Monday, December 30, 2019

Why Isn't Every School Like Brooklyn Tech?

Let me say this first--I adore AOC. I think she's wonderful. I would vote for her against just about anyone. I think she's brilliant. She asked a question, though, comparing schools, at a forum in Brooklyn. While I think she's got great intentions, I'm a little surprised. To me at least, the answer is obvious.

Why can't every school be like Brooklyn Tech? I mean, you go there, and everyone says wow, you got into that elite high school. You must've done really well on that test. Probably you studied for it. In fact, I know people with elementary-age children right now, already engaged in studying for Brooklyn Tech, or one of the handful of schools AOC refers to.

Now it would be great if every school in the city carried that level of prestige. Maybe then we wouldn't be targeted by scumbags like Giuliani and Bloomberg (but I'm a dreamer). You'd better believe they send their kids to elite private schools so they don't have to mix with the bootless and unhorsed like you, me and AOC. After all, you don't want Bloomberg's spawn smudging their ascots on the way to the limo.

I've got nothing but respect for kids who get into NYC's magnet schools. However, they do have one thing in common with the ones rich kids go to--they are selective. Why can't every school be like Brooklyn Tech? Because we aren't. We take absolutely everyone, regardless of test scores or ability. I teach newcomers. In fact, my students are all beginners. As far as I know, Brooklyn Tech doesn't accept them at all.

Our school has a program for non-diploma bound students. We send some of them to retail outlets where they learn to do jobs. Last I heard, their failure to graduate was counted against us. All due respect to Brooklyn Tech, I'd argue we deserve credit for helping needy children. There's more to life than passing tests, and there's more to humanity than people who do so. We are here to meet the needs of our students, and despite what you may have read elsewhere, test-taking may not be what everyone needs.

New York City needs to educate every kid, whether or not that kid has the money to pay Dalton tuition, and whether or not that kid can get a super-duper score on the SHSAT. Is Brooklyn Tech better than Francis Lewis High School, where I work? Well, if you base your decision on how many students pass tests, sure it is. I'd argue it's apples and oranges comparing a selective school to one that takes every kid that walks through the door. I will say, though, that we are the most requested high school in NYC. (While I attribute that to the ESL teachers being brilliant and good-looking, there are varying opinions.)

Does that make us better? I'm gonna stick with apples and oranges again. But hey, graduating from Francis Lewis is not precisely a death sentence. At least two of my former beginning ESL students now work as teachers in my building. (Sure, they teach math, but you can't win 'em all.) Of course, we've had some spectacular failures too. Dennis Walcott graduated from Lewis. I'll grant you Walcott was one of the worst NYC School Chancellors ever, carrying water for uppity demagogue Michael Bloomberg. He was however, a wiz with a waffle iron.

However disgraceful Walcott's career may be, there are a whole lot of other people who've graduated from regular NYC schools who've led productive and happy lives. I want every single student who comes to a city high school to have a great education, a fulfilling experience, and a great future. However, it's not remotely reasonable to compare selective with non-selective schools.

There are other issues that could help make schools like mine better. We could reduce class sizes. We could eliminate homelessness. Last I looked, 10% of our city's public school kids are homeless. How many of them go to Brooklyn Tech? How many of them even know it exists?

I love you, AOC, but it's time for you to either get a new question, or break this one into components. The side-by-side comparison just doesn't work.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

On Academic Language and ELLs

I've read most of a book called Cultivating Knowledge, Building Language. Someone from UFT told me it was the book on which the geniuses in Albany based their ELL policy. I'm not sure where to begin, if indeed that's the case, but I'll start with the fact that it focuses exclusively on elementary students.

I'm a high school teacher. The fact is my students come to me with varying knowledge of their first languages. They may be much more sophisticated than the learners on which this book focuses. Since this book focuses only on elementary students, it doesn't need to be aware that such skills are likely to transfer into English with experience. However, if the geniuses in Albany base practices for all students on such a book, it behooves them to know.

If I were to assume that my students had little knowledge of language because they have little knowledge of English, I'd be unqualified to teach these kids. Of course I get students who've had interrupted formal education, students who haven't received the instruction or attention elementary students usually get, but they are the exception, not the rule.

If you've studied language acquisition, you know that age is a big factor. You also know that puberty tends to be a real turning point. My students will not acquire English as easily as their elementary-aged brothers and sisters. They will need guidance and support beyond what six-year-olds need. It's my job to provide them with a nurturing and supportive environment. While the book does acknowledge that, were I to focus as intensely on vocabulary as the authors, I'd have little time to focus on what really concerns my kids.

Now I'm not against vocabulary. I love words, or I wouldn't be in the business of teaching English (let alone writing this blog). There is, though, a natural progression. I am not merely a provider of language. I am a salesperson, impressing upon my kids the joy of English, tricking them into loving it by hook or by crook. My hope is, that by doing so, I will get them motivated to not only learn what I offer, but also to go above and beyond on their own.

Of course that's easier said than done. Affect is a huge factor in language acquisition, one I've seen mentioned absolutely nowhere in the text. I've got a few kids who are not going to get it this year. Some of them are trying, and it's somehow beyond them. These kids will pick it up with time, usually in the second year. A few students absolutely hate being here. They were dragged here against their will, and it's very hard to get them to focus. Were I to take an extraordinary and almost exclusive focus on academic vocabulary, I would lose not only all of these kids, but a good amount of my other beginners too.

I remember how I learned to read. I was thrilled when I cracked the code, sometime in first grade, with the help of my mom. I went from there to comic books. From there I went to reading the paperbacks my mom left around the house. My ELLs may or may not live in print-rich households, but that doesn't preclude my giving them materials that will provoke their curiosity and enthusiasm. A topic this book hangs on is how animals survive. A topic that my ELLs may relate to more readily is how newcomers adjust, and there is a huge body of literature addressing that, here in our nation of immigrants.

Of course, a lot of that literature is fiction, given short shrift in this book, something to be used only as a secondary source, if at all. One thing all societies have in common is storytelling. It fascinates us. It fascinates me. I'd rather read a mystery novel any day of the week than a textbook. However, reading all those mystery novels is exactly what makes me better-suited to read the textbook than a whole lot of high-school and college students. I'm a reader. If we can create more readers, their vocabulary ability will expand with their reading. All due respect, we learn words better by seeing them in use than memorizing them from a list. Language is a tool to communicate, not a tedious chore to dread and be complied with.

There is something seriously amiss with the people who are leading our educational philosophy. We need to begin steering our students away from tedium and toward joy. Our students are not automatons to be programmed. In fact, not all of our students need to go to college. We need people to work trades, and if that's what they're good at, if that's what they want to do, if that's what makes them happy, we should help them get there.

Every year all the smart academics know everything. The following year they're all proven wrong and we're asked to disregard all the panaceas that were Last Year's Model. The geniuses in Albany have done an enormous disservice to the ELLs I serve. Everyone must be college and career ready, which actually means everyone must be college ready. No one needs to build a house, fix a car, or style your hair. No one needs to make music, or art, or theater. Also, there's no such thing as writer's voice, and nothing as trivial as art ought to be ascribed to writing, ever.

No, we all need to sit around and learn big words, because we all aspire to write prose as ponderous as that in the textbooks by which the geniuses in Albany set their Rolexes.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

On Academic Language

When I was a grad student, there weren't enough courses for me to complete my MA in Applied Linguistics. I'd been offered a choice between that and an MS in Education in TESOL.

Most people went for the latter, because it led to certification in teaching. However, I already had a certification in English. I didn't need the MS, and I thought Applied Linguistics sounded marginally more impressive. Essentially it made me a language teacher, but I liked the title.

