Friday, January 31, 2020

Targeted--NY ESL Teachers (and Students)

I should've known the first time I heard Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa speak at George Washington Campus. There is a plan. Rosa said they'd changed Part 154 so that students could have more content instruction. At the time I didn't really grasp the implications.

It's now clear to me that neither Rosa nor and of the other geniuses in Albany see English as content. It's just something you magically acquire by virtue of being here. To an extent, that's true, but to a much larger extent, it is ridiculous and hurtful.

Imagine yourself shipped to China tomorrow and placed in a Chinese history class taught entirely in Chinese. If you didn't know the language, you'd be lost. Now imagine how my kids feel when they're dumped into an American history class. Will it matter if there's an ESL teacher sitting in the room two days a week? It's entirely likely that teacher has no time to make contact with the content teacher. How that person is supposed to catch you up on language, culture and background knowledge concurrently with instruction I have no idea.

What if you have a social studies teacher who has taken the magical 12 credits and is provisionally certified in ESL? Will that person be able to teach not only the content, but also all the vocabulary and background in the same 40 minutes her colleagues teach the content only? Perhaps she's a miracle worker, but four classes do not a miracle worker make. It's highly unlikely the students will develop a love for social studies or civics under these conditions.

The fact is that the geniuses in Albany have based all of their brilliant programs on studies of younger children. While it is indeed counter-productive and myopic to have reduced support for younger ELLs, they may do better with Albany's new dictates. After all, as many people will tell you, their grandparents arrived without knowing English, and somehow managed to make a living. Who's to say, though, that they might not have had more opportunities if they'd received the supports we used to give ELLs before the Regents woke up and decided to take most of them away?

Young children are hardwired to learn language, and will acquire it very rapidly. This ability declines rapidly after puberty, and this is something the geniuses in Albany did not consider over any of their gala luncheons. High school students have had direct English instruction reduced by a factor of 33-100%, and they are suffering for it. Of course, up in Albany they're having Very Important Meetings and can't be bothered with such things.

I've been saying that ESL teachers ought not to be programmed with more than two co-teachers. People tell me that this will discourage principals from hiring teachers who teach only ESL, as opposed to teachers possessing dual certification. I'm here to tell you that train left the station five years ago, and teachers with dual certification are grabbed up by principals much faster than those of us who fritter away valuable school time teaching newcomers English.

Here's the truth--English instruction is the most important thing we can give newcomers, bar none. Without it, they cannot thrive in their other classes. Maybe they'll pass tests, including the English tests, because they are all crap. Maybe, by the ridiculous standards dictated by Albany, they'll be "college and career ready."

But I've seen the results up close and personal. I've had students who tested out of ESL, who passed the English Regents exam, who cannot write their way out of a paper bag. They cannot produce a coherent sentence, There is no way these students will thrive in college without either remedial instruction or someone else to do the actual work for them.

Shame on the Regents for removing the best lifeline these students had, and for failing to see the value of our work.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

No NY Teacher Should Have More than Two Co-teachers

It's tough keeping up with the geniuses in Albany. They have so many ideas, and they are so smart that each one must be followed to the letter. They are not to be criticized because they are the Regents, the closest thing NY State has to popes, or saints, or statues so sacred birds won't poop on them.

In their infinite wisdom, they rewrote CR Part 154 so that students who don't know English would get less English instruction. Though they gave them no more time, they decreed that if some ESL teacher sat his or her posterior in a subject class full of ELLs, the students would magically learn not only the subject, but also all the English and culture associated with it. If it takes 45 minutes for a native English speaker to learn about chapter one of To Kill a Mockinbird, an ELL can learn not only that, but also all the vocabulary, idioms, background info, and everything else a native American English speaker can learn.

How does that happen? No one knows, but since the Regents say so, that should be good enough for anyone. So people scream at me that I'm not kind enough to the geniuses in Albany, that they are experts, and that they know.

Here's the thing, though. On this astral plane, there are consequences. Yesterday I spoke to a high school teacher who had five co-teachers. I'm acquainted with an elementary teacher who has nine. Now how do you co-plan with five teachers? How do you co-plan with nine teachers. The short answer is you don't. You walk in those classrooms and hope for the best. You can't possibly anticipate what the teachers will do.

Even if you could, you're a third wheel. Teachers may think you don't belong in the classroom. After all, they're there each and every day and you aren't. Who the hell do you think you are horning in and demanding they share lesson plans with you? What? You want vocabulary words? When on earth am I supposed to figure out what they are? And do you think I'm gonna let you interrupt my class to teach them? No way. I don't let the paraprofessionals teach my class, and I'm not letting you do it either. Why the hell are you here anyway?

Well, they're there because principals, now that they no longer have to offer ESL instruction beyond year one, need to pay lip service to it so as not to be out of compliance. That's why they dump ESL teachers into classroom for the bare minimum time required. It's important they sit there and keep the principal out of trouble. Can students learn English under these conditions? Can a kid who got off the plane from China yesterday handle chapter one of To Kill a Mockinbird,? Who cares? The principal's in compliance and that's all that matters.

Since the geniuses in Albany are never wrong, there can't possibly be any issue with Part 154. However, it's pretty clear that it's ridiculous to use ESL teachers as scarecrows. It's time for us to stand up and say no more ridiculous numbers of co-teachers. Were my friends not running around like headless chickens, they could, you know, teach students English.

It's unbelievable, to me at least, that we put up with such blatant nonsense. It's time we forced principals to do the right thing and worked to limit the number of co-teachers we work with. I'd say one is already enough, more than enough in many circumstances, but no one should have more than two.

Monday, January 27, 2020

UFT Executive Board January 27, 2020--Ready to Picket with UFT Nurses?

6 PM—Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us.

No speakers.


President and most officers at legislative reception upstate.

—Visiting Nurse Service having a tough contract negotiation. Not much movement. When their contract expires, Feb. 1, they are on strike. If that happens, we will be out there with them. We will bring pressure to bear on VNS with 200K members. There is anti-union sentiment at the table. We may reach out to all members for support.

Political action teams meeting this weekend. Placing people on ground for census, building coalitions. City placing millions into this. Could bring billions into state and city. Training people how to engage and fund, roads, schools.

2/7 CTE awards, 5 PM. Asks for participation. That night African Heritage Dinner Dance at Anton’s. 2/13—Film Back to Natural, Black History Month. Companion books will be distributed that day. Will be discussion on content and importance. 2/27 film College Behind Bars.

Working with member committee on things we can do, and one idea is social justice curriculum fair. Working with teacher center. Will be 2/29. Will share different curriculums, LGBTQ, Black Lives Matter, Native American issues. Will engage on how to teach and build lesson plans. 9-1 PM.

March 15—HerStory Brunch.

Albert Shanker scholarship fund—New deadline 2/14.

NYSUT taking tour around state to raise awareness about state aid funding. Visited NYC Friday.

Lobby Day March 16, also UFT anniversary.


Dolores Lozuponi
—What hospitals would nurse strike effect?

Janella Hinds
—This is people who need ongoing care at home after hospital. Critically important to keep patients from going back to hospital.

Barr—Pickets would be at HQ. We will make this uncomfortable for them. We want members treated fairly.

Reports from Districts

Shelvy Young-Abrams
—March 14 is para luncheon. Please encourage people to come.

Seung Lee—2020 AFL-CIO Human Rights Conference last weekend. Was excellent. Participated in Women’s March. Large contingent from NY Library will work with census

Wendy Walker Wilson—Honoring one of our own, Anthony Harmon founded event. We want to honor him for role in African Heritage Committee. Marcella Jones to be honored. Her students attached statements of support. Helped them avoid dropping out, some are Alvin Ailey dancers. Want to surpass attendance of last year.

Rashad Brown—Friday last week Pride committee had happy hour at Stonewall. This Friday having one in Brooklyn. Hope to see you there.

Seung Lee
—District 2 has Lunar New Year banquet March 6, 6 PM. Also Stonewall event was very successful.

