Thursday, April 30, 2020

With Safety a Priority, What Will Teaching Look Like?

Mulgrew has a piece in the Daily News that discusses safeguards for returning to work. He's spoken about pretty much all these things at various meetings I've attended.

Of course testing for corona virus is little more than a cruel joke these days. I know someone whose partner, a nurse, suffered for two weeks with fever, and was denied pay for the days she was out. She tried to take vacation days and they denied her. She tested positive but her partner, who was no longer symptomatic, couldn't get tested at all. (I'm now hearing 1199 will get her paid somehow.)

We now know well we should've closed the schools sooner, and de Blasio's failure to do so will be his enduring legacy. And of course there will be obstacles, including the ridiculous class sizes we've been unable to shake for the last half century. Mulgrew suggests possible workarounds, like end to end scheduling, or every other day attendance. These might work, but in severely overcrowded schools (like mine) additional steps may be necessary.

Elsewhere, national teacher unions are saying it must be safe or forget it, there will be strikes and job actions. There should be. I went until the bitter end last time, and I think there were two factors that went into that--I tend to be unreasonably stubborn sometimes, and I honestly did not understand just how risky that was. After weeks of news that focuses on almost nothing but the virus, I see things differently. I'm not gonna be a hero anymore.

But let's say we work it out satisfactorily and go back. Let's say we have fewer students in classrooms and manage adequate social distancing by hook or crook (or more likely by miracle). One of the things that's really frustrated me with remote learning is my absolute inability to see what the hell it is my students are doing. I'm accustomed to walking around the classroom and checking on them individually. I'm accustomed to giving tips as to how to do things better, or compliments on great work.

Well guess what? If we're social distancing, that will still not be possible. Perhaps in some computer rooms in which there are cameras teachers can check desk to desk and send messages to individual students, but that's far from standard. Tbere are only a handful of such rooms in my building, and they're occupied by research and computer classes. I guess I could us a telescope, or perhaps a multi-directional periscope, but even in that unlikely circumstance, how would I communicate with the kids? Screaming across the room? I guess it beats nothing.

And let's say that Governor Cuomo manages to pull the broomstick out of his ass and cancels APPR this year. What about next year? Let's say we're in our properly socially-distanced classes with 11 or 12 students at a time. I've taught some very small classes in college, and it's entirely possible that you draw a group of shy students who are disinclined to participate. What's Charlotte Danielson going to say about that? They're all shy, so you must suck.

Let's disregard that, and say your students are fine. Let's say you get a mix of introverts and extroverts. Let's say you get an entire group of eager participants, in fact. There you are. They can't wait to answer your questions. They jump and scream, "Ooh, ooh, ooh," to answer each and every question that emanates from your brilliant mind. So maybe Charlotte is not set to ruin your life at that particular moment.

But what about the all-important and indispensable groupwork? Every principal will tell you that's the only way students learn because of course no one listens to you at all, and if you give them information rather than having them discover it, it's "chalk and talk" and you suck. But you can't put them in groups because that would be risking their health. In fact, you can't even do pairwork, which I favor because it maximizes language use.

So when Boy Wonder comes into your classroom with his iPad---wait a minute--is there even room for Boy Wonder to safely fit? In crisis mode, with space at a premium, are we going to place even one fewer student in a classroom so Boy Wonder can squeeze his fat ass through the door? Or will he have to wait until someone is absent?

Let's say he gets in one way or another. How do you do Danielson under circumstances in which groupwork is hazardous to everyone's health? Does anyone actually believe the DOE has given a moment's consideration to this? They think their role is telling us what to do.  Even as we're engaged in remote learning, which none of them have ever even tried, they see their role as sitting on top of Mount Olympus and issuing edicts to us mere mortals.

Nonetheless, these are new times. There will be new situations, and I'm sure there are a whole lot of things I haven't considered. But I'm adjusting my practice, and Boy Wonder is going to have to adjust his too. Me, I'd fire his ass to save money and improve the quality of life on earth. This notwithstanding,  his grotesque incompetence and indifference to human suffering hasn't been a problem for the DOE before, so I don't think it will be now either.

