Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Horrified Anti-Vaxxers Have Increasingly Bad Week

It was really remarkable, this week that the very same day I published an op-ed urging we all be vaccinated before returning to work, that Mayor de Blasio announced all city workers would either be vaccinated or tested weekly. (If I were de Blasio, I'd impose the same condition on students eligible to be vaccinated, and push as hard as I could to make sure younger students are eligible ASAP.)

This is a reasonable position for the city, and I'm glad to see de Blasio finally step up and do something right ahead of time. I understand some people cannot take the vaccine for medical reasons, and they do have an option here. 

It appears anti-vaxxers are going to have a national setback as well. President Biden will require vaccinations (or regular testing) for federal workers, and is set to announce it tomorrow. It's good to see that model replicated nationally. In fact, Eva Moskowitz was well ahead of this curve, requiring all her employees to be vaccinated well before these announcements. I'm far from a Moskowitz fan, but she was absolutely right in this, at least.

I've gotten chances to see a lot of reactions from UFT members, and I'm surprised by many of them. While I understand disagreement, it's tough for me to understand it without reason. Some people said my op-ed was poorly written, which might be valid if they'd offered reasons. Others said I'm not a doctor, which is certainly true. However, it doesn't mean I haven't seen and considered medical opinions. Others suggested my left-wing bias rendered my opinion invalid. It's true 

I freely admit my left-wing bias. I'm a worker and union advocate. I oppose child labor and support weekends. I think medical care should be universal. I think every working American should receive a living wage. I think schools should be public, not profit centers for people like Eva Moskowitz (who admittedly squeaks by on less than a million a year). I'm sure I have other outrageous positions. 

The right-wing seems to be in crisis. Former Trump spokesperson Sarah Sanders is now dubbing it the Trump vaccine and urging people to get it, or pray about it, or something. I mean, it's simply not smart politics for the GOP to allow its supporters to get sick and die. You've concurrently got people like Tucker Carlson railing against vaccine campaigns. If I were a Fox viewer, I might be confused. Here's the story of a man hospitalized with Covid-related pneumonia who still refuses the vaccine. 

Now some people say the state has no right to put things (like vaccines) in your body, or things (like Covid tests) in your nose. I suppose you could say that's true, in a sense. For example, when the school nurse comes into my classroom to tell students they need to get vaccinated, she never ties them down and forces needles into their arms. Instead, she says if you don't get vaccinated by such and such a date, you will not be permitted to return to school.

Now I'm supposing, if city and federal workers refuse to get vaccinated or tested, results will be similar. My best guess is step one would be unpaid leave. If you want to take that principled stand, I guess that's where you'd be. There is, in fact, a south Florida school run by anti-vaxxers that won't hire anyone vaccinated. I suppose if you want to fight for your freedom to work unvaccinated, that could be a great opportunity. (Of course, like many Florida schools, it's almost certainly non-union, low wage, and terrible working conditions.)

Of course, I wouldn't send my kid to that school on a bet. I wouldn't even visit the site. Florida now leads the country in Covid cases, and that school has to be one of the riskiest sites in this riskiest state. Maybe those school leaders long for the good old days of smallpox, tuberculosis, or are just hoping we don't ruin this great Covid thing. Who knows?

However, you still have the freedom to refuse. Like my students, though, you have to face the consequences. There's the option of being tested rather than vaccinated. You're lucky to have that, because in Nevada they're looking at passing the costs of testing onto those who refuse the vaccine. That's not happening here. Of course if you refuse both, you have the freedom of finding some other form of employment.

Now it's entirely true I'm not a doctor. But one things doctors pledge is to do no harm. That's the least we ought to expect from them, and frankly, it's also the least children should expect from us. I'm ready to go back, and I'm ready to fight for the health and safety of both UFT members and the students we serve.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Yet Another Day Off...

...but you can see me on NY1 talking about how it's our fundamental duty to get vaccinated and protect our students.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Blogger's Day Off...

 ...but you can read my piece about why those of us who work in schools need to be vaccinated in today's NY Daily News. Feel free to comment here.

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Should Vaccines Be Mandated for School Personnel?

Chalkbeat wonders whether school personnel will be the next to have required vaccines. Mayor de Blasio, of course, is thinking about it. Thinking about stuff is what Mayor de Blasio does best. When it comes time to actually do things, he has issues. So while he thinks about it, and while Chalkbeat wonders, I have to say that it's a no-brainer.

