Friday, November 30, 2018

The Model Classroom

I was talking with some young teachers today about what they were learning in school. They're both taking master's programs. The impression I got was they weren't getting a whole lot of practical help. The first teacher I spoke with told me she was being rated on a rubric that had little to do with the one she was rated on at work. She said the most important demand of college professors was that you buy the books they wrote. Whether or not you actually used them was of little consequence.

While her rubric was really complicated and impossible to follow, you know, kind of like Danielson, it didn't stress engagement quite as much as Danielson does. The important thing, evidently, was to use "authentic materials." What this means is when you get a group of beginners you don't write your own materials for them. Instead, make them read The New York Times. After all, the Times, they are a changin'. Or something.

That wouldn't work for me. I often write comprehensible stories for my newcomers, even though Part 154 suggests I should just give them To Kill a Mockingbird and hope for the best.

Another thing she told me was that they frequently show videos that have nothing to do with what people do when they're NYC teachers. For one thing, all the classes have only twelve students. For another, none of them ever have to go to the bathroom. No one ever comes late. Also, they know all the answers. You can see them chomping at the bit to answer questions that haven't even been asked yet. I've seen a few such videos at PD.

The next teacher I spoke with was a teaching fellow. I asked him whether he'd ever seen videos like that. He said, "Yes I have. In fact I was in one last summer." He told me how they'd prepped the kids on the material. They didn't give them the actual answers, but they all knew the subject matter. They told the kids that it didn't matter what they said, and that no answer was wrong. It turned out they needn't have warned the kids, because they got all the answers right anyway.

He's not famous, though. Five of the ten kids in the class did not show up the day of filming. Maybe they were camera shy. In any case, they decided not to use his video. Evidently ten to twelve kids is the optimal number for model videos.

On the other hand, here in the real world, I've got a class of 34 in half a room. I see classes of 34 in converted closets. People ask me what they can do about those rooms. They can get doctors to write them notes that being in spaces without windows is detrimental to their health, and that seems to work. On the other hand, I'm not entirely sure why it wouldn't be detrimental to just anyone's health.

Here in the real world, students may have been up working the night before. They may have stayed up all night playing video games. They may live in largely unsupervised group homes that their parents pay dearly for, thinking because they're under the auspices of some church or other that good people run them. Maybe they're homeless.

There are a whole lot of things that are possible with the children of New York City. It's unfortunate that we have education programs that aren't at all worried about prepping teachers for what they're really going to do at work.

Most of my master's had to do with my subject area. I got a really good understanding of language acquisition and the structure of English. I'm glad I went. However, I also took some straight education courses. I will never forget some college professor explaining to us how we should build a class library in the back of our classrooms. I found this ironic, particularly since I was in several classrooms and I considered myself lucky back then on days I could find a piece of chalk.

Of course Danielson, like all the trendy nonsense that blows in and out of the DOE, is probably bound for the scrapyard sooner or later. Like most of my colleagues, I hope it's sooner. Nonetheless, if I were in charge of a college education program, I'd make the professors people who actually teach in public schools, as opposed to those who either wrote or read a book about it.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Things We Didn't Get

At the risk of being repetitious, I'm kind of reeling from what's happened over the last year. My brother Mike Schirtzer was able to take a fundamental role in enabling parental leave for UFT members. He brought in Emily James, who'd gotten a remarkable 70,000 signatures in support. Emily told the Executive Board she hadn't even known we existed, let alone that she could address us. A few short months later, there was a deal.

Reading some blogs, you'd think we'd gone out and committed serial murder. Why was it six weeks? Why wasn't it seven? Why was it this program? Why wasn't it that program? Why did we get this when they got that? Why did we pay for this benefit? Why should I pay for you to have a baby? I'm not having a baby, so no one else should catch a break either.

This is the story of the two farmers--One has a cow, and one doesn't. The one without the cow says, "I want his cow to die." This is the same train of thought I see from people who say they didn't get the benefit so no one should. It's also the same train of thought I see from people who say teachers shouldn't have pensions. They don't have them, so why should we? (And they lie about it too. I read an op-ed in the Daily News that teachers who left before getting vested lose their pension contributions. Not true.) 

Another thing we pushed was fewer observations for working teachers. Just a few months ago, we went to the Executive Board with a resolution. We asked for two observations for teachers who'd been rated effective or higher. We were met with fervent and passionate opposition. Statistics, they said, showed that the more observations you had, the better chance you'd have to be rated higher.

I believed that was probably true. However, our proposal said that anyone whose rating was effective or higher after the first two could be left alone for the rest of the year. It seemed to me that, under that scenario, anyone who needed more observation could get it anyway.

LeRoy Barr said that he took no position either way, but this was neither the time nor the place. He said this needed to go to the negotiation committee. I was pretty cynical on this front, having heard only negative things about the committee process. I felt that we were just burying a very popular idea, something the very blogs that criticized parental leave had clamored for.

I decided to push it anyway. I went to the committee meetings, and it did indeed entail sitting in a big room with hundreds of people. When I was discouraged by that, a UFT official lobbied me to come back.  I did, and we were soon broken into smaller groups. My first choice was evaluation. In that group, I pushed for fewer observations.

One day last summer I got an email inviting me to show for the class size group. In fact, that was my second choice. I was pretty curious as to why I'd gotten bounced. When I got to the meeting, it was a much smaller group, broken into even smaller groups. We were to go face to face with DOE reps, and make our cases. On the evaluation group, I'd evidently been replaced by Michael Mulgrew.

I was chosen to speak to class sizes in high schools. I told them what teaching oversized classes was like. I told them how awful and ridiculous the DOE "plans of action," supposedly to make up for oversized classes, were. It's ludicrous to imagine that relieving me from one period of tutoring a week somehow makes up for having an oversized class. The issue is not really the fact that I have too many papers to grade and now I have more time to get that done. The issue is I'm facing an enormous group of varying and unpredictable personalities, and that I can't do my job effectively under those circumstances. I don't need forty minutes a week to think about it, or plan, or grade papers. I need help right there, right then.

The DOE's response was, essentially, we don't care. Too bad. We're not doing anything about it. I think I heard they offered to sell leadership lower class sizes if we gave up a portion of our raise, but when I was there they didn't even do that.

When it came to evaluation, it was Mulgrew who spoke. He said we wanted two observations. They asked do you want formal or informal? He said we want two. Two. That was the message. In our second to last meeting he told us that this was one of the last sticking points. He said we were either going to resolve this very quickly or it would take a few years. A few days later I got an email telling me to report to 52 Broadway instead of school, and there was indeed a contract.

So now there is an agreement for two observations. This applies to around 85% of tenured teachers. I can't say I disagree with observing untenured teachers more frequently. Theoretically, supervisors are there to support us. If you're fortunate enough to have a supervisor who isn't crazy, that could actually happen. I'm very happy to say that since I became chapter leader, two of the very worst supervisors I've ever seen have left us for good. It's not easy to procure quality of life improvements in a school as overcrowded as ours, so we take what we can get.

No we did not get everything. We did not lower class size. We did not end the ATR. We did not beat the pattern. We did not revise the six-month-old MLC agreement to save money. We did not change it to say we would offer them no savings and continue to pay no premiums. I'd have liked to get all those things.

I guess if contracts entailed presenting a list of non-negotiable demands and winning them all we'd have accomplished all of that. However, I have a very clear idea of exactly how things would work it I were to take that approach, and it's therefore it's not at the top of my list.

I also think, though, that there are better ways to achieve some of these goals than via contract. As to health care, we ought not to be negotiating basic coverage at all. The NY State Assembly has passed a universal health care bill four years in a row, only to have it die in the GOP Senate. Well, there is no more GOP Senate in New York. Canada passed universal health care province by province. So there's that. There's also a very strong possibility we can take back the US Senate in two years.

As to parental leave, this should be a national issue. We can't do it right now, But people who say we didn't get everything are right. Maybe they'd have been able to instantly negotiate everything. On the other hand, maybe they're so inflexible and unreasonable they wouldn't have accomplished anything whatsoever.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Blogger's Day Off...

...but you can read my new piece on Amazon, and why we're supporting it rather than schools, in the Daily News.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Small Car Reviews

Education news is fun, but surely a lot of people check this space to learn about cars. I'm in another rented car this week. This one is a Nissan Versa. It's actually smaller than the Sentra, what they call a sub-compact.

Last week I was in a Honda Civic. I know a lot of people love these cars, so forgive me in advance for my review. On the positive side, from the rear, it looks like a spacecraft. I thought perhaps they'd given me George Jetson's car. Alas it did not fly. It did, however, have an automatic setting for lights. They went on when you turned the car on, and off when you turned it off.

There were one or two things I didn't like about it. They hide the phone charger outlet way under the steering wheel. It took me a long time to find it. It was also pretty hard to figure out how to pair my phone, because being a rental all the slots were taken. I had to look up on Google how to delete one of the existing phones.