Legislative Report—Angel Vasquez—Annual legislative reception in Albany today to stress priorities, work w NYSUT. Governor released budget Jan 21, we need more than what he proposes, we need to meet CFE goals.

Regents received update on timeline for Blue Ribbon Commission on graduation. NYC—Bronx next month, SI March.

This Saturday 200 UFT members will go on retreat to learn how to do field campaign on Census, and how to run for office.

NYSUT RA resolution PE requirements

Mike Sill—Supports PE requirement. We need PE now more than ever.


UFT 60th anniversary

Mike Sill—We need to celebrate founders of union, giants on whose shoulders we are lucky to stand.

George Altomari—History is important. You need to know how you got there. In 1960, March 16, there was absolute disunity. There were three orgs that were active. Wanted unity but wanted other groups to join theirs. HS and JHS at odds. We pushed for unity.
David Selden was a great organizer. Educated a lot of us. America was radical on one hand, but ordinary folks in factories on the other. We had to do everything possible for unity. Evening HS teachers resigned in protest. We helped them fight. Unity and solidarity started.

Barr—Every time I hear these stories I hear something different. Thank you George.


We are adjourned 6:39.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Today in Creative Headlines

Someone trying to alert me to the perfidy of teachers tweeted this headline at me the other day: FBI probes allegations of deep rooted academic fraud in NYC Schools. It sounds pretty scary, doesn't it? Boy, those teachers must be really terrible. Clearly they don't give a damn about children and are only concerned with themselves.

That's the stereotype you get hit with if you spend your days trying to help city children, and as if that's not enough, they accuse you of hating them because you oppose "school choice." It makes no difference that charters do not, on the whole, do any better than we do. It's of no consequence that they almost never accept students like mine, teenagers learning basic English for the first time. It doesn't matter that they don't take a whole lot of kids with special needs or that they dump inconvenient kids back into the public schools.

Nope, we all suck, and we all ought to be fired. That headline ought to be enough evidence for anyone. The FBI? That's some serious stuff right there. They don't come out just for fun. We're under some serious scrutiny now, and if we weren't all criminals, why would they need to call the FBI? But wait, if you read the actual story, you start to notice things:

Holden turned over records compiled by former and current faculty members at Maspeth High School in Queens, where teachers say administrators encouraged cheating on exams, enforced a “no-fail policy,” and retaliated against staffers who didn’t play ball.

Haven't we heard about that school before? Is this not, in fact, a new scandal? And hey, if it's so "deep-rooted" in NYC "schools," why is there only one school mentioned? Doesn't "deep-rooted" mean widespread? And then there's this:

In Atlanta, eight educators were convicted under a RICO statute of manipulating student test scores and sentenced to prison in 2015.

I'm not exactly sure that eight indicates, "deep-rooted." Nonetheless, I'm assuming that means in New York, zero educators were convicted of any such thing. Scary stuff, huh?

Still, the actual headline is not as strong as it appears. FBI "probes allegations" does not, in fact, indicate that anything whatsoever has been proven. It looks like a councilman simply called a meeting with FBI and asked them to check some things. Not nearly as sexy, is it?

As for academic fraud and corruption, I'm not gonna sit here and pretend there isn't any. It's all over the system, to one extent or another, legal or illegal, direct and indirect. Why does it exist? That's simple. In any system, when you press people for results, they are going to go out of their way to deliver them. The more pressure there is, the more people will resort to shading the results. That's what Campbell's Law says.

In New York City, when Eva Moskowitz drives children out of her programs, she does so to protect her results. When charters claim 100% of their students are accepted to four-year colleges, they don't bother to tell you about the 80% of students they started with who didn't end up in the graduating class. The 20% success rate doesn't look all that impressive.

When schools are faced with closure for poor performance, the stats are juked. Sometimes there are ways to make that happen within the rules, and sometimes not. The rules are changed all the time to make things easier or harder. It depends what needs to be proven. When it's time to make Mayor Mike Bloomberg look like a genius, the tests are dumbed down. When it's time to say the schools are an abysmal failure, it's time to fail a huge number of students and to declare Common Core the savior of humanity.

Yet no one calls out the geniuses in Albany for corruption, ever. It's always the teachers who are convicted. They're the ones doing the dirty work. The top of the heap, the Michelle Rhees, the John Kings, the Merryl Tisches just glide on and become US Secretary of Education, Miracle Gro salespeople, or whatever. The people who direct this nonsense, like Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and Barack Obama, just send their kids to schools where this high-stakes nonsense figures not at all. They want their children to be children.

And blame is for the little people. That would be you and me, those of us who wake up early each and every morning to work one on one with children who need all the help they can get.

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Good Old Days

A colleague was just telling me about her student teaching experience. Her mentor had a particular approach to students who failed to do homework.

"You know what you have to do," he would say.

Then he would hand the kid a big Mexican sombrero, the kid would put it on, and the teacher would hit a button on his handy cassette player. The Chicken Dance would play, and the unfortunate student would have to do the entire dance for the class.

Sometimes he would have the student do the dance in the halls, so passers-by and students in other classrooms could watch.

I can't personally recommend this particular approach. I'm pretty sure you'd end up with a letter in your file once someone saw fit to complain. Frankly, I'm surprised this teacher got away with this practice for so long. Of course, times have changed.

I can't say I'm sorry. When I decided to teach ESL instead of English, I took a year off from work and got a job playing guitar in the worst Irish wedding band in the whole world. Of course, The Chicken Dance was just one of many numbers we played. While it's not the worst song in the world (That would be Feelings.), it's up there somewhere.

On another note, I was in the principal's office yesterday complaining about how things weren't done in a timely fashion, and he referred to something that happened in 1819. I'm gonna go out on a limb and concecture that in 1819 you probably could have students do The Chicken Dance in class. Perhaps your bosses would approve of your creativity and initiative. Maybe you'd have gotten a raise and a promotion. After all, The Chicken Dance probably wasn't even written yet, and there were no cassette players. You'd probably have to play it on your harpsichord or something.

Here's the thing, though. When principals talk about 1819, they are not actually hearkening back to the 19th century. They're talking about school year 2018-2019. You'd think chapter leaders would've gotten the memo, but some of us are simply too literal-minded for our own good.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Fairness in Dress Codes

It appears that dress codes must be uniform, and you can't simply ban halter tops with cutoffs split up to the belt loops. For me, at least, that's a relief. I never, ever say a thing to young women wearing revealing clothes. For one thing, I honestly don't much care what they wear. For another, if I were otherwise inclined, I'd be really preoccupied with crossing some line or other that would bring me over CR A-421, verbal abuse.

Verbal abuse is kind of in the ear of the beholder. If I say something about a young woman's clothing, she may feel uncomfortable or ridiculed, and then I'm sitting in the principal's office explaining why I said whatever I did. Better I keep my stupid mouth shut. As for school policy, if it were clear to me that I had no business speaking to this young woman about her choice of clothing, perhaps the world would be a marginally better place.

I have said things to students with blatant obscenities on their shirts. Since I teach ESL, it's always possible they don't even know what those things mean. I once had a boy put his jacket on and promise not to wear that shirt to my class again. He didn't seem all that worried about it, and I didn't get a letter in my file, so I guess it worked out.

Nonethless, schools will have to readjust their dress codes. You can't just ban the halter top, but you can say torsos must be covered. You can't ban the mini-skirt, but maybe you can say legs must be covered from the knee down. Or up. Or from mid-calf. Or something. Of course, you then get into short-shorts, which you can't ban, but might be covered by the mini-skirt language. Can students wear tank tops? What if they come from real tanks?

Here's where I've been unfair--I tell boys to take hats off, but I don't always do the same for girls. I look at how they've pulled a ponytail through that little hole above the plastic thing, and I figure it's trouble to take it off. I guess if hats are out, hats are out. Head covering is only good for religious reasons, or if hail is falling through the roof of the trailer.