I was missing two courses. For one, my grade advisor said he'd let me take student teaching. This was convenient for me. I already had a full-time job teaching ESL at John Adams High School. All I had to do was go to work, be observed by some guy at Queens College, and my supervisor would get a free college course. It was a WIN-WIN for sure. My classmates told me the magical observation formula--you show a picture, you use five vocabulary words, and do other things I've since forgotten. I only used it when the guy observed me, but he thought I was a genius for following directions.

For my other course, I had to find something. One of my professors approached me about editing the opening chapters of a textbook she'd prepared. It was essentially a life manual for ELLs. What do you do at interviews? How do you get a job? How do you get into college? I read the book and didn't see great commercial potential. I told her I would do it only if she got me credit for independent study.

This professor was great at academic English. She was so good at it, in fact, that most people who picked up the book would likely put it down very quickly. I know that was my inclination. I sat and translated the chapters into comprehensible and accessible English. It was a lot easier to follow, and I hadn't diluted the ideas. The thing is, though, that if you happened to be up on rudimentary culture in your native language, you didn't need this guide. I didn't know anyone who needed this guide. I needed the credits though. I got an A and it was worth my time.

So here's my take on academic English--it likely as not entails language no one wants to read. It might mean you use big words whether or not they are necessary. It might mean you make ideas more complicated than they need be. It might not, of course. There's always the possibility that you need to use big words. Maybe you need to express ideas with such absolute precision that this is the only way to do it. Diane Ravitch writes books full of facts that are compelling as novels. That's not simply because she knows a lot of vocabulary. It's because she is well-read, because she loves and appreciates the written word, because she's thoughtful and talented, and is consequently a great writer.

I'm 100% sure the book I edited was not as complex as the language used. The professor knew it and that's why she had me rewrite it. I'll tell you also that we're making a huge error trying to force our high school students to read and write academic English, particularly if it's to the exclusion of all else. The way we approach it and teach it is completely wrong. It's still based on David Coleman's massive inferiority complex, inextricably tied to his famous notion that no one gives a crap what you think or feel. I'll grant you that I don't give a crap what David Coleman thinks or feels, but there's no reason to lay that on my students. They've all come from other countries, and they're all more interesting than he is.

This notwithstanding, I may not wish to hear their theories on whether or not we should use shark netting on beaches. Actually we don't ask for their theories. Instead, we have them read  bunch of articles on the topic and state which ones they agree or disagree with. We do that on the NY State Regents exam, which is Common Core to the core. I can show them how to pass this test. I do so by having them follow directions. There's no self-expression, and barely a glimmer of original thought.

That's why their writing sucks even if they end up passing the test, even if they use academic words they studied on a list somewhere. No one would read this stuff if they didn't have to. We're so wrapped up in trying to teach them academic writing that we don't stop and think--who the hell wants to read academic writing simply for the sake of doing so?

Furthermore, we don't call it academic writing. We call it writing. That's not what it is. It makes me wonder how many English teachers never consider the difference. Why should they? It's their job, according to David Coleman, to make students pass the test. If they do that, their supervisors are grateful, their school looks good, and they're Highly Effective.

And whether or not we've expressed it directly, our students know that no one gives a crap what they feel or think. While this works for tests, it might not work for the student long-term. We're teaching academic language and test prep, but we're not teaching writing. Make no mistake, we're not teaching reading either. We're presenting it as a chore. My Queens ELLs are not highly motivated to learn about shark netting, and would likely never explore it given half a chance.

There's a huge body of great fiction about immigration and the American experience. I've read a great deal of it and I love it. We don't bother with that in our classes because it's not on the test. No one needs to relate the written experience of other people to their own lives. No one needs to empathize with them. No one needs to understand that others have been through the same or similar as they have and come out having achieved something.

We could teach our students that reading is something they can love, something from which they can benefit. Instead we present it as a chore to be completed, a task to get over with. We then wonder why our students hate it. We wonder why they can't write their way out of a paper bag.

The answer's easy. We listen to the "experts," who don't teach, who know nothing, and do all the wrong things. We belittle the teachers who work with kids every day. We end up with a process more suited to sausage making than child rearing.

There are ways to teach reading and writing, and there are ways to inspire young people. We've drunk so much Kool-Aid from Bill Gates and others that we're moving backward and bragging about it.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

On Student Notes and Rubrics

You go to meetings and someone tells you to group kids in a certain way, or present information in a certain way. Maybe if you do this, it will help maintain interest. Maybe it won't.

You never really know, since likely as not the person who came up with the idea isn't a classroom teacher and never tried it, let alone anything else you do in the classroom. There are a whole lot of people whose jobs entail knowing more than we do about what we do, except they don't do it.

We get these rating sheets where we are marked on a rubric. We're effective, highly effective, effectively high, or I want to take you higher. What does it really mean? Unless you get a bad rating, it means little or nothing. Do the people rating you really understand what's going on in the classroom? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe your supervisor only taught three years, only taught in one situation, only taught one kind of class, and has no idea of the variables going on in your classroom. Maybe your supervisor knows the Danielson rubric and truly believes it encompasses every possibility.

Sometimes kids step up, though, well beyond where the idiotic survey the city put out did, and draw outside the lines. A friend of mine who got a questionable rating recently posted a note from a student on Facebook that expressed something completely different from what the supervisor saw through the Danielson prism. This kid felt safe and understood in this classroom. That's important, and it's likely kids who bring up this sort of thing don't feel the same way elsewhere.

I treasure notes like these, and you'd better believe I look at them more times than any observation report I've received, ever. Not every student will step up and express that sort of thing, and I'd argue that if one does, others want to also. How can a supervisor see something like that? How do you measure that on a rubric? Instead, the supervisor will send you an email on Thursday period seven, and you won't see it because you teach period 8 and coach the track team the rest of the day. By 5 AM, when you wake up to go to work the next day, the supervisor will be haranguing you for ignoring this world-shattering email. Who knows what that supervisor will see next time in your class, through the prism of having that all-important email ignored?

I know great supervisors. I know reasonable supervisors. I also know childish and juvenile supervisors. I know self-important, self-serving supervisors who never should've gotten the job. I knew one highly ambitious teacher who used to work in colleges and had his high school students grade the college papers, because he couldn't. He was an incompetent teacher and now he's an incompetent supervisor. How could anyone's practice revolve around his opinions?

On my way out last Friday two students told me they missed me and hugged me right there in the hall. Why couldn't I be their teacher? I said maybe next year. You never know, or at least I never do. Things like that suggest to me I must be doing something right somewhere. Of course there are still a whole lot of students who haven't hugged me, so maybe that could be viewed as the opposite.

Your supervisor may, in fact, be correctly assessing what's going on in your classroom. But who knows how you can figure that out? Maybe we need to develop a rubric to determine whether or not your supervisor has a geranium in her cranium.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Today in Obvious News--DOE Full of Imbeciles

This morning I'm thinking a lot about a colleague of mine, sitting in a rubber room or whatever they call the reassignment centers this year, who doesn't deserve to be there. I know exactly the sort of thing that probably happened, though the geniuses in Tweed haven't seen fit to tell my friend. It's always better, evidently, to let teachers rot in limbo than to give them a chance to address the charges. In fact, up until now there aren't any, and there may never be any.

The DOE can always say, "Oopzie, we're sorry we let you sit around for months while we sat around and tried to figure what you were doing there." I know people who've gotten that message. Sat around twiddling their thumbs for a month or two, only to be sent back with no actual message of why they were there in the first place. And they don't, in fact, say they're sorry. Being incompetent and irresponsible means never having to say you're sorry.