Who will end up figuring this out? We will. Will the DOE and the geniuses in Albany wait for us to do this before sending us back? Probably not. That's not their job.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Trump Will Give States Emergency COVID Aid in Exchange for Weighing Votes by Income

President Trump faced the press today and announced that he was perfectly ready to release hundreds of billions of aid to beleaguered states if only they'd reform antiquated voting practices. The President said that if things continued the way they had been, it was possible that no Republicans would ever win again, which would be grossly unfair.

"Look, no one loves the minorities more than I do," said the President. "I know minorities probably better than any person alive, " he said. "But there are just so many of them these days. I mean, what kind of minority has more people than those of us who were here first?"

The theme of Fake Minority has been repeated and amplified in the news lately, and was a feature on Tucker Carlson's show. Carlson asked how these people mustered the audacity to even call themselves minorities when there were more of them than regular folks like him. Carlson pointed out how few of them were born rich, and how most of them couldn't even be bothered marrying into money like he did.

Hannity said that the President was right, and that people of means ought to have their means represented in their votes. For example, billionaires have clearly worked harder than minimum wage workers, or why would they have all that money? So why should a person making $7.25 and hour have as many votes as someone making $725,000 a minute? This is clearly unfair.

"And by the way," said the President, "There's no quid pro quo here. No quid. No quo. And no collusion. It's part of the Mueller Report. You can look it up."
President Trump pointed out that he'd basically done everything he could to level the playing field. He'd rolled back all those terrible environmental regulations that Obama had put in place that impeded business. He's supported every means of voter correction he could. He'd even had his Supreme Court make sure that open voting took place during a pandemic. In fact, he'd seen to it that there were only half a dozen voting places in the "minority" city of Milwaukee.

Despite all that, when the people of Milwaukee stood out in the freezing hail for five or six hours to vote, when only 3% of eligible voters showed up, a 90% drop, the GOP still lost a pivotal vote on their state Supreme Court. How are they going to make sure voting is tilted fairly enough so the GOP can win?

While this issue could be decided by the Supreme Court, which will certainly vote Trump's way, it's far from certain the Republicans can win unless immediate action is taken.

"I dont have to do this," said Trump. "It's not my fault that states want to fritter away all their money on things like pensions for cops, nurses, teachers, firefighters and sanitation workers. It's not our job to take care of that stuff. It's time we stop all this nonsense and get the do-nothing Democrats to put the country back to work."

Some state officials spoke in support. In Texas some suggested this was a great idea whose time has come, and spoke of what a disaster it would be if Democrats took over the state. "Look," said the Lieutenant Governor on condition of anonymity. "The President won the last election by every possible metric, except votes cast. It's simply not fair that we are held to a different standard. It's not our fault that minorities keep having so many babies."

KellyAnne Conway pointed out, "It's us, the Republicans, who stand up and insist on the right to life. If it weren't for us, there would be a whole lot more abortion and many fewer minority babies. It's completely unfair that we should be penalized for that when they outvote us. The President is right. It's time for votes to be distributed based on income rather than simply being alive."

Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer, reached for comment, were unavailable at this time.

Monday, April 27, 2020

UFT Executive Board April 27, 2020 Building and Budget Woes

 5:51 Roll Call

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr welcomes us 5:59 PM.

Minutes--approved via email

UFT President Michael Mulgrew--6:06--More people have passed, though fewer. Does not help anyone dealing with loss. A total of 90 members have now passed. 54 in service. 36 retired. Mulgrew reads names.

Moment of silence.

Thanks us for being on call. Thanks all who participated in DA and Town Hall. Happy we are able to communicate. Don't have all answers, but will try to get them.

Governor today talking about extending NY Pause in some areas but not others. No talk of opening schools anywhere in US. Our petition has 56,000 signatures so far. We need social distancing, school by school, due to different sizes and some having over 200% capacity. We need to discuss this.

We didn't prepare to close the buildings, but were able to pull it off. We now know more about remote learning than anyone at DOE. We need to think about what it looks like if we have no vaccine or cure. These discussions have to happen. Testing, medical investigations, temperature, social distancing, needs protocol.