We are role models. We can't be dragged into the idiotic debate over whether or not humans ought to protect ourselves from a deadly virus. Sure, the Trumpies will say it's not fully approved, but holy crap, the people really suffering from COVID these days are the unvaccinated. Everything I read suggests that the benefits of the vaccination far outweigh the risks. 

It would be great if the feds were to officially approve this vaccine and thus remove the spurious argument that it isn't official. This would do a great deal to encourage employers to issue vaccine mandates. It galls me that even Eva Moskowitz has mandated vaccination for her little work camp-test prep factories while we sit on our hands. She's finally found an issue in which she's right and we're wrong.

UFT leadership, I suppose, sees this as a hot potato, and that it is. Lots of us are nervous, and lots of us are Trump supporters. Trump supporters may sit in front of a TV, watch Tucker Carlson lie about vaccines, watch idiots compare vaccine supporters to nazis, and fancy themselves rugged individualists for refusing to comply. 

In fact, among NYPD, which supported Trump in 2020, only 43% appear to be fully vaccinated. That's sad and depressing. First of all, a whole lot of NYPD interacts with the public as a matter of course. That's something we have in common. Chalkbeat suggests at least 58% of us are vaccinated, and hopefully many of us, like me, have simply been vaccinated somewhere unrecorded by the city. 

I know people who've gotten awfully sick from COVID, including one of my colleagues in his 30s. He spent weeks in the hospital, but is thankfully fully recovered. I have other colleagues who've lost parents, and who will be forever asking themselves whether or not they brought the disease home to them. I wouldn't wish that on anyone. 

Of course every single UFT member should be vaccinated. And of course the city should insist on it. Will de Blasio muster the intestinal fortitude to take a stand? That's hard to say, given his tendency to wait until the last possible minute to make decisions and his affinity for leaving everything in a state of total chaos. Who can forget the dance that was the delayed opening last year?

We are, thankfully, mostly intact after the worst year in our history. Hopefully UFT-negotiatedf safeguards will remain in place to avert the sort of disaster de Blasio would happily dump on us. But given the wide availability and proven effectiveness of this vaccine, it would be folly not to insist that everyone coming into contact with children receive it. 

This is particularly crucial since children under 12 are thus far ineligible to be vaccinated. That's an even larger issue, but if we aren't willing to be vaccinated until we damn well feel like it, it's going to be even harder to get our kids to take it when it becomes available. 

As educators, it really behooves us to do the right thing here.  Barring rare medical exceptions, that right thing is for every single one of us to get vaccinated before school starts.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Medicare Advantage and UFT

This is not the Joe Namath plan, they say. Okay, I'm listening. Still, I'm not totally confident about privatizing Medicare for city workers. Hopefully what we'll get will be better than the nonsense Joe Namath is peddling. 

I believe the claims that we'll have access to the same doctors that use Medicare. I'm just not sure how long it will last. I see how privatization has worked in American health care, in charter schools, and in prisons.  Given this,  it behooves us all to ask questions rather than just dive in and hope for the best.

There is a very unsettling story about Medicare Advantage in the New York Times. It describes a man who got very sick and whose plan did not have access to the doctor he needed. Evidently the man had been relative healthy and expected to stay that way. (That's always a bad assumption, and if it were true no one would need insurance.) He found he was unable to return to standard Medicare, but was able to get in a different Advantage plan that included his doctor. Personally, I'd much rather not depend on luck in a health emergency. 

The UFT Retired Teachers Chapter once wrote a blistering resolution against Medicare Advantage, but now seems to embrace it as the bestest thing ever. Evidently when they themselves are advocating for it, it's a horse of a different color.

I'd like for them to be right, but yesterday I got in a Facebook discussion with a retiree who very much resented my questions, accusing me of spreading misinformation. It was as though I'd stepped back in time to 2005, and was being reprimanded for questioning that year's contract proposal. The thing is, when you try to have a discussion with someone who's fanatical, you're kind of wasting your time. The other thing, though, is that when someone reprimands you for asking questions, it absolutely reinforces their validity. 

I posted the Times story, and was essentially told that it was Fake News, and that I should just stop. I then got to hear about how terrible I was for asking. That's a familiar response in 2021 America, and it certainly does not inspire confidence in me. What choices will we have?