It rode like a toboggan. I felt at all times like I was directly on the ground. Also, I'm a little tall and I felt like I had to contort myself each and every time I got into the car. It was very good on gas. I'm not sure exactly how good, though. Unlike my car, and the one I had before it, there's no reading for how many miles per gallon.

One thing I really didn't like was the radio. On the highway there was excessive road noise, and the radio turned up all the way could barely mask it. I thought they could've at least equipped the car with a radio that would wipe out the road noise. Also, I have this little thing with which I hook my phone to the car vent. The Civic has recessed vents so you can't do that.

I'm pleasantly surprised with my little Versa. Though it's a sub-compact, the driver position is a little higher up than the Civic. It's easy to get in and out. My phone thing hooks right onto the vent, and I can look at Waze whenever I need to. The lights are not automatic, but there is a nag tone whenever you turn the car off while leaving the lights on. Also, the cupholder is in an odd place, and it's hard to put the cup in it when you're driving to work in the dark.

It doesn't have the same road feel either. I'm kind of surprised to find that the tiny Nissan has better suspension than the Civic, and by far. I like a little more space than this car affords me, but riding it doesn't feel bad at all. I'm fairly confident I won't end up pushing it to work tomorrow, but again, if you see me doing it, please wave.

The best thing about it is the stereo. It's easily 50% louder than the one in the Civic. And there's less road noise too. I would've expected to like the Civic better. I haven't priced these cars but I'll bet the Civic costs a whole lot more than the Versa, let alone its big brother the Sentra. So if you're renting or buying a small car, don't overlook the Versa.

And if you're driving something else, be careful when stopped at red lights. I used to think stopping at red lights was the safe way to go but I'm not so sure anymore.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Don't Stop at Red Lights

Week before last was very tough on me. I had two accidents in two days. I asked myself, "Why did this happen?" I thought about all the detective shows I've watched over the years. What would the guys on Law and Order say? What would Colombo do? Of course, they'd look for a commonality. It wasn't hard to find one.

On Wednesday, I was stopped at a red light when a woman hit me from behind. On Thursday, I was stopped at a red light when a man plowed right into me. Well, you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes to know that what both accidents had in common was that I was stopped at red lights. So there you have it.

I drive a car I really like. It is the best car ever. It has a great stereo system and it's really fun to drive. Everyone should have one. And if you do, you need to protect it. I know very well, because if you don't, you have to get a rental car. Now here's the thing--they will tell you that you need one right away, but that the insurance won't kick in until the company inspects the damage. I'm almost certain, in fact, that they also told me the company would pay me for the rental, eventually.

Then I got a letter from the insurance company saying if my car was driveable, they wouldn't pay anything. I went right back to the body shop and said hey, why am I driving around in this tiny little car with a crappy music system when I'm not being reimbursed for it? They said they'd told me that. Now they may have. I was pretty nuts after having been hit twice in two days.

Anyway, I gave them back the rental and took my car back. I was very happy. Sadly, later today I have to turn it in again so the insurance company can look at it and work out the repair cost with the body shop. At that point I will once again be relegated to a budget rental that I will likely as not have to push to work. If you see me pushing a rental car to Queens please honk, wave, or offer a tow.

Anyway I've reflected on all this and the only logical conclusion is that it's very dangerous to stop at red lights. So now I just plow right through them and everything's fine. Since I've started doing that, no one's hit my car at all.

I probably won't teach my students this particular lesson. On the other hand, maybe it will be a good way to get them to argue with me. I'll bet when I tell them I no longer stop at red lights there will be some objection.

Maybe this is good for something after all.

Friday, November 23, 2018

MORE Loses 100% of the Fights It Wins

The title is a play on something I saw on the MORE blog, which said something like "UFT loses 100% of the fights it doesn't take on."

MORE has decided not to run with New Action, with whom they won the 2016 high school seats. I hear they didn't like it when NA's Jonathan Halabi supported the contract, and the caucus took a too-nuanced position.

I can only suppose they also didn't like it when 87% of membership also supported the contract. It's one thing to drop New Action and ensure a loss. It's another to suggest that 87% of membership is equally unsuitable. Their particular brand of sectarianism reminds me of nothing more than my students who are reluctant to sit with people from other countries, or speakers of other languages.

Their talking point now is that we need to become more militant, which sounds okay on the surface. When you get to the specifics, it's troubling. They are talking strike. I've argued that our working conditions don't merit a strike, and that rank and file would reject the notion by a wide margin.  Beyond that, what MORE doesn't discuss (and may not even know) is that NY State strikes have consequences West Virginia strikes do not. You would lose two days pay for each day you were out. Your tenure would be suspended for a year so the DOE could fire anyone it deemed inconvenient. The UFT would lose dues checkoff which, combined with Janus, could prove catastrophic. If we went on strike, every night would be New Year's Eve at the Koch Brothers mansions.

MORE hasn't been around that long, and I've had a love/ hate relationship with it since its inception. I would hear horror stories about the meetings from my friends, but I made it in a few times. I think the first time was when they wanted someone to run against Andrew Pallotta in NYSUT. I said yes, I'll do it. Evidently, no one already in the group wanted to, and that speaks volumes. It was an uphill battle, but I thought we had a chance so I took it. Alas, we lost.

In fact, half of MORE didn't want to contest the NYSUT election. They only relented because it was a 50-50 split. It's amazing that a group so wedded to a notion of militancy couldn't make a decision about whether or not, as opposition, it made sense to oppose. There were two factions in MORE, or were--one that pushed teacher issues, and another that wants, well, who knows what they want? Maybe they want conditions to as bad as West Virginia, so their strike idea would not be such abject nonsense. Your guess is as good as mine.

I may have gone to their meetings once or twice more before we decided to try and retake the high school seats that opposition held on and off over the last few decades. Someone said we had the possibility of aligning with New Action. I thought that was a great idea. Why not try for a big tent unified opposition? A lot of people in MORE spoke against it. Again, I didn't understand. It seemed like a path to victory, and I'm pro-victory.

And it was. We won the high school seats. People from MORE said we'd see them at every meeting. For the most part, we didn't see them at all. A few of the remaining ICE people show up semi-regularly, but of those in MORE, we've seen two or three of them maybe once or twice over almost three years. Some of the most vocal of them never showed at all. One personally promised me to be there for every meeting, but showed no more than twice and stayed no longer than thirty minutes. (For militant activists, MORE people are pretty goshdarn busy.)

Despite how busy they were, there were demands on us. We were asked to attend meetings about our work on Executive Board. We said come and see us around five on any meeting day. We're always there. No, we were told. We had to travel somewhere on one of our days off. Why? Because the person elected with us, the one who showed two or three times and stopped coming altogether, wouldn't come to the meetings. How can we involve this person, they asked, who never comes to meetings?

I said it didn't matter. For the sake of Executive Board, this person was nobody. I didn't care what insights there were about why this person didn't feel going was a productive use of time. I had a commitment, and I was going to keep it. We met with all kinds of people on the first floor of 52, but those who were supposed to be aligned with us, those who purported to care so deeply about our progress, had more important things to do.

Then came the demands. After we bitched and moaned about Unity demanding to see our resolutions one hour in advance, MORE demanded to see them one day in advance. They decided to hold a vote on what we should do, and did so on a day when I was volunteering at a UFT event for ELLs. Despite my absence, it barely passed.

The original idea came from Steering, whatever that is, so it was important. After all, Steering was going to meet with the guy who never showed up to our meetings, and that was Very Important Work. Mike Schirtzer went to that meeting, on a weekend.

At the meeting they asked Schirtzer what our priorities were. They wanted to support us, they said. Mike, speaking for both of us, told them the important work was getting out a coherent message, so we could win more seats. We had our eyes on the middle school seats, and thought they were within our grasp. Here is what they did to help us--absolutely nothing. There was no newsletter, and there was nothing sent to the high schools, let alone the middle schools.

Here's the truth--these people were not remotely interested in helping or supporting us. They didn't have the time or energy to show up to twice monthly meetings, and they didn't trust anyone else to do it either. If they'd wanted to be involved in what we did, all they had to do was show up. We've been meeting around 5 PM in the UFT lobby twice monthly. Sometimes educators in trouble come to see us. We're right there all the time.

Then came the big purge. Steering had been replaced by a bunch of people who pushed teacher issues rather than the the "militant" agenda, whatever that may be. Mike Schirtzer had used the word "bullshit" in emails to some list. This was horrifying. Also John Giambalvo did something. I have no idea what. So they had to go. Also, Steering had to go. Now that the sectarians didn't control Steering, it wasn't important at all. Go figure.

In fact, they made up their own new Steering committee, with no election, no rules, and none of this nasty democracy stuff that gets in the way of doing Whatever You Feel Like. They have some gall criticizing the UFT for lack of democracy. I have a voice in UFT, and I know I will continue to do so whether or not I stay on the Executive Board. I go to UFT to get help for members almost daily. I wouldn't waste a moment of my time discussing the weather, let alone member issues, with the ideologues who now make up the ghost of MORE.

