Friday, February 25, 2022

With Religious Charters, Privatizers Have Their Cake and Eat It Too

There's a lot of talk about whether charters are public or private schools. Most people I respect suggest they are the latter, in that they take public money but don't really have to follow public rules. 

For example, Eva Moskowitz can allow students to do test prep until they pee their pants, and there's no chancellor's regulation suggesting then need to do otherwise. Were I to make students pee their pants, at the very least, I'd be looking at a letter to file. Were I to do it repeatedly, I'd be looking at 3020a charges, and quite possibly the loss of my job. 

In public schools, school leaders can't hire their own children, college kids with no certification, as teachers, but Eva did it and that was just fine. When Bill de Blasio had requirements for a pre-K program, Eva canceled hers rather than comply. 

And when de Blasio came into office wanting to cut down on charters, the suitcases full of cash her BFFs directed to Andrew Cuomo somehow resulted in NYC having to pay rent for charters if it failed to provide space. This has cost the city hundreds of millions, so those campaign contributions have paid off spectacularly.

Now, there's a new thing with charters. Perhaps they can be religious, if Judge Biff and his BFFs on SCOTUS say so. Can this be done?

Garnett, the Notre Dame law professor, has one potential answer.

It’s well established that the government cannot run a religious school, but a private entity can, she said in a recent report for the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Despite being defined as “public” in state laws, Garnett continues, charter schools are not run by the government; they are run by private, unelected boards, typically organized as nonprofits. 

So charters, if you believe this professor, are NOT public schools. Therefore it's okay that they be religious. This has, however, ruffled the feathers of some who have been maintaining that charters are public. 

Charter school groups have argued that the schools are indeed public for legal purposes and that the recent Supreme Court cases don’t apply to charter schools.

“All charter schools are public schools,” said Rees of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “Charter schools have never been able to, and cannot now, endorse a specific religion.” 

For the record, I'm not a charter supporter.  Like Diane Ravitch, I believe we should devote our resources toward improving public schools. I'm a union supporter. I believe working people should have union, and I'm certain one reason charters exist is to avoid it. I don't apologize for any benefits, protections or privileges provided or negotiated by my union. I don't want to deprive others of such benefits either. I think we need to be a model, not a clique. 

The Chalkbeat writer makes a strong point here:

Religious charter schools would also open up other legal issues. Could such schools admit students based on religious affiliation? Could they bar students or teachers based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

I don't want my tax dollars devoted toward discrimination against students for any of the above. In an environment where discriminatory laws are all the rage, where book banning is the new black, and in which teachers may have to walk on eggshells rather than freely teach our nation's history, that would be even more outrageous than charters are already.

Public schools ought to be for everyone. Charter schools already fail to suit that definition, and again let's look at Moskowitz and her "got to go" lists. There are plenty of charters that manage to select their students one way or another. Just require a whole lot of parental hours, or set rules that make it impossible for undesirable students to stay. My friend Gary Rubinstein has a whole lot of stories about charters that shed the majority of students before claiming to be successful in sending impossibly high percentages to college.

Meanwhile, people like you and I teach the ones Eva can't be bothered with. If they don't do well, we're maligned in the papers for not doing our jobs. Education ought not to be privatized. It's a public good. I don't believe charters are public schools now, and it's the height of hypocrisy to agree with me simply to use public money to support parochial schools. 

This is a terrible idea, which makes it likely SCOTUS will adore it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Don't Unmask Just Yet

If we've learned anything about COVID at all, it's that we cannot predict what it will do next. That's why the mask mandate in places other than schools has come, gone, and come again. We're looking at several blue states dropping mandates in schools, including New Jersey and Delaware. Very likely, New York will follow, though Kathy Hochul has not made a public decision just yet.

Hochul made a good decision, sending test kits home with students and staff going on break. With a little luck, that will avoid us a revisit of the disaster that was January 2022. In fact, even though there was a mask mandate, I see students walking around each and every day with masks hanging under their noses or around their necks. They know there are no consequences for this, so why not? Who cares if over 17% of students in our school tested positive for COVID when returning from Christmas break?

Now here's the thing--as predicted, Omicron came, peaked, and then dissipated just as it had in Israel, or wherever it was we saw this model. We're all happy to see it go. That said, last summer I was pretty freely going to restaurants and traveling to see friends and do odd jobs around the state. I wasn't nervous at all going into places I knew well without a mask. I don't know about you, but Omicron changed that for me. 

I'd be more than happy to be there again, but there is, in fact, another variant coming, and it could very well do just what Omicron did. Perhaps it won't, and I'm just as hopeful as anyone that it doesn't. Of course, even if it fizzles out into nothing, that doesn't mean there won't be another variant that brings us to a standstill. 