I'm not sure whether earplugs are completely verboten. A few days ago, when it was freezing cold outside but boiling hot inside my trailer, we had the door propped open by the fire extinguisher so as to avoid the 89-degree temperature in at least part of the room. A disadvantage, as usual, was the hammering and drilling of the building they're erecting to replace the trailers. Added to that, though, was the marching band. Some of my Spanish speakers thought it was cool that they were playing La Bamba. They started dancing.

Of course, it's freezing outside so I don't have many issues with revealing clothing. Given the AC has not worked all year in the trailer, maybe I should give extra credit to scantily clad students. They're clearly the smartest people in the room, and that ought to be acknowledged.

I'm sorry that there are people worried about student hair styles. I find that idiotic. Maybe we should focus on their writing styles instead. Unlike the geniuses in Albany, I think that's really worth our time.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Famous Ten Foot Poll

Someone on Facebook pointed out something to me the other day. Every single poll he'd ever answered had been on a home phone. That struck me, because I respond to political polls when I get them, and they are also always on my home phone. For a while I wanted to disconnect my home phone because spam calls were so frequent. Then I called Verizon, and they told me my bill would go up if I did that. I found some software thing to block spam and kept it.

But I don't use my home phone all that much. First of all, I'm not home that much. When I am, I tend to use my cell, and everyone who calls me uses it too. So I'm wary of polls. How can we find out what America thinks if we're calling home phones? How many of our students use home phones? How many of you use home phones? My dog Toby doesn't even use a home phone.

Another thing I notice when I'm polled is that they are most definitely pushing one side or another. Would you vote for Senator Smith if you knew he voted two hundred times to raise your taxes? What if I were to tell you he was sleeping with underage prostitutes in a Family Inn on the bad side of town? What if I were to tell you he opposed safety, and was a communist?

I don't always recall what I was asked, and perhaps I wasn't actually asked about underage prostitutes. Once it seemed they were trying to say that one candidate proposed great jobs for my community, while another one was blocking them. Later on in the questioner started talking about gambling boats in our neighborhood and I told him to go back and say I was opposed to the high-paying jobs. I'm not sure gambling is the best thing to have in this quiet neighborhood. After all, Toby is only four and I don't need any bad influences.

Here's the pont--I wonder whether we're going to be very surprised in the primaries. Any system based on calling home phones is seriously flawed. There must be a better way.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

What If New York Had Not Been Enough for Boss Tweed?

I'm watching a Mike Bloomberg commercial. Bloomberg runs them all day, on all channels, in English and Spanish. Michael Bloomberg doesn't need any stinking debates. He doesn't qualify for them because no one contributes to his campaign. He is literally out there trying to buy the presidency of the United States.

Right now he doesn't seem to figure in many polls. He says he isn't running in the first few states. You may recall that strategy did not pan out for Rudy Giuliani as he capitalized on presiding over one of the worst disasters in the history of New York City. However, Rudy Giuliani did not have virtually unlimited personal capital at his disposal

You may also recall that Michael Bloomberg did get a lot of things done. He closed scores of schools. He turned a whole lot of teachers into ATRs, a problem that still lingers now. He achieved mayoral control, effectively shutting the public out of decision making over their own communities. I don't even remember how many meetings I went to in which parents, teachers, students, politicians and clergy went to plead for schools, only to see them closed anyway, even if data was entirely wrong.

Those were the good old days at the Panel for Educational Policy. Michael Bloomberg had the majority of appointees, and fired anyone who contemplated voting his or her conscience. Michael Bloomberg had to have absolute control and could not tolerate any dissension. Does this remind anyone of an orange-skinned, orange-haired figure we read about in the news every now and then?

As for getting it done, Bloomberg was adept at that. Loathsome and reptilian though he is, he was a lot smarter than Rudy Giuliani, who was always suing everyone over, oh, the right to have his mistress come to the home he was sharing with his wife and young children, or excrement-splattered paintings, or other things that did not much affect the community at large. Though he had the same view of education as Michael Bloomberg, he did not really get things done.

After Giuliani presided over 9/11, having cleverly placed his emergency center in a high floor of a proven terror target, he commandeered an elementary school in its place, because who gives a crap about public schoolchildren. Though term-limited, Giuliani thought he needed to stay to keep up the morale of NYPD and FDNY. Once his staunch supporters, they by then hated his guts for depriving them of a union contract for years. Giuliani was unable to extend his term.

Mike Bloomberg, though, got it done. Though the voters of NYC had twice affirmed term limits, Bloomberg didn't feel like leaving. He then manipulated a one-time exception for himself. It wasn't hard to get city officials to approve it. After all, they were term-limited too. Self-interest goes a long, long way. Howard Wolfson, Bloomberg's personal propagandist, was all over Twitter saying voters repudiated term limits. However, the ostensible purpose of term limits is to keep people like Bloomberg from continually buying elected office.

Who else speaks of defying term limits? That would be our buddy with the orange hair, the one who's thoroughly amused by the title "President for Life." Of course, President Trump is a racist, displaying blatant disregard for minorities, and vilifying "the other," to wit, immigrants, Muslims, Mexicans, and anyone not in his exclusive play group.

I haven't heard Bloomberg say much about Muslims or Mexicans, but his stop and frisk policy was so blatantly racist that he's had a change of heart, conveniently concurrent with his Presidential campaign, and now says he's sorry, he made a mistake. And now, instead of condemning the Central Park Five, as he did for years, he says he can't remember what his opinion is. It's a balancing act running for President. Back when he was a Republican, it wasn't really detrimental to support racist policies. As a Democrat, that's tough.

Isn't there some other politician who has been both Democrat and Republican? Why yes, as a matter of fact, that would be President Trump. It's a lot easier to get yourself elected when you have few to no core values. Whatever it takes to get elected. Bloomberg, in fact, has been a Republican, a Democrat, and an independent. Whatever it takes to get what he wants.

And hey, just for the regular readers of this blog, let's not forget it was Mayor Mike Bloomberg who appointed Joel Klein, a man with virtually no education experience who jumped when Eva Moskowitz whistled. He appointed Cathie Black straight out of her penthouse. Anyone who attends the cocktail parties he does must be okay, so you'd best believe he'll appoint the "best people" just like, you guessed it, Donald Trump.

Last but not least, don't forget that Michael Bloomberg treated the United Federation of Teachers like something he'd just wiped off his Florsheims. A lot of people turn their heads and say, "Well, at least he isn't Trump."

But being "not Trump" was what Hillary ran on, and it's exactly what got us Trump. Actually, the whole self-important, self-serving, megalomaniacal despot thing is not working particularly well for us right now. I will say that Michael Bloomberg has a marginally better verbal filter than Donald Trump.

However, that's just not good enough. We need someone better in every way. That's most certainly not Michael Bloomberg. I'm agnostic on term limits, but Bloomberg is the best living argument for them. Giuliani didn't like them and tried to get around them. Trump doesn't like them and wants to get around them. Mike Bloomberg, true to his campaign slogan, got it done. He got around term limits, twice affirmed by his constituents.

That tells me he has little use for democracy. In 2020, such a person is what we need least.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Bernie Sanders for President

I'm tired of all the squabbling over electabily. Four years ago, I was lectured endlessly on it by all sorts of people. We have to get behind Hillary because she's electable. I voted for her against Donald Trump, but as far as I'm concerned, she wasn't quite electable enough. If she were, she'd be President. And I still hear from the same people that we need to select someone "centrist." This means, essentially, someone who hasn't got radical ideas about giving all Americans health care, a living wage, accessibility to free higher education, and the ability to unionize.

Four years ago, millions of people decided Hillary was just more of the same and stayed home. While Obama didn't fully champion any of the above "radical" ideas, he at least pretended to and ran on hope and change. Hillary said we'd never, ever get single payer health care, and that free college would mean Trump's kids wouldn't pay. In fact, "centrist" Mayor Pete is out making the same Trump's kids argument.

I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary four years ago and I will vote for him in the next primary too. Bernie has been consistent in his ideology and ideas for the most part, and has improved dramatically in his notions about K-12. I understand that, to get things done, we need to dump the GOP Senate as well, but I think that can be done too.