MORE wants what it wants, even if the overwhelming majority of UFT members don't want it at all. They want militancy and they want strikes, but they don't want to be bothered with anything that intrudes on their me time. They want to be with people who believe as they do, even if it precludes connecting with the 87% of us who support the contract. It doesn't much matter to me. I know why I do this work. I want better working conditions for teachers. I want better learning conditions for students That's what I fight to win. Here's what MORE did--they took a name that others helped build up, dumped the people who were out there doing the work, and pretty much blew up the opposition altogether.

I can't tell you how distasteful and disgusting I find it that they demand ideological purity and dump people who don't share their myopic vision, whatever it may be. I don't suppose I have to describe in detail how stupid it is to take a victory and turn your back on it rather than build it further. The people running MORE are disingenuous and unfit to lead. Their unwillingness to work with anyone beyond their very narrow sectarian sphere is unproductive and stupid.

I've got a strong aversion to stupid. If I wanted stupid, I'd vote for Trump and be done with it.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for a lot this year. Of course I'm thankful for friends and family. I'm thankful for my little dog who hangs with me no matter what boring thing I'm doing, including writing the blog. He motivates me to get out and walk, even on bitter cold days like today. He's gonna need a winter coat today for sure.

I'm thankful for living by the water and for being able to walk by it every day. I'm especially thankful for the days, months, and years when the water doesn't come to our house to visit. We're Sandy-free for five or six years now. 

I'm thankful for having the best job there is, and I'm thankful for the drive to keep it that way. I'm thankful to all the kids from all over the world who come here and make my job possible. I will fight for them this year, because New York State is depriving them of much needed instruction. I'm thankful for the ability to do that, and I'm thankful for support from my friends, family, and union brothers and sisters.

I'm thankful for the subway ad that led me to this job in 1984, I'm thankful that my driver's license expired that month and I happened to be on the way back from the DMV in Jamaica on a subway train and came across that ad. I'm absolutely thankful for the administrator who asked me if I wanted to teach ESL, and when I replied, "What's ESL?" answered me with, "Try it." 

I'm thankful for colleagues who don't hesitate to get right in my face and tell me what they want and need. I'm thankful they chose me to be their chapter leader. Sometimes I tell people my job is crazy, and I'm sincere in that. Sometimes people take that as a complaint but it isn't. I'm thankful to know that I thrive on having a crazy job, I guess I should've known that after lasting as a New York City teacher, but I wasn't really conscious of it until I became chapter leader.

I'm thankful to all those who read this little blog and my scribblings elsewhere. I'm driven to do this work and I can't stop. I'm thankful for education warriors in and out of the union, too numerous to mention here without forgetting some key person or other.

I wish each and every one of you a joyous Thanksgiving. Please don't spend the weekend fighting over crap in stores. If you must, go online. Go to and look for the crap you want. You'll be thankful you didn't get trampled in a mad rush to save eight dollars over the new iPhone.

I'm thankful not to work in Walmart, and I'm thankful not to have to direct the herds of shoppers looking to buy some New Thing. I will work to make sure our jobs don't become like Walmart jobs, despite the druthers of many powerful grifters. I'm thankful to have the long weekend, and I'm thankful my students have it too. I only hope some of their parents are as lucky as we are.

I'm thankful to be in a position to support working people and fight for bettering working conditions. I'm thankful we were able to elect a blue Senate in New York, and thankful for the possibilities that implies. I'm thankful we were able to elect a Congress that will stand as a check on our frothing-at-the-mouth batshit crazy President.

I'm thankful for having administrators that, though we tangle over this and that from time to time, are generally Not Insane. I'm thankful and lucky to have had such administrators for most of my career.

I wish everyone reading this a restful and joyful weekend, and I hope that spirit follows you for the rest of the year and beyond.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Them Changes

This has been a very odd year for me. I find myself in positions I'd never imagined, and I find myself more in sync with union leadership than with at least most of the opposition. There are a few reasons for this.

The first is Janus. For years I'd heard leadership say we're facing Giuliani/ Bloomberg/ Cuomo and who knows what else, and therefore it's not a good time for criticism. I never bought that. It's always a good time for criticism when the contract is so flawed it stands out like a sore thumb. I won't belabor all the issues we had in 2005, but there was no way I could support that contract. The rationale was we got money, but I'd have rather done without it.

Janus is different. It's an existential threat. It's not just another bloviating politician rambling on about how much we suck. It's a serious attack on union itself and working Americans. We won't know how much it will hurt us until the spring, and the ones after that, when the reformies and right-wingers start airing commercials about, "my pay, my say," and other misleading crap suggesting that weakening union strengthens workers. To my ear, this sounds very much like "war is peace," or, "freedom is slavery." This notwithstanding, in a country where Donald Trump can be President, these arguments have to be taken seriously.

A second hit, for me at least, was when the MORE Caucus stabbed several of my friends in the back, kicked them to the curb, and followed up by asking others to leave. It's funny, because for years I've criticized Unity for a loyalty oath. MORE made a lot of noise about how they wanted to be with people like them, who believed the same things they did. That's antithetical to union. I represent everyone in my building, and it's none of my business who they voted for. I don't get to decide that this person is too conservative for me. Who I like and who I don't is besides the point. I had envisioned a big tent for opposition, but that wasn't what they wanted.

I understand one MORE member, not satisfied with having lost in a landslide to Mulgrew, went and ran on the statewide Green ticket, so as to lose by a more spectacular margin. I'm not particularly sure how that represents moving forward, but any group that stabs my friends in the back is not one I'll be moving with anyway. Just to ensure they lose by a wider margin this year, if they even run, they've decided not to align with New Action. Great strategic thinking, guys. I'm glad you don't run the union. Doubtless you'd purge a bunch of us for thinking the wrong way just as you did in your little clique.

The final change is one I've seen this year in Unity Caucus. I'm not part of it, but I know that everyone in leadership is a member. This year Mike Schirtzer dragged Emily James and a friend to Executive Board. After they spoke, Mulgrew vowed to get paid parental leave, and a few months later, he did. It was remarkable to play even an indirect part of this. Of course, I read a whole lot about things like losing six weeks of seniority if you took fully paid leave. I once spent months out of the country engineering an adoption, and I'd have been more than happy to work an extra six weeks, if that's what it took to be fully paid.

We were also able to negotiate fewer observations for teachers, something members in my building have been demanding since the inception of this evaluation system. In fact, I also saw fewer observations demanded on opposition blogs, When we got it, though, it didn't mean anything. Why didn't we take back every giveback since 2005? Why didn't we get a raise that surpassed the pattern? Why didn't we do all that with no givebacks whatsoever?

Those aren't very tough questions, so I won't bother to address them. I will say, though, that our voices moved leadership to demand and win two observations. I'm certain leadership has taken note of Janus as well, and I'm pretty sure there will be no more 2005-style contracts, ever. There will also be more energy devoted to organizing. If there's any upside to Janus, that's it.

I'm not jumping up and down doing cartwheels over the contract, but to me, it was the first decent one in decades. Along with most working teachers, I voted yes. I don't know what happens to opposition now. For an effective opposition, you need something that really bears opposing. I'm just not seeing that in this contract. Those of us who served on the committee had a definite voice in it, and to reject it would be to turn our backs on our own work.

Of course, there are forces worth opposing. I oppose Trump, largely because he's a malignant, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, small-minded, self-centered, self-serving, mendacious, narcissistic, juvenile, delusional, stinking weasel. To me, those are less than ideal qualities in a leader. I oppose his SCOTUS because most of the country voted against not only Trump, but also GW. This court would not look the way it does if it reflected the will of the American people. The House election was a referendum on Donald Trump, and he lost.

Our country is in crisis, and union is sporting a big old target on its back. I'm up for a fight, but I've got a very clear notion of exactly who our enemy is. We rise or fall together. I don't know about you, but I'm not working to fall.

Monday, November 19, 2018

UFT Executive Board, November 19, 2018--Nurses Want a Contract

6 PM Secretary Howard Schoor calls us to order, says there are three speakers.

Mary O Connor—School nurse, Manhattan, integral part of ed., first responders, treat students daily. Responsible for health of student population. Multiple schools are in buildings. This means one nurse responsible for entire population. Can be 2,000 student caseload. Majority voted yes to contract. Part of it allows for head DOE nurse. Means they don’t have to go through DOH. They get one day for PD, Nurses should be allowed CPR one day every two years, deserve to be heard, and deserve contract now, cannot wait.

Schoor—Had meeting last week to hear their position on contract. OT/PT, staff nurses and supervisors are combined. OT/PT turned down. Nurses voted 95% yes. OT/PT much larger chapter.