It's funny, because I know of outrages that occurred that were and are well known by all and never addressed by any. Why doesn't the DOE know? Well, they aren't here, for one thing. They're over at air-conditioned, heated offices at Tweed standing around on their pedestals, spouting directives for lowly teachers to follow. This morning, like every morning, I tried and failed to get on to the sexual harassment webinar. Whose fault will it be when I fail to complete it by February? Mine, of course.

The ineptitude is staggering, Last year, when I tried to take it, some administrator or other gave me an alternate link that turned out to work. It wasn't the one I got through my DOE email. That one never worked. Hey, if you can't get through, go ahead and send them an email. They're really good about sending you automatic responses that don't mean or say anything.

And that's about the level of service you can expect from people who remove teachers for no good reason and haven't got a clue about real outrages that occur. They're totally indifferent to the pain they cause people as they sit there, blissfully ignorant of what's actually going on. Talk to teachers and you'll hear it all. Of course, they can't be lowered to that level. That would mean leaving their offices and going outside. As anyone can tell you, it's pretty unpleasant out there today. Why not just walk out your door, get into your chauffeured car, and get driven right to Tweed instead?

The only real benefit for me is time left over to write the odd blog. I've been doing one almost every morning this week after failing to get on to the sexual harassment survey. Fortunately, I've not been harassed lately, and the only person I've harassed has been my dog, who I force to go outside no matter how miserable the weather is. This morning, I'd argue it was he harassing me, insisting we walk another block even though it was frigid and miserable. I bought him this coat that looks like mine and he seems ready for anything.

I'm not. The DOE should either figure out its ass from its elbow or send all the UFT prisoners of war home now. There's no justification for these inept, vindictive losers collecting their overly-inflated salaries for ruining the lives of innocent people. If they want to do that, they should just get jobs in the Trump administration and be done with it. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Boost Panorama Survey Results, or Teach Children?

That's a choice we're facing, and I'll tell you why.

Yesterday I parodied the Panorama Survey, as I've been doing every time they put out a new one. I understand that it's important we treat students with respect, but I'm not at all sure that's what this survey measures. There are a whole lot of questions about whether the teacher is doing an adequate job, and there are a whole lot of reasons why the responses may not be accurate.

Here's one. I taught summers and evenings at the English Language Institute at Queens College for about 20 years. I came to college teaching from high school teaching, and thus my methods were a little different than those of colleagues with different experiences. I'd often hear laments from them about poor behavior in classes.

I never had any such complaints. Once, we had a very young student who was immature and problematic. I called his parents and had no more issues. My colleagues were shocked. The general behavior of my college students was such that I could accomplish much more. I could go over material in half the time I was used to. If there were behavioral problems, I stopped them instantly. I was used to far worse.

We were rated by the students, and that was quite a big deal for the program. After all, they wanted to increase business, being a non-credit, optional program. One semester I got a bad rating. This was a big issue. I determined to never have that happen again, and the secret sauce for that was not at all difficult to uncover. I stopped bugging students to do the homework. I stopped bothering people over poor test scores. Sure, I got less homework, and lower test scores, and sure some students didn't learn as much. But my rating went through the roof. From that semester on, no one criticized me for anything beyond my awful incomprehensible handwriting.

I know exactly how to beef up my Panorama Survey, but I won't do it. I'm in charge of teenagers whose judgment is not yet what it needs to be. I will continue to insist they show up, they show up on time, and they not only do homework, but also participate in class and prepare for exams or projects. I know some of them will not like that. I know that this will result in their trashing my ratings. I'm prepared to live with that.

It's interesting that there are no questions whatsoever on the survey that relate to student responsibility. Judging from the survey, they haven't got any and the onus is entirely on the teacher. Where's the question about whether or not you attend class, or how often? Where's the question about whether or not you're cooperative? Where's the one about whether you're passing all or any of your classes?

Any administrator who shows you that survey and asks that you adjust your practice to address its criticisms is opening herself up to the awful truth. You can easily game this survey if you wish. Just stop bothering the students who need bothering. Stop trying to teach them that responsibility entails actually showing up and doing what you're there to do. Stop intervening. Let them play games on their phone instead of doing the classwork.

That will have the added benefit of allowing the students who wish to focus more opportunity to do so. If the disruptive students are kept busy playing video games, there will be no time for them to disrupt class. Let them put on their earphones and listen to music, or watch Netflix. The students who want good grades will thus have more of your attention and do better. Your survey results with Race to the Top, and it's a WIN-WIN!

Except, of course, for the students who might have benefited from your intervention. They'll fail, and get Left Behind. But hey, if that's what administrators want, then I'll be happy to sit down with them and explain how we can boost the survey results. Just don't come in here with that Danielson crap that says you want them to participate, or learn.

You can't have it both ways.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Panorama Survey 2019

1. How depressed are you about going to this teacher's class?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. This will be another ER visit for sure.

2. How often does this teacher ignore your needs?

a. usually   b. frequently   c. constantly   d. always  e. both in and out of the classroom 24/7

3. In this class, how stifled does the teacher make you feel?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. I don't remember what it is to feel

4. How threatening does the teacher make this classroom?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. NOOO! I WON'T GO BACK THERE!!!!

5. How often does this teacher waste your time making you explain stuff?

a. always  b. siempre  c. sempre  d. constantly  e. constantamente

6. How unfair are this teacher's stupid rules?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. the worst in the frigging universe

7. How much does this teacher humiliate you in front of all your friends?

a. usually   b. frequently   c. constantly   d. always  e. both in and out of the classroom 24/7

8. In this class, how much do you suffer because the teacher fails to control it?

a. a lot   b. very much  c. too much  d. way too much  e. words fail me

9. How often does this teacher bore you to tears?

a. usually   b. frequently   c. constantly   d. always  e. both in and out of the classroom 24/7

10. Overall, how low are the teacher's expectations of you?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. lower than low

11. How bored is your teacher with the tedious material inflicted upon you?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. the most bored anyone has ever been

12. How hars is it to forget all the crap with which this teacher wastes your time?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. I have bad dreams about it

13. How frequently does the teacher plod on with useless crap even after it's well-established the material is a waste of time?

a. usually   b. frequently   c. constantly   d. always  e. Caramba, dude!

14. How ignorant is this teacher on the subject?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. My dog could teach better.

15. How much more tedious than necessary does this teacher make the subject?

a. 100%  b. 110%  c. 120%  d. 150%  e. over 200%

16. If you came back three years from now, how much would this teacher have forgotten you?

a. 100%  b. 110%  c. 120%  d. 150%  e. over 200

17. How often does this teacher waste your time with even more foolish nonsense?

a. always  b. siempre  c. sempre  d. constantly  e. constantamente

18. How much does this teacher hate you and everything you stand for?

a. a lot   b. very much  c. too much  d. way too much  e. Don't even ask.

19. During class, how often does the teacher fail to control it?

a. always  b. siempre  c. sempre  d. constantly  e. constantamente

20. How vague, nebulous, and incomprehensible are this teacher's stupid lessons?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. I don't even know what the subject is.

21. When your teacher asks how you are, how quickly is your answer ignored?

a. very quickly  b. immediately  c. right away  d. straight away  e. teacher never asks

22. How well can this teacher tell that no one ever understands anything communicated?

a. not at all  b. not well  c. unwell  d. well, well, well e. Hail and farewell.

23. How much does this teacher ignore your personal learning style?

a. always  b. siempre  c. sempre  d. constantly  e. constantamente

24. If you walked into class upset, how indifferent would your teacher be?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. It would depend on whether or not teacher is awake.

