Friday, June 28, 2019

Summer Starts Now...

...says a commercial I'm watching.

I'm starting it by going to Queens UFT to file grievances. It turns out that, as chapter leader, your magical access to the online grievance form disappears the day after school stops. Like everyone, of course, I love the smell of fresh grievances in the morning.

I'm gonna take advantage of my trip to Queens by visiting my dentist. She's got me on a teeth-whitening regimen. A month ago, I won an award from UFT. Part of this entailed seeing myself talk on a very large screen. I have no idea what I was talking about, because I couldn't stop looking at my teeth. They had reached Keith Richard levels. I understand that Keith can maintain himself looking like he does, but who can afford the kind of drugs he must be taking on a teacher salary?

I'm now aiming to have teeth as white as my dog Toby. This is a tall order, but I'm getting closer.

I stayed up to watch the Democratic debate last night. I thought Kamala Harris made Joe Biden look ridiculous. It was pathetic to watch him invoke the name Obama to somehow rationalize the idiotic remarks he'd made about his buddies, the segregationists. She also cornered him into saying he opposed this kind of busing, as opposed to that kind of busing. I would love to see Donald Trump try to debate her.

My long-term fave, Bernie Sanders, failed to lay a glove on Biden for most of the night. This is his style, his MO, and it looked good when he was running against Hillary Clinton. When there are 200 others on the stage, he needs to take another approach. His closing lines were the best of the evening, when he said if you didn't push for change, you'd get the same thing. I see that as either Democrats who do nothing to advance the will of the people, or more Trump.

That's unacceptable.

But Bernie failed to win the evening. It's ironic that his power is felt all over the stage, as every single candidate is discussing his priorities--universal health care, climate change, and free college. I am not impressed by Mayor Pete, who channeled Hillary Clinton by saying we couldn't have free college because rich people might use it. First, as long as Harvard and Yale are around, GW Bush's kids aren't going to Queens College. Second, we don't exclude rich people from public schools, They exclude themselves, which is terrible. Countries where everyone goes to public schools have better results than we do.

Kamala looks unstoppable. If she doesn't get the nomination, it's hard to imagine anyone overlooking her for VP. If Biden stumbles through and wins the nomination, he will desperately need her. America desperately needs to wake up and see he is not the guy. He isn't Obama. Even if he were, Obama was so awful on education that I couldn't vote for him the second time around.

I'd vote for Biden against Trump, but I'd vote for my dog against Trump. In fact, the only Democrat I wouldn't vote for against Trump, so far, is Cory Booker, who is Betsy DeVos with a tie. Hickenlooper looks and speaks like Mr. Burns from The Simpsons, but I can't see him gaining traction.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

To All My UFT Brothers and Sisters:


1. Listen carefully to video.
2. Sing this song everywhere you go, no matter what you are doing, each and every moment of each and every day for the next two months.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

I'm Not Cranky. I'm Simply Outraged

Prominent charter advocate James Merriman surprised me by tweeting my Daily News piece. I can't argue when he calls me a veteran, as I've got almost 35 years in. He also called me "cranky."

He's got me thinking about what it means to be cranky. I can't dispute that on the surface, but I may use that adjective differently than he does.

The first day I taught was one of the worst days of my life. I got the job via a subway ad and had absolutely no preparation. I decided I would be nice to the kids, which almost no high school teacher had been to me. It was a terrible mistake and the kids walked all over me. Not literally, but they might have if they'd had half a chance.

I'm happy to say that, over the years, I've found better ways to be nice to kids, ways to do so without rendering my classroom into a place of absolute chaos. However, back in 1984 I could not have envisioned a way to achieve that.

In my very first lunch period, I went down to the cafeteria. Back then all schools had teacher cafeterias. (Michael Bloomberg later decided comfort and convenience were things teachers didn't need unless they turned a profit for the city. Ours survived, but we're the exception that proves the rule.) I met a table full of guys who looked to me like cranky veteran teachers, and they had advice for me.

"You're new, right? Get out while you still can!"

"The kids here are the worst."

"Go to Long Island."

"It's a waste of time with these kids."

"There's no future for you here, kid, You'll get eaten alive."

"Get out before you're stuck like we are."

Wow. Tough crowd.  

They were cranky. It was interesting, to say the least, to see how cynical they were about their own careers. It actually would have made a great deal of sense for me to have listened to them. I was having a day like I'd never had before. I'd accepted false notes from students, one of them knocked a briefcase full of papers onto the floor, and my classes were totally out of control. If you ever want to know stress, stand in front of 30 teenagers who you're ostensibly in charge of, and watch them do any goshdarn thing they feel like.

In fact, during the first few weeks of my teaching job, I was weighing an offer from a friend of mine to drive a truck for Federal Express. It paid marginally more than teaching did, then at least, and it certainly seemed simpler. You drive packages places, you drop them off, and then you go home. At Lehman High School I was struggling just to get by. We were required to write capsule lesson plans for the entire week, in advance. It was excruciating, as I had four preps, which they later adjusted to five preps.

This notwithstanding, my reaction to these teachers was not what they were hoping for. I decided that day, that moment, that I never, ever wanted to be like them. I never wanted to be bitter and cynical about my job. And despite the fact that I've been complaining on this forum and elsewhere for over 14 years, you won't see me say I hate the job, or the kids. I love the job, even though it's impossible, and I love the kids, even if they're crazy. I simply strive to be crazier than they are, and usually I am.

That said, there are an awful lot of things that outrage me. I have no patience for bureaucrats who waste my time with idiotic and baseless mandates. I'm tired of wasting my time with DOE lawyers who can't be bothered reading the contract they're interpreting. I'm particularly upset with state officials who think that English Language Learners will acquire the language via magical realism, or whatever it is they call the nonsense embodied in CR Part 154.


I think this is the best job there is, despite all the political nonsense swirling around it. I'm totally freaked out by young teachers who walk around sarcastically declaring, "I'm living the dream," or reply, "I'm here," when I ask how they are. There's a joy in this job. It's our job to find it and share it. It's my job to show students the joy in English, to put their hands and hearts around it, and somehow make them carry it with them. My job would be a lot easier without idiotic mandates from Albany, but there's always a way.

That said, there's always something to be outraged about. Merriman and I may not agree on exactly what constitutes an outrage, or much else, but I'm sure we both see that.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Blogger's Day Off...

...but check out my piece on the chancellor's new discipline initiative in the NY Daily News.

Monday, June 24, 2019

At PS 333--No Health Care for You!

Yesterday I wrote about the revolving door of second grade teachers at PS 333. I mentioned a much-loved teacher who started out the year without being completely certified. I was under the impression that this was why he left.

Yesterday I got an email forwarded to me that had a little more information. Evidently the young teacher got his certification within the first few months, only to learn that there was a hiring freeze.

It's hard for me to understand exactly why you'd apply a hiring freeze to teachers already in place, particularly those assigned to a group of impressionable seven-year-olds. It's even harder to understand why a determined or resourceful principal couldn't find a way around it. Of course, I'm not one of the great minds who sit around Tweed and do Whatever It Is They Do There. I'm just a lowly teacher, so to me that makes no sense at all. If I were a principal, and I had a teacher kids and parents loved, I'd fight tooth and nail for an exception. I'd get this teacher a full-time job whatever it took.

Another approach would be to just tell the teacher to suck it up, and keep working without health benefits. After all, who needs them? What's the big deal if you get sick and have to go to the ER? Who cares if a day there costs you $10,000? That's only about sixty days work as a sub, before taxes. Maybe after taxes it's half your annual salary. So what? There's always the other half. You can use that to, you know, eat, live, or whatever it is you do when you aren't teaching.