Ponzela Johnson—Public health nurse in school setting. Registered nurses came back two weeks before designated time. Cybershift recently erased hours and won’t pay overtime. There are many different kinds of nurses. Physical and mental health issues have dramatically increased. Nurses teach students faculty and staff about various health symptoms and treatments. DOE staff nurses are expected to take photos of injuries. DOE staff nurses cannot leave building for 30 minute lunch break. Staff nurses perform public health duties but aren’t paid that rate. There is a nursing shortage and over 370 vacancies, 244 in public schools. Over 90% of nurses voted yes. Nurses want UFT to advocate and actively pursue contract they voted up overwhelmingly. Not sure what’s happening with OT/PT but we want to move forward.

Cynthia Bennet—CL staff nurses—More important for membership to voice opinions, Asks nurses to stand. They were clear on what we want.

Schoor—Members of chapters that approved contract want it.


Staff director’s reportLeRoy Barr--Middle school luncheon took place last Saturday, kids got coats, thanks VP Rich Mantel. Next EB Dec. 3, DA Dec. 12 Happy Thanksgiving.

President’s report
Michael Mulgrew--Thanks Rich Mantel. If you never participated you should. Will be elementary event. Among best things union does. Thanks parent leaders for program Saturday in central Brooklyn. Thanks borough office.

Politics start again after Thanksgiving. Who will lead Congress? One candidate so far.

State budget talks soon begin.

We have to implement contract. Will require training to make things work for us. Having voice and power means nothing unless we use it. CL 2 training will deal with this, and we will roll it out. Let’s deal with problems before they start.

We have not finalized implementation plan, but will not move without para non-suspension in place.

Thanks us and wishes us great Thanksgiving. From now through May, expect full attack on union. Enemies irate over State Senate. Are operationalizing to attack us. We drove State Senate campaigns and they don’t like us. Janus has not gone away. We need to be on the same page, moving union forward. They will run multi-million dollar campaign urging we drop out.

Wishes us great holiday.


Mike Schirtzer—Contract should have appendix, PD days would count on CTLE

Schoor—Will be side letter, not signed yet.

Evelyn de Jesus—We have a side letter but haven’t fixed it. Will try and get as many hours as possible.

—ICT structure problematic. DOE teacher Facebook page, and a lot of people find model broken. Lack of planning time, PD, support. Special ed. teachers have five preps. Gen. ed. teachers overworked. Would like UFT to organize around this, send survey out. Some schools it works, what can we learn from them?

Schoor—We’ve heard this.

VP Special Ed
—We have focus group. Gen ed. teachers not getting PD. We know there are systemic issues, with misuse by principals.

Arthur Goldstein—Along with every teacher I know, I’m very focused on fewer observations and getting them in place as soon as possible. The President spoke of this, saying that was important, but we needed to make them meaningful and productive. I wrote of that, calling it The Big Ask, suggesting that it’s a very worthy goal, but hard to implement. The prime obstacle to achieving this is vindictive and abusive supervision. People told me the UFT would never take an unequivocal stance against vindictive and abusive supervision. So I have two questions.

Where do we stand on placing fewer observations into effect ASAP, and
Would someone from leadership please stand up and take an unequivocal stance against vindictive and abusive supervision right here right now?

Schoor—harassment clause is unequivocal statement. Principals hate it.

Evelyn De Jesus
—Are meeting internally now, will bring in others. Working on that, Meeting again tomorrow. Will meet with DOE. No one thought we would get that, but we want to get it right. We are working on it. Will keep you updated. PD committees should be strong, and effective on joint training.

Schoor—joint training will be important. Supervisors and teachers will hear same thing.

Grier Hanson Velasquez—What do OT/ PTs want?

Schoor—Have had many meetings. Want parity with speech teachers. Would call for 21K increase in their pay. By our estimate about 75 million. We have pattern bargaining. Would be three quarters of one percent for every UFT member.

Tom ?—Would give us parity. Not looking for that in one contract. We get 1500 for MS. We didn’t come close. 22-27 gap of what we retire with and what others do. Glad nurses and supervisors would like to stay. Asks that they do. Was past practice and we want to continue. Gap widens with this contract.

Schoor—In 2015 OT/PT got largest raise, and in this they got 500 added to longevity. Big issue for UFT. We will move ahead. In 1995 teachers turned down contract. We had to go back and change some things.

LeRoy Barr—Thanks Tom for coming. Have been meeting a lot. Leadership met with them last Friday. Trying to figure this out. We will walk this path with you. Still committed in trying to help chapter. Met with nurses and supervisors. Unanimously wanted us to do all we could to get their portion ratified. Must request all chapters. They took a vote, and 100% said do all you can to get their yes vote ratified. Supervisors also asked for everything we could do to get their contract ratified. Bringing it to this board. We will also work with OTs and PTs. We have to be respectful of all different groups.

Tom—Thanks LeRoy and nurses.

Barr—Would like to bring motion to this body to push us forward to engage DOE to count their portion of yes vote.

Moved and seconded.

Schoor—Asks for language.

Barr—Be it resolved UFT will engage the DOE to see if we can ratify vote for individual chapters that voted to have it ratified—staff nurses and supervisors of nurses and therapists. We are in uncharted waters. OT and PT want us to honor vote. Other two chapters want something different. We have just as much obligation to them. This motion only directs us to engage and do what we can to make that happen. Asks for support.

Mike Schirtzer—We heard from Tom and nurses. Nurses want it. On the other hand, Tom said he would like chapters to remain together.

Tom—We always voted as a bloc. Should continue to tally. You’re making decision after outcome.

Ashraya Gupta—Does this set precedent where they won’t be bargaining unit?

Schoor—They will remain one unit. We will re-examine groupings going forward. This is historical precedent. They have a commonality. Problem is as they grew bigger there became inequities. One chapter 2500, one 670, another 70. They are dwarfed by OT and PT. DOE reimbursed for OT PT and bill feds for them. This vote is for this vote only.

Gupta—Rises to speak against. Worries about union negotiation together. About solidarity with all our members. OT PT, training and ed. on par with speech teachers. Anyone getting an increase will be at cost to other members. If they’re such a large group, maybe we missed something this summer when negotiating. If we narrow down how we take care of individual members we lose something as a collective. Worries about precedent.

—Employer tried to hire OT and PT in municipal system. Tops out at 70. We now top out at 98. City asks why they should increase when they already can’t get municipal OT PT.

Rashad Brown
—supports. We heard from members who wanted to move forward. Who am I, as teacher, to pass my contract and speak against them passing theirs?

Schoor—calls for vote.


Reports from districts—

Rich Mantel—Saturday 5th annual Thanksgiving event. Was great. Almost 200 kids. Rashad dressed as turkey. There were tattoos, LEGO. Debbie Poulos made jewelry. Donations were incredible. Two shopping bags full of gloves. Was money, coats, 14K donations above clothing. Will bring left over to shelters and students with high needs.

Karen Alford—Saturday December 1st, event for new members. All about wellness. Goal of morning to help with balance, stress, will be yoga, mindfulness, diet. Latter part around creativity. LEGO workshops.

Please get word out. Still collecting for toy drive. Wants to make sure kids in temp housing get toys. Please bring donations. We can pick up or you can bring to borough office or DA. There are over 100K kids in shelters. We send leftover toys to them.

Kristin LeCastro—D75 collaborated with superintendents. Thanks para chapter. We had two meet the DRs, 8th and 15th. Three more coming up.

Schoor—No one believed Egan when he said all those people would win. Did that and bounced Golden.

Paul Egan—Eagles were terrible yesterday. Chelsea didn’t play. Ireland played Northern Ireland. Terrible game.

Election in NY went well. Marty Golden lost. Was a team effort. We all did our part. NYSUT put in an awful lot of money, a lot of which came to us. Will all be for naught if we don’t repeat this in two years. Census comes and we will redraw maps. In 2020 they will redraw lines, hopefully as contiguous as possible. Lines now are bizarre. In 2020 we need Democrats in charge to draw lines fairly.

Board of Elections voting is a disgrace. People locked in until 11. 1 of 10 machines working. People ought not wait 6 hours to vote. President clear charters will come after us because they will be put out of business without GOP to protect them. We need to be ready to push them back.

Was a great day, but we must continue.

Special Order of Business—to create an election committee—

Schoor—In spring will be UFT election. Moves to approve committee.

Passes unanimously.

We are adjourned 7:02

PS--I'm told I missed a question in which Mike Schirtzer asked whether or not the contract addressed the various issues the nurses brought up, and that Schoor replied it addressed some . I catch everything I can but my fingers move only so fast. My apologies for omissions.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Now Accident Free for One Day

First of all, I'm fine. But I've been in two car accidents in two days.

Thursday morning I was stopped at a traffic light near my home when a woman in an SUV smashed into me from behind. I saw a little hole in my bumper. I was going to ignore it, but I thought better of it. I went and got a photo of her insurance card. She gave me her number and told me to call her. She said maybe she could pay outright for the damage and we wouldn't have to call her insurance.

I stopped by my local body shop but it was 6 AM and it was closed. I stopped at the mechanic across the street from where I work. He also wasn't there, but there would be someone at eight. Around two o' clock I walked over there. I paid a bill for 21.83 or something, and the guy told me that the reflector inside the bumper was loose. It couldn't be fixed without a new bumper, which would cost about $300.