People in other states will be saying same thing. Safety is a key focus and we need to drive the conversation. Feds will have to support states and people need to know those walking into school buildings will have to know how to avoid spreading the virus. Different schools will need different methods. Can't be one set plan.

DOE talking about grading policy. Some parents want everyone to pass. Some want rubric. Everyone has a point of view. I understand. Still, grades mean something to us. Does this child have ability, or meet standards to move ahead. HSs have many different policies. Many plans coming from DOE. Some say no grades, everyone passes. We're only looking at end of year grades. Now saying this week, tomorrow, but no one knows. Don't believe what went out Friday to be policy.

Middle school teachers say they will treat students humanely, all on their own. Don't want engagement and participation to be irrelevant. Will have negative consequences. We're getting the work done and we ask DOE to do no harm with grading policy. Our children are engaged and we want to keep them engaged. DOE distributed 250K iPads. Impressive.

Calendar should be finalized this week. May 15 we can start doing SBO votes. We believe platform will be in place to make sure voters have right to vote, and vote is anonymous.

Excessing--We will do training. There will be timeline. Principals don't have budget. Everything must be looked at, comp-time positions, long time since very bad budgets. Governor announced 10 billion dollar cut. DOE and UFT will put out joint document with rules to be enforced.

When McConnell says blue state bailout, it's about first responders, police, health care workers and teachers. We have a large contingent of blue and red state governors saying we need this. This is about our livelihood. We need this package.

Due process system should get started soon.

Summer school still up in the air. Will likely be tied to grading policy. Teacher needs to use judgment as to whether students need academic intervention or full summer school.


Mentoring--Still going on? How will hours be made up? Don't know yet. Will have answer next Monday. Many things have been extended in certification. Evelyn DeJesus working on it.

Overcrowded schools--Can't be blanket plan. Overcrowded schools will need individual plan.

If governor doesn't meet safety demands what will we do? Already started with petition. Very important we keep coalition of teachers and parents.

MS Teams, Google--lacks features.  Want to put together a group of folks to talk about what tools mean, can and cannot do, things that need to be changed.

Can detailed excessing rules have training?--Yes. Will be training for DRs, CLs.

Will nurses be required to work in summer?--Hopes not. Hospitals starting to move down, but hopes that rec centers and schools get a break.

DOE released a survey on remote learning--Difference is this survey doesn't require code. Trying to figure out whehter they still need devices. At first didn't believe us when parents said was too much work.

Evelyn de Jesus--Had over 20 questions, cut it by half, asked how can we support rather than does teacher support. Need to know which kids really need tech. Trying to target need.

Mulgrew--DOE still thinks they can just tell everyone to do. What they need to do is support us. Their culture is that they know everything. But they know nothing about this. That's why we continue with focus groups. We keep hearing about how paras are doing great things. DOE has no idea. They are a lifeline to families. Trying to change culture. Will see where it goes.

Hoping we will say teachers, rather than communities will decide. No, a principal cannot mandate you to teach live.

Does NY Exec. Budget place health care in jeopardy? No, we have met our savings goal. Can't predict what will happen in next two years, nor can anyone. Hospitals now have waiver and can't be questioned on what they do, due to Covid emergency. Greatly concerned, Have been having many phone calls about health care. Will be great challenge. Health care costs are through roof, have to deal with insurers, hospitals and doctors.

Fed package could help, and could help with budget and health care.

Parent teacher conferences being mandated by some principals? Waiting for DOE to tell them what they are thinking. Our recommendation is two PD days should be used for schools to meet. No ones set up a schedule before without seeing one another. Many teachers are in contact already. Teachers can reach out and make themselves available. 

Mulgrew sends condolences and sympathy to all schools and school communities that lost people. Thanks us and wishes us all well. 6:37

Final roll call.

We are adjourned. 6:38

Sunday, April 26, 2020

DOE Grading Policy Is a Big Nothing

It's funny. You build something up. You say it's crucial, vital, the most important thing ever. You say it's coming tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, Wednesday, Friday, next week for sure. Then the thing finally comes out, vetted by multiple committees, after weeks of deliberation, and it's something you could've made up yourself off the top of your head after having drunk one too many glasses of wine.