When Obama had a blue Senate, he failed to accomplish several things he'd promised. For one thing there is no public option in Obamacare. Were there one, it might leave private insurers unable to compete. I'd be good with that. Lots of people ask what about the jobs lost. I'm not precisely broken-hearted over losing jobs devoted to finding ways to deny Americans the health care they need. Maybe we could retrain them to do jobs that serve people, as opposed to denying them. Maybe they could be teachers. Lord knows we need more of them.

One huge disappointment from Barack Obama was his failure to enact card check. This would've enabled Americans to unionize more easily. He promised he'd back and pass a bill enabling it. He not only failed to pass it, but also failed to push for it. I didn't vote for him in 2012. Of course, I'm in a deep blue state and my vote doesn't mean much. Had I thought he and Romney were competitive here, I'd have held my nose and voted for Obama anyway.

Speaking of Romney, he's viewed as a moderate Republican. I don't really know why. As far as I can tell, despite his tepid ,opportunistic semi-opposition to Trump, he supports all the nonsense the other Republicans do. Even though he backed something quite similar to Obamacare when he was governor of blue Massachusetts, he backed way off from it when running nationally. As for "moderates" running for office, look at Romney. Look at Hillary. Look at Kerry and Gore. Last I looked, they lost, so please stop frigging lecturing me about 1972. By the way, McGovern was right about Vietnam. Who knows how many lives would've been saved if we'd picked him over Nixon, and look how Nixon worked out.

Bernie stands for something, and doesn't waver. I've seen him applauded by a Fox News crowd. Bernie Sanders stands for what America wants and needs. Let them come out, like Trump does, and call him, "Crazy Bernie," or "socialist," or whatever. It's about time American learned what the word actually meant, what exactly democratic socialism is, and more to the point, that government can work for all people rather than simply Donald Trump's BFFs.

I like Elizabeth Warren, despite all the nonsense between her and Bernie. She's my second choice. I'm getting the feeling that AFT is tacitly supporting her, which is a huge improvement over Joe Biden. I see Biden as the second coming of Hillary, and a second term for Donald Trump. While both Biden and Trump spout nonsense, I think Trump's bluster will overcome Biden's more pure form of nonsense. I also do not believe Biden stands for real improvement for American working people, having assured billionaires nothing would change.

I didn't like Biden's treatment of Anita Hill, I didn't like his plagiarism, and I didn't much like his attempts to cut social security. I was pretty gobsmacked in Pittsburgh when Biden told the crowd, as for our opposition to standardized testing, we were "preaching to the choir." I had a question for Biden, and though it didn't pass muster with the MSNBC censors, I'm going to repost it here:

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 don't trust Biden as far as I can throw him. That said, I'd vote for him against Donald Trump if it came to it. I'd do the same for Mayor Pete, though I find him disingenuous and smarmy. I'd much rather he go back to his wine cave and leave us alone.

My third choice is Amy Klobuchar. Though her programs are "moderate" for my taste, she impressed me in Pittsburgh. A lot of the candidates spoke of having teachers in their families, but she's the only one who had a meaningful story of why that was important, or how teachers touched lives. She's also super smart. I saw her at the AFT convention in Minneapolis, where she held her own next to quick-witted Al Franken. I don't like her as much as Bernie or Warren, but I'd trust her a whole lot more than Mayor Pete, Joe Biden, or Donald Trump.

So yes, I'm blue no matter who. Unless it's Mike Bloomberg. I've had enough of him for one lifetime. Screw him and the room-air-conditioned SUV he rode in on.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Please Affirm You Will NOT Be Drunk and on Drugs During the Field Trip

 The ghost of Michael Bloomberg is a heavy presence in the hallowed halls of Tweed. He lives on in DOE Legal, often as not the bane of my very existence. Wanna give some teacher five preps? Go ahead, says legal. Wanna tie your chapter leader up for years in grievances over black letter regulations? No problem. Legal okays it on the spot.
This week, a lot of members have come up to me and asked about a new brand spanking new field trip form, one in which you are required to say you've read Chancellor's Regulation A-670, which is right here, and that you agree not to be drunk and on drugs during said field trip. At first I thought it was something the principal had invented, but it turns out this is yet another innovation of DOE Legal. Since DOE Legal is essentially a clown car, its most recent creation is absurd on multiple levels.
Personally, I'd assume you'd simply know not to be drunk and on drugs when on a field trip and supervising children. It's common sense. In Spanish, though, they say common sense is the least common of all the senses. It's certainly not something I expect from Bloomberg's remaining minions.
Predictably, DOE Legal, in its infinite wisdom, has determined you are such a hopeless galoot you need to be specifically reminded and sign an agreement. Now here's the thing--whether or not you sign this form, you are always responsible to follow Chancellor/s Regulations, and you are always liable for your behavior when supervising children.
By the logic of this signed form, a teacher could do violence to a child and say, "I'm sorry. I didn't read Chancellor's Regulation A-420 so I didn't know we weren't allowed to do violence to children."  Another teacher could call a student by the most vile epithets and say, "Gee, I didn't know verbal abuse was prohibited, because I never read Chancellor's Regulation A-421."
Few principals will ask you whether or not you read the Chancellor's Regs before placing letters in your file, or bringing you up on charges for having violated them. The form is entirely redundant and I have brought it to the attention of UFT. However, I'm taking a bunch of kids to see The Lion King on March 4th, and I will sign the stupid paper rather than deprive my students of their first and perhaps only experience with Broadway theater. I will not be any more or less liable for having done so, and neither will you. It's just another waste of time, an exercise of power by idiots to show just how little they respect you. Perhaps they feel you are innately as vindictive and unreasonable as they are. (Of course if you were, why would you be a teacher?)
Ask yourself this--if you were the sort of person inclined to be drunk and on drugs on a field trip, would signing that form dissuade you? Will that kind of person perhaps think, "Well, I've signed something that says I can't be drunk and on drugs on the field trip, but no one's asked me to sign any such thing or make any such promise when I'm teaching."
Maybe that will be the person who comes to class drunk and on drugs. And if anyone is indeed that stupid, their stupidity pales in comparison with that of DOE Legal, which created this utterly superfluous nonsense in the first place. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

UFT Delegate Assembly January 15, 2020--The Census, the UFT Legal Plan, and the Chapter Leader Network

UFT President Michael Mulgrew welcomes us. 4:34

Speaks of support for chapter leaders and delegates. Says chapter leader most important union position, as members identify with CL. Says work from focus group will go live February 3rd to several districts. Will roll out over week. There will be a chapter leader community on internet and CLs can ask questions. There is a knowledge base that UFT phone support uses, and from February on CLs will have access to it. This knowledge base evolves as new questions are asked.

There are issues with incorrect answers to questions and knowledge base can help cut down on that. Will be a CL chat room. There will be rules, and legalities, not for political use inside and outside of the union. Urges against bad language.

There will be a my school section with basic info. There will be a repository of school info so new CLs can see it, including SBOs and grievances. Union looking for other ways to use it, new applications, and urges constant back and forth. CL handbooks may be put online.

Looking to have a high percentage of registration for this. Tying this to a project. Everyone will get a letter signed my Mulgrew, Carranza and president of CSA saying that math and ELA must have a plan tied to new standards. Test scores aren’t everything, but we don’t want a dramatic drop either. UFT will do inventory, and CLs will have to log on and provide info on what materials school uses. Union will provide support.

Majority of existing materials are not aligned to new standards. Materials can be modified to do so. Will have to be evaluated by committees, which will approve or not.

Phase two will be lists of approved materials. Schools can choose from these materials and curriculum and programs will be provided by DOE. Each school district in NYC, and each school district in NY must have a PD team, the majority of which is chosen by the bargaining unit.

Student debt program—First program officially started as members only. We are about to start our second, with housing.

This union is part of two national lawsuits against student debt companies. Anyone in a 30 year repayment program is in wrong program. City teachers can qualify for forgiveness in ten years.

