Sunday, October 14, 2018

On Observations and Sandwiches

Members of the UFT High School Executive Board have been very focused on observations. As chapter leader of the largest school in Queens, I get frequent complaints about them. In fact, I've made some myself. On blogs I've seen demands for two, the state minimum. I thought that was a very fair ask, and I worked both publicly and behind the scenes to try to make that happen.

We now have an agreement that achieves this goal for a great many teachers. I'm very happy about it, and I'm very proud to have played a role, directly or otherwise, in having made this happen. In fact, a few months ago, we brought a resolution to this effect at Executive Board. This was debated fiercely on both sides.

LeRoy Barr said he was not taking a side, but that this issue should be relegated to the Contract Committee. Others said this was a terrible idea because more observations tend to result in more favorable ratings. People spoke passionately on this issue. I was a little confused, because our resolution called for additional observations only for those who were not rated effective or higher.

Carol Burris, former principal of South Side High School, and current Executive Director of the Network for Public Education, told me she used to observe her teachers once a year. If they were doing well and no complaints came forward, she didn't feel she needed to revisit them. She would do additional observations only if teachers needed further support. That made sense to me. The current NY State Law mandates two, which doesn't make as much sense, but we had to go with that as a minimum.

Thoughtful supervisors I know will observe people and tell them look, this was a bad day, let's try this another time. Boy Wonder supervisors (and despite the name, they come in all genders) will walk in on a day when there are 20 minute classes and write you up because half the students are out cutting at the Pep Rally, where there's free food or whatever.

Boy Wonder supervisors don't do things like giving teachers second chances. Lots of them are lazy, wanting to get away with as little as possible. If I'm Boy Wonder, I may be observing you, but what I'm really thinking about is going to Arby's and using my coupons on the new Roast Beef, Cheddar, and Artichoke Heart Sandwich with Ecstasy Sauce. I can get two for six bucks. Each and every time I have to observe you means two fewer sandwich.

Every time I rate a teacher developing under the new system, that's two fewer sandwiches for me. If I rate a teacher ineffective, holy crap, that will cost me six sandwiches. Oh, and if I hire a new teacher instead of an ATR, that's four sandwiches a year, for each one, and for four years! So by using this new program, we give Boy Wonder an incentive to sit at Arby's, eat whatever that thing in the photo may be, and leave you alone.

On the other hand, there is a possibility, believe it or not, that you could have a supervisor who, you know, wants to do his or her job, and maybe help you. A supervisor like that could come in multiple times and show you things that may be worth knowing. I have had supervisors like that. The second supervisor I had was kind of like that. I was an English teacher, teaching music, with no experience. He would sit down and talk to me and say things like, "Fake it until you make it." He also gave me advice on specific things I could do to get closer to the latter.

The smart supervisors we have need to focus on helping those who need it. They can do the required two for everyone else. The crazy supervisors are another issue altogether. The only viable solution, as far as I can tell, is to put them all in a large room with the DOE lawyers and let them make each other miserable for all eternity.

That's kind of a win-win. DOE legal and Boy Wonders can yell and scream to their hearts' content for all eternity, and the rest of us can, you know, do our jobs.
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