Actually I was extremely surprised to read the principal of PS 333 told this young teacher to "figure it out," as opposed to working to help him. There are ways administrators can help teachers, if they're so inclined. Isn't that why they pay them? There's a young Spanish teacher in my department who came in as a per-diem sub. My AP helped him find a program to help, supported him and he's now drawing a salary. He doesn't have to go back to his country if he needs to see a doctor. Without health insurance, that might be his only option.

I don't know if the second grade teacher at PS 333 had a country to go back to. A lot of us were born here, and this is the only country we have. The number one cause of bankruptcy in this country is catastrophic medical emergency. You really don't want to have one of those when you live here, especially if you don't have insurance. You may be a great teacher, and you may love your students to pieces. Still, you may not be the very best role model if you decide taking care of your health, medical, financial, and otherwise, is not a priority.

The young teacher found himself a full-time job elsewhere and took it. He was, in fact, very sad about leaving the class. The principal, rather than fight for him, decided to blame him. She berated him and called him a coward. In PS 333, it's disgraceful if you're concerned with paying your rent. Why not get a job at a stable shoveling horse manure in the morning and work nights over at Dunkin Donuts so as to help out a principal who hasn't helped you?

I don't know what consequences there are for principals, but I've seen teachers in trouble for far less. Why not give this principal a promotion, DOE? Admit no guilt. Send her where Ben Sherman and Monika Garg are, to help Ben and Monica do whatever Ben and Monika are doing. At least they won't be in contact with teachers and students.

You will be hearing more about this school. These stories are the tip of the iceberg.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Second Graders Victims of Musical Chairs at PS 333

I've been hearing from multiple parents from PS 333, which has a zany madcap principal who has priorities that elude everyone but the superintendent. Reasons for said support elude me utterly. The staff overwhelmingly voted no confidence in this principal.

Here's a comment that showed up just this morning:

One day, in 2016, I was sub teaching at this school. I did not even know WHO this principal was. The jr high (8th gr) classroom I was assigned to, was so out-of-control I tried turning the lights off (a trick to get the students' attention when all else fails). The principal walked in and talked to me loudly in a most degrading tone . . . like I was nothing but a worthless person saying, "We do NOT turn lights OFF!!! Turn them on!!" Her angry and disrespectful tone was shocking and the kids loved it. Once she walked out, the classroom got even MORE out-of-control than before. They now knew FOR SURE that I, as a sub, could be treated in the most demeaning way.

This shows a real lack of curiosity on the part of this principal. If I walked by a room with lights off, I'd be very curious as to why.  I would probably ask the teacher the next time I saw her. This principal just assumed the teacher turned the lights off for fun, or no reason whatsoever. Regardless, the results of upbraiding a working teacher in front of a class are entirely predictable. The principal was either unaware of that, which shows wild ignorance, or indifferent to it, which shows amazing recklessness for a school leader.

This week a parent told me that her child had four teachers in second grade. She said the first teacher they had was a young man of color, much loved by both students and parents. She was very happy with this teacher, as were other parents of her acquaintance. Evidently he had some sort of certification issue, and was therefore working as a per-diem sub. You probably know that per-diem subs get no health benefits.

The parent with whom told me they would have done anything they could to keep this teacher.. They would have crowd-sourced a collection to pay for his health benefits, if necessary. After a few months, though, the young teacher was gone, and in his place was a revolving door. The young man quickly found work elsewhere, with benefits, and this mom is not happy about it at all.

One of the teachers her son got was the school reading specialist, who hadn't been a classroom teacher in almost 20 years. Mom spoke well of her too, but said it was problematic for the kids. Evidently the reading specialist was a little strict, while the young man who started them out was kind of freewheeling. This was an unfair burden for the new teacher, not to mention the kids.

The first year I taught, I took over for a teacher who'd just walked out. The classes were a disaster and I had no experience whatsoever. It's much harder to take over a class midyear. Imagine taking over a class that had lost teacher after teacher. That's a tall order. And the kids? Seven years old and watching teachers, the ones with whom they spend all day, every day, come and go like that? Unconscionable.

As if that's not enough, this left the school without a reading specialist. If there's anything more fundamental than reading, I'd like to know what it is. This is the tip of the iceberg over there. You will be hearing a lot more. This is the sort of administrator with which the New York City Department of Education is perfectly comfortable.

There needs to be a tsunami of movement in administrators. If Carranza wants to do something great for the children of New York City, he'll dump absolutely every administrator who took the job because he or she is too lazy to do classroom work. If I were him, I'd start with the ones who regularly exercise ineptitude and cruelty.

Friday, June 21, 2019

CUNY Teaches Lies About ELLs

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know I'm all bent out of shape over the most recent iteration of CR Part 154. It cuts direct English instruction to English Language Learners, and instead places an ESL teacher in one of their subject classes a few times a week.

So if you're teaching the Pythagorean  theorem today, and it takes 45 minutes to explain to the native English speakers, you will teach it, plus the requisite language, to ELLs in the same 45 minutes. You will do that because the ESL teacher is there (or not, depending on which day it happens to be).

My friend told me she was studying to get her ESL certification, and the professor told the class that this was wonderful. The students would get enhanced instruction, and would get the benefit of INTEGRATED ENL!!! (ENL, of course, is English as a NEW Language, rather than a second language.)

Actually, there's nothing wrong with the idea of integrated ENL. The problem is ELLs need more time, and NY State has given them less. They've cut ESL classes, placed ESL teachers in "core classes," and they somehow expect teachers to offer not only the subject, but also all the requisite English and cultural cues in the same time it takes to teach native English speakers the subject alone.

That's beyond absurd.

Yet this college professor (and likely as not others) is presenting this as though it's a step forward. However, this college professor is either a. stupid b. hopelessly ignorant c. woefully uninformed, or more likely d. all of the above. Maybe he went to a state workshop where they professed this nonsense, but I fail to see how it's different from watching Fox and determining Sarah Huckabee is the bestest press secretary ever.The worst part, though, is that it isn't one professor, According to my friend, just about all have drunk the Kool-Aid.

It's disappointing that our future teachers are paying good money to hear alternative facts. I'd argue that facing reality is a pretty high priority for students, teachers, and that it's not too large a demand for teachers of teachers either. I'll be standing on a soapbox by myself, though, since this nonsense is so widely accepted.

Oddly, once teachers actually procure jobs, they're likely as not to find they're running about like headless chickens, going twice a week to this class, twice a week to that class, once to some other, and that they have 15 co-teachers, none of with which there is any time to meet. There's a reason why NYC is perpetually out of compliance, and it's not because the system is easy to comply with.

I was shocked when my friend told me this story. I showed her the chart above and explained to her just how much more instruction ELLs got before it was released. They cut language instruction to the bone and gave newcomers absolutely nothing in return.

For that, they talk about what a great job they did, and tell professors it's a step forward. What it really is is sink or swim, a model that ought to have died some time in the last century. Remember in Annie Hall when they discuss how a shark must move forward to stay alive? ESL instruction in NY is that shark moving backward. It's so disgraceful I'm amazed Betsy DeVos herself didn't dream it up.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Townsend Harris and Neighborhood Schools

According to, the top school in the state is Townsend Harris High School. Here's why, according to the article:

Students at Townsend have a 100 percent rate of 12th grade students taking Advanced Placement (AP) courses, with 97 percent of the class earning a 3 or higher on the AP test.
With a 99 percent graduation rate, Townsend Harris students have a 99 percent ranking in mathematics proficiency and a 100 percent ranking in reading proficiency.

