-6.

Paul Egan not here—two resolutions.

In support of poor people’s campaign—Anthony Harmon—Led by Dr. Barber. Important to remember Dr. King, who did it in 60s. Similar resolution at NYSUT. Asks we endorse.


Resolution for Eradication of Sexual Harassment.

Janella Hinds—I
mportant for this city and DOE to show respect for any victims of harassment and unfair treatment. Heard de Blasio brush it off, Heard city council speak in favor of safe space. We are shifting and must engage in conversations.

Kate Martin—words missing—Have to fix sentences. (There is some discussion over whether Kate is an English teacher, but it turns out she's a math teacher.)

Arthur Goldstein—I was shocked that Mayor De Blasio could stand up in front of God and everybody and declare that 98% of teacher sexual harassment complaints are frivolous. I worked for this man. I contributed to his campaign and sat through the freezing cold at his first inauguration.

If you’re a friend of teachers, you don’t stereotype us as whiners. Most teachers are women, and I often think that’s why people like those on the Post editorial board feel so comfortable degrading us. I have a hard time differentiating those who stereotype teachers from garden variety bigots. It’s far more egregious when it’s directed at victims of sexual harassment, who certainly have enough on their minds without being gratuitously ridiculed.

If you are a UFT chapter leader, you know that the investigative agencies can never get anything done in time to follow their own rules, that they convict people on the flimsiest of evidence, and that they defend the city on equally ridiculous evidence. It it’s not them it’s the thirty dollar an hour minds on DOE legal, the ones who know next to nothing about the contract, who decided that 98% of us were cranks. Every single time I have had a dispute with legal, without exception, they have been wrong and UFT has been right. These are the people who fight me twice a year to keep class sizes over the limit, and they muster the audacity to claim they place children first, always. The people who really do that are the ones who wake up to serve these children each and every day, and that would be us.

I certainly hope this was a momentary aberration, and that the mayor will come to his senses. If I were him, I’d not only follow the terms of this resolution to the letter, but I’d also go out of my way to grant a fair family leave policy for those of us who devote our lives toward serving the children of this city.

I urge you to vote for this resolution, and to tell Mayor de Blasio that we stand up for our own, particularly when they’re victimized like this.

Schoor—corrects sentences, asks for vote.


We are adjourned 6:48