If you look at the UFT Q and A, you read this: 

If I enroll in the new NYC Medicare Advantage Plus Plan initially and wish to opt out later, will I be able to do so?
Yes, your choice of NYC health plan can always be changed during an open enrollment or by invoking your once in a lifetime change (under the rules that govern the NYC Health Benefits Program).

That leaves me with more questions than answers, actually. As far as I can tell, standard Medicare is not an NYC health plan. Also, how can there be a "once in a lifetime change" if open enrollment takes place every year? Did the subject of the Times story use a once in a lifetime change and was that why he was unable to opt back into government Medicare? Will New York State's more liberal rules allow people to opt back in? How will that help retirees in places like Florida?

There's also the fact that we know how health coverage evolves, particularly here. For example, I was not particularly upset when all new hirees were restricted to HIP for the first year. While I'd personally rather pay more and have the flexibility of GHI, HIP covers these people. If they're able to hack the first year, they'll have more choice. Of course it didn't end there, as the push toward Medicare Advantage indicates. Where does it end? No one can answer that. 

If it's savings we're after, why do we even need to involve Emblem Health? I've read of groups who do self-coverage. Why can't we eliminate for-profit entities altogether? Why do we need to make profit for any company whatsoever? Why not eliminate profit and return it to city workers in enhanced benefits?

We don't know the answers to any of these questions. We also don't know what this program will look like in the future. I've read that members would have the option to remain in traditional Medicare for $180 a year, but I've seen that confirmed absolutely nowhere. Even if it's true, how do we know that price won't multiply rapidly? If the plan is as good as advertised for current retirees, how do we know it will remain that quality in the future?

I've known people who've died because of our abysmal private insurance system. I will never be convinced that universal health care is not the way to go. I do not understand how we could have been part of the movement to block universal health care in NY State. If the cost is high, it still has to be less than the outrageous costs of private insurance, including the deaths of your and my acquaintances. It's a moral imperative to prevent Americans from going bankrupt due to catastrophic medical emergency. It can happen to us too, insurance or not. A lot of end of life care, for example, is not covered by Medicare, and you might find yourself divesting everything to qualify for Medicaid.

If it's important for us to preserve the health care we negotiated, why can't we find a way to do that while providing for New Yorkers who have no coverage? If our coverage is so much better, we can keep it. If it isn't, we should let go of it and get in the business of negotiating better working conditions.

Health coverage aside, it's insane for supporters of this plan to ridicule those of us who question it. That is far from persuasive, to say the least. In fact, when people approach me with hostility and fanaticism, it makes me wonder whether there's a Trojan Horse in this plan that they don't want me to see. After four years of Donald Trump, his lies still infect millions and hang over our country like a cloud.

If this plan is as great as its supporters claim, they should have no problem discussing it openly and honestly, without resorting to invective. If that's not possible, this plan isn't viable and belongs on the very crowded bad ideas scrapheap.

Monday, July 12, 2021

The NX Files

These are indeed strange days. This year has been like no other, and everyone with whom I speak wishes fervently to never repeat it. I almost retired, but decided pretty much at the last moment to stay on. (I've had my final consultation and I do not recall anything whatsoever about what retirement entails. There's a section on the UFT website. I'll either have to study it or pay someone to help, I guess.)

I'm going to share with you some stories I've been hearing from working teachers. Lately, there's a lot of brouhaha about how we need to be observed constantly on camera. Perish forbid we should acknowledge the racist history in the United States without also sharing the commonly held view that neo-nazis with torches are "very fine people." The fact is, all of us have been observed by parents over this year. I saw them walking in and out of camera view, at least with those students who did me the courtesy of turning on their cameras.

Of course, that's not always ideal. For example, a friend of mine would see the father of one of his students each and every day. He'd be in the background, not sitting with his daughter. He would sit on the couch, put on his earphones and watch video. That's not so unusual. The thing was, though, that the father's water pipe was always audible. Most of the time the girl was muted so it was only occasionally a thing.  My friend was uncomfortable with the visual, though, and used to ask the girl to move her camera angle.

Another friend, in another district, told me that students there were expected to participate, and that using a camera was one form of participation. He's not a teacher, but a student of his acquaintance told him that he and his friends were able to make 11-minute clips of them looking at the computer screen. They ran them on loops and the teachers, they say, were perfectly happy with their attendance. I told him that wouldn't work in my class because I made it a point to call on everyone. 