That's impressive, isn't it? What the hell is wrong with the rest of the schools in the city and state? If Townsend Harris can do this, why can't everyone? First, I want to say that I bear no ill will to Townsend Harris. One of my best friend's kids went there and had a great experience. I'm sure they have a great staff, and both they and their student body impressed me quite a bit when they moved to get rid of a terrible principal.

Furthermore, Townsend Harris is a better model than some of the other selective schools in that they don't just use SHSAT as sole measure of achievement, and are thus better integrated than schools like Stuyvesant. I'd actually thought they did, but a friend of mine who works for the DOE (Yes, I have a friend at the DOE.) told me I was wrong.

Townsend, like a number of public high schools, looks at the 7th grade test scores in conjunction with grades and attendance.

That makes more sense than a single test we'd score children on, forcing them to spend years prepping for it. Of course, I'm only referring to families that can afford to have their kids spend years prepping for it. I'd argue that this makes for anything but a level playing field. I'd further argue it's not a good use of children's time, and that they'd be better off studying for school, life, or pretty much anything else.

Like many others, I personally believe teacher grades are a far better predictor of success than a single test score. We do a lot of things other than take tests each and every day. Someone who can ace a test but can't get along with anyone may or may not get good grades in college, but "career readiness" certainly implies an ability to play well with others.

I once had a student in a beginning ESL class who got excellent grades on all my tests. High 90s, almost always. He was outraged that he was in this class. Unlike a lot of students who scored lower than him,  he never, ever spoke. He never even tried. One day he came in my office, screaming in a language I didn't understand. His translator told me he belonged in a higher class. He knew all this stuff already! He studied it in his country! I told the kid when he could come in and tell me himself, I'd try to get him promoted. His translator reported that to him, and the kid walked out very angrily.

Some people mix up test scores with The Ten Commandments. Bill Gates does that, and was responsible for a whole lot of school closings. I'm glad that Townsend Harris chooses to use multiple measures and actually values school grades and attendance. That's an example that could easily be replicated by selective schools.

Still, though, is it fair to compare Townsend Harris, or indeed any selective school, to those that simply take everyone who walks through the door? I'd say no. Is Townsend Harris the best school in the state? If you go by scores, maybe it is. But how hard is it to get good scores when you select all your students? I'd argue it would be a miracle if they didn't get high scores. Of course they must be doing something right because a whole lot of charters cherry pick and still don't outdo public schools.

Townsend Harris is a great school, no doubt. I'd argue there are reasons beyond test scores that reinforce that. Still, there are a whole lot of other great schools that don't pick their students. To compare them is ridiculous. Townsend Harris should be in a category of selective schools, and non-selective schools should have their own category.

This is a clear case of apples and oranges.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Marco Pollo and Boy Wonder

Marco Pollo was a teacher, but he was always afraid. His supervisor, Boy Wonder, didn't like him very much. That's why Marco had a big stack of letters in his file. Boy Wonder would sit in his office and write all kinds of things. Marco never understood why. Also, Boy Wonder walked around the whole building talking about Marco. Marco did this. Marco did that. Boy Wonder would walk into the men's room and start talking about how awful Marco was. Marco felt bad when he heard about it.

Marco's chapter leader listened to the stories. He told him to file complaints. He said to report him to 311, OEO, and the union. Marco didn't want to do that. He thought it would irritate Boy Wonder. And yet, Boy Wonder kept placing letters in his file. One day, Boy Wonder placed a letter in Marco's file saying if he didn't stop doing what he was doing, he would get fired. Marco was very upset. The chapter leader said to grieve the letter, since Boy Wonder never bothered to consult with Marco about it. Marco thought that was a bad idea. Boy Wonder might get mad.

Marco had to meet with Boy Wonder every week. He had to do all of his lesson plans a week in advance and bring them to Boy Wonder. This was a lot of work. It was really kind of double work, because the lesson plans didn't always end exactly where the next ones began. Marco had to write them all over again. Boy Wonder would walk in and see that Marco was not exactly where he said he'd be, and then write him up.

One day, Boy Wonder decided to call the chapter leader in to discuss issues with Marco. Marco sat quietly while Boy Wonder explained what a terrible teacher Marco was. The chapter leader asked why they were here. Was it just so Boy Wonder could yell at Marco? Boy Wonder said Marco was failing to follow the improvement plan they had agreed upon.

"What improvement plan?" asked the chapter leader.

"This one," said Boy Wonder, producing a pamphlet with Marco's signature on it.

"What was your rating last semester?" the chapter leader asked Marco.

"Effective," said Marco.

"Then why the hell do you have a TIP?" asked the chapter leader.

"This isn't a TIP," said Boy Wonder.

"Yes it is," said the chapter leader. "It's a Teacher Improvement Plan. Teacher improvement plans are for teachers rated developing or ineffective."

It's not a teacher improvement plan," said Boy Wonder. "It's a Teacher Assistance Plan."

"Where did you get that?" asked the chapter leader. "Did you just pull it out of your ass?"

"How DARE you?" said Boy Wonder. "NO ONE talks to me like that!"

Boy Wonder was going to go on, but he started thinking about the five-dollar fill up at KFC. If he started an extended conversation with chapter leader, he wouldn't have time to skip out. Mmmm.. Five dollar fill up.

"Anyway," Boy Wonder said, "it's NOT a teacher improvement plan. It's a teacher assistance plan. It's completely different."

"So," said the chapter leader, "it's not a TIP. It's a TAP."

"Exactly," said Boy Wonder. All was now clear.

"Well it's bullshit," said the chapter leader. "You don't have the right to do that to an effective-rated teacher. Also, the most you get to collect lesson plans like that is never."

Boy Wonder was really angry. His face turned a very deep shade of red. "This meeting is over," he announced.

The chapter leader told Marco to file a grievance, but Marco didn't want to do it. So the chapter leader filed a paperwork complaint and killed the TAP. But he was irritated because he didn't find out about it until March. If only Marco had told him in September he could have killed it right away.

The day he found out his TAP was dead, Boy Wonder left work 90 minutes early. He went to KFC and ate three five-dollar fill ups, but still didn't feel better. So he pulled out his laptop and wrote up an observation of the lesson Marco was teaching right now. Boy Wonder wasn't actually in the classroom, so he had to invent what was happening there. He rated all of it ineffective. It was a good thing he'd had the foresight to just leave work without signing out, so no one could prove he wasn't in the building.

There was no way Marco was gonna have a decent rating this year. Next year, Marco would have a TIP instead of a TAP, and the world would once more spin on its proper axis.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

A First Wave of NYC Teachers Stands Up

I was blown away last year when the bold CPE 1 community stood up to a small-minded, vindictive principal. Many UFT members struggle to do their jobs under the questionable leadership of would-be tyrants who taught for five minutes, got the hell out of the classroom and feel they therefore know everything. Worse, we had something called a Leadership Academy that advocated methodology with which I wouldn't train dogs, let alone lead people.

More recently, Forest Hills High School spent more than a year struggling under eccentric Ben Sherman, with his wacky sense of humor and/ or leadership. They tell me Sherman would make remarks about how women looked, that he's asleep in his car to find out who came early to get the best parking spots, and that he'd leave the bathroom door open so secretaries could observe what he was doing in there. Then there are his hilarious dismissals of staff complaints about pot smoking--it'll be legal soon, so why bother dealing with it?