25. How intimidated are you to ask questions in this teacher's class?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. AAAAHHHHHH!!!!! HELP!!!!

26. How alienated do you feel from the teacher in this class?

a. very   b. extremely  c. very extremely  d. 100%  e. I have never seen this teacher before.

27. Overall, how much time have you wasted in this classroom without learning anything?

a. a lot   b. very much  c. too much  d. way too much  e. every excruciating second

Monday, December 16, 2019

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly in Pittsburgh

Let's get this out of the way first--it's remarkable that a bunch of presidential candidates came to talk education. It's extraordinary that they came to see us this year. There was no doubt that they all though our votes worth pursuing, and came out in hopes of showing us how much they love and respect teachers. Most of them spoke of having teachers in their families. This, they suppose, will make us love them. Yet if they almost all have teachers in their families, they need to differentiate on that theme.

This is a huge improvement over the last few campaigns, where we endorsed without getting anything in return. I don't know what Hillary would've done about education, but I will never forget being in Minnesota and having her tell us we can "learn from public charter schools." Once you call them that, you've drunk the Kool-Aid, Furthermore, I've seen no evidence they do anything better than we do, beyond picking and choosing kids and dumping those they don't like. Neither of those things impress me. 

My grandfather was an electrician. He was very clever. He could work out things for people that they were happy with. However, you wouldn't want me to poking around wires in your home any time soon. Now I loved my grandfather, but I inherited absolutely none of his electrical skills. I'm not at all sure having a teacher in your family makes you palatable to teachers. It certainly doesn't mean you understand the job.

It's not a bad thing that they want our votes. What are they willing to give for them, though? Even though a few dozen pro-charter folks stood outside and protested, none of the candidates spoke substantively against charters. I believe Warren said they ought to be subject to the same regulations public schools are, and I know that's not bringing holiday cheer to the Moskowitz family. Last I looked, Bernie's not a fan at all. Too bad for them.

My biggest surprise was Amy Klobuchar. Though she isn't a top-tier candidate, and thus gets little media coverage, she was surprisingly persuasive. She doesn't seem to share my desire for a national health program, or for free community colleges, but she seems quite sincere. She was the only candidate who spoke of having a teacher in her family who also made it seem like it was of genuine importance to her.

It was pretty disgusting that Michael Bennet could get up in front of all those people and say that he didn't support privatization. Most people, when they use that word, are referring specifically to charters, and he's a big booster of charters, receiving consistently high marks from DFER, no less. Reformies hold fundraisers for him. After telling us how much he loved us, he walked directly out and met with the charter supporters who were protesting our event.

I'm sorry, but schools that take our money and do whatever they please with it are not public schools. You don't bring a ham sandwich to a banquet, and you don't sprinkle the water supply with arsenic either. Charters are a destructive force to public education. We are constantly short on funding, and they suck it from us. Right here in NYC, we're required to pay rent for the likes of Eva Moskowitz so she can test prep children until they pee their pants. Closer to Pittsburgh, PA districts are going broke because they're required to support charters.

From all I could see, MSNBC micromanaged the questions. I was in a room where people were rewriting questions with MSNBC feedback. I don't think they should have any say whatsoever in what the questions are. They rejected my initial question because someone else had mentioned New Orleans. That's ridiculous, because each candidate will have a different viewpoint. Furthermore, their reporters spouted unexamined nonsense about the NAEP and PISA, two tests about which they appeared to know nothing. They questioned several candidates about that.

Those of us in states like NY don't get much of a voice in the primaries. We're taken 100% for granted in the general. I don't think we'll get a whole lot of opportunity to make a difference. By the time the race hits us, it could very well be close to over, if not over. People in Iowa and New Hampshire get to see these candidates up close all the time.

I'm sure AFT has people there. I'm not at Executive Board tonight because the last time I went on a snowy night they told me to turn around and go home. If I were there I'd ask whether there was an AFT effort to make sure the Democrats get challenging questions from working teachers. If I lived there I'd be following them everywhere.

How can those of us in non-swing states that don't have early primaries amplify our voices in this election?

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Cameras and Everything

That's what I saw today here in Pittsburgh. Every single candidate loves teachers. They all want us to make more money. Everyone is going to triple Title One, except Elizabeth Warren. (She's going to quadruple it.) Cory Booker was supposed to show up, but didn't. He was sick. He did not send a medical note, so I marked him cutting.

Too bad. I wanted to know if he still  supported vouchers. I wanted to know if he regretted teaming up with Betsy DeVos. I wanted to know why if he loved public school teacher so much, that Broad, Gates, and the Walmart family gave him money. I don't think anyone would have asked him though. There weren't a whole lot of tough questions on charters. There were some very interesting moments, though.

I was happy to meet a few people I'd only encountered on the internet. One was Peter Green, who writes great stuff on a pretty regular basis at Curmudgucation. Another was Steven Singer, who writes Gadfly on the Wall blog. I was very happy to run into Carol Burris, who runs NPE. I was happily surprised to see my friend Adriana O'Hagen, who used to work for UFT but seems to have gotten promoted to AFT.

Michael Bennet boasted of some program he started that resulted in a huge teacher strike. I believe he's the guy who's hugely into privatization, and he announced he didn't favor privatization. I guess he's been out with the charter protestors drinking the Kool-Aid. Charter schools are public schools. Yes, they are, but only in terms of taking our money. Once that's over, they do any golly gosh darn thing they feel like. Rules? Not for Eva Moskowitz. She'll take you to court until she gets her way, and whatever Eva wants, Eva gets.

After Bennet was Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose last name we'd all need to learn how to spell if he attains higher office. Mayor Pete was not altogether forthcoming on where his money came from, but in fairness, no one bothered to ask him. So what if he's taken a crapload of cash from pro-charter folk? The good folks at MSNBC didn't see fit to bother him about it, so why should I? After all, there are more important things to consider.

He's right. And why should anyone go deeper once we know that? Still, these people are professional newspeople. Maybe they don't know about the charter cash. Maybe they don't care. Maybe they're concerned with the pro-charter folk outside in the rain criticizing them. Who knows what goes on in the minds of highly-compensated TV personalities?

One of Mayor Pete's really low points from me was when he said that good teachers could result in 300K income over the life of a student. This is from a debunked and discredited Raj Chetty paper that generated a lot of conversation. Did Mayor Pete know that? If not, does he accept reforminess without question? If so, why's he repeating it?

Next was Elizabeth Warren, who came in like a whirlwind of sheer energy. I hung on her every word. The moderators, though, seemed to think now it's time to challenge someone. Warren was not bothered by it at all. At one point, she got in the face of the female reporter and said something like stop giving me that look. This notwithstanding, she answered every question with precision and clarity. She was much loved by the crowd.

It was striking that the moderators were so dead-set on rattling her. Where are you going to get the money for this? Can we really afford that? They couldn't shake her at all, and it's pretty easy to see that her mind is more accurate and quick than those of the hosts. In short, she's a hell of a lot smarter than they are. There was a lot of love in the room for her, and some of it was mine.

All day long I was lobbying to ask a question of Joe Biden. I have no idea how people got to do that, but I had my mind set on asking him this:

I recall Arne Duncan, who famously said Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans. This resulted, of course, in the charterization of the entire city, the loss of many union jobs, and the displacement of a large number of teachers. Fifteen years after Katrina, most New Orleans charters are graded D or F. Duncan also pushed test-centric initiatives, such as Race to the Top and Common Core; even so, NAEP scores remain flat. What was your position on Duncan's education initiatives? Has it changed? Why or why not?

I bugged a whole lot of people, everyone I could think of, and was waiting for an answer. My friend Adriana, who seems to know everyone I don't, was lobbying for me.