We’re paying for a service, most is free, but there can be a nominal fee for complex situations. Between December and June, average monthly payment went down $143. We’ve saved 43.7 million dollars for teachers. Average savings 80K per person. Companies deterred people by not answering.
This year we’re moving them to webinars.

There will be a new UFT legal services plan. This may address landlord-tenant disputes and letter writing. Every member of union will have access to law firm, majority free, but for complicated things there will be copays. Wills, trusts, elder law, bankruptcy, leases can be included. Will be soft launch next week. Will replace NYSUT program for us.

Florida—Mulgrew was in Tallahassee yesterday and Monday. To be a teacher in Florida is not a good thing. Has been working closely with teachers. 46th of 50 states in ed. funding. Retiree chapter has worked with FL ed. association. Was huge rally of teachers at State House, first time ever.

Florida teachers appreciated support of UFT and CTU. This battle is now our battle. NY funding much better than Florida. Top salary 45K in some FL districts.They have year to year contracts. National press now in Florida. Governor put out plan to give raises only to new teachers.

Right now our legislative session faces a 6 billion dollar deficit. All of it is tied to health care, largely Medicaid. We will have to deal with this. We want to maintain ed. funding. Governor wants us to teach kids tolerance. National discussion fueling this.

We have a homeless crisis in this city. We need to talk about it in a way that corrects people. It can’t be as portrayed in Post, a male yelling at people, 70% is women and children. We have 120-140K children who are “shelter-challenged.” How many districts have this many students living in shelters.

We now have political action teams. UFT now has political teams not just by borough, but also by district. Will bring about 200 people to train on grassroots level action. Political work is about relationships. We want candidates for council seats.

Census—Should count every person, not citizen who resides here. This will determine funding and representation. State funding is at risk. Last year we had 34.5 billion. NYC and NY State performed worst on census. If we get 10% higher, we will still be worst. But that means 3.45 billions a year, for ten years. That would’ve more than erased deficit.

We need to educate public. Education funding is at risk. 10% more would’ve brought 9 billion dollars to NYC education. Ten years ago, no one bothered with census. National average is 74%, but NYC is 61.6. Federal money should be coming back here, but is now sent somewhere else. We are building highways in Mississippi.

Mulgrew gives examples of communities that failed to turn out people for census.

City council put 40 million into census count, up from 180K last time, due to UFT lobbying. Will split city into ten areas. We have allies. There will be marketing. Chancellor will support schools being used for this.

Right wingers will lie and suggest census data will throw people out of country, or eject them from dwellings. This is a federal crime. Even this Supreme Court agrees.

Number one undercounted group in last census was children. Parents fail to include children. Trying to get chancellor to work on educating people at parent-teacher conferences.

We will encourage this online. Asks that CLs talk to members about this. We were only school district to get through recession without layoffs. 179 teachers laid off in Rochester this New Year.

This is our money in the first place. The feds and people who hate us have done everything in their power to screw us. They pushed a citizenship question. Needs everyone to get this out. Will give Powerpoint to every elected union official.

We are one week away from term in which everyone should have been evaluated. Mulgrew asks how many schools have not had eval, Many hands raised.

Mulgrew wants eval changed from what it is to a supportive tool. We have to engage to change dynamic. When members get low ratings, it looks as though there was not enough engagement. Evidence of growth for principals could be higher ratings. We have to engage in process.

Teachers choice receipts due. If you don’t file, they will take back the money.

Women’s march Saturday Central Park.

Shanker scholarships—1 million to children of NYC. Applications due Jan. 31.

Negotiating for nurses very nasty. There may be multiple picket lines.

LeRoy Barr
—African Heritage scholarship dinner dance, Anton’s, Black History film series. Feb 27, College Behind Bars. Para luncheon March 14 NY Hilton. Lobby day March 16. Also anniversary of UFT founding, 60th anniversary. Next Da Feb 12.


Q—Disciplinary meetings—You sit down with admin, they should do investigation, and substantiate or not. Seems like “legal” is in control. What are we doing about “legal” controlling things as opposed to admin?

A—CSA doesn’t have a contract. They aren’t happy. They don’t have parental leave. One pushback is investigations are not their responsibility by contract. Also DOE writing them up for doing it improperly. Once legal is involved, common sense is gone. Will bring it up and consultation w chancellor. All cases now are centralized. We see trends now. Issue is CSA acting out more and more.

Q—Can UFT assist us with sexual harassment training workshop. Difficult to log on. Get warning that site will steal personal info.

A—Send it to me. I will help.

Member suggests this will not happen on school desktop PC, but member says she was using one.

Q—Can we get superintendents to college data about how teachers are rated. We are rated between I and D.  Is this normal?

A—This is in Advance. We can ask, and if they say no we can FOIL.  Superintendent should see, by school, what ratings are. Would like conversation with borough rep. Maybe they want to do better next time to show “growth.”

Q—When teachers request medical or personal days we are getting probing questions from admin. A member was going for a colonoscopy, and principal said member only needed one day as opposed to two. How much information do they need?

A—They aren’t allowed to ask for this. Mike Sill will send circular. Members request it be sent to all CLs, and Mulgrew agrees.

Q—My principal gives counseling memos to people with documented absences before or after holidays.

A—That’s called bridging, There has to be a pattern. Will have grievance dept. follow up. Principal being a bully.

Q—Our school was selected to apply for Bronx plan. Principal stopped it. This year we are invited again. Can we work with CSA to get this going.

A—There is issue of contract, and they weren’t happy with Bronx Plan in beginning. Make sure school community and parents are aware. It will benefit school. I understand another union has right to own opinion, but this is part of our contract. Principal and CL must both agree. That is a condition. We want to build collaboration.

Q—If E or H, you can still request formal. Any follow up?

A—Haven’t yet been to consultation on that. We are trying to move observation. Principals and many teacher prefer not to. We cannot mandate it.

Q—Investigations—Principal slow walks investigations and letters. Is there a time line?

A—Grievance dept. will address that. Depends on circumstance.

Q—Personal days—Principal will say it’s a travel day, so you can have it unpaid. Put in for Friday, and he said since you’re traveling you won’t get paid.

A—Speak w grievance dept.

Dave Pecoraro—Motion to move item 3, endorsement, to first item.


Motion to be placed on this month’s agenda to support earthquake victims.


Motion for next month’s agenda
—NY public schools have large Haitian population, UFT will lobby for French translations. Says Haitian student speaks no English. Many speak Creole but read and write in French. Haitian Creole translations don’t help some students.

Against—Majority of Haitians only speak Creole, not French. Majority are not getting public education. Is a problem. Education in big cities is done in French. Large movement to have teaching in Creole. There are, however, few books in Creole. Best would be to offer both languages and keep Creole.

Point of information—Is it possible to modify motion to request both languages?

Mulgrew—Possible but not on floor at the moment.

Speaker says he wants French as other option.


Motion to extend time by 5 minutes.


Point of order
—Motion period was only 7 minutes long. Can we extend?

No extension.

Amy Arundell—Moves we endorse Donovan Richards for Queensborough President. Has repped SE Queens since 2013, fought for school resources, tech, stood in opposition of school closings in Rockaway. They remain open. First community learning school and supports UFT initiatives. Will fight for tenant rights.

John Nolan
—Favors Richards, helped in Sandy, strong vision.

Rashad Brown—calls question.

Resolution carries

We are adjourned. 6:10 PM.

Monday, January 13, 2020

UFT Executive Board January 13, 2020 Things Are Happening All Over

6 PM—Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us

Robert Halkitis, speaker, is not here.


President is in Florida.

Wednesday, Jan. 15, new delegates meeting following DA. Feb. 7—African heritage scholarship dinner, Anton’s in Queens. Black history month film series begins Feb. 13. Feb 27 is second film. March 16, Lobby Day, also 60th anniversary of UFT. Please let members know. Next Exec. Board Jan. 27.