Both schools held votes of no confidence, and both were supported by their communities. More recently, PS 333 did much the same thing. This is far from an easy thing to do. Principals have a lot of power and can do a lot of things to inspire fear. In the case of CPE 1, then-principal Monika Garg placed both the UFT chapter leader and a delegate up on frivolous 3020a charges. While those against the chapter leader were pretty quickly dropped, the delegate lingered in limbo for months afterward. If you're utterly risk-averse, you might not think it's worth your while to stand up.

Of course if you don't, if you won't, you've lost before you've even begun. The good news is a whole lot of teachers do stand up. We are role models, and it behooves us to set examples for our students. Do we want our students, our children. to sit passively while bullies tread all over them? Shall we sit quietly while blithering bullies from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy make random demands that help neither us nor our students?

All over this country teachers are waking up and asking what the hell is going on. There are a lot of teachers in worse shape than we are, but that doesn't mean we can't improve where we are, or where our students are. That doesn't mean we have to lie down and tolerate the stunning incompetence that passes for leadership here.

Teachers are not stupid. We can see when principals and assistant principals are incompetent. Sometimes they just lumber around and mostly stay out of our way. Other times they impose themselves on teachers and students and degrade entire schools. In NYC, teachers are waking up to that. It's time for the mayor and chancellor to wake up with us. You don't improve the education of children by placing self-serving, self-important windbags as leaders. Furthermore, you can't ignore the fact that Michael Bloomberg presided over churning out the worst school leaders NYC has ever seen. They may as well have been spit out of an assembly line absolutely guaranteeing abysmal quality.

More schools are voting no confidence, and it behooves us to support them in any and every way we can. While teacher-bashing may be a virtual national pastime, it's far less common for eyes to be on administrators. That's too bad. Bad administrators undermine education a lot more widely than any teacher could. They terrorize young teachers who've yet to find their voices or identity. They force teachers to spend their time and energy on nonsense that has no relation to the classroom. They impose counter-productive and wasteful programs on classrooms that preclude actual learning.

I've long maintained that people who long to leave the classroom are the very worst leaders of teachers. They hated dong this job, and now it's their job to show you how to love it. I hated math when I was in high school, and you wouldn't want me teaching it. Yet a whole lot of people who hate teaching are supervising teachers. As a teacher, as a chapter leader, as someone people reach out to, I see this replicated all over the city.

We can't allow the rise of red state conditions. We need to move forward, not backward. We need to be a beacon, an example. We need to stand together and not only support our embattled brothers and sisters, but also move to end the scourge of abusive administrators. We need to turn around not only all the damage caused by the so-called Leadership Academy, but also push away all incompetent leadership.

We need to stand strong, and we need to make every single incompetent administrator know that their days are numbered. We will expose them and tell the press, the city, and the world about them. We will demand leaders who understand what this job is, leaders who can actually do it themselves. If you want to sit up on a pedestal and tell me what I'm doing wrong, you damn well better be able to get in a classroom and show me how it's done.

Now that we've cut observation in half, administrators ought to be teaching a class every day (and not that honors class that runs itself either). If they can't do that, they ought not to be leading us. And if they lack the people skills we instill in kindergarten, they ought to find jobs more suited to their talents. (I hear Sarah Huckabee's job is open.) If the DOE wants to send them all to Tweed to do whatever people in Tweed do, they'd better secure air rights, because that's gonna be the biggest skyscraper in the world.

Let's send an army of teachers to every embattled school, let's shine a spotlight for the press to follow, and let's have New Yorkers know that school leaders ought to be great teachers, not the petty, vindictive little dictators that are Michael Bloomberg's legacy.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Should We Be Advising Janus People We Are Union?

One of the things Mulgrew discussed at the DA was responding to the vile filthy whores who will be coming to our house to ask us to stop paying dues. He said there are lawn signs and stickers to show you're a union household. I'm not at all sure that's the right approach.

When they come to your door, why not invite them in? I mean, sure, you don't want to have vile filthy whores sitting on your nice furniture, because who even knows where they've been? But maybe you can get one of those plastic covers and make them sit over it. I mean, then whatever is crawling on them won't get on your couch.

My girlfriend in high school had a mom who was a compulsive cleaner. She placed those plastic things on all the furniture and they'd crunch when you'd sit down. It wasn't comfortable, but it's not our job to grant comfort to anti-union parasites. Let them crunch. After they leave, you could burn the plastic slipcovers. I mean, a lot of people object to the smell of burning plastic, but you can always point to the fact that no human will ever have to come into contact with the material that touched the scab union-busting piece of crap touched.

Anyway, if you invite them in, have them explain their positions. in excruciating detail. Have them tell you how you can retain union representation and simply have your brothers and sisters pay for it while you contribute nothing. Have them tell you how you'll be a working-class hero and how you'll be a great example for your children. Perhaps your children will grow up to be self-centered, self-important, egotistical windbags who care about no one but themselves. They can contribute nothing and take everything. Maybe they'll grow up and become President of the United States. After all, that's  the current model.

Offer them a cup of coffee. You need not poison it if that sort of thing bothers you. Plus, when your neighbors complain about the burning plastic you can tell them, "Yes, I'm burning plastic, but I'm a nice person. After all, when some union-busting pieces of crap darkened my doorstep, I didn't even poison them." Once they see what a nice person you are, they'll respect you. (Or perhaps they'll fear you, which often works equally well.)

Let them talk for two hours, instead of visiting other union members to spread their unspeakable repulsive anti-human nonsense. The more time they spend with you, the less they'll have to spew their toxic bile on others who might be more impressionable. And if everyone does this, they'll have a lot less time to talk to people less informed than you are.

So here's my advice to union leadership--Instead of giving out signs that proclaim we support union, make plastic furniture covers available. Perhaps we could use old tarps or something. We could tell them we're painting soon.

Another possibility might be to offer the lowlife scumbags a dollar an hour more than the minimum wage they're getting for performing this execrable act. After all, people who've sold out humanity for such a low price will surely do whatever for an extra buck. After all, money is money, and if that's all you value, you'll do what it takes to have more.

Maybe the anti-union whore scabs can supervise the burning of plastic furniture covers. Sure, it's disgusting malodorous work, but that's what they signed up for, and now they'll make an extra buck an hour. Maybe that extra buck is a better use of union money than advising them in advance their time is wasted with us.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

A Tale of Two Teachers and the Central Park Five

After having watched When They See Us on Netflix, I'm understanding the outrage over the so-called Central Park Five more clearly than I used to. I knew that they were proven not to have committed the atrocity for which they spent years behind bars, and I knew that former village idiot, now national idiot Donald Trump had declared their guilt with no need of proof. I knew Trump used their case as an argument for the death penalty, even though it's one of the best arguments against it.

I somehow missed the story of this teacher, who was fired for presenting this story to her class back in 2016. Evidently administration thought telling the story could get students all riled up, and wanted a more "balanced" view. This reminds me of Deborah Lipstadt, who refused to appear with a holocaust denier on CSPAN. Lipstadt knew, unlike Fox News and the Trump administration, that demonstrable falsehood does not represent the other side of an issue.

The other side of this issue is that prosecutors did not, in fact, rush to judgment and go all in to find these young men guilty of crimes they did not commit. But they did, and the only defense I hear from said prosecutors in light of the new documentary is that the young men were in the park and up to no good, that they were guilty of something. Well, even if the prosecutors are correct, highly doubtful given their track record, these young men were not guilty of the crimes for which they were falsely convicted.