Meanwhile, we went to lunch. When we got back, Bernie Sanders came on, and the room erupted in thunderous applause. The moderators tried to challenge him. He said, at some point, "I have to stand up to answer this question." Then he kept standing, and one by one, the moderators joined him. One of the moderators tried to corral him. She said he did not support No Child Left Behind. He said no, I didn't and the audience broke into applause. The moderator started talking about the importance of testing, something she harped on throughout, and Bernie said the problem with testing was it makes us all teach to the test. I was thrilled to see Bernie Sanders live, as was much of the crowd. He's got a rock star aura, which must not be easy at his age.

Then came billionaire Tom Steyer. His mom was a teacher. Mayor Pete's husband is a teacher, though I hear at a private school. Biden's wife is a college teacher. I taught college for 20 years, and I'd argue it's a different job than what I do now. I'd also argue that what I do now is more important. It's a lot more challenging to teach teenagers than it is to teach students who actually pay to be in your class. As for Joe Biden teaching Saturdays, I'm sorry. A US Senator teaching one day a week hasn't got a clue what my job is.

I wondered why Steyer, if he was so passionate about education, didn't just spend a billion on an education association like NPE. Perhaps he could simply give a billion to everyone in the crowd today, you know, like the giveaways Oprah used to do. That would've increased his likeability tenfold, though I'm not sure it would have garnered him votes. But alas.

And that was the end of that. Amy Klobucher came on. Although I'm not at all fond of her "centrist" policies, e.g. no Medicare for All and no free college, she was quite intelligent and quite charming. Rather than simply recite that her mom was a teacher, she told a story about how her mom had touched a disabled student, who even as an adult remembered how she'd taught him about monarch butterflies.

Then there was big news about my question, and I got dragged out of the hall. I was in some little room, where everyone really loved my question but couldn't I say something about ELLs? After all, no one had mentioned them for the whole conference and there was already a question about New Orleans. Perish forbid we should get the perspective of the man who was Vice-President while this was all happening. So little by little my question evolved until it became this:

I teach English Language learners in a trailer behind the largest school in Queens, the most overcrowded school in New York City. I wear a suit and tie every day to show them the respect the city never seems to.

The effects of Race to the Top and Common Core are still around, and my students are still feeling them. I’m frequently prepping my kids to take irrelevant standardized tests they need to graduate rather than providing them with the fundamental English they so desperately need, or teaching them what writer voice and real writing actually is.

What can you do to improve conditions for my students to make sure they’re able to not only learn English, but also love it? 

Now, all I had to do was sit by mike three and wait to be called. Biden answered one question from an audience member, and went on for a long time. He loves teachers, he's our best friend, he will get us high pay and triple Title One. He was passionate about many things, he told us.

His second question was about whether he'd support standardized testing. "You're preaching to the choir," he said. I found that quite curious because he'd sat by while Arne Duncan mandated it, and neither said nor did anything to stop it. Then he went on. And he went on. At one point he said there are lousy teachers out there but you know what students need.

Biden was the only candidate who took only two questions, and that's because after a life of politics he can go on and on about anything. It doesn't matter what the question is, and I'm sure were I to ask him the second question he'd have told me he loved ELLs, they're wonderful, and he'd buy us all houses in Beverly Hills.

I really regret not having asked him the first, though. But the moderators said someone had already mentioned New Orleans, so who cares about 7,000 jobs lost, an entire city privatized, and demonstrably miserable results?

Not MSNBC, that's for sure.

Charter Supporters Protest Us in Pittsburgh

I'm at the Westin, in Pittsburgh. To the left you can see a huge sinkhole that's right in front of the hotel. Up close, it looks as though the Avengers were here battling some comic-book monster set on ravaging the city. That's a pretty apt image for what's happening here. I just walked out in the rain and saw the charter supporters, in a circle, chanting about choice.

Before I even mention why we're the Avengers and they're the monster, let's reflect back on years of pro-charter propaganda. Do you remember, on Oprah's show, when people like Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and every reformy star they could pluck from the universe appeared to hype the big-budget anti-public-school stinker Waiting for Superman, who the pro-public-school reps were? Me neither, because there weren't any.

Do you remember when candidate Cory Booker, also appearing on Oprah, with Chris Christie and Mark Zuckerberg, took 100 million dollars, ostensibly to fix the public schools he called "repugnant," gave equal time to public school supporters? Me neither. Do you remember Campbell Brown giving time to public school supporters when she did her presidential thing in 2016? Me neither. Did the reformies portray public school supporters fairly in Son of Waiting for Superman, or Won't Back Down (my sincere apologies to Tom Petty), or whatever they called Hollywood stinker number two? Of course not.

MSNBC is hosting our forum and livestreaming it. I vividly recall when they were behind something called Education Nation, a bonanza of publicity for reforminess that barely paid lip service to public education. I would not be remotely surprised if they turned around and did something similar this year to placate the protestors this year, surely a goal of theirs.

Bill Gates and DFER have big pockets, and big-pocketed friends. Let's take a look at charter schools. How many of them scream about the 100% of their grads go on to four-year colleges? Then you read Diane Ravitch, Carol Burris, or Gary Rubinstein, or any number of analysts point out that they've shed 60-80% of their students before arriving at that 100% figure. Oddly, schools like mine who take everyone and keep everyone who wants to stay do far better than that. Go figure. And it's us who take on the students who charters have let down, tossed out or given up on.

Then you look at charters right here in Pennsylvania that suck public school districts dry, leaving them to wither and die for all they care. And for what? For money, of course, Though politicians shed crocodile tears over "for profit" charters, in most of the country "for profit" charters are illegal. That doesn't stop parasites like Eva Moskowitz from pulling in almost a million bucks a year in New York City as she moves on like a cancer degrading and upending public schools. Then they have million dollar fund raisers attended by hedge funders who wouldn't send their kids to public schools on a bet.

As for those poor charter supporters , they can stand out there feeling sorry for themselves, but even at our forum, we have Cory Booker, who champions standardized testing, supports not only charters but also vouchers, and who was an early supporter of DFER, an organization that constitutes the reformiest of the reformies. He appeared before one of Betsy DeVos's from groups and called them his earliest supporters. He takes money from Gates, Broad and the Walmart family. They aren't paying him to support public education. Mayor Pete may have little to say about charters, but he's taking a crapload of money from them. I don't personally believe they're supporting him simply for his charming smile.

And Biden? I'm sorry, but he was Vice-President when we all lived through Race to the Top. Almost every state in the country was blackmailed into not only supporting charters, but also rating teachers by junk science. While Booker can jump up and down with glee over it, teachers nationwide suffered, and are still suffering by oporessive and idiotic systems. Great teachers, teachers of the year, brilliant young people lost their jobs over this. What did Biden have to say when Arne Duncan stood up in front of God and everybody and declared Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to NOLA education?

Crickets. Meanwhile, the entire school district was charterized and union is pretty much nostalgia, a thing of the past. All the schools that no longer have to Wait for Superman are rated F, or D if they're lucky. After over a decade of charters and reforminess NAEP scores are flat. Here's a fact--unless we do something about poverty,  homelessness, and health care in this country, as opposed to giving spectacular tax breaks to those who least need them, charters are a band-aid. Actually, since they don't really work, since they are intended to destroy a public good, and since it's repugnant to make robots out of children, they aren't even that.

Charters are overwhelmingly non-union. Teachers are fired for having a bad haircut. It's particularly egregious when charters are set on profit over serving the children. I know charter teachers who've been fired for trying to help children, as opposed to test-prepping them to death. Charter school teachers haven't got a long shelf life. Those I know who continue do so by going from school to school. They tell me it's a way of life. They never really manage to make a living, and haven't got a significant voice in improving learning conditions, let alone working conditions. I don't want my kids and students, or yours to grow up to a world with jobs like that. 