I decided to blow off the UFT meeting I had that afternoon and drive to the body shop. This woman hit me so she could pay to fix it. They looked at it. They were outraged that the mechanic charged me 20 bucks to look at the car. How could anyone do that? Then they handed me an estimate for $1083 for the bumper. No charge. I called the woman who'd hit me, who didn't answer. Yesterday morning I texted her the estimate, with a note that if she didn't get back to me soon I would contact her insurance. Haven't heard back.

Yesterday afternoon I was driving home through the miserable storm and following Waze, which finds the fastest ways to cut through traffic. I was stopped at a traffic light in Lynbrook NY when a Range Rover came around the corner pretty fast, heading straight for my car. I honked for him to stop but it wasn't happening. The guy slammed into my front bumper.

I couldn't believe it. The guy pulled over. He handed me a business card and said call him tomorrow and he'd take care of it. He said I could trust him. I told him with all due respect, I'd never met him before. He said he'd never met me either. I told him I wanted to see his insurance card, and he said he wanted to see mine. So I went and got it. He was still fumbling around his papers looking for it. Evidently he didn't have one, which made trusting him even harder.

I called 911. Have you ever been placed on hold while calling 911? Well I was. They repeated a recording saying my call would be answered in the order it was received. Then they played some kind of tone for the hard of hearing. This went on for maybe twenty minutes until they transferred me to the local police. I reported the accident, and the guy who hit me advised me to pull into the nearby parking lot before I got hit again. I did.

After maybe twenty minutes, the cop came. He spent another twenty minutes interviewing us, and came back to tell me he would write it up and that I was not at fault. He also said if I wanted to work out payment with the guy rather than go through insurance, that would be fine. I went over to the guy, who was a little upset I didn't just take his card and call him the next day. It turns out I will be doing just that.

But I'm not going in to work today. I'm totally freaked out by being in two accidents in two days. I am not having it happen three days in a row. Maybe I'm superstitious.

But why take chances?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Waiting for Drunk Superman

It's kind of amazing to read that the reformies are playing down test scores as a way of assessment.I've been hearing the reformies for a good twenty years or so, and test scores were pretty much their bread and butter. I mean, why do we public school teachers suck? Of course it's because our test scores suck. Why did they close almost every comprehensive high school in New York City? Because our test scores suck. Why is there such a proliferation of charters? Because our test scores suck.

Now that charters have gotten well more than a toe in the door, they don't like all this test score stuff. I mean, you can just game the system so much, and then you get bored. How many times can charters dump 65% of their students, lose a few more, and then claim that 100% of their grads are going to college? How many times can they keep kids in their seats doing test prep until they pee their pants?

Better to just focus on stealing space from public schools. Hey, let's push into your building, trash your library, and dump all the public school kids in the basement. Let's get a bunch of funny shirts and drive every kid to Albany on buses. And just to make sure it's the worst field trip ever, let's make the kids do homework on the bus.

Here's the thing--charters have the same kids we do. Except they don't, because only proactive parents would even bother to fill out a charter application. I'd argue proactive parents can be a pivotal factor in how well students do. And hey, if those selected student's don't do well, they can put them on "got to go" lists and send them straight to Palookavile, aka public schools.

It's really challenging to understand how, with all those advantages, charters don't outscore and overtake us at every turn. But the fact is they don't. My school has none of those advantages and we do better than a whole lot of schools. Some people say that's because we have great kids, while others say it's because the ESL teachers are so smart and good looking. I can only suppose it's a combination of the two.

The reformies are right, actually, if they determine that students are not test scores. Nonetheless this is an industry that's argued it needed to exist because, you know, test scores sucked because, you know, public school teachers sucked. Being a public school teacher, I was not much amenable to that line of thought. But that's what I heard over and over. We need Moskowitz Academies because only they can save our children. Only KIPP has the secret sauce that will change our destinies. Only foul-mouthed Steve Barr from Green Dot can do this thing no one can do.

All we've learned from that is there isn't any secret sauce or magic shortcut. I don't know about you, but I hate seeing children marched about like little martinets so everyone can see how quiet and well-behaved they are. I don't give a golly gosh darn if some guy can save a minute and eighteen seconds via his ultra-efficient manner of passing out papers.

The reformies made their beds, and they ought to sleep in them, no matter what sort of creepy crawly things infest them. They raised the creepy crawly things, claim to love them, and ought to show the grit they're forever demanding from our children. They need to put their considerable money where their mouths are.

So yes, I support the removal of high stakes testing. Except for charter schools. In charter schools, in voucher schools, and in every reformy enterprise out there, they ought to count, double, triple, or more. In fact, if kids don't pass tests, charters ought to return state funding for those kids. If they toss the kids out, charters ought to return every dime that accompanied those kids. If the kids fail, charters ought to return the money for that year.

Charters promised us Superman. Superman doesn't bill the city for his services, especially when he fails spectacularly.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Put CAASS out on Its Posterior

Yesterday, period two, I had a very hard time taking attendance. We have this very new and glitzy system called CAASS, so you can take attendance on your laptop. I am almost married to my laptop, except I surely spend more time with my laptop than I do with my family. This is no more evident than when I'm in class.

The first thing I have to do with my laptop is take attendance. After that, I may check homework, and if I'm checking for completion I use another program to do that. After that, I almost always do a Keynote presentation, as vocabulary is key to what I do.

Yesterday, period one, everything was fine. If anything wasn't fine, it must have been my fault. Period two I tried to take attendance, and it would not populate. I sat and waited, while my kids waited as best they could. I'm not very patient at all, and the kids are less patient than I am. I waited more. Someone came in late. I hate when people come in late.

I waited until I could wait no more and went into doing whatever it was I had to do. In between classes I wrote to the principal that CAASS wasn't working. Period three it didn't work either. This grieved me deeply. However, I determined to go on with my life, attendance or not.

Nonetheless, a few short months ago I had these pink sheets that I could mark. Sure, it was a terrible waste of paper. We have 240 or so teachers and that's over a thousand pages of paper a day. I hear we have to store it for like a hundred years. Maybe the reason we have no space in our building is because we've got acres of paper sitting around in some crypt somewhere.

My understanding is that CAASS has a contract for scanning, but not for attendance. In this situation, though, they're still the only game in town. Now don't get me wrong, I like games as much as the next person, but when the game entails sitting around in front of a computer waiting for names to populate, it's not a whole lot of fun. This is particularly egregious when you have 34 kids in front of you.

I am going to go out on a limb and speculate that the people in CAASS don't have 34 kids in front of them while they work. However, if they did, it would me far easier for me and my colleagues to understand their rather spectacular ineptitude. I mean, it's great to have a program to enter attendance, and it's great to work with kids, but you really expect different things from kids and attendance.

For example, I have a girl at the third table who doesn't like to work. She's not a bad kid, but the whole work thing simply does not resonate with her. So I'll quietly remind her. I'll look over her shoulder. I'll ask how she's doing. I'll make a nuisance of myself. (That's one of the things I do best.)

I have very different expectations of computer programs. For example, when I get on this blogging platform I expect it to take what input I offer, record it, and publish when I press the appropriate icon. It does that, and that's why I continue to use it.

On the other hand, CAASS more resembles a recalcitrant high school student. I mean, sometimes it works. When it works it's fine, pretty much. I'd probably give it a B. But it isn't at all consistent. So here's the thing--I haven't got an option for days when I don't feel like taking attendance, so I take it pretty much every day.

Except I can't. CAASS presented itself to my principal as a done deal, from everything I've heard. Because of all the issues they failed to notify us about, they updated the system, and they improved it. Except when it freezes and doesn't work at all. And who knows when that's gonna happen?

Not me. Will it work today? No one knows.

I'm pretty sure, though, that if my supervisor walked in and I was doing what CAASS did yesterday, which was absolutely nothing, I'd be rated ineffective. If that happened enough times, I'd be out on my keester.

I'm not at all sure why CAASS deserves to be held to a higher standard, especially when their ineffectiveness is not even debatable.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Great Uncoupling

We have a Blue Senate in NY State, for real this time. Most of the IDC, the fake Democrats, have been toppled and are yesterday's news. I'm particularly happy to see the back of Tony Avella, who presented himself as a bold progressive and sold out to caucus with the Republicans. I worked with UFT to get him elected and he stabbed us in the back. Not only that, but after losing the Democratic nomination he ran as an independent, heedless of the risk a Republican would take the seat. I hope he has to get a real job now, but I suppose the people to whom he sold out have something for him somewhere.

I'm most excited about the possibility we can enable universal health care in our state. The Assembly has passed it four years in a row, and we'll see whether the new Senate follows suit. Not a lot of people know that this was how Canada got universal health care--system by system, province by province. Perhaps our unions and employers could be in charge of supplemental coverage rather than basic coverage. For example, my brother-in-law in Quebec gets free prescriptions and free medical insurance when he travels outside his province as benefits from his union.