How can we prevent that? Let me think. Well, we know that if I'm wearing a surgical mask, you're unlikely to be infected by me. We know that if I'm wearing an N95 or something close to it, I'm further unlikely to be infected by you. Doesn't if follow, then, that if we all wear masks of that sort, no one is likely to be infected by anyone? 

Personally, I don't understand why it's even a discussion. I understand political arguments about taxes. We shouldn't pay so much in taxes. Or we should pay for this rather than that. Or we should get a better return for what we pay. I understand arguments about politicians. I like this one, not that one. This one did that, and ought to have done this.

I am beyond baffled that we're arguing over health. Health ought not to be a left or right issue. We ought to all be in favor of health, and we ought to do all we can to protect the health of our communities. I'd say the heart of our communities is our children. What would we not do to protect our children? 

These days, there are an awful lot of Americans who won't wear a frigging mask to protect our children. Perish forbid, of course, that they should get vaccinated. It doesn't matter that every week one of my students gets called down to the medical office to learn if she doesn't get vaccinated, she can't return. Why, exactly, in matters of health, should we have any more rights than children? Because we are bigger humans than they are? I'm not seeing it. Perhaps many share the beliefs of whoever painted that car above. 

Nonetheless, I'm a role model. I will continue to wear a mask until I'm sure our school environment is safe enough not to. With the possibility of new variants hanging over our heads, it seems a very bad idea to abandon them. Lawmakers could not predict Omicron, and they cannot predict what will happen with BA2, let alone whatever variants follow.

There is absolutely nothing more important than the health of our children, not the Pythagorean Theorem, not the novels we teach, be they banned or not, and not even teaching newcomers English. It behooves us to do all we can to protect their health, and our own as well. I'm not confident NY State will go the right way. 

We, as individuals, as teachers, ought to set a better example than politicians.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Racism--American as Apple Pie

It's Black History Month, and even the talking heads on Fox are quoting MLK, albeit in a very limited fashion. Were he not assassinated (while standing up for organized labor), were he around today, he'd have plenty to say about these talking heads.

It's an odd time to be American. Fox is a propaganda network that's hypnotized a good portion of the country into not moving forward. It's normalized racism to the point where we can't accomplish anything for all of us. Were we to do that, it would benefit all those other people we revel in stereotyping.

The current source of outrage is all those people out there who want to teach our children Critical Race Theory. The fact that it's a college level course that we'd never heard of before all this brouhaha is neither here nor there. John Oliver just discussed it on Last Week Tonight, and played a clip of Tucker Carlson first saying despite talking about CRT for a year, he didn't know what it was. Tucker followed that admission, of course, by bitterly criticizing it.

Now we have a movement, in the red states for now, to restrict what we can teach. You can't teach anything that might make students feel bad. You can't discuss white privilege, for example, even though much of our country was literally built by people of color enslaved by wealthy white people. Our White House was largely built by slaves. Now A Tennessee law is looking to ban books, and of course it's being replicated elsewhere. 

Bigotry is the coin of the realm in these United States, and of course there are people fighting to keep it that way. A whole lot of them, like Tucker, are featured prominently on Fox, and they have millions of viewers parroting their talking points. I hear them from UFT members more than I'd like to admit We like to think we're smarter than everybody else, but we're just as susceptible to propaganda as anyone. 

Of course, as long as you think that people of color, or immigrants, or people of this or that religion, or gender, or sexual orientation are out to steal your way of life, you'll fight tooth and nail against it. They're here for your jobs. For goodness sake, it's us against them. Of course we have to act.

So when arguments come up about, oh, canceling crippling student debt, you say no, they'd better not do that. If you allow them to cancel that crippling student debt they'll be able to quit one of their three minimum wage jobs and work toward something better. Then you'll lose your job, to them, and you'll have to settle for a lower quality of life somehow. 

And when they talk about universal health care you need to say oh no, I don't want all those other people to have free health care. It will be expensive. How will we pay for all that book banning we need to do? Who's gonna pay Tucker Carlson's salary?

And when they talk about voting rights, sorely curtailed by the Supreme court, repeatedly, you say oh no, let those people wait on long lines in the heat if they want to vote, and arrest anyone who gives them water as they stand there. Screw them. People fought and died for this right, and it's the least you can do to stand out in line for hours with no water. 

Parental leave? Forget it. That's just sheer laziness. Why should we support people having babies? It's their choice to have all those babies and we don't want to pay for that. Why, stuff like that is socialism, and socialism is bad. I know because I learned it in school, and every goshdarn commentator on Fox says so. 