So when I read that the young woman in question had her suit to get her job back tossed in court, I'm a little upset. I can understand the argument that your First Amendment rights do not extend to the classroom. I have a whole lot of opinions, many or most of which have been on this page, that I don't share with my students. I don't go into my first period class ranting about Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg, or whoever happened to have disgusted me that morning.

Sometimes there are two sides to an issue. We recently discussed the issue of arming teachers in my class. I tried to present both sides even though I think it's a ridiculous idea. I proved so good at playing devil's advocate that one of my students told me she was afraid to speak against it because she thought I wanted to carry a gun in school. I had to tell her that I opposed it. I had to tell her that, in fact, I wished she would speak out and I was just saying things to provoke comment.

Sometimes there aren't two sides. The story of the Central Park Five is one of outrageous injustice, and when we prohibit its discussion in class, there is another outrageous injustice. It's not about the teacher's First Amendment rights. It's about the right of the students to discuss objective reality. It's not the teacher's job to present the views of Donald Trump or holocaust deniers as though they have merit. It's further not the teacher's job to sugar coat actual events so that students aren't upset by the outrages perpetrated by our government.

I'd argue that, if we do our jobs correctly, we help students get in touch with what's going on. We encourage them to express themselves and participate in society. If we are so cowardly that we can't present the truth for examination by our students, we aren't very good teachers. The administrators who instructed this teacher to suppress the truth and then followed up by haunting her into 3020a proceedings aren't very good administrators. Further, they are trying to place blinders over the eyes of our students, precisely the opposite of what educators should be doing.

In my school, a teacher taught a lesson based on the same film and was observed doing so. She got an excellent rating from the administrator who observed her. This points to an issue with our outlandish rating system. Theoretically, Danielson is the great equalizer. Everyone gets rated by this rubric, and everything is fair. That's another blatant falsehood. The truth is everything is still in the eye of the beholder, and administrators can use the rubric to rationalize whatever the voices in their heads tell them.

In one school, you get fired for discussing the real story of the Central Park Five. In another, you get rated highly effective. How do you explain that? Of course there's the ever-burgeoning scourge of inept administration, only coming to light very recently. There's outrageous and deliberate ignorance that passes for leadership, closely tied to the implicit racism that freaks out the NY Post editorial board each and every time the chancellor draws attention to it. And then there's the encouraging existence of reasonable administrators who see it as their job to, you know, help us teach children about important events that affect their young lives.

Regardless, it's an outrage that this other young woman was fired. I hope her legal team finds another angle that's more successful and has her reinstated with full back pay.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

PS 333 Votes Thumbs Down on Principal

You know, you'd think after years of ineptitude and embarrassment, the DOE would just pull the plug on bad principals, and set them to work on things that can't damage actual humans. I'm thinking a big old LEGO room at Tweed. They could build castles and exercise all their various power trips on plastic figures instead of living, breathing people. But with an army of administrators having graduated from Joel Klein's Leadership Academy, it's easier said than done.

It appears the Upper West Side of Manhattan is not precisely feeling the love for Principal Claire Lowenstein.  A DOE spokesperson has issued a nebulous statement, as always, offering vague support but promising nothing whatsoever:

“We will work closely with the community to ensure students and staff continue to receive the support they need,” she said.

Thanks a lot. Teachers are left like Sisyphus, pushing a boulder up a mountain of failed leadership. Yet over and over we speak out. At PS 333, if I'm not mistaken, The Daily News says 80% voted no confidence in her.  I'm told the other 20% mostly abstained, and almost no one supported her. That's not the sort of confidence I'd like to inspire. For me, as UFT chapter leader, it's SBO week. I'm required to get 55% minimum to pass that. Our SBO passed 180-0, so I'm gonna go out on a limb and say admin and UFT are better aligned at my school than hers.

There are shades of Ben Sherman here, tinged with not-so-subtle racism:

Many of their grievances were racially tinged, ranging from complaints Lowenstein ignored multiple allegations that a white eighth-grader was selling drugs in school to the claim Lowenstein allegedly told two black sixth-graders to “Leave your street problems outside of my school!”

It's hard for me to understand principals who ignore drugs in schools. I'd think the safety of students would be paramount. It's one thing to fail English, but quite another to foster an addiction problem while in elementary school. It sounds like there are elementary shortcomings to this principal. She's also accused of cronyism. You may say okay, but in 2019 the President of the United States practices blatant nepotism, so it's no big deal. However, the members at PS 333 appear not to be buying it:

The son of a former MSC parent is currently on P.S. 333’s payroll, and it is unclear as to what exactly his role is," the document states. “This staff member spends a good portion of the work day sitting in (a room), while listening to music in headphones.”

Hey that's a good gig. I know a lot of people who would excel at it. In fact, a whole lot of my students would be great at that.  Now sure, there are those nattering nitpickers who say, "Hey, maybe kids should take their earphones off, stop looking at the iPhone screen, and begin paying attention to the world around them." So maybe this principal is just going with the flow. Still, how exactly that makes her the role model her job entails is a mystery to me.

Forest Hills has got a new interim acting principal, but the lowlife DOE couldn't help but place ridiculous nonsense into their welcome message:

As you are aware, Monday was Ben Sherman’s last day as principal of Forest Hills High School. We thank Mr. Sherman for his leadership and wish him well in his new position.

We got rid of the guy for no reason, the DOE would have us think, and he's clearly done nothing remotely incorrect. So we're boldly standing up and taking no responsibility whatsoever.

It's time for the DOE to stop defending the indefensible, and start ridding itself of toxic principals at least as quickly as it presses 3020a charges against teachers who've done nothing to merit them. Given their track record, though, I'm gonna sit while I wait. Hopefully, whatever preposterous rationale they offer, they will move Lowenstein to a job more suited to her talents and inclinations.

Maybe they can send her to Trump's White House and call it a promotion.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly June 2019--We Resolve to Stand for Muslim Students--Paperwork and Operational Complaints Working

4:39 Mulgrew calls us to order. Announces, to applause, that it’s June.

Speaks of email about presidential nominations. Says didn’t want anyone to endorse early. Says it’s incumbent upon state and local affiliates to engage, and that NY candidates want to be in debate. Says it did not constitute endorsement, and they want other candidates to speak to UFT. Expects story in Post. 

We will have to do all in our power, once decision is made, to move our agenda. Next year is a political action year. Will be major focus all year. 38 city council seats up. More people involved in political process better off we will be.

—Rent regulations appear done, landlords irate. This is what we supported. Needs to be more fairness. We have a lot of folks to whom rent regulations are important. Teachers seem at war with hospitals. If you live in NYC you probably haven’t seen commercial by coalition supporting patient protection legislation. Health care costs are out of control. Small number of hospitals were exploiting loophole. Westchester Medical is now out of network. Some hospital bills are inflated heavily. WM was almost doubling bills. Threatened insurance providers, resulting in 37% increase. Made negotiations difficult.

Hospitals are saying teachers trying to put them out of business. Taking this as personal challenge. We don’t like hospital making hundreds of millions, saying they are non-profit, execs get huge bonuses. We can fight because we are a union. Coalition with Consumer Reports. NYS Business Council hates them. Next to me in Albany when I was lobbying for bill. All municipal and state unions stood together. Still going on. Will be in Albany tomorrow.

Little talk of charter schools. Due to our work. Stopping them raising cap not good enough. Want transparency. We know they want to take money from public schools and privatize. Will continue fighting for level playing field. 850K donation to Eva Moskowitz from hedge fund operator.