Let the billionaire-sponsored supporters hold their signs and complain. Clearly, they represent the sinkhole. If you want it to spread, go out and march along with them.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

UFT Delegate Assembly December 11, 2019--DOE Needs Lesson On Instructional Leadership

4:33 UFT President Michael Mulgrew welcomes us.

National—Dumpster fire. We are preparing for state budget. National politics have direct effect. Saturday is AFT Presidential Forum. Remember when Michael Bloomberg was mayor? He did not do all of what he says. We will remind everyone when it came to public education and policing, his policies were destructive, helped neither education nor communities. Approval rating on education was 21% when he left office.

State—Health care budget in very bad shape. Medicare growth over 13%, state budgeted only 4. We are constantly fighting and trying to figure how to negotiate with health care companies and hospitals. We will continue to fight. They’re making a whole lot of money, think we can just pay, pay and pay. We have been forcing them to deal with us professionally. We now lobby with them. In Albany, they will try to pit us against health care interests, as used to happen in the past.

Rochester facing 200 teacher layoffs. Midyear cuts are horrendous. City already struggling. Working with NYSUT, trying to work this out. Rochester facing severe financial crisis. Hoping this forces them to come up with a plan and deal with issue rather than pushing it off. Teachers and students don’t deserve to bear brunt of city mismanagement.

NYC—We have issues with Instructional Leadership Framework. We have an agreement with CSA and DOE that we will work together to prepare NYC schools for changes in NY State assessments. ILF in direct conflict with work we’re trying to get done. Based on advanced literacy. We like it, but they only took a portion of it. Forgot that every teacher must have real curriculum, scope and sequence, expectations, relevant topics, not go to Engage NY, or here’s a book.

This happened with Common Core, and same thing can happen again. We won’t sit by and have people who hate public education call us a failure. Give CSA credit—they have no contract and have offered to work with us. Each school district has autonomy over curriculum. State may not issue one.

We will do this process. Will be tough. I see schools buying products aligned to nothing, things that will not help us move into the future. Blame DOE, who said they weren’t in the curriculum business. Chancellor has corrected that, says they now are.

Group of chapter leaders will have new online community. Focus group met with IT engineers. New tool will be used to collect info. Most schools don’t have a curriculum. DOE recognizes that. They point at principals, who run around and grab whatever they can.

If we can show that each school should give a curriculum and design PD off of that, we will have improved conditions in schools. We need DOE and CSA on board with this project. Test scores are not everything, but our enemies use them against us.

It’s awful that we make children fail tests for which they aren’t prepared. We need to address it. Will update in January. On Tuesday Regents said every school must have a PD committee that is majority teachers. We will keep pushing at this. Will work from February to May. Hope by June schools are aligned with curriculum and PD.

Political teams—Empower, organize and engage. Everyone should have a consultation team. That is a voice and right you have. If not, we will help. Asked each district to form political team of 5-10 per district. Long-term plan. First, we want members to be known as political entities inside district. Major challenge is census.

Our economy has to go down sooner or later. Met with over 400 people here, with Count Me In census group. We want our money back from DC. Sick and tired of NYC money building roads in Alabama. They’re laughing at us. Were we at 70% ten years ago, we might not be fighting 13 years for money we supposedly won in settlement. We were at 60, lowest performing in state. If we were at 70, we’d have gotten all our CFE money.

Last time we left it to those in charge to take care of it. They failed. We are taking active role in census this time. They screwed up. If we want something done, we need teachers and nurses. This will be first process of political team. We will take our teams in the district. Carving city into geographic maps. Want our teams to be hub of communication.

Don’t want to go back to years when Bloomberg tried to lay off thousands of teachers three years in a row. We have to get to at least 75% in census. After that, will move into elections and political action. Our teams will be able to support chapter leaders with problem principals. Will do a few weekends of prep. Can’t do all at one time. We will come up with our own plans.

Number one most uncounted cohort in NYC ten years ago was children. Every resident counts. There is a constitutional piece that says census info may not be used about anything but the census. Our enemies will threaten deportation, or throwing people out for over-occupancy of apartments. We have to get truth out.

All class size grievances are now finished. DOE wants to meet with us. They aren’t happy about it. Superintendents and principals upset because they weren’t told they were responsible. We want to meet. Think it can go faster.

We average over 10,000 phone calls a week, We are answering, getting to better place. Last Monday we had 11,000 calls. Answered all of them.

Consultation—was a big push. Last year, some of you said consultation was canceled and we counted it. We are now at 75%. We didn’t get near that until last May. Biggest obstacle of those left is people who say they have no issues. Once you give up a right, it’s gone. Is consultation only about problems?

For example, school wanted to have a dance. Did an SBO, moved parent engagement time, and found time to chaperone a dance, despite budget issues. If you empower people at the school they can figure things out. Outsiders come in and cause problems.

Number one issue is school policy and staff morale. We have a ways to go. Those schools should be saying we want better schools and putting their ideas on the record. There is now a record when administration fails to do the right thing.

A lot of people complain about Quality Review. Tied to principal ratings and complete waste of time. I applaud principals who understand and approach staff the right way. Similar to instructional leadership framework. With no curriculum, what is framework based on?

Thanks us—first full year of paid parental leave. Set our goals—Only two unions in city with contract done, headed into tough financial times. We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for most important people in union—chapter leaders. Everything we do is to support you.

Gave up on Tweed years ago. Should be a museum. They want to know why I diminish their work. Because it’s useless. Operations and safety are improving. On instruction and teaching and learning—the worst part. That’s their biggest deficit. Can’t get out of their own way.

Thanks us but there’s always more to do. Never can do enough for kids, can always keep fighting, we are greatest union on face of earth and thank you.

LeRoy Barr—Points us to UFT podcast. Suggests we pass code around so all can listen, whether or not they come to meetings. We will have others.

Welcomes secretary delegates.

Kwanzaa event next week Brooklyn 4-8. Jan 6 Three kings celebration in Bronx. Next DA January 15.

Mulgrew—Two events—Thanksgiving and holiday events for homeless children. Thanks Rich Mantel, raised 40K and 700 coats distributed through city. Thanks Karen Alford for hosting event with children. I tell elected officials they should be ashamed for doing nothing. Deplorable that this city blames everyone and no one helps 114K children in homeless shelters. Happy we can at least give them a day of respite.


Q—Michael Bloomberg—trying to get Dem nomination. Imagine DeVos replaced with Klein—How do we support right candidate?

A—NYS performed well in last election. We vote in high percentages. Decide on different issues. At AFT we are pushing all state and locals to engage with candidates. Once UFT endorses, that will stop engagement in other states. Once we endorse, we won’t be able to engage in PA, Florido, Ohio, etc. We want to make sure they are actively engaged, having real conversations in these states. UFT doesn’t do endorsements. AFT does national endorsements. We need to have a thoughtful process, help states engage in more meaningful way. In terms of Bloomberg, it’s scary. Klein was more effective than Betsy, who’s like Cathie Black. We are watching very closely. Have communicated everything AFT needs to know about Bloomberg. He’s posing as a great educator. We will talk about how he tried to destroy public education. We believe in long run it’s important to actively engage AFT. We will make sure everyone knows about Bloomberg.

Q—Evaluation—in some areas principals are up to date. In some, it’s not going well. Deadline some time in January. What if they miss deadline?