Now maybe that wasn't the wise way to go. Just recently teachers have been telling me that they'd call on students, and those who didn't answer were just marked absent. I didn't do that, but I will say that every single student who seemed not to be in class never handed in work, and all of them managed to fail. It will be a relief to no longer have to call on students who are not actually there. 

Another teacher told me she reached out to a very capable student who mostly did not attend class. The student had made up some assignments, but not enough. She called the student's mom to let her know what her son needed to do. Later that day, the teacher received a dozen assignments from the student. The second one she checked had the name of another student on it. 

The teacher had to call the mom again, on the very same day, to say she was not giving the student credit for this. She then had to call the mom of the student who actually did the homework and say this might affect her average. This was a high-performing student, and both the mom and kid freaked out. The teacher had no intention of carrying out this threat, and was happy to have accomplished her goal of making the student consider her actions more carefully. 

She then got an email from the high-performing student.  The student said another teacher had been running extra help sessions and asked her to help the student who ended up plagiarizing her work. She told the student that sharing her assignments was not, in fact, helping, and that any time she gave her work to someone else she could assume it would be copied.  In this case the student hadn't even bothered to do that much.

She then got an email from the plagiarizing student who said he was visiting a sick relative in the hospital that day, and that's why he copied the homework. He had fully intended to do it himself, but given the circumstance, he had no choice. Of course that was nonsense, because the assignments were not due that day anyway. 

And that's why this student joins the others in the NX Files. If you have a story for the files, feel free to share it in the comments.

Friday, July 09, 2021

Today in PTA (Pass Them All)

My late friend Chaz wrote about Maspeth High School three years ago and two years before that. It sounds like an awful place to work, and from what he wrote, it looks very much like a test prep factory. The only thing is, no one is allowed to fail. After all, what would it look like if 100% did not pass? 

Well, it would probably look like a real place. Students are human and sometimes fail. I know this well, because more students in my classes failed this year than ever in my career. Now I could have passed everyone, and I suppose that would make me look like a genius. What I did, in fact, was make my classes easier than ever before. After reading complaints from parents that students were overworked, I started doing most homework assignments in class.

All my students had to do was write the answers. If they got them wrong, they could correct them in class. And despite that, I probably had around a 60% compliance rate. Students who did the work passed, for the most part. Admittedly, I gave a few essay assignments that we could not do collectively, and they counted as tests or projects. I made them very easy to do. And still, that 40% who didn't do the homework didn't do that either.

I had students ask me, at the end of each semester, if they could just do one project to make up for everything. I told them they had to do all the work, just like the rest of the students. They were not happy with that answer, but it was really not fair to my students who were doing everything to pass others for virtually nothing. 

I have to say, though, that I was not pressured by anyone in my administration to simply pass everyone no matter what. Now I'm sure my AP and principal would have been happy to see more students pass. In fact, I too would have been happy about that. But there's just not much I can do for students who didn't show up until the last week, who didn't lift a finger until some counselor told them summer school was rapidly approaching. 

A place where you're pressured to pass everyone no matter what is a hellscape. You may as well not be there. In a situation like this, your work is irrelevant. You may as well sit in front of the class, read the Times, and let the students play on their phones. If you're going to just pass them all, what's the difference?

It's not surprising, though, that learning is not at a premium in some places. As far as I can see,  no administrator seems to learn anything at Maspeth High School.  They were in the news in 2016, selling students books rather than providing them, as every school I've ever worked in has. And it looks like, after that, they finally terminated one principal for sleazy practices. 

But they go on, and now, yet another principal seems to have bitten the dust. It takes years for something like that to happen, while teachers can face 3020a charges pretty much at the whim of a principal, any principal. 

A group of teachers told The Post in August 2019 that administrators pressured them to pass failing students and that staffers gave out Regents exam answers during the test.

The whistleblowers also reported that kids who did little to no work were graduated via phantom classes and credits.

2019 sounds like two years ago to me, at least.  I've seen teachers facing charges in a New York minute, and for things far less egregious than that. In fact, I've seen teachers brought up on charges for nothing more than irritating a principal. No one knew this better than Chaz, who spent years fighting unfounded charges only to be bounced back as an ATR. (Chaz took this well and became a great advocate for ATRs.)