And here it is, according to Chalkbeat:

It’s expected that the city will announce that no student will be held back as a result of the pandemic. Elementary and middle school students’ work will be graded as “satisfactory” or “needs improvement,” according to details from the forthcoming policy, reported first by NY1.

High school students, meanwhile, will continue to receive grades in accordance with their school’s own policies — with one notable exception: No student will be given a failing mark. Instead, they will receive an “incomplete,” according to the report.

I'm not going to focus on elementary, since I know little to nothing about what they do normally. As for high schools, it appears they placed little or no thought whatsoever into this policy. Just continue doing the same thing, hope for the best, and maybe we'll give the kids an extra chance to pass if they don't do it the first time.

I've seen some people saying that UFT has elicited no input from teachers, and that's not true. Education VP Evelyn de Jesus called me and asked for recommendations. A group of half a dozen colleagues and I spent an hour or two and came up with some, clearly more elaborate than what the DOE sent out. I'm also hearing that, though there were sessions with UFT, DOE pretty much went and put this out without our blessing or input.

Of course, DOE is declining to say officially that these are the policies, so who knows? You send things into Dracula's Castle and they tend not to come out the way you intended. If Chalbeat is correct, and I have reason to believe they are, there are a whole lot of things they haven't considered.

The first one that jumps to my mind is the fact that individual schools have individual grading policies. In our school, each department has its own policy. Our department, at least, gives teachers some leeway into which percentage counts for what. The part that really concerns me is tests and projects. I haven't given a test or major project since we went remote, and I can't honestly imagine how I'd do so. I have absolutely no confidence that I can pull them off.

Last week I gave a small project in which my students had to do presentations. I noticed one of my more conscientious students had notes in her project that she clearly had not written herself. Maybe she wrote them in her first language and had someone translate for her. On another assignment, I had students write a film review. I got one that was clearly not written by the student in question, and a one-second Google search gave me the source.

Before the apocalypse, tests and projects counted for 50% of my class grade. These days, I'd like to reduce that percentage closer to zero. I'd rather give credit for participation, and use that for the crux of the grade. But then, what do I do about students who have legitimate reasons for not attending class?

I don't feel bad for students who've managed to fail the 70% of the year they spent in my class. I haven't seen those students turning this thing around, and I don't agree with people who say everyone should pass. I don't intend to fail anyone who's been passing all year, though.

It's kind of like the DOE deliberated for weeks, delayed everyone in giving a marking period grade, and then finally threw up their hands, saying, "Do whatever, and let's see what happens."

And that's what passes for leadership over at Tweed.

Friday, April 24, 2020

UFT Town Hall, April 23rd

by special guest Mindy Rosier-Rayburn

UFT President Michael Mulgrew began with a moment  of silence for the 82 in-service and retired members.

He thanked all of us for all we have been doing considering all that we are facing. We are making the school system run. School is in session everyday. It is clearly an amazing feat that we all pulled off. 

A little over a month ago feels like a year ago. We have accomplished so much despite all of the conflicting information out there. We have figured how to make this system run. If you ask anyone, with no planning , nothing in place to move to a remote process...everyone would say no, it can’t happen. No other school system has reached our level of success. We are getting it done. We all should be so proud of what we pulled off. 

Focus groups have been pivotal in helping us get through with all that's being done. These focus groups help keep everything real. We figured it out because we know how to reach children
We have always faced lots of challenges and we have figured them out.

Governor says one thing, the Mayor says another. Realistically, schools won't be open. We have to wrap up the rest of this year and get ready for next year. Summer too. Everything needs to be worked on. This includes grades and the calendar.

To the DOE- You want to find out how remote teaching works? Ask a teacher. Plain and simple.
Better perspective of what’s going on, when you speak to the people doing the work. 

We are getting our raise. Period. End of story. Law is on our side. Many of our members are 2 paycheck households but now, not as much.

Over 1200 schoos did School Based Options last year. We are starting to get our SBO’'s in place, online. They are building that system now. This has been one of the top pieces of the contract being utilized.