The problem Fox fails to point out, of course, is that a whole lot of white people, their viewers, also end up ruined by student debt, debt they wouldn't have if they lived almost anywhere but here. A whole lot of white people don't have health insurance. Some die because they're afraid to visit an emergency room and incur thousands of dollars of debt. I know, or knew, someone that happened to. And it's hard for white people to vote when they live in those targeted districts. And guess what? When people of color don't get parental leave, white people don't get it either.

We live in a country that has normalized huge socialist-style benefits for people who least need it, while spitting in the face of most Americans in dire need. We have a huge network based around telling people this system is somehow good for them. We accept racism because we buy into this insane and counter-productive mythology. 

In the end, we're hurting ourselves, and all Americans who aren't gazillionaires. We're making laws so that we, the teachers, participate in keeping our brothers and sisters uninformed and compliant. Racism and bigotry are as American as apple pie. But when we deny rights and benefits to some, we deny them to all.

We're not nearly as smart as we think we are. I once again recommend The Sum of Us, by Heather McGhee, which examines this in great detail.

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

UFT Delegate Assembly February 16, 2021--Much Ado

UFT President Michael Mulgrew
-- Welcomes us, asks for moment of silence for Lowell Wayne, Michael Levine, and Edwin Hines, father of Janella.

Federal--Midterm elections prime interest. Looking at smaller version of Build Back Better. Want to pass Climate Change measures.

State--All district lines finished, will be court challenges, but legislature will move quickly. Need to move up lobbying efforts. Expect on time budget with most issues resolved by end of March. We will have a Lobby Week beginning March 7th. This was traditionally Lobby Day. They need to see us, but capital closed to all but staff and elected officials. We will  meet with officials beginning the 7th. Want UFT presence in capital entire week, albeit virtually. Foundation aid fully funded. Mayoral control is up. We don't want current version. One of mayor's appointments is head of SUNY charter panel. Needs to be checks and balances. 

Every mayor has used mayoral control for politicial, not educational purposes. Made bad errors with testing, COVID. They say if we change it, it isn't mayoral control, but no other cities use this version. All others have checks and balances. We will have UFT presence Monday to Friday. 

Also, endorsement season coming, state and federal level. People asking why NYSUT endorsed Hochul. There was a process and recommendation at state level. Any local president can put forth a resolution for endorsement. Once AG said she wasn't running, NYSUT Executive Board endorsed.

(Disconnected for several minutes)

NYC has record reserve of over 6 billion, exceeded revenue projection by over two billion. Wall St. had great year and no millionaires left. 

But budget raises are scheduled as zero for two years. Says all raises based on efficiencies and work productivity. Every mayor says that. At least they are not saying city is broke. Now it starts. 

Negotiating committee will meet at mid March, in person only. Hopefully when we are negotiating we'll be post-COVID. Key in NYC is the pattern. Arbitrator will work with that. We have a union in arbitration now that hasn't received last contract. We have to know whether pattern is set before we negotiate. Unions place pressure on one another. Important we start process. 

Individual chapters need to come up with own demands. Mulgrew shows 1962 contract, says it's very small. Top salary for teachers after 15 years was $10,400. People have used larger contract as a negative. But there's a story about every item in this contract, work rules, voice, support, mentoring. Once they got it done the first time, we built off of it. World is changing, and every chapter needs own demands. 

We are finalizing committee now, between 4-500. 

Vacation Days--Had to go back to arbitrator. 4000 had negative CAR balance. Award did not speak to it, but DOE decided it didn't have to turn four CAR days into vacation days. We know arbitrator will agree with us. Award says clearly it's to make sure all who work receive full value of what they put in. CAR day not equivalent to vacation day. Many folks with negative balance either decided to have a family. Some had medical crises. That's the majority. We want all made whole, and will share decision when we get it.

Many people got notices of termination. We fight for what's in contract. Doesn't matter what you believe in vaccinations. Some say we're giving up rights and others say we're giving up union time. None to both. Cannot say a teacher can be terminated for refusing vaccination. Untenured have article 78 protections. We can't let people be terminated at any time with no due process. We can't give them a foot hold there. We will do our work to make sure our rights are protected. We're all adults and make our own decisions.

We have a group of members who have provided evidence of first shot and not second. As soon as city sets deadline we will be doing outreach to all those members. We want them to remain employed. We need to know if there are errors, and give people way to provide evidence.

We want support, and smaller class sizes from city. We also want to know what city wants. Mayor focused in dyslexia. Mayor and chancellor talking about career tracks. We would support these things. They say they want system to serve schools.