Mike Schirtzer
—Proud to have worked defending union rights with so many members. Many have been asking me about an email they received from PERB about a member. What should we tell them about this email?

Barr—Sometimes you have a situation where DOE needs to be held responsible. We try to do that every day. In this case, this member was found to have been harassed and targeted after identifying financial irregularities. DOE lost case, In settlement, DOE was supposed to notify people in 2017. PERB sued DOE and won. Went to Supreme Court. Because they were resistant, court said it had to be sent to 120,000 people. Kudos to PERB. Tell members what happened.

Schirtzer—New contract has protection against harassment and retaliation. What should members do?

Barr—First, contact CL, who can work with DR. Must keep those responsible involved and informed. It’s case by case.

Arthur Goldstein
—I teach in a trailer. It has a great heating system. In September I recorded the temperature at 99 degrees, but the thermostat doesn’t go higher, so who knows? Now the temperature is between 85 and 89. We leave leave the outside door open so we don’t pass out. Still, one side of the room is too hot. The other is too cold.

The custodians have told me since September DOE is coming to fix the climate system. My friends teach in another trailer where there is no heat at all. The school has placed four space heaters in that trailer, but since no one turns them on in advance, period one is very, very cold.

A former student of mine teaches bilingual math in the trailers. Her students, sitting in the miserable September heat, ask her, “Are they doing this because we’re Chinese?” Maybe my students, from China, Colombia, Mexico, Vietnam, Pakistan and the Dominican Republic feel the same. I don’t blame them.

This is exacerbated by the ongoing construction noise outside, which the DOE promised would take place after school hours.

I’ve spoken with everyone I could. I’m told this isn’t a simple  grievance. What it is, as far as I’m concerned, is institutional racism. If the DOE wants to come into our schools and teach us about racism, they ought to set a better example.

It’s clear to me that since they’re building an annex outside the trailers, they don’t give a golly gosh darn about anyone still in them. We should all just suck it up.

I’m hoping someone from the union might have a word with someone from DOE.

Barr—With respect to construction, there needs to be a protocol meeting. We have lots of options, article 10, many things to bring force to bear. We will make that call tomorrow to make sure central is aware.

We had the passing of one of our chapter leaders, Beth Wolf, from PS 82, District 8. We  rise for moment of silence.

Reports from Districts

Serbia Silva
—Monday was Three Kings Day. Glad EB was switched. We celebrated. CLs collected toys to give out. Tried to bring them to Cayuga Center. Were told that kids could not receive toys in detention centers, but found other places to bring toys. We did bring a lot of joy to many kids.

Eliu Lara—We organized a tenure workshop. Well attended. We will also have a tenure celebration for those granted it.

Doreen Berrios Castillo—Annual school secretary seminar. Great program on parental leave. Amazing workshop by Janella on unionism, empowerment, and organizing.

Sterling Roberson—Last week Jan. 7, hosted Perkins public comment hearing. Opinions voiced on federal and state changes that lost many schools funding. NYSED heard from all constituency groups and folks had passionate remarks. Trying to help get programs approved and proper funding. We need to lobby for more approval. Was in today’s DN. Thanks all who helped with turnout.

Mike Schirtzer—Commends UFT Jewish Heritage Committee for last week’s march. Critical and important to have UFT banner at that march against anti-Semitism. Stepdaughter was focused in DN for teaching about the Holocaust. We all fight hate in our own way, not something we take lightly. Thanks everyone for going.

Karen Alford—United Community Schools got federal grant of 2.3 million dollars. Several Bronx schools will benefit from this. Very happy about what we’ll be able to do. Today I addressed 500 DOE teacher residents. We have 500 teachers who will be interning for city jobs. Great we can get teachers into hard to staff neighborhoods. We always need to be mindful of teacher retention.

Anthony Harmon—Jan. 7th hundreds of people and Nick Cruz highlighted census.

Seung Lee—Karaoke Social, PS 125 census teach in this Wed.

Shelvy Abrams. March 14 para election.

Duane Clark—100 young men of color got training in this building on leadership. Showed we, as an org, can partner with DOE. Next year, we want 200. Guiding one to be an NYC HS teacher. We can be the best we can be, the next doctors and lawyers. Powerful to watch young men engage. Starting with early HS students. You may start a leadership program within your schools.

Tenisha Frank—2020 Women’s March Saturday Jan. 18. Broadway between 61 and 61 we will meet participants.

Legislative Report—Elizabeth Perez—Cuomo relived state of state address. Education minimal part. Wanted to direct funding to neediest students, but provided little detail. Expect budget within two weeks. Will host UFT legislative reception to share our priorities. NYSUT will be doing Lobby Day too. Hearing tomorrow on NYC universal after school program. Want slots available for any who want them. Council wants more transparency and detailed info.

We will discuss special election to fill Queensborough President vacated by Melinda Katz March 24. Will have UFT retreat to plan getting out the vote. Feb 1, 2 weekend, or Feb. 8. CLs should place census at top of January agenda. Mulgrew will deliver powerpoint presentation on Wednesday. CLs should share this.

Barr—NYSUT RA resolution—environmentally responsible schools

Janella Hinds
—When we think about climate change, we can stand up for environmentally sound schools and retrofitting. We want sustainable school projects to enable conservation and recycling.


—Resolution against hate attacks.

Dave Kazansky—Attacks are well-documented in December and further beyond that. Jews walking down the street celebrating holidays are being attacked. Piece of larger puzzle in this time period, with this leadership, and people are emboldened to express hate. Symptomatic of immigrant and LGBTQ treatment. Hope this is approved and we can show UFT doesn’t tolerate this.
Ezike Devaus—Could we include immigration status in this? Once in whereas and once in resolved. UFT opposes bigotry on these grounds and others.


Resolution as amended passes

Anthony Harmon
—Endorsement for Queensborough President of Donovan Richards. Knows him personally. Was out helping to rebuild Rockaway after Sandy. Queens UFT supports him.


6:40—We are adjourned.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Dear Patron Saint of Institutional Racism,

I don't know if you get a whole lot of correspondence on this topic, but I'm a New York City teacher and I work in a trailer. It's always been a pretty crappy place to work. This year, in a moment of extraordinarily bad judgment, I did a favor for an assistant principal and swapped one of my classes into one. I won't make that mistake again. But even if my classes weren't there, someone else's would be.

Now here's the deal--New York City knows that these trailers will not be there more than another year or two, so they've given up on them utterly and won't make repairs on them. For example, back in September, the AC didn't work. I have photos of the temperature being 99 degrees. Every single day the custodians told me someone from the city was coming to fix them, but no one ever did. Eventually the temperature went down outside, and the problem was solved. Except it wasn't.

I'll get back to that. But imagine you're teaching a class of kids, and the one by the door is wearing a hijab and a robe that goes from neck to floor. I don't know what it's made of, and I'm not going to ask. That's not to mention all the other kids, or me, and we were only marginally less uncomfortable. Many days I brought this class to the auditorium, where the sound is not optimized for running a class and where keeping student attention is like a game of chance.

In another trailer, a former student of mine teaches math. She's from China, and so are all her students. She's pretty driven to teach, and I'd bet dimes to dollars she bailed from the trailer fewer days than I did, if at all. Her students, though, were pretty vocal in their complaints about this miserable trailer. One day they asked her, "Is it because we're Chinese?"

It's not because they're Chinese in particular, though, It's because they're New York City public school students and no one at Tweed or anywhere else gives a good goddamn about their learning conditions. 

Let's get back to why a change of seasons won't change the conditions in the trailers. For one thing, the temperature will go up again later this year. Those pesky spring conditions tend to show up around April or May. For another, even though the temperature is down in the outside world, it's a balmy 85-88 degrees in my trailer. It's odd, because the temperature is set to 68. Why does it get so hot? I have no idea. So I complain every few days to various people, everyone I can think of, and nothing happens, ever.