—Please get involved in Queens DA race. Doing a lot of communication with campaign. Says we have really good candidate.

City council budget—Goals were making teacher choice baseline. Working on it over 30 years. Dial a Teacher, Brave, services used constantly. Helps us have better relationships with students. They remain friends with Dial a Teacher. Brave now not just hotline, but also training. For last few years, city council has been doing more with us, they understand our programs help schools, are real. Say we are only org doing what we say we will with money.

Chancellor—At school visit—was asked if chancellor is reverse racist—Said from experience, absolutely not. He seems to have same enemies as us.

UFT, in terms of bias training, has been doing it a lot longer than DOE. It’s a tool, if you understand we all have biases. If you understand, can have better relationships with kids, and educate them better. We want to help children, are not afraid to admit we all have inherent biases. If we can think things through, we can teach kids to do the same.

We have vetted, had officers sit through DOE training. We had no issue. Outside vendors hired by DOE are different. We don’t accept their approach, and please let us know if you have that experience. I ask callers when they had training, they say they haven’t but have read NY Post.

Reporters asked if white teachers were upset by anti-bias training. I said it’s not an issue if done properly. Not good if someone walks in and accuses you of bias. When I said they were all biased, they didn’t like it either. Said, you see what it’s like?
This is good if done properly and professionally.

Discipline—Bill in Albany to ban K-3 suspensions. Group wants all suspensions banned in NYC. Bill in Albany passed with major amendments. Says you can’t ban K-3 students EXCEPT in case of long list of so-called violent acts. People in Albany think we suspend kindergartners for action out in class. Only happens for very bad things.

Told mayor we want two things—we have number of children who need clinical intervention, not suspension. We have no access to it. If you get mad we repeatedly suspend, and file multiple evaluations, it’s because it’s the only tool we have. We need group of people that can provide clinical intervention.

We need student removal process better than student sitting in office eating candy and being returned to class. Someone has to counsel and find out what happened. If you will deal with issue correctly we will work with you. Don’t want to hear up to principal’s discretion, or legal says no. Get them to specialists to decide, or propose intervention plans. Would save a lot of money, get kids what they need, and get us what we need to help them learn.

Will not fix it by passing more regulations. Chancellor’s regs may as well be a phonebook. Kids act out, we have to teach, 31 kids in class. If one has bad day we need to get the kid out. We’re happy to discuss that with DOE. Their rep is now actually visiting schools. They may be coming to understand.

Integration plan
—basically invites school districts to participate. Was started by teachers. Previous chancellor denied 7 schools PROSE applications who wanted to do integration plans. A year later, she adopted that plan. Now have three districts using. We are never supporting forced integration. We believe in talking to parents and showing them what will help children. Plan says if you want to work toward this, we’ll give you money. Opt-in program.

End of year
—We got contract. Only two unions have contracts. City hasn’t been negotiation with others.

Operational and paperwork
—85% of schools using consultation. Next year, not counting if you do one.

Urges us to file operational complaint. Photo since February 14.

UFT will allow SBOs in September. UFT will not approve IEP teacher if it doesn’t match citywide posting. Principal-created postings have not been good.

Janus program—Posters available for members to place in homes. Will be in borough offices.
Facebook frames available. Interactive video of union progress.  Will be cards about union programs available at borough offices. Will be stickers with “sticking with the union.”

Couldn’t run much of this until after election, but if we do this yearly it won’t matter.

We have to be on our guard, and we have to beat back the bad guys. Thanks those who produced Janus materials.

Thanks all at DA. We have contract, paid parental leave, elections, State Senate, are in good place, and credits us for it. Says union allows us to have real voice and power. We will fight back at those who try to destroy us.

LeRoy Barr
—Saturday school secretaries award luncheon. 12 noon. June 20th—50th anniversary of Stonewall—commemorative reception 3:30-6. Free. Register on website. Last year hundreds of people signed up for Labor Day Parade, Please do the same this year. Saturday September 7th. Will do cookout at end of parade again. Bring families. Wishes all a happy and restful summer.


Q—APs scramble room to room to do observations they’ve put off. No chance for improvement, so what was value? How can we make this cycle more impactful?

A—Sad and funny. In negotiations they admitted 80% of observations done April and May. In contract we have new language. Will have windows with cycles. One cycle in window 1—September to January. One cycle window 2—February to first Friday of June. Major thing is learning what cycle is will be interesting. We will stop that.

We will try to change culture. We will try to retrain everyone. If we keep pressure on we will get there. Not everything will be perfect in September, but with time it will improve.

Q—charters—Do we have a union committee to organize charter school teachers?

A—Yes. Just organized two in last month. Difficult but good.

Q—Snow—We’ve had quite a few snow days. Why no delayed openings?

A—NYC can’t. 137 bus companies.

Q—pressure to pass students who should not—admin pushing us to do things unethical. What does it mean to provide every opportunity, especially for students who recently came to country, or have been cutting class and now need packages to make up credit? Is there alternative method to graduation?

A—Who is being asked to provide packets for kids who have been missing? You have to supply them every opportunity, but regs can be interpreted in multiple ways. Some schools have agreements. Do you have to pass a child? No you do not. You are responsible for grades. They can ask you to give another look. So look. Maybe grade was too high.

Administrators’ contract is tied to achievement. That’s why they push. But we are a profession. We should be ethical. If you’re asked to be otherwise, we need to know. We will talk to them. How do you pass a student who came to class 20 days?

More difficult for newer students. Different issue. You have to use your judgment. I would work with child who should pass. We all face these dilemmas.

Q—ATRs—They were given a package—How many took it? Will there be similar offer next year?

A—No guarantees. 650 ATRs will probably be offered full time, will be 650 left. Approaching pre-Bloomberg numbers. Next year will be a drop of 20K students, but we are approaching 1.2K. Will ask DOE to not hire 1,000 extra teachers if we don’t need them.



Janella Hinds--Resolutio to support students observing Ramadam—Students fasting, limited sleep, were taking NYSESLAT and AP exams. A lot for students getting up at 3:30 AM. Would like to identify accommodations for practicing Muslim students.

Akeel Williams
—Supports. Fasting is fourth pillar of Islam. All Muslims of age and in good health must fast. Pre-dawn meal. To do it had to be up before 3 AM. Then morning prayer. If we’re lucky we can get hour or two before regularly day begins. Good for us spiritually but tough physically. Focus is tough. Difficult for me as adult. More difficult for children, especially during testing time. Important they have consideration for religious obligations.

Matthew Forguino
—School in central Bronx, large Muslim population. Criminal they had Global History Regents on eve if Eid. Would be like Christians doing it on Christmas Eve.

Antonio Jacobs
—Our principal decided to address students and make sure they weren’t in cafe while fasting. Took several students and did not eat, to show respect. Supports resolution. We should make provisions so students don’t feel punished for practicing religion.

Question called

Passes unanimously

Resolution in support of Darcel Denise Clark for DA
—Mary Atkinson—Is current DA, first African-American woman to be elected—should amend to read that. Product of public schools, instituted internships, moot court for HS students, also works with MS and elementary. Wants to help people with substance abuse issues get treatment instead of jail.

Question called.


—We endorsed the only candidate in the race. Thanks all. Happy Father’s Day. Wishes all a great summer. Congratulation to all retirees. Thank you for your service to union. Congratulate Howard Schoor on retirement. Happy summer. Let’s have a great rest of school year and finish strong.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Last Week

There's something tough about the last week of classes. I don't know about you, but I gave my final exams already. My students have 200 other tests to take and I don't want to burden them with homework that takes more than a few minutes. I'm doing mostly reading and discussion, but I know that we're pretty much finished. So how do I keep my students from figuring that out?