Of course there is an egregious double standard. But the root problem here is that we continue to evaluate administrators not by how they support the people who do the actual work of teaching, but rather by their test grades and passing scores. For administrators obsessed with feathers in their caps and black eyes, helping students learn has no meaning whatsoever. Nor does staff morale, likely as not nonexistent in places like these. 

That's a disease, and it's been going on forever. Of course it was exacerbated by Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, and the Obama administration, which winked and nodded at atrocities like Race to the Top. Sometimes it feels like we have no friends anywhere. I'm not sure where it's written that threatening and mistreating teachers results in better education for students, but of course I've never taken courses in administration. 

You'd think, after reading years of stories like these, someone would say, "Hey, maybe we should try a different approach." Sadly you'd be mistaken. Too bad Bill de Blasio did not expend one minute ridding the DOE of Michael Bloomberg's ever-lingering stench. And too bad that Eric Adams, who took millions of dollars from the charter lobby, who thinks Zoom classes of 400 are the bestest thing ever, is likely the next mayor.

It's tough to  anticipate things getting much better any time soon.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Zoom Classes on Snow Days

Yes, it sucks that we will likely teach a Zoom class on our next snow day. That's not what snow days are for, and everyone knows that. Also, having taught on Zoom for over a year now, I cannot find adequate words to describe just how much I hate it. The biggest problem, of course, is students placing anime cat pictures up while going back to bed, playing video games, watching Netflix, or doing whatever it is they do while you're up there explaining the Pythagorian Theorem, or some other students deem less  important than sleep. 

On the bright side, though, for those crying that we're depriving students of snow days, a good percentage of students on Zoom do exactly what they'd do on snow days--nothing, something, or anything. And as long as students are allowed to put up cat pictures rather than their smiling faces, that will remain the case. Now there are a lot of people who say, well, students have a right to privacy, and we can't see their homes. Actually it's pretty easy to put up a background photo and preclude that. And if there really were an issue, any kid in actual attendance could talk to me and I'd accommodate it. 

But in this real world, I find that a good portion of my students are not really there. This is really frustrating to me, and caused me a level of burnout that I've never experienced in a real classroom setting. I actually like my job. I like interacting with students and I like supporting them while they acquire English. Zoom classes are me going through the motions while not really knowing what's going on with the kids.

In a regular classroom setting, I'd walk around and see student work. I'd make suggestions on improving it, and give support to those doing a good job. In a Zoom class, I'm the teacher who sits on my ass in front of the room and hopes for the best. Sure, I can ask questions. In fact, I can ask them repeatedly, and follow up with, "Are you there?"

Sometimes other students will text their friends and I'll get excuses via direct message in the chat. Oh, I'm sorry, I was very sick and in the bathroom. Oh, excuse me, my aunt was very sick and I had to help her. Sometimes I get questions. "What page are you on?" This is a very interesting question, particularly 20 minutes into the class. That student has just told me he hasn't been paying attention since the class started, and that he was prepared to not pay attention for the entire class. And there I went and ruined it by asking him a question. Who the hell do I think I am anyway?

Honestly, if my kid were asked to do a zoom class on a snow day, I'd tell her to forget it. Stay in bed. Watch Netflix. Go find a sled and go down a hill. I'll bet a whole lot of parents will do the same. And if I get stuck teaching on a snow day, I'll find some activity that is not going to be tested or of vital importance. We'll have a discussion, and if anyone shows up, maybe it will be interesting. Stranger things have happened.

Now here is the positive side of snow days for NYC teachers--if we do get stuck with a mayor like Adams or Garcia, or anyone else in the pocket of the charter vultures, it's a little less likely we will have to drive in under dangerous conditions. I remember Klein, who clearly hated us, public schools and everything about them, waiting until 5 AM to announce whether or not schools were closed. I remember driving halfway in only to hear on the radio that someone had decided to close the schools. I can remember spending four hours in heavy traffic driving 23 miles to my home.

So perhaps we'll have no more of that. I miss snow days, but not enough that I'd want to give up breaks or vacation days to make up for them. Next year, with only 180 actual school days, that would be the case. So while I'm not precisely jumping up and down about this possibility, it seems preferable to any alternative I can see, especially this year.

Of course if you've got a better idea, the comment section is now officially open.