What UFT will talk about, and what is much more certain, is a law releasing us from being rated on the basis of test scores. There is a soon to expire moratorium affecting English and math tests, but that doesn't affect high school teachers. I guess the state agreed that those tests were crap but wasn't ready to acknowledge that others were as well.

Actually I'm unfamiliar with a whole lot of state tests, so it's possible some are not crap. I know that the one I'm rated on, the NYSESLAT, is total crap. Right now it's so easy that students who can barely utter sentences in English test out of ESL. For me and my colleagues, that hasn't hurt. We look like geniuses. But we can't depend on that. Right now the Regents need to prove that their system of providing little or no direct English instruction is helping English Language Learners. That's why the test is so easy and meaningless. But that could change.

In fact, we have years of history to suggest change is inevitable. A decade or so ago, it was important to establish that Michael Bloomberg's reforminess was successful. After all, the man had bought Gracie Mansion fair and square, and went so far as to buy a change in the law voters had twice affirmed so he could do so a third time. So naturally, the tests had to be dumbed down to emphasize his educational genius. After all, how could anyone with all that money be wrong?

I distinctly recall Diane Ravitch comparing the NY State tests to the NAEP exams, and saying the tests were definitely rigged. She was written off as a crank, because again, how could Bloomberg be wrong if he had all that money? A year later, the press came around and it was a revelation. They were shocked, shocked, that the test results were not valid.

Then came Common Core, and it was time to get tough and show everyone how stupid we really were. Reformy John King announced that a very low percentage of students were prepared, and waddya know? That very same percentage flunked the test. Now it's pretty well established that when students do well, it's because Michael Bloomberg is a genius, and when they do badly, it's because teachers suck and parents are irresponsible, what with all their opting out and insisting on a voice in how their children are educated.

The only real constant here is that the tests are rigged. And while it's nice that the NYSESLAT makes my colleagues and me look good, there's a very high probability the Regents could rig the test some other way. Then we would look bad and get terrible ratings. So I support the movement to uncouple tests from teacher ratings. Sometimes, believe it or not, it is the students themselves who determine whether or not they pass tests. I have firsthand knowledge of this. The first time I studied geometry, or perhaps the second, I spent the entire semester looking at the girl who sat to my right, while the teacher blathered on about triangles. For all I know, she was the best teacher in the world, but I didn't care about triangles then and I don't much care about them now either.

Some people say that this isn't enough, and that we should junk the entire evaluation law. Those people are right. The law is grounded in a determination to fire teachers, and Andrew Cuomo has said so ad infinitum. In fact he famously called it "baloney" when too few teachers for his taste were rated ineffective. Cuomo justified this by citing the test scores.

So it's a good step to uncouple test scores from teacher ratings. It's not as good as junking the entire system. But at least we're moving in the right direction.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Big Ask

At the DA last week, Mulgrew spoke to the evaluation process. He said that it wasn't enough to get fewer observations, and that we had to improve what happens. He's said that both UFT and DOE agree that the current process is meaningless. The UFT position is we somehow have to find a constructive process.

Even as he says that, the DOE resists placing two observations in place now because they've planned out APPR to work the way it works now. It's evidently too much trouble for them to change the number. They're all set to do it this way, so how could they possibly do it any other way? That's precisely the sort of attitude that makes meaningful evaluation such a remote ideal.

And if that isn't enough, the city is rife with terrible administrators. I don't know how many times I've written that people who need to escape the classroom are the worst teachers, and consequently the worst administrators. In my school, none of the administrators teach anymore. They're too busy doing Important Stuff. The fact that they don't consider teaching to be Important Stuff speaks volumes about priorities.

Admittedly, one of the reasons so few of them teach nowadays is the insane evaluation system. My AP supervises 42 teachers. Let's say some are rated highly effective and take three. That still means 150 observations, 150 written reports, and 150 meetings with teachers to discuss them. That's not to mention 42 initial meetings, or any non-evaluative observations she may see fit to do.

Let's say you have another type of administrator, the kind that doesn't bother with non-evaluative observations, because why bother helping anyone? There are quite a few of those floating around. Let's say your administrator is super pissed off about having to do the required amount of observations, because why did he bother getting out of the classroom at 30 if he had to do All This Work?

Let's say you work for one of the scores of administrators I see profiled in the tabloids, who show up late, don't show up at all, falsify observations, have sex with other APs on their desks, and give interminable lectures on the perfidy of teachers at the drop of a hat. Let's say your administrator writes up things that didn't actually happen during your observation because the voices in his head contradicted what was happening right in front of his face. Or perhaps he overindulged the alcohol the previous evening, couldn't focus during the lesson, and just made stuff up. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of administrators?

I've been fortunate to largely have supervisors who are Not Insane, even though I've mostly taught in trailers and glorified closets. A great many of my brothers and sisters have had terrible, outrageous supervision. To make evaluation meaningful, I'm supposing someone would have to outfit Boy Wonder supervisors with souls, not precisely an easy task.

Another possibility would be to hire competent supervisors. There are some of them around. Every good supervisor I've seen or known has been a longtime teacher. People who teach for two years and then leave the classroom are unlikely to know what's going on with career teachers, let alone have the capacity to offer worthwhile advice. Nonetheless, Bloomberg's Leadership Academy made a career out of spitting out instant supervisors. They did this very much like Dunkin Donuts pushes out chocolate glazed, except Leadership Academy made absolutely sure every one of their supervisors tasted like crap.

It's a lofty and worthwhile goal to instill trust and a helpful atmosphere between administration and teachers. It's also a gargantuan task. I'm glad I'm not in charge.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Thank You Regents, for Tying My Hands and Hurting My Kids

The geniuses in Albany have their think tanks. One of the big ideas they've been brandishing has been that the only reason we teach standalone English is to prep students for so-called core classes. I guess they are social studies, math, and science, or ELA, you know, but not English language. That's why, in Regents world, we just take newcomers and make them read To Kill a Mockingbird. Because who has time for beginner stuff anyway?

In case that's not clear enough for you, imagine stepping off a plane in China and being told you were going to read The Great Chinese Novel. You know, that's The Great American Novel, but the Chinese version. That's challenging, because it won't be To Kill a Mockingbird. And here's the thing--even if it were, how the hell would you read it in Chinese? And even if you read it in English, how would you discuss it in class? How would you even know what the teacher was talking about?

In NY State, high school newcomers get one year of 40-minute classes in English. After that, they don't have to get anything. They just plop them in chairs, sit an ESL teacher in the back, and newcomers study math, biology, history, and whatever else the school sees fit to give them. Maybe the ESL teacher will sit in the back for one of those, and that's good enough for the geniuses in Albany.

Here's what they will tell you--they will tell you the system is a success because more students are passing the NYSESLAT, which supposedly places students by their ability. I didn't really grasp the absurdity of that assertion until this year. For most of the last ten years I've taught beginners. I noticed last year that the beginners seemed consistently lower, and that there were fewer of them. This year there were so few of them that we have only one class, so I'm also teaching an advanced class.

I'm teaching a novel in my advanced class. That's what I used to do when I taught advanced classes in the past. Things are different now. It's become clear to me that I have students who can't handle it, and some of them have tested fit for native-level English. Not only that, but I'm reading college entrance letters from them and they are abysmal. These students, who have tested out of ESL, do not know fundamental English grammar or usage. They cannot use simple present or past tense properly. They don't know how to link verbs. They most certainly don't know how to identify or tell an interesting story, but I can't get near that until I get them to write comprehensibly.

That's fine and dandy with the Regents, who sit around their offices and dream up rules for everyone else to follow. The really good thing about it is that even if they fail abysmally, all they need to do is change a cut score here or there and they're geniuses. They've managed to make everyone test out of ESL even if they barely know any English at all! No one's ever been able to do that before!

As for us, the lowly teachers on the ground, we have to give the tests we're given, and if we don't like it, too bad for us. Now here's the thing--though we may appear as geniuses for making them advance on the largely meaningless NYSESLAT exam, we still have to get them to pass the Regents ELA exam. If we have enough of them taking that exam, it's mandatory we be rated on that.

I haven't actually examined the English Regents exam in ten years. I've had my hands full teaching beginners. It's funny, because what the kids in my advanced classes desperately need is what I teach in my beginning classes. I'm not at all sure I'll have the time, though, because I'll be busy teaching them how to pass the ELA Regents exam.

Now anyone who's studied language acquisition will tell you that newcomers have language needs that are totally distinct from those of native speakers. We would tell you that newcomers ought to be taught differently, and eased into academics. We would tell you that comprehensible input is key to all progress or lack thereof. Fortunately, the Regents don't know jack squat about language acquisition, so they're unencumbered by any such quaint notions.

Me. I'll be prepping these kids to pass a test. I could be teaching them English instead. In the long run, that would be much more meaningful to me, and much more valuable to them, It's what I love to do, and it's what I do best. But hey, they can't graduate if they don't pass this test, and my junk science rating will plummet if they don't do well on this test.