A—We want principals to get in and do observations. Clearly talent coaches didn’t get message. Admin just walking around demanding compliance with rubrics. Teachers can grieve if they don’t get observed by January. I will put it in my consultation.

Q—D 75 in many schools, often colocated. Buildings not organized for us or staff. Has this been addressed?

A—Yes. Constant challenge for union. At times it gets better. Hoping as we move forward we see better participation. We want to get into a better place, but we’re not where we should be. We have to own this. Sometimes they are completely integrated, and that’s a great educational setting. We have to have conversations at work sites. We have same challenge with campus sites. We have a map of D75 sites. DOE doesn’t know where they are. They only know payroll codes. We have made inroads, but there’s always more to do. We will continue to push issue.

Q—New contract has worked well in my building. My building has almost 3400 students, 230 UFT members, most E and HE. An issue is that it’s two observations for those in the system, and they’re 15 minutes. Part of feedback is on losing option of formal. You get to sit down and work things out. That is felt as a loss. Our admin is happy to do a formal, but they can’t put it in Advance that way for those only due for two informals.

A—I will check. If that’s true, admin can only do two. Happy about your engagement. Was big debate among negotiating committee. Was big debate over ability to have a formal. DOE didn’t want to force them to do it. Many on our side said they didn’t want formals. I would like to have the option, but it’s a negotiation. Will look at it for next contract.


David Pecoraro
—Resolved, UFT opposes Trump admin designation of Judaism as a nationality. History of designating religious group as nationality is awful. I am an American. Born in Brooklyn. Jew by faith and anything else is false. Hope we can put on agenda.

Roy Whitford—With respect, motion based on early NYT report that has since come into question about validity. Washington Post says this is incorrect. Text of executive order not yet released. Need all our facts straight first.


Adam Marcus
—Resolution to provide CL and delegates with undoing racism training. Took undoing racism course. Changed teaching process. (speaks very fast, I can’t keep up) Speaks of white people teaching students of color, helps dismantle racist policies. Many policies based on racism. Will empower and engage.

Janella Hinds-- Important we analyze thinking we bring to our work with students. Oppose this. Want to find best ways to partner with community organizations on racism, gender discrimination. We are committed to doing this work. This is too far ahead of where we want to stand.


Marjorie Stamberg—this month—reminder that we are working class—Issue is not which Democrat or Republican—Democrats party of Wall st., have pushed racism and homelessness. To defend immigrants and oppressed, must oppose capitalism.

Michael Friedman
—thanks Marjorie for being his colleague upon her retirement.


Mulgrew thanks her for always coming and being passionate.

Point of order—Peter Lamphere—Is it possible to ask body to extend motion period 5 minutes.


Mike Sill
—Resolution protesting Rochester teacher layoffs.

Placed on agenda.

Ryan Brokenthal—Motion for next month—in support of Democratic process in UFT. AFT said we could have own process. Want one member one vote process. Recognize taking time and not wanting to overstep locals.

Evelyn de Jesus
—We appreciate members that signed this but we have a representative process at UFT. Four VPs sit on council. Our union has variety of strategies to ensure candidates reflect our values. Would like 200 members who signed be PAC members in schools. Have forum on Saturday for this. Our job to make sure we rep your voices. This DA is elected and representative. I ask you not to support this, but to support our process going forward.


—Thanks us for all we do. Loves delegate assembly. Take time off. Relax, Be healthy.

Resolution—Lower drug costs

?—Supports HR3 to lower drug costs and act now. Seniors and all Americans will pay less and lower costs. Americans now pay highest prices in world. Last month, ABC news did a story about GA woman who lived in car. Couldn’t afford rent and prescription medicines. Wants prices in line with other countries like Canada, France and Mexico. Will be 2K cap on out of pocket costs for seniors. We will negotiate Medicare prices. Will reduce insurance premiums. Seniors, retirees and others can’t afford to wait.

Peter Selinger—calls question

Resolution passes unanimously

Mike Sill—Rochester is saying Merry Christmas wondering whether they’re going back to work. This is due to mismanagement. They can’t bail themselves out on backs of working people.

Kate Martin Bridge
—Calls question

Resolution passes unanimously.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Thing

Nothing strikes fear into a teacher's heart quite like the prospect of another day of PD on the New Thing. There are all these programs, based on the presumption that you're doing everything wrong, and trying to get you to correct yourself and do everything right. Right there you've already lost. It's like you're five years old and someone is telling you to drink castor oil for your own good.

First, no one wants to do anything for their "own good." Doing something for your own good is virtually always synonymous with doing something you don't want to do. More importantly, the people who claim to know what's good for you, well, they're often way off base. The implicit assumption of a whole lot of PDs is that we don't know what we're doing. I sat for several hours a few weeks ago while some highly paid corporate functionary told me what is and is not a good story.

It wasn't as bad as the first time they came, when we compared and contrasted crap with good writing, but all in all it was not a productive use of my time. I'd argue that if I, as an English teacher, were unable to distinguish between cleverness and crap there would be something amiss that a three-hour workshop would be unlikely to correct. The assumption that I don't know the difference, though, is insulting, and that's what you get from a lot of PD.

At a friend's school they simulated a sweat shop and had to make things. I saw pictures of baskets they created. This might be a great activity for a social studies class. In fact, given that I teach immigrants, it might be a great activity for my class. This is the sort of work my grandparents had to do when they came here. For all I know, this is what my students' parents are still doing. And in the US of A in 2019 working newcomers are reviled for doing work a whole lot of Americans wouldn't dream of doing. It's great to see someone break out of the New Thing Mode.

I wonder why PD can't consist of us going somewhere and doing something, perhaps as a model for something we'd go and do with our students. I once took my students to the Tenement Museum in Manhattan. It's pretty remarkable to see how people used to live. There's a Queens Museum a few miles from our school. I don't think I've set foot there for decades. Maybe we should be letting students know about their own neighborhoods. Maybe we should do walking tours. Maybe it should be the students leading us.

PD is, for the most part, the flavor of the week, or more accurately, of the year. Every year there is some New Thing, touted as the best and only thing, and we spend all year like dogs chasing our tails running after it. It doesn't matter whether or not we catch it, because next year will be the Newer Thing, and that will be all the rage.

PD sessions are almost invariably given uncritically by people who've accepted the New Thing as tantamount to the Ten Commandments. They believe in the Thing fervently, and the only possible way to be an effective teacher is to use the Thing on a perpetual basis in your classroom. There are good reasons for this. One is the only way to claw your way into the ranks of supervision is to be guided by the New Thing, whatever it may be. This is accompanied, of course, by an absolute willingness to drop the Thing in a New York minute once the powers that be come up with a new flavor.

We career teachers continue our work, even as supervisors continue to ponder why we fail to jump up and down at the prospect of each and every New Thing. Because they're 100% devoted to the Thing of the Week, it never crosses their mind that we may just as well have seen the Thing 15 years ago with a different name, and that 14 years ago it was discarded as trash, left in the pile with each and every other Thing of the Past.

We teachers just keep going. It's important that we remain critical and continue to ask questions, not matter how much that disturbs the powers that be. After all, our prime function is as role models to children.

Monday, December 09, 2019

What Would You Ask the Presidential Candidates?

A week or two ago, I got an email from AFT. They were seeking people to go to Pittsburgh this coming weekend to see and hopefully participate in the presidential education forum. It asked me," IF YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO TELL THE NEXT PRESIDENT ONE THING ABOUT WHY YOU’RE PUBLIC SCHOOL PROUD OR WHAT YOU SEE IN YOUR SCHOOL AND COMMUNITY THAT NEEDS IMPROVEMENT, WHAT WOULD IT BE? "

I had to click on a link and respond, so I don't actually have a record of my answer. I'm pretty sure it had something to do with working behind the most overcrowded school in New York City in a miserable trailer that's hot around summer and cold around winter. I may have asked about how exactly a candidate would support and encourage union, not only for teachers, but for all Americans.