Summer School;

School is in session everyday. Just the buildings are closed. To those upstate, we can prove we worked those 180 days. We have fulfilled our state obligations. No reason to drag the school year into the summer. Now for summer school itself, it is still being figured out. It will probably be done remotely. Lots up for discussion. Lotts of parents spoke via focus groups. Everything is being talked through. Parents love us and respect us now more than ever. We are their angels. We made it happen by working with them and their children. 

The Chancellor is saying he wants a standardized grading policy. Parents are concerned. If a child is moving from elementary to middle or to HS or to college, but there's no tests this year, and the issue about attendance, how can they appropriately move forward. How do you do this for over 1800 schools? Two thirds of the school year has already been completed. That is not to be forgotten. Right now children are facing harsh realities at home and we as teachers need to be responsible. We should have a grading policy that could allow for recommendations come Sept. to help the students who need it. A standardized grading policy is coming and of course it  becomes political. We need to do this thoughtfully and it needs to be done right. No child can be harmed. Other school districts have policy where all the students have passed. However if you look at their attendance, it is very low. We can't do that. Would like to tie some accommodations if needed, in the summer. It is all being worked out. 

Focus as we go Forward;

Two extremely important things, but they are 1 and 1 because they are equal. 

1.We are to continue to have a livelihood so that we can take care of ourselves and our family.
1. Safety 

We had no layoffs. We are all seeing everything on the news. We had to fight to close our schools. Other districts closed before us. We didn't close until we had almost 400 cases. Many politicians learned that they aren't smarter than doctors.  

Schools were supposed to be closed down, investigated, and thoroughly cleaned. That didn't happen. There will be legal issues with this. We can't let this happen again.

Budget:  Back to Livelihood;

What will school look like in this new environment?

We were able to move a lot of things forward with a lot of lobbying. We got a lifeline. A 600m cut was avoided. Now with the city budget and state budget, we are facing two big problems. Both in major deficits. All tax revenue is not here. No cash to make payments. 

We have been working with the City Council. Mayor announced major school cuts. Mulgrew said bluntly, “the cuts should come from central. They don't like to hear that.” * I absolutely agree. 

There's second lifeline package hopefully passing today. It will be helpful, but on a federal level, they need to get things going. There has to be a chunk of money that will go to the state and city level. The state is looking at a $10B deficit.  Next year will be really scary unless things get better. We MUST fight like fiends. 

The budgets will bring on excessing in the way it was designed. Excessing is meant to protect your job. Normally one would get laid off. Not in our union. We are protected. There will be excessing. There are rules and that must be followed. There will be lots of training. There will probably be excessing in a large scale. You keep your job, you just get placed elsewhere. Excessing, may not be because of a budget but rather student population. The UFT will be there for us to make sure it is done correctly. There is a hiring freeze in place. Principals have been notified. 

Safety- What do we do to make sure our school buildings are safe. Social distancing is impossible in schools. Can't be done. Cafeteria? Absolutely not. 

Outside of the building- How do we make sure we have evidence that it's safe. Whether it’s testing for the virus, whenever they come up with it, we would need real evidence that people that come into our building will not spread the virus. Must be a strictly followed procedure. We are not a medical facility.

What about during the school day? Do we start doing partial remote teaching? Half building attendance at different times a day or alternate days? Something has to be put together and it has to be done and blessed by medical professionals, not politicians.  This is not going to be easy. We understand that there are high risks in this environment. There has to be cleaning procedures in place too. They are thinking everything through. Information all too often has been fluid but we will get this done, way before the buildings open.

Next week, there will be a petition sent out to all of us demanding that we have the procedures in place necessary for the safety for all of us. We are the protectors of the schools. We want to make sure parents do this with us. This really needs to be pushed out. We've done everything to support our frontline workers, but we also need to make sure our buildings and our staff, kids, and parents, are thoroughly protected too.

We have to take care of ourselves. We are all going through so much with what's been going on. We are dealing with heavy duty stressful stuff. We are ripe with fear and anxiety. 

MAP has been phenomenal. They have been pitching in to help all of us. We are all affected. We have a program to help each other out. Tina Pucci was introduced and was thanked profusely for what she's done for so many people. 