As for those college essays, I'll help clean them up as best I can. My priority, though, will have to be getting them ready for that Regents exam. College can wait, and it probably will. My kids will need to take remedial courses, courses I could teach them for free, and it will cost them thousands of dollars to take them for no credit in community colleges.

What utter nonsense.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

UFT Delegate Assembly November 7, 2018 Puppies and Politics

4:27 Michael Mulgrew calls for moment of silence for victims of recent atrocities.

Mulgrew--We were trying to accomplish two things on election day—work with retirees, get check and balance to block Betsy De Vos. Then was NY State Senate—both done.

Tries not to watch too much TV or social media. Jeff Sessions resigned today—we know it wasn’t planned because President wanted to change media cycle. Will be non-stop rollercoaster in news, we need plans and strategies. We now have the Congress of the US, which is a big deal strategically and a lot of hard work. NY flipped 3, as did NJ.

Florida is tough. We have to keep working on it. Our AFT colleagues work hard but need our help. Only line of offense cannot be retiree chapter. Very important and pivotal state. UFT retirees can’t do all the work.

Today would be very different without Congress. Would be charters and vouchers. Flipped 17 governors including 2 of the worst. Kim Kolhass in tears at 3 AM when Walker lost. Her coalition pushed him out.

Every referendum for funding last night passed. Anti public school referendum in Arizona went down in flames. Nationally, we still have work to do, for pro public school, pro worker agenda. Afterward we will deal with other policies.

In NY State will be 39 Dems 23 GOP, better than expected. Lots of hard work. Reason is COPE dollars and many volunteers. LI and Hudson Valley we have major numbers. We are coordinating with local teachers and NYSUT. Seeing major impact.

NYT asked what this means for charters. I said what do you think? They gave millions every cycle to GOP, we didn’t want them to be our enemies but we have no choice.

Teacher evaluation—last year bill passed in Assembly. GOP held it hostage for 100 charters in NYC and increased funding. Assembly said no, as did we. All of these things are now in play, as well as progressive agenda for NY State.

In this election we wanted to move a progressive agenda, and NY State sent that message last night. Everyone said they would do it but we led the way. Thanks all who helped.

Though one person hasn’t conceded, that’s the cherry on top. To Brooklyn, they all said UFT was only trying to make GOP spend money, but couldn’t win. We never believed that. We understood because Golden wouldn’t support evaluation bill, or speed cameras, and supported charters and vouchers, we went to tenant association. He wasn’t nice to them either. Together we took him out. Will not have that seat anymore. Thanks Ellen Driesen.

Lots of teachers absent today, were up till midnight in Brooklyn. We did it together. Much better than two years ago. This place was in bad shape. We took it one step at a time. First issue was major ed. cut from feds. We stopped that. We protected NY State. We solidified NY State as pro worker pro public ed. Good work last two years, but we still have work to do. We didn’t panic.

In the end we focused as a union, that’s how we make a difference in society. We did that as we faced Constitutional Convention, Janus, we passed paid parental leave and an early contract.

87% of members voted to ratify. Thanks those who held elections in schools and sent 90,000 votes in. Blessing because contract is early. We have time to prepare to implement. We usually don’t get this. Will try to take advantage.

Speaking to chancellor, will form three committees.

Eval—not just about number two. There is a lot. Negotiating position is eval. is useless or punitive. DOE agreed it was busy work and not meaningful. If we want it meaningful, we need to take responsibility. Some members like it meaningless. We have to own it to make it meaningful. Imagine how many more teachers we could keep, who would prosper, if it were meaningful.

We have cycles. Will be two a year, September to January. Would like cycle two on February 1st. We will have to have training for that. Imagine one day, you’re in auditorium, admin is sitting with you, discussing true purpose of eval, and what process would make it meaningful. How can we be more effective, how can they better help people?

10 hands agree in hall of hundreds.

Can you imagine principal sitting through this? DOE has tech issues. Their system is a dinosaur. First we need to work out other parts.

Bronx plan
—not just Bronx. We will begin work on it. We are looking for high collaboration indexes, staff feels it’s good school but faces challenges. Schools don’t do this unless UFT agrees. Chancellor agrees, doesn’t want to waste time. Wants schools that will work in teams and make a difference. High collaboration numbers, 3x more likely to effect student achievement.

Operational—Everyone has to get right in schools. This is the tool you need. CLs need to make sure this is working to fix whatever big issues are going wrong.

Teacher Union Day—1500 attendees, award winners, thanks all.

Asks who is at second DA. Thanks new attendees.

Karen Alford—would like to make motion. As owner of new puppy, moves we be allowed to bring puppies to DA as comfort dogs. As many of us take MTA, we have stressful commutes. If we drive we have parking. By this time we are stressed out. With puppies, anxiety levels would go down.

Point of order—You’re taking motions during President’s report?

Mulgrew—We are just demonstrating. Karen doesn’t actually have a puppy. If chair recognizes, you give name and support.

Janella Hinds—wants to amend. Would like us to bring puppies and kittens. Important for those of us who love cats. Asks for support.

Richard Mantel
—Calls question.

Mulgrew—should call all questions before house, because that was just the amendment. Some people don’t get to speak. Would ask if someone wants to speak against or for. I get emails. We didn’t debate enough. You’re a tyrant. Body decides.

Asks in favor.

Body rejects cats.

Mulgrew—-can see headline—UFT hates cats.

Body rejects dogs too. Your correspondent is shocked.

Mulgrew—I get complaints debate is too short and too long. This is what UFT debate is like. Hope you come back. Did not see puppies and kittens going down.

Asks delegates to sign up for text messages.

Jonathan Halab
i wants to see Rachel. Is she real? Mulgrew says she’s upstairs texting.

Mulgrew—UFT is there for children, and we are doing a drive for a thanksgiving celebration to give winter coats. We are taking money and new winter apparel.

Richard Mantel—We will pick them up from you at borough offices. We have 200 students in temporary housing, we give them meals, activities, and clothes that fit. We deliver leftovers to shelters. Kids are very appreciative.

Janella Hinds—World AIDS Day Dec. 1st, we have a poster contest. HS students can create artwork. Please get it back to us by November 15. We also are collecting for WIN, Women in Need. We support HS students too. Give them time away from shelter. On way out, please whatever you can donate.

Mulgrew—If you will volunteer, please do. Coalition for homeless has much work.

Karen Alford—Wants to coordinate holiday party for 200 children, please collect toys for them for December DA. They get to see Santa, be kids, have fun. We also give to shelters.

Mulgrew—Super Saturday, December 1st, for new teacher program. Day of wellness. How are new teachers doing so far? (I hear multiple vulgarities.) We’ve all been through it. Nice to have a day like this. Please get new teachers here. It’s getting to be that time.

Last, holds up poster on history of UFT. Asks to bring back to schools. Let DR know if you need them. While colleagues are losing, we continue to gain. These are things that improve education. Today is an historic day. November 7 is 58th anniversary of first UFT strike. That was because we wanted to become first teacher union to have collective bargaining.

Now some people are having it taken away. Asks founders to stand. Much applause.

LeRoy Barr—Wishes happy anniversary. Celebrating 100% attendance for delegates. 2019 HS Awards, 5th year, Friday April 12. Nominations due by Dec. 14. Next DA Dec. 12.


Q—New contract, has retaliation language—what should we be doing if we have that happening to prove that?

A—First, don’t file case until right is active. Grievance Dept. will make guidelines, will work with DOE. Some are 30 days after ratification—we want this there. Document it now, but don’t file until we have right.
Q—Mentioned we only had one snow day, Why so few?

A—Where holidays fall—contract says we report Tuesday after Labor Day, and school ends June 28. We love diversity, recognize it, so slowly we added more holidays. Now we have complete agreement that we cannot add any more holidays, unless we come earlier or work less. I want St. Patrick’s Day, but it is what it is. There is model where we have no snow days, once every seven years. Anyone want to give up a holiday? City always asks us to give up February break. I say no, and what’s it worth? We paid for that years ago, and that’s the end of it.

Q—Last week was violent altercation, colleague tried to help. What is role of CL in incidents?

A—First, were all safety plan procedures followed? CL can’t do job alone. We have safety liaisons. We’ve gotten along with DOE on safety. You break up fights to stop students from being harmed. Someone needs to know rules. Many times rules not followed.

Jeff Povalitus—You need to report incidents to union. OORS system not transparent. We don’t get that. We have our own mechanism at Someone will follow up.

Q—Follow up on OORs—you said CLs would have access. Can you elaborate?

A—Will be available, perhaps with redactions. 48 hours before safety meeting, you will get copy of OORS info so you can prepare.

Q—Parking permits—some of them will soon expire.

A—Get info to Howard Schoor.

Q—Can instructional coaches meet with staff?

A—Depends. You have your preps. Protect the prep. It’s yours. Professional periods, school may have SBO, talk to district rep.