I'm not sure I can, actually. They kind of get the vibe. One kid asked me why we were doing an activity the other day, and I said, "Because it's a CLASS. You have to DO something." I heard that in a college class I was teaching. One student said it to another. He was a little older and the student asking the question was very young. He was a doctor and could be very sarcastic at times. I liked that particular response though, and I've stolen it more than once.

I'm worried my students are reading my mind. Once that happens I'm not sure how effective I'm gonna be. The kids seem to get smarter every year, though, and once they become clairvoyant I'm afraid I'm gonna be finished. What if I make a threat hoping no one will take me up on it? I'll have to follow up with whatever promised consequence there was, even if the student read my mind and understood I didn't want to.

Last Friday was the day after the prom, unofficially designated senior cut day, My seniors didn't disappoint period one. Not a single one of them showed and my class was down by half. I decided to give a quiz. The students were shocked. But the questions were not too bad.

When was the War of 1812?
Where does Chinese food come from?
What color is the white board?

I went on like that for ten questions. The last question was, "What's your favorite subject?" and I gave extra credit to people who wrote English. Despite that, some people got grades as low as 90. I can't remember which question they got wrong, but I was surprised. On the brighter side, they aren't yet reading my mind.

There are some good aspects to this week. One is that an enormous pressure will be lifted from my shoulders. Despite all the years I've been doing this, the most pressure I feel is in creating classes. I felt this before Cuomo's awful evaluation law. One of the things Cuomo didn't consider when pushing the miserable evaluation law is what it's like to bomb in front of 34 teenagers. This, of course, is because he's never taught, and he's never been through what we go through each and every day.

I don't know about you, but I fear that more than I fear some supervisor with an iPad. I remember it happening to me in my first few years. I remember watching other teachers and wondering exactly what they were doing that I was not. Why are their classes calm while mine is off the wall?

I'm not sure there's an easy response to that. I'd say things got just a little better when I started calling houses. And maybe I've grown more confident or authoritative over the years. Mostly, I have more experience and more go-to lesson plans. If I see something not working I can usually push it in another direction and try something at least different, if not always better.

But although all my observations are done, I feel more pressure this week than any other. I don't recall feeling this way at the end of the year last year, but I also don't recall having to give finals over a week before classes ended. Of course there are many things I don't recall, and this may be only the most recent one.

And when summer's around the corner, it's hard to feel the pressure quite as intensely as much as you would some other time.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

UFT at Puerto Rican Day Parade 2019

This is NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza with UFT Vice President Evelyn de Jesus. It's kind of cool to have a chancellor who will show up on a Sunday to support a UFT event. As you know, if this were Joel Klein, everyone who touched him would have to wash their whole body with Brillo pad. (I know Norm Scott once hugged him and survived, but I can't speak for everyone who had that unfortunate experience.)

Last time I saw the chancellor was at the UFT Spring Conference, where he picked up a guitar and serenaded Evelyn. He was singing about Puerto Rico and she was all tearing up.

It's feels strange to have a chancellor who spends time with UFT members rather than on the phone taking orders from Eva Moskowitz, but I guess I could get used to it. The chancellor also posed for pics with a few other people. 

That's my friend and colleague Mayra on the right, along with the chancellor and me. Unlike me, and unlike the chancellor, she's actually Puerto Rican. She gives us both street cred in this photo, so we're grateful.

The Puerto Rican Day Parade is my favorite UFT event, for some reason, and this is the third year I've attended. This year, because we were standing around waiting for such a long time, we actually had time to watch a whole lot of the parade.

On the left is a guy who had a lot of people on the street screaming. I didn't know who he was, but Mayra did, and it turns out he's Ricky Martin. When my daughter was very young, she'd get up and dance whenever La Vida Loca was on the radio. It didn't matter if we were home, or in a pizzeria, or wherever. It was pretty cute when she did it, but I couldn't recommend you or I doing it. 

Of course Chuck Shumer was in the parade. A lot of people were screaming at him, but it was not remotely the same way they screamed for Ricky Martin. Maybe Chuck went into the wrong line of  work. Still, it's hard to imagine people paying money to see him sing. I could imagine people paying him money to not sing. Mayra was impressed that he wore a guayabera. That's what you call the shirt he's wearing, evidently.  You never see him wearing it at meetings with Donald Trump, but I guess it must get pretty cold at those meetings.

The chancellor stayed with UFT for the entire parade. Someone on Facebook told me he knew good optics. I'm not sure. I think he likes being with teachers. Of course the chancellor is under a little pressure for having fired or demoted a few white women he hadn't chosen. I'm glad he fired them, and I wish he'd fire a whole lot more Bloomberg leftovers. If I were the chancellor, I'd fire just about everyone at Tweed.

The first people I'd fire would be the ones who meet us at Step Two grievance hearings. What happens there is one person pretends to represent the superintendent, and another pretends to represent the chancellor. Actually, the person you see repping the chancellor at one meeting might rep the superintendent at the next. The chancellor's rep pretends to listen to UFT, then pretends to listen to the superintendent, and finally rules against UFT no matter what.

Q--What do you call four fired Bloomberg leftovers?
A--A good start.

There were a lot more UFT members at this year's march than last year or the year before. That had nothing to do with the chancellor, because absolutely no one knew he was going to be there. I'm not sure whether it's chance or a sense that there needs to be more involvement, but I'm hoping for the latter. With Trump in the White House and a SCOTUS that would as soon strangle us as look at us, that's a good thing. 

I had to take a photo of this statue on Fifth Avenue. I wasn't sure what it symbolized, but I imagined it to be Cathie Black, the woman Michael Bloomberg selected to be chancellor. You may recall that Cathie Black had never taught, had never held a position in education, but owned a penthouse on Bloomberg's block or something. I supposed she also attended the same cocktail parties and gala luncheons.

She lasted all of three months. She once visited my school with Dennis Walcott, her eventual successor, at her side. She sat like this statue while Walcott fielded all questions. While Walcott was mostly a mouthpiece for Bloomberg, at least he was smart enough to speak for himself.

What a horror it must be for her to see a chancellor who's actually qualified walking up the street, and with a bunch of teachers beside him, no less.

At the right is José Feliciano. Mayra and I wandered ahead of UFT and it turned out he was in front of us the whole time. He was being honored for lifetime achievement. Mayra was impressed that I knew who he was. I thought everybody did. However, if you don't know who he is, he's a singer/ guitarist who had AM hits with Light My Fire and Feliz Navidad

This dog marched the entire parade with us. Well, he didn't actually march, what with his being on a skateboard and all. But he did the entire parade, and of course he marched with UFT. He occasionally did wheelies, but alas I didn't catch any photos of them. He was quite well-dressed, and if you look carefully you can see he's wearing sneakers. 

To the right you can see my dog Toby, sporting a very fashionable Yo Soy Boricua neckerchief. Toby was pretty mad when he saw that the dog above had attended the parade while he had not. Toby is, in fact, Puerto Rican. I told him the other dog had a skateboard and sneakers, not to mention a Yankee hat. Toby is demanding all those things for his birthday, which fortunately is not until December. I'm hoping he forgets by then but you never know. I did, however, promise to consider bringing him next year. We shall see.

One of the really cool things about the Puerto Rican Day Parade is that by the time it gets here, summer is just around the corner. Join us next year. 