Now it's ironic when it's absolutely freezing outside and I'm sitting in a trailer with the door propped open with a fire extinguisher and both of the functioning windows open. (Did I mention that several of the windows don't open? This really sucks on those 99 degree days.) I have a girl from the Dominican Republic sitting with her winter coat on, as far from the door as possible, and she tells me she's freezing to death. Meanwhile, my student with the hijab, sitting right by the door, begs me not to close it. The kids by the windows physically block my way when I go to close them.

As if that's not enough, there's construction going on in the field. They're building a new annex, so they can get rid of the trailers in a few years. And they hammer, and they drill, and they make loud construction noises they promised would not happen during school hours. It gets worse every day. Who cares? No one, They're only bothering a bunch of kids from other countries. It's not like their parents are gonna call and complain. Is it discrimination?

You better believe it is.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

But You Like Me

I just came from my third period beginning English class. We were discussing prepositions.

"Why is it in the morning but at night?"

"I don't know, actually. Prepositions are very difficult and there aren't any rules. My second language is Spanish. In Spanish they have two words for for. They say por and para. I always mix them up."

"Oh, Mr. Goldstein. You spoke Spanish in English class. How could you?"

"You are a troublemaker."

"Yes, but you like me."

"It's true. I do."

It's really unfair when the students read your mind. There should be a chancellor's regulation or something.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

On Teacher Morale

Our school is generally a good place to work. Sure, there are things to complain about, and I spend a good portion of my time complaining about them and/ or trying to fix them. Nonetheless, I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say that, having gotten rid of two really insane supervisors recently, we haven't got any more of them. Of course, that could change at any moment, but for now I'd say we're beating the odds.

What are the odds? I'd say maybe one in three you get some lunatic telling you what to do. Of course it's not completely their fault. There's a whole lot of trickle-down crap from the geniuses in Albany, and it's all you can do these days to get in there and teach anything that students actually need to know. Making a jump from one school to another, though, is risky business.

I've long maintained that "getting out of the classroom" is just not a worthy goal. Anyone harboring such a goal doesn't love teaching and likely as not doesn't know how to do it well. The most efficacious way to get out of the classroom is to go into supervision. Sure, you have to go through the C30 process, but there's no guarantee the person the C30 board likes will get the gig. You know, if you happen to be spending Wednesday afternoons with the superintendent over at the Comfort Inn you might have the inside track. If your mommy works at Tweed that wouldn't hurt either.

Yesterday I was discussing so-called emergency sixth classes with a supervisor. The supervisor said, "I used to get a hundred applications for every opening, but now it's really tough to find people." That kind of amazed me. The supervisor theorized that perhaps people, comfortable with whoever is Danielsoning them, don't want to take a chance with anyone else.

That makes sense to me. Ever since Danielson came along, the fear and loathing among staff has been palpable. For several years, I heard we got observed too frequently. Other districts got observed only twice a year. People told me it was a priority to reduce the number of observations. I heard it at work, I heard it in the comments here, and I read it elsewhere.

Several of us pushed for this in the last contract, However, as soon as we won it, I started to hear, "What if my observations suck? I'll have less chance to compensate for it." I started to see that message everywhere. Now reasonable supervisors will say okay, I'll come back next week, or okay, I'll give you another shot. You will likely not be shocked to learn that not all supervisors are reasonable.

So what's the problem? I'd say it's twofold. One part, of course, is the epidemic of terrible supervision in NYC. This is, in part, a result of the lack of oversight in the hiring process, not to mention the fact that Bloomberg actually ran a Leadership Academy in which Vindictive Supervision 101 was the core course. Thus, a frothing-at-the-mouth mad dog had a great advantage over a sensitive, thinking human. You know, sensitive, thinking humans are inconvenient, what with their natural tendency to question stupidity, poor judgment, bad programs, and other inconveniences that mar our system.

The other thing is that this evaluation process was conceived specifically to fire teachers. No matter how well or poorly it does the job, everyone senses that. If you're in the trenches, you see the feeling, know the feeling, have the feeling. How do you fight that? I have no idea. It's helpful if you have a chapter leader who does the job regardless of potential consequence. If not, you may or may not know to go up the UFT ladder.

Between terrible supervision and a system that inspires fear more than anything else, teachers are in a tough spot. We can do better. An evaluation system ought to be one of support, not the Sword of Damocles. Rendering it as such is a big ask. It's quite complicated to get from point A to point B.

Monday, January 06, 2020

The Surreal McCoy

I've now tried dozens of times to take the sexual harassment survey mandated by my employer, the NYC Department of Education. To the left is the message I invariably get, if indeed I get any at all.

I happen to have copied it, because on my third or fourth complaint to DOE, they asked for a screenshot. I was lucky when I obliged them, as this popped up. Sometimes nothing pops up.

Here's what I want to know--how many times can you try in good faith to fulfill their requirement before you give up? How much time do I have to waste trying to log on to the same thing I did last year before I can get back to, you know, preparing to teach? I'm also chapter leader, and with 300 members that job keeps me hopping too. Why should I spend one more moment wasting my time with the incompetent boobs who fail to make their mandates possible to follow?

I'm home today with a medical appointment. On the positive side, that means I don't have to waste time with this nonsense. You can only access it when on DOE wifi. Except I can't do that either.

Last year, an AP gave me another link, one that worked. I have no idea where he found it, but the DOE has yet to provide me with an alternate link. I have people in my building asking me what will happen if they don't do it. Given I've got a little over a month to complete this task, I suppose I'll be able to let them know.

However, I'm making this public declaration today. When they come to put a letter in my file, I'll show it. Honestly, isn't there some point at which you just give up and call it a day?

I'll keep trying, maybe once a week. Maybe during Regents week I'll give an extra few efforts. However, the ineptitude on the part of the DOE is simply staggering. It's surreal that the people who designed and enabled this nonsense supervise teachers. It's more than that.

It's the surreal McCoy.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Albany to High Schools: Buena Suerte, Vaya Con Dios, and Drop Dead

My Christmas break, sad to say, was not all glamor and world travel. Alas, there were various things that kept me here. That in itself was not so bad, and I suppose most of my students were around too. One thing I had that they did not was homework.

Someone at UFT gave me two books about a month ago, One was Cultivating Knowledge, Building Learners, which I understand is behind a lot of the atrocious notions the geniuses in Albany have perpetrated against English Language Learners (ELLs or ELs). As I've been serving these kids the last few decades, I take that personally. I commented on that book, directly and indirectly, here and here.

This book, I understand, is the basis behind the state's push to look at ELLs differently, including the half-assed redo of CR Part 154 that resulted in a huge drop in direct English instruction for ELLs, ranging 33-100% in the high schools. 

My other reading assignment was Teaching Academic Literacy Skills, which I went deep on just a few days ago. This book, I'm told, is behind the state's big push for curriculum and the city's insistence on Instructional Leadership Teams. Mulgrew has publicly criticized them for being a small part of what the state is calling for. I'd go even further, and say the entire notion is flawed.

One thing these books had in common was writer Nonie K. Lesaux, who must be rolling in dough from their sales. Another commonality is that, while both books acknowledged ELLs and paid them valuable lip service, neither bothered examining students at high school level. Cultivating Knowledge dealt strictly with elementary students, while, Academic Literacy Skills dealt with K-8 students. To me, at least, this not only explained but also exacerbated quite a few shortcomings.

Here, for example, is something Teaching Academic Literacy Skills puts forth as an "outdated guiding assumption and principle."

The strengths and needs of ELs and their classmates are distinct and necessarily demand different approaches.

Instead, they say this:

In many classrooms, the literacy strengths and needs of ELs and their English-only peers are more similar than different. Learning academic English, oral and written, should be an instructional priority for all. 

Here's one thing we know. At a high school level, many of our students have already acquired academic language, along with reading and writing skills in their first languages. It's a question of transference, which those of us who've studied language acquisition know to occur. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our students don't know English yet, and anyone who doesn't see that as a distinct need that demands a different approach has a geranium in her cranium.