LeRoy Barr—for this month. Asks if you have copy. Res to support racial and economic justice, support various groups that support social justice. (Reads too fast for me)


Res. UFT stands with OT PT chapter and supports their struggle for fair contract


OT PT chapter member—motion for next month—Moves UFT emails members they stand with OT PT chapter against anti union forces. Our chapter members don’t have similar salary to teachers, city said no to all demands. Want to stay strong.


Res 1 Janella Hinds—Motivates condemnation of Kavanaugh hearing—Hard to say Me Too for shame and ridicule, Dr. Ford passed through all of that fear and recalled sexual assault at 15. Nominee responded with partisan anger, prez ridiculed her. As K-12 educators we can contribute toward positive atmosphere. We must create respectful and safe environment. Need it from politicians too. Asks for support.

Antonio Jacobs
—point of information—looking at resolution wants to know if there was collaboration with office of equity and access.

Mulgrew—Yes there has.


Mel Aaronson—I was involved in the strike. Michael talked about it so I will not repeat what he said. Teachers had no right to go to employer and ask for improvements. We wanted to have rights similar to other unions. We wanted to have discussion—collective bargaining. We had a new organization. UFT was only a few months old. We were led by first president of UFT, Charles Cogen. We all have to thank him. They told him no. He came to members and said this is so important that we should strike for it. Thousands of members agreed. We went out on strike November 7th.

Discussions went on, and at end of second day, recommendation was—we have agreement for collective bargaining if teachers of NYC vote for it. Was accepted by members. Thousands risked their jobs. Less than a week ago, we agreed to contract which included many of our demands. Please recognize first strike and its heroes, leadership and membership.

Barbara Silverman
—Feels connected. Was HS senior. Dr. Gold stayed at door speaking to colleague. Said she can’t strike on Monday. I’m going on strike. Wife is going out. Do not know if I will have a job on Monday. Said he apologized. Should not have said that, and you cannot tell anyone. You have to come. We have to be missed.

Monday when I showed up I watched teachers walk around. It was snowing. They were out there and back on Wednesday. Felt I was part of it. 5 years later I became a UFT member.

OT/ PT chapter member—Rises in support. Our collective bargaining group voted no. While our brothers and sisters will reap benefits, we will not. I sympathize with colleagues who said no, but it was city who said no, just as they did to Charlie. Urges you support resolution and us.

Dave Pecoraro—calls question

Passes unanimously

Rich Mantel
—Marriott largest owner and operator of hotels in world. Pays many workers garbage. In 7 cities on strike because pay, benefits lousy, and eliminating jobs. We need to support them. My sister works for them and is paid crap. We need to support this resolution and these workers. Please vote in favor.

Dave Pecoraro—Adds resolved—Urge fellow unionists in professional sports not to cross picket line. Yankees crossed picket line in Boston and deserved everything they got.


Resolution as amended passes

Mulgrew—Not going to get all res. done.

Motion to extend for 15 minutes—


Mulgrew thanks us for donation $3500.

Raffle 5:58 

Monday, November 05, 2018

UFT Executive Board November 5, 2018--He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken Not Responsible for Toxic Hate

6 PM—Secretary Howard Schoor welcomes us.


President coming, not here.

Staff director coming, not here.

Reports from districts

Rashad Brown—November 7 after DA—happy hour with pride committee at Suspenders around corner

Tom Murphy—RTC—NY—Active calling for Tish James, working on NJ congressional districts. hoping to flip three districts, hopeful for Menendez. Phone banking, bus trips for canvassing, In FL, for governor and Senate candidates. Active for Stacy Abrams in GA. Luncheon Nov. 20.

Serbia Silva—Were three tragedies in one school, but staff is appreciative of union support.

LeRoy Barr—Thanks for turnout, 1400 at Teacher Union Day. Congratulations to honorees, don’t forget to vote yes on prop 1. DA on November 7th, actual strike day, hoping to commemorate it, celebrating 100% attendance, Next EB November 19.

Michael Mulgrew—Thanks everyone for Teacher Union Day, award winners, thanks staff. Tomorrow is huge day. Working hard all over, Lots of phone banking. Don’t take it for granted. Thousands of colleagues working in two different states. This is a great thing we can do, due to dedication of retirees. Amazing what they’ve been doing. Will see what happens tomorrow, looking at Congress Senate and NY Senate.

NYSUT working with us. Keeping the eye on the prize and being as strategic as possible. Not all about President, all about us getting our work done. Making sure we can get out vote. We need to focus on work now. Many of these will come down to small number of votes. Our hard work can turn NY Senate seats.

Contract ratified by 87%. Count finished Sunday morning. Got all ballots counted. Meeting tomorrow with chancellor. Trying to finalize timeline. Operational things about collaborative workplace. Retaliation and harassment language, Bronx plan chancellor wants.

More to evaluation than just number 2. Goal is to try and come up with agreement to change culture of school system around evaluation. Will require planning and training. No final agreement, but will meet tomorrow. Hopes to have news at DA. Thanks everyone, let’s keep fingers crossed and have good night tomorrow.


Arthur Goldstein—I think I’m speaking for tens of thousands of teachers here. We’ve just passed a contract for teachers that features fewer observations. I believe the large margin of victory has a lot to do with that.

I also recall hearing that a few of the DOE’s favorite parts of this contract will be placed into effect before next year. Cooperation is a two way street.

Since the DOE agrees fewer observations are necessary, and since we also agree that fewer observations are necessary, we should enact fewer observations immediately. It’s early November, and there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Can we work toward this? If you need help I volunteer.

Schoor—We’ll put you in charge of that committee.

Goldstein--Thank you Howard. Let me write that down.

Jonathan Halabi—I hope anti harassment is up for early enactment. My school is in leased site, like several others. We have a standard operating procedure issue—principal cannot discard things. We have broken things everywhere. It can’t just be us. What’s the resource for the union.

Schoor—We will contact DOE on your behalf.

Serbia Silva—Health and Safety facility—there is dropbox for principal in portal to request dumpster.

Halabi—Can we get divisional turnout contract numbers?

Schoor—We will, last election was 77%, this is up. Norm was with us on Friday.

Norm Scott—Great lunch

Schoor—We waited, but they didn’t start counting until Saturday. Happy we stayed and counted all ballots. Same amount of votes but higher yes vote by 10%.

—Would like to hear about how we support OT and PT.

Schoor—We will work with them and meet with each chapter. Optimistic about turning it around. That is strength of union that individual chapters vote. May be a risk but gives voice to chapters. We surveyed functional chapters and met with them. Met with DOE and them on several conditions. Got what we could, were no givebacks. Approval numbers showed this.

Kate Martin—Are we setting something up to make sure paras aren’t being suspended without pay? With some shady things that happen, will we keep track of any sudden spikes in that or retaliatory pieces that may occur?

Ellen Procida—We’re well aware of possibilities. Have been in discussions to prevent and monitor them.

Schoor—Answer is yes, and we are also watching those out on suspension.

Martin—Should we give CLs a heads up?

Schoor—We can do that. 

Legislative report—Paul Egan
—Eagles neither won nor lost, but Washington did. More importantly Chelsea won.

There are also politics going on. Please get out and vote. People have won by very small margins. Your vote matters. Get everyone out, all your family members and kids. Things are looking good. Anna Kaplan in Nassau will be close, but if absentee ballots are indicative, she will do well. Will be close. James Goren looking good. But don’t sit at home. Anything can change if you don’t show up. In 22nd it will rain. If young people turn out, 8,000 new voters, Golden will lose. if we win this, it’s all over for GOP. Brooks is necessary hold, in tight race but may squeak it out. If all goes right, could be four pickups. Could be five. Opportunities elsewhere.

Resolution to support striking Marriott workers—

Janella Hinds—Supports. Many of us have spent time in hotels. None of the work can happen without those who assure space is clean, safe, food served. Marriott refuses to bargain in good faith with 7,000 workers. Important we stand together.

Tom Murphy—Spoke with head of hotel workers, said he would rather have us in than out—How would it affect us in Brooklyn?

Hinds—No one on strike in NY.

Passes unanimously

Resolution to unite with orgs against toxic political atmosphere

Anthony Harmon—Some people are guilty but all of us are responsible We need to stand in solidarity with orgs speaking out. Please support as is.

Jonathan Halabi—Glad it came forward. Offers amendment.

UFT stands…against toxic political atmosphere—substitute hate speech including provocative rhetoric of President Trump which has contributed to the toxic political atmosphere…

—We have responsibility to stand against this but also to name those responsible, including hate monger in chief. We know where it comes from.

Stuart Kaplan—I understand where you’re coming from, but rising against it. Not first time these things have happened. Happened before and after Trump. Don’’t want to give him the attention. Want to educate one another this talk is unacceptable. Don’t want to say he’s the cause of it. He’s not. People have spread this talk before.

Question called.

Vote on Amendment


Main motion


We are adjourned 6:45