Friday, June 07, 2019

DOE Galoots Abuse Speakers of Other Languages

I'm absolutely amazed to read of abuses involving translation services at IEP meetings. I've been teaching ESL for over three decades now. When I first started, I didn't really speak a second language. I needed 12 foreign language credits for my certification. I went out and took 8 in Spanish and 4 in German. That way I was able to do eight credits in one summer, and that was good enough for NY State.

Ironically, friends of mine studying with me were trying to get certified at the same time were fluent in Spanish but didn't have the credits. They had to take them before they could get the certification. So I got the license and they had to take credits in a language they knew way better than I did. Go figure.

I decided that it behooved me to become fluent in a second language if I was going to tell kids they could do it too. I took more Spanish credits. I spent two summers in Mexico studying. (I also married a woman from Colombia, though not strictly to learn Spanish.) I even got a certification to teach Spanish, though I don't have any particular desire to do it.

It was great knowing Spanish. Most of my students at John Adams High School spoke Spanish. My friend, a Spanish teacher, suggested I call parents and say no muestra respeto, or she doesn't show respect. He said that was a particularly effective phrase. I eventually developed my own series of home-calling statements, and now use them pretty much exclusively, but it was a start.

Shortly after I got a handle on Spanish, I transferred out of John Adams High School. Had I not done so, I'd likely as not be an ATR, so I'm grateful my former supervisor painted me into that particular corner. The thing was, though, that Francis Lewis High School was completely different from John Adams. There were Spanish speakers, but there were also quite a few Chinese and Korean speakers. Over time, Chinese speakers have become the dominant group.

I'd done my bit learning Spanish. I was not quite up for learning Chinese. However, I began to make friends who spoke Chinese. My first few years at Lewis, I was very good friends with a Chinese paraprofessional. He would help me out whenever I had to make calls. I made friends with speakers of Korean, Farsi, and Greek. I found friends who spoke whatever other languages the job called for.

A few years ago I co-taught with a Chinese speaker. We helped one another. I called the parents of Spanish speakers and she called the parents of Chinese speakers. We still do one another favors. In our building, we also have a Chinese-speaking guidance counselor who's very smart and very helpful. I'm just saying that if it's your goal to communicate, you'll find a way to do it.

If, on the other hand, your goal is ridiculing and demeaning people who don't speak English to your standards, you may take a different approach.

One parent was told to bring a teenage nephew to translate her daughter’s special education meeting. Another mother struggled to decipher a phone call explaining that her daughter had a seizure and was taken to the hospital. A third parent, who requested an interpreter for a meeting, was asked, “Why don’t you learn English?”

Wow, wow, wow. What exactly do these people think their job is? I'd think it was communicating with parents, and I've given you a pretty good primer of how to do that. Of course, that assumes you want to do it, which these people seem not to. Years ago, I was talking to a racist galoot who was ridiculing the way a Spanish speaker used English. I told him, "She knows two languages. You know only one and you're making fun of her." I thought, if anything, she should make fun of him. (Of course she was too well-brought-up to do that.)

Here's the worst aspect of this story--it's no longer all that difficult to find translation services. You don't even have to foster friends who speak other languages. NYC has a translation service. All you do is call in, tell which language you need, and they provide a live translator. I have been in IEP meetings in which this service was used. It works.

Personally, I prefer using my friends, because I know and trust them. Regardless, it's beyond the pale that people treat speakers of other languages like this. If it were up to me, I'd sentence these abusers to lifetime, non-divorcible marriage to Leadership Academy principals.

They're just lucky it isn't.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Why Are We Raising a Generation of Non-readers?

I had a lot of time on Monday. I proctored for one hour and 15 minutes, and then I was pretty much free. Also, we were free the next day. It felt like a Friday, and I just want to thank all my Muslim brothers and sisters for giving us that Tuesday off.

No one was in trouble on Monday This was good for me, and my members, but I hadn't brought a book or anything. So I sat down and read the new social studies Regents exam. I haven't studied history in, oh, decades, and I'd have aced this test. I had almost no prior knowledge whatsoever. There were only two questions that confused me, and both were in the short answers.

I don't remember exactly what the first one was, but I do remember that I looked at it very carefully, reconsidered, and decided it was a different answer. I was absolutely sure I was correct. The hardest question on the test for me was one about revolutions. Was it the Iranian Revolution, the French Revolution, or one of two other revolutions?

I had no idea. Then I looked at the source names, and waddya know, one of them was in French. It was the French Revolution. There was some essay question about the rich oppressing the poor, or the capitalists exploiting countries, and they asked me to choose three out of five given non-fiction pieces to cite and prove my point. I chose the last three, which were on target. I was very confused by a tea advertisement, though it may have just been evidence the English were using Indian tea. It didn't matter. The last three all fit.

What I noticed about this exam is that it was a reading test. If you could read, you could pass. You needed no specific prior knowledge. Odd, then, that you'd have to spend a year sitting in a social studies class all so it could culminate in a test that you needed no particular information to pass. I'd think that would be more appropriate for an English test, but the English Regents exam does absolutely nothing of the sort.

So we have a social studies exam that tests reading, and an English exam that tests nothing. And a lot of students, unless the geniuses in Albany set the past score low enough so as to render the exam utterly meaningless, are going to tank on this test. This is because they are not readers, and we are no longer developing readers. We are developing a generation who knows how to look at line 24 and decide whether it means A, B, C or D. We minimize the importance of reading fiction and push tedious crap, and it has precisely opposite the intended effect.

I am a reader. When I was very young my mother sat with me until I cracked the code, and from that point I was liberated. I was fascinated with comic books and read them compulsively when I was very young. I'd read just about anything except romance. I was not particularly romantic when I was eight years old.

From there, I started reading all the paperback novels my mom left lying around. I read a lot of mystery stuff, and I still love reading pretty much anything like that. Right now I'm reading Prime Suspect, about the character on the great PBS series with Helen Mirren. So I'm an English teacher and I don't sit around reading Shakespeare or Moby Dick all the time. I read all of Shakespeare, and Moby Dick in college, and despite the best efforts of my professors,  they're not my go to when I have free time. I'm still reading the same mindless fiction I've been reading since I graduated from comic books. (And that's not to say I wouldn't instantly read a comic book if I found one lying around.)

Why am I going into detail here? I'm trying to point out why I am a reader. I am a reader because I was encouraged, actively or passively, to read for enjoyment. I am thrilled on days I have to go to Manhattan and I don't need to drive to Queens. That means I will spend hours reading on the train, on the subway, when waiting for whatever meeting or event I'm going to. Sometimes, if the event is tedious, I'll hide in a corner somewhere and read some more.

Because I am a reader, I can ace that social studies test while knowing little or nothing about the topic. I can parse the sentences. I can eliminate bad answers (note to Regents--your distractors suck). I can plod through all the boring crap you can toss my way. That's because I'm a reader.

However, we are not raising a generation of readers. We are raising a generation of students under the premise put forth by David Coleman--that no one gives a crap what you think or feel. Thus fiction is unimportant. Placing yourself in a deeply empathetic position with a fictional character is of no consequence. Being fascinated by stories, an element of every human society since forever, means nothing.

You will take this crap, you will read it, you will answer questions about it, and that's it. No love of reading for you. No enjoyment for you. No empathy for you, and no one gives a crap what you think or feel.

I see absolutely no evidence that either MaryEllen Elia or any sitting Regent has the remotest awareness of this. That's a disgrace, of course.

But it's also a tragedy for the children of New York State.