Tina Pucci-  If you know someone who needs support, on a virtual level there are a variety of things we can do to help. Social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing. We need to connect with family and friends.

Use this link or call the MAP center (212-701-9620)

There are support groups for members and our nurses too. We all face struggles and challenges, daily. These support groups are led by social workers and counselors.

Eighty-two members have passed. We will be starting virtual bereavement sessions for colleagues soon.

Self care is key and we are taking care of everyone. We must also take care of ourselves! For questions email

Back to Mulgrew;

Virtual happy hours aren't the answers. They can be fun, but we all need so much more. 
It's part of our DNA to do more. It's the culture of an educator. We are hard on ourselves, always looking to do more because we are driven to so. We must remember to take care of ourselves. 


Over 10,000 of us on the phone.  If our question wasn’t read on the phone, someone will get back to us.

Trisha- In some schools, principals are saying we must live teach. 

M- Our stance has not changed. The Chancellor has been clear as well. No mandates to teach live. It is being dealt with. 

Susan,- A D75 nurse asked if there will be summer school for D75.

M- It is a mandated service. Will it be remotely or physically?  Still in discussion. It’s on the agenda for the meeting with Chancellor tomorrow. Something has to take place as it is a required legal service. Thanks for what you are doing out there.

Kristen- She is concerned about the Arts being cut from schools because of the budget.

M- Great concern as the arts have been the first to go all too often. The DOE needs to come up with a plan, in trying to figure out how we keep this investment in the arts. It would be horrible if we don't have the arts.  Doesn't make sense to scatter those teachers. Keep them in place.

Anna- Google meets is less user friendly and it has poorer quality than Zoom. It’s disheartening that there's a better tool out there that we can't use. Any progress about Zoom?

M- With Zoom, the security concerns are real and there is much we haven't heard. There were security concerns with other platforms and they changed them. Zoom didn't want to address those security concerns. Hopefully, they will fix them. If they don't address them, we can't use them. Convos are still happening.

Next week, we will be starting new focus groups. Teachers play such important roles, school buildings too. People are just realizing it. How can we use all of these tools that we are now using, to help us move forward? A plan needs to be created before DeVos comes out with something ridiculous 

Natara (?)- What is the future going to look like since the census will probably do poorly?

M- Encouraged everyone to fill it out. Ten years ago we did horribly. Now that remote teaching is working, we can handle other issues, and we will get back to pushing the census but not just with us, but with parents and communities. Funding for the government is based on the census. We have to always think about what's coming around the corner.

Isabella- Are there any discussions of early retirement incentives. Are pension clinics going to happen again?

M- By Friday there will be a plan in place. There will be a preference to those who are within two years of retirement. In terms of retiring incentives, the city has been quiet about this. 

Kristen P- Requested to hear more details about the agenda with the Chancellor. She also explained briefly what was going on in her school regarding attendance. They need to list everything they do and with whom. Lots of paperwork daily. She is In D13.

M- Everything that was said falls under operational complaint and she would win. Requested an email from Kristen to help her take care of this.  

Amy- We are in agreement to forgo observations, but principals are still saying they want to pop in and make observations.

M- DOE has no say. This is a state agreement. It is state law. Parents groups all support this. Until a process is in place, they can't observe you. They can pop in and that's fine. They just can't officially observe you. For further assistance, send an email. 

We have to go back to the state to make sure we don't get harmed because we not being observed for our ratings.

Joan- Are we to expect our retro in Oct?

M- Yes and our raise too next month. We have a contractual agreement. It would be against the law to take it away. It is impossible to predict such a disaster which is why it is secured. The money is ours. 

Mark- Will salary differentials still be applied? If tenure was expected will it still be granted? 

M- There are delays but it is happening. At the DOE, their computer system is antiquated with less staff. Tenure will be granted. 

Wrapping Up;

We are the epicenter of this crisis. Put this in perspective. Look at what you all have accomplished,  without anything...we figured it out and got it done. They can't do it, we can. It is a testament that the UFT folks are angry and afraid but we can get it done. 

Future town halls will take place if we all still want them.

“We must take care of each other and ourselves. You are my heroes.” Michael Mulgrew.