A few days ago, I was notified that I was one of 25 applicants who AFT had selected to send to Pittsburgh. If you aren't coming, you can still watch. AFT will be training me in solidarity and social media Friday, and I'll be able to attend the forum on Saturday. I will try to ask a question of at least one of the candidates. I've got just a few things on my mind.

It weighs heavily in my memory that candidate Barack Obama said he'd pass card check so as to encourage and enable union. To the best of my recollection, he never even tried. I also recall him saying he'd find comfortable shoes and march with labor, and that he never set foot in Wisconsin as collective bargaining was stripped from teachers and others. I recall candidate Obama saying something to NEA on the lines of, "I'll do it with you, not to you." I also recall Arne Duncan being selected as education secretary. Duncan, famously, said that Hurricane Katrina was the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Now I recall very clearly what happened in NOLA. All, or almost all, the public schools were closed and re-opened as charter schools. Union is pretty much a thing of the past. Due process? Dream on. How many teachers were displaced? How many teachers of color lost their jobs? Who knows? How many had to come back to work without tenure or due process rights? How many are working in other states? How many didn't come back at all? How many died, along with other residents, in "the best thing that happened to education in NOLA?"

Do you remember Barack Obama firing Duncan for that remark? Do you remember him, or candidate Biden raising a peep about it? Me neither.

Are you troubled by being judged by junk science value-added nonsense? Are you stressed out of your mind because of the evaluation system? Do you, like me, think that Common Core exams are total crap, moving students and teachers backward rather than forward? Are you upset that the previous Democratic administration pushed Race to the Top, enabled charters, and pushed closures of public schools?

Have you got other concerns? Do you think it's ridiculous to object to public health care, or free college because children of the rich might avail themselves of it? Have you got other questions or objections you'd like to see answered?

Please let me know in the comments.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

On Ignoring Special Needs

In an ICT, or Integrated Co-Teaching class, you can have only 12 students with IEPs. That's the rule. However, in a non-ICT class, perhaps yours or mine, you can have 34. It's an odd phenomenon.

You see, there are rules regarding special education classes, and there are rules regarding special education students. Many are driven by student Individual Education Programs, or IEPs. But there are some curious oddities about IEPs. I'm far from expert, but I've learned a few things along the way.

One thing I've learned is that ICT classes, essentially classes with a mix of special education and general education students, are not required in high schools. They either have them or they don't. If they do, the notion appears to be that the special education students will be encouraged and/ or positively influenced by the general education students, and also get additional support from the special education teacher in the classroom. Of course the students will be selected for this program based on individual educational needs, and their IEPs will reflect them.

That sounds reasonable on its face. However, in practice, it may not be as good as it sounds. Some administrators will look at the classes, see that there are two teachers, and assign troubled general education students to them.

Look, this student has failed algebra twice, seems to act out in class all the time, and does not appear to be improving. Let's dump him into this ICT class and hope with two teachers he'll do better.

This is plainly detrimental to the special education students. For one thing, the extra attention they're supposed to get will be diverted. One or both teachers will likely have to deal with whatever issues the troubled general education students have, and the special education students will almost certainly get shortchanged as a result. Not only that, but by stacking the deck in this class the special education students are no longer mixing with a cross-section of general education. How will special ed. students be positively influenced by an overabundance of gen. ed. students with plainly negative histories?

I'd argue that administrators who assign troubled gen. ed. students to IEP classes hoping they will get extra help are ill-informed at best, cynical and dishonest at worst. They're clearly doing a disservice to special education students, and evidently care about them not at all.

There are further issues with ICT classes. Imagine your school has ICT classes for core subjects--English, math, social studies and science. Of course students take other classes. Let's say a student is assigned ICT for those subjects, and then she's placed in a mainstream gen. ed. Spanish class. It boggles my imagination to believe that a student needs extra support in her native language, but no help whatsoever in a foreign language.

We Americans are generally poor language learners to begin with. We live in a big country and seem to collectively assume little need of speaking foreign languages. I'd argue that all of us, not only special education students, need extra support in language learning. It seems likely to me that special education students would need even more support. Speaking another language can open up another world, but if you just get lost in the shuffle, the class is just another waste of time.

Now let's assume there are no ICT classes in your school, and that special education classes are largely self-contained groups of 12-15. Imagine that a student needs to be in small classes for English, math, science and social studies to function effectively. That same student could easily be in a class of 34 studying Spanish, or some other language. In fact, that student could be in a required music class with 49 other students.

Personally, I wonder how anyone can learn anything in a class of 50. Motivated music students request classes like chorus, band, or guitar. Perhaps a functioning music group with 50 members is an exception. This notwithstanding, the least motivated students can end up in required music classes of 50. It's plainly idiotic to place the least motivated students in super-large classes. It's even worse to place special education students, who likely as not need special attention, in such classes.

I don't write IEPs, but I suppose if I did I'd have to write them around courses my school actually offered. I understand schools are already overburdened and underfunded. My school is over 200% capacity and probably the most overcrowded school in the city. So it's not necessarily the fault of individual schools.

Still, students with special needs require special attention. In many cases, they aren't getting what they need. We're bound by this curious system, but there must be a way we can do better.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Boy, This Place Is Hard to Find

I hate it when students arrive late. It wouldn't be so bad if I could arrive late as well, but administration takes a dim view of that. They feel if they're paying me that I ought to be working. Who knows where they get ideas like that? Anyway, since I have to be there, I figure the students have to be there too. Of course they find that irritating, because it's far more convenient to just show up whenever you golly gosh darn feel like it.

I challenge them sometimes. "Why are you late?" They say I'm in room 215 and it's far away. The next day, if I'm free, I'll show up at the end of the period and walk them to my class. We are never late. Of course if you linger in the hall discussing all the vital issues of the day with your friends and acquaintances, that won't be the case. There are a whole lot of reasons to be late, and almost none of them are good.

Now I'll admit that I'm late on very rare occasions. Sometimes I'll be at a meeting in the principal's office and the bell rings. You don't always want to just get up and run the hell away. However, that might happen a couple of times a year at worst. I have students who are late every day, or every other day.

When I'm late for a class, or a meeting, or anything, I walk in and say, "Boy, this place is hard to find." It doesn't matter if I go there every month, every week, or every day. There's really no good excuse for me to be late. Why not go the dog ate my homework route, since no one will believe me anyway?

I'm tired of hearing my students tell me they had to wait for the bus, or their class is too far, or they went to visit some secretary in some office somewhere when they were supposed to be in English class. I'm particularly tired of hearing it from students who are late on a regular basis. I don't want to tell them anymore to catch an earlier bus, because it's now become a been there done that thing.

Now I tell them no more excuses. When you're late, walk in and say, "BOY, this place is HARD to FIND." For one thing, it's as good as any ridiculous excuse you're going to make up. For another, I can lean on them and demand emphasis and enunciation. If they say it like they're asleep, I make them repeat it.

The students who are frequently late are really irritated by this.

"I'm sorry," they say.

"What do you say?" I ask.

"Can I pass?" they say.

"That's not what you say."

Sometimes they say the right thing, and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they forget. However, the girl who sits closest by the door remembers. She will write it on a piece of paper and hand it to the latecomer. I give her extra participation credit.

Then I make them repeat it, with feeling.

I'm not sure why they hate it so much. My hope, though, is that they hate it enough to show up on time.

We shall see.