My department was presented with this at a PD, and I'm proud to say that every single high school ESL teacher objected strenuously to this nonsense. Perhaps this concept may be more viable in regard to elementary students who haven't yet acquired skills  but still, they don't know English yet either. Granted, perhaps they'll acquire it more quickly and with less direct instruction.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that the approach to ELLs is successful in elementary schools or anywhere. I know an elementary ESL teacher who has nine co-teachers, and he is by no means extraordinary. There is no way on God's green earth that any teacher can be effective with so many co-teachers. I'd argue that two should be an absolute maximum, and that this should be written either into state regulations or local contracts.

That said, we know younger children acquire language more easily than older children. I've not only studied it, but I've also seen it firsthand with my niece who came here at six from Colombia, and my daughter who I adopted from Colombia at two. The geniuses in Albany fail utterly to distinguish between younger and older language learners in several ways.

First, we know that children's brains are almost pre-programmed to learn and acquire language. They are veritable sponges. We know that everyone acquires their first languages perfectly, no matter how hard or easy adults may find them. We also know that this ability begins a precipitous decline around puberty, thus accounting for why our high school students pick it up more slowly than elementary students.

One of the rules passed down by the geniuses in Albany is that ELLs may not be more than one year apart. This makes for programming nightmares systemwide. I'm not an expert on elementary education, but I suppose there might be significant developmental differences between first and fourth graders. Perhaps they ought not to be in classes together. Indeed an elementary school could range from K-6, and maybe these students ought not to be grouped together.

High school is a different matter altogether. Ninth and twelfth graders are not so different that they cannot share a class if they happen to be at the same learning level. The need to create multiple classes for these students is a huge problem. This is at least partially why so many high schools are out of compliance.

Thus a high-school teacher friend of mine has multiple classes with multiple co-teachers. His school contends that English 2 is one prep even though it's taught by different teachers. That's absurd. There is no way that this class, taught by two different teachers, is the same day to day. Thus my friend has, essentially 5 preps. He's in a long grievance process right now, and I'm not sure how he'll fare. Nonetheless, he's right and his administrator is a callous and cynical troglodyte.

I honestly don't understand what goes on up there in Albany. Either the Regents actually read these books and are incapable of assessing them, or they rely on people equally incapable and take their word. Even if they were not basing their decrees on superficial nonsense, their decision to absolutely ignore high schools in their decisions is at best ignorant, and at worst highly irresponsible.

Anyone who rates the sitting NY State Regents higher than ineffective is laboring under a serious misconception.

Thursday, January 02, 2020

Albany and the New Ten Commandments

Forget everything you've heard and read about education. There's a new paradigm, and it's called Teaching Advanced Literacy Skills. This is revolutionary, of course, because it appears clear to the authors that no English teacher in the history of the universe has ever taught advanced literacy. Also, since no one in the world will ever go into a trade, and since everyone will spend their entire lives doing academic writing, we need to start work on this right away.

We teachers, evidently, just do the whole phonics thing, and once students are able to sound out words, we give up on them for the next eleven years or so and hope for the best. Thank goodness these brilliant writers are here to let us know that students need to be able to identify a main idea, and that this indispensable skill is actually an amalgam of other vital skills.

Not only that, but we now know that it's important students use a variety of sources to support their arguments, as opposed to just making stuff up (like the President of the United States, for example). That's why we, as teachers, should hand them several sources on which to base their writing, as do the geniuses in Albany when they issue the NY State ELA Regents, the final word on whether or not students have advanced literacy.

Never mind that students who've passed the test with high grades don't seem to know how to read or write well. Never mind nonsense like writer voice (I'll get back to that.), mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. Never mind whether or not anyone actually wishes to read whatever writing the students produce, because that's also mentioned absolutely nowhere in the book. The important thing is that they be able to produce academic writing. Do you go out of your way to read academic writing? Neither do I.

The book is big on synthesis, that is, using multiple sources. Like the awful English Regents exam, students are generally provided with sources. I suppose this is some sort of training to write research papers. Here's the thing, though--if you write research papers you will have to find your own sources. I recall being in summer classes at Queens College, in their old crappy library searching through shelves with a flashlight trying to find things to write about. No such issue for our advanced literacy-trained students. Here are texts a, b, c and d. Get out there and tell me which ones are better.

We don't need to teach students about logical fallacy either, which is good news for politicians everywhere. Students need not recognize ad hominem or straw man arguments. No guilt by association for you. We don't need to bother showing them why some arguments are less logical than others, as per this book at least. I suppose when Donald Trump calls whatever doesn't suit him "fake news," that's okay. It's just another academic source.

One of the most fascinating aspects of this book, to me, is that the project they spend the most time on is one in which students discuss whether or not their school should adopt uniforms. I wrote in the margins, "great topic!" Why? Because this was a topic their school was actually examining that had a direct effect on their lives. This decision would change their behavior, and perhaps change their entire school. There was an intrinsic motivation for students to be involved in this decision.

Nowhere in the book did the writers deem this worthy of mention. I have no idea whether or not they even noticed it. I did, though, and it was hands down a better topic than some of the crap students must wade through on the English Regents exam. Don't get me wrong--I understand that students, like us, will have to wade through a lot of crap in their academic lives. To me, though, it seems smarter to make them love reading. It seems smarter to motivate them to do so on their own. Then, when they have to read some crap to which they cannot relate, they'll be better equipped to do so, having developed the skills this book advocates, and well beyond, in a far more positive fashion.

One thing that makes me love writers is something called writer voice. A great example of this is Angela's Ashes, a non-fiction work (!) by the late and brilliant Frank McCourt. They made a film out of it which faithfully told the story, but was a largely unwatchable flop. That's because the allure and charm of this story was all about the way McCourt told it, his humor, his deft and inspiring use of language. He had me at the first sentence about childhood, and kept me mesmerized until the last sentence. I couldn't put the book down.

Teaching Advanced Literacy Skills, however, was not a fun read. Someone at UFT gave it to me, and it felt a lot more like homework than pleasure reading. In its favor, it was mostly clear, and not unnecessarily complicated. (I find that to be an important aspect of good writing, though the book never mentioned it at all.) I'm certain any of the authors could write a term paper; indeed I wouldn't be surprised if they spent all their spare time doing so. Nonetheless, I'm not persuaded any of them could tell a story anyone wanted to hear. Perhaps that's why I noticed only one mention of fiction in the entire book, and that its role was as a mere supplement (or afterthought, perhaps).

People who love to read frequently love to read fiction. Sure, there are a lot of topics we love. I've read a lot of books about music, for example. As for academic writing, I've read a lot about bilingualism and language acquisition. Maybe science teachers love to read about photosynthesis. I don't know. Fiction, though, places you in another person's skin and makes you see the world through his or her eyes. It teaches you empathy. The skill in academic writing, as presented here, does not necessarily do anything to promote independent thought. My students are not seals and therefore ought not to be trained to balance beach balls on their noses.

Administrators would be doing both teachers and students a great service if they viewed things like this book with a critical eye. One thing that I've noticed, over decades of teaching, is that these things are generally passed down uncritically, with all the passion of Moses, above, presenting the Fifteen Commandments. No one seems to question whether or not there are really fifteen commandments, and no one asks whether these are the same commandments as last year, the year before, or 1996.

We can certainly go this route of mistaking what they call advanced literacy skills for what we know as reading and writing. We can raise an entire generation of students who produce academic writing on demand, who use whatever sources we give them, and never question anything. Evidently, there's an entire generation of administrators who will accept and promote the shallow and unremarkable ideas in this book, absolutely none of which I haven't heard before, as gospel.

I don't suppose anyone will bother to point out that Common Core is no more, and that the concepts here clearly grew out of David Coleman's brilliant revelations on writing. I'd argue, though, that literacy goes well beyond the narrow confines of this book, that the book's ultimate but understated goal is to make kids pass low-quality tests, and that the push for bland conformity is the same thing that enables Fox News and demagogues like Trump.

We can do much better. I'd argue any teacher or administrator who needs this book is not only woefully uninformed, but also forging a deliberate path to remain that way.