When it comes to negotiations, a few weeks ago we resolved one for Visiting Nurses. We're in an ugly negotiation at NYU. Hospitals ran commercials about their brave hero nurses, and now treats them poorly. They are short staffed all the time. Lost 330 nurses. Hired only 200. Want fewer nurses on floor. They don't bill us less. Not for profit hospital industry is really for profit. Not even discussing money yet. Filed 2,000 grievances at NYU for lack of support. They thought we'd take unenforceable work rules and some money. We won't. Will keep you updated.

In two days, you get vacation. We come back on the 28th. No days off in March. And then we head into standardized tests, calendar, preference sheets. We have a chapter leader hub. Have a focus group. We want to give CLs all paperwork, preference sheets, SBOs, grievances and everything organized there. Over 2,000 SBOs a year. Some schools reinterpret them in September. We need a clear record.  We want it ready April 1st, and hope you utilize tool. Trainings, handbooks, searchable contracts available. 

Pandemic--At lowest number .43, staff at .05. Some optimism we could be near end, but must be vigilant. NJ made announcement. We have not changed our policy. We all want to take masks off, but in a prudent manner. Members all over the place on this, but no one wants to be sick or die. Maybe we can remove them for outdoor activities, but place them back on before entering. We will see and keep everyone informed. 

Everyone will get test kit Friday. Every teacher and student should go home with a test kit, and test before you come back. That info will drive policy. Breaks cause rise in rate.

Attendance--Students can be marked present with a code when learning asynchronously ONLY for COVID. 

Salary Dept. at DOE--Problems with sub teacher work and per session work. Asking they be moved immediately to arbitration. Many issues with new situations. DOE claims they didn't know there was a problem. There are also attendance issues with COVID.

March will be CL training. Moving toward going away overnight. We have a number of different hotels but will limit people who can come. If you request and we cannot fulfill you for first weekend, we will accommodate you on the second. We will do same thing with Spring Conference. We will have to limit it to about a thousand people. In 1962, MLK received Dewey Award. We want to celebrate 60th anniversary of this. 

Effective March 1, increasing optical benefit from 125 to 175. Hearing benefit from 1,000 to 1,500. Retiree optional rider from 780 to 840. This is using negotiating power at Welfare Fund.

LeRoy Barr--Tomorrow, conclusion of Black History film series, on Marcus Garvey. Discussion afterward has been great too. Women's History Month--March 3rd Criminalization of Girls in Public Schools, March 4 Herstory, virtual, March 17 domestic violence film. HS town hall March, cte awards, elementary coference, counselor conf..March 17, election petitions due Friday.

Mulgrew--Christine Tewksbury kept school together for two year harassment case and kicked principal's butt.  It was straight up, unequivocal union animus. We will see what happens, but keeping staff together through that is great work. 


Point of order--Camille Eterno--Robert's Rules says officers make no reports. 

Mulgrew--Out of order. This is an agenda approved by this body. 

Eterno--appeals ruling. 

Point of info--(I don't really understand it.)

Mulgrew--UFT has made this our agenda. Chair does not have authority to change what UFT declares to be its agenda. Roberts Rules adapted by different organizations.

Barr--Wants to speak against. This body based on tradition. We've been doing it this way since beginning of school year. This happens to coincide with other union activities History of union not based only on this year. Goes back 20, 30 years or longer. Can change it if body decides. To say, in 2022, that President cannot make a report is against what we do. You have an obligation to vote against this appeal. 

Mulgrew--We want to make this as orderly as possible. We are here to get information. We will bring appeal to a vote. 

Eterno--Page 19 of Robert's Rules, union 80% women, man saying I can't be heard.

Mulgrew rules her out of order.  Chants of "let her speak."

Mulgrew says there are people on line. If you want to make speeches, do it outside. This body is to do the work. If you don't wish to do it, there are others who will. There are over 2K online.

Cross shouting between Eterno, who refuses to surrender mike, and Mulgrew, again calling her out of order. Mike is turned off, I think,

Michael Sill--not just tradition, but voted on. If someone just showed up today, not surprised they don't care about tradition. 

?--Exec. Board--Member of union, 30th year. Active unionist for last 25. Embarrased by this forum. We are here to do work. Purpose of DA is to work and vote democratically. everything here out of order.

Someone else from EB, saying we have job to do, we are all adults, move agenda forward. Lots of cross talk from other mikes. 

Mulgrew--Debate on challenge to chair, question called. 

(I am disconnected again. I don't get to vote.)

Mulgrew explaining clickers to hall. 

 total 786 yes 279 no

Sorry if anyone had question. Send them to me. We are way past time. 

Vote on challenge to chair. 

total 887-184 Chair upheld.


Point of information--How are agendas set?  10 minutes for motion not enough.

Mulgrew--You can extend it by...(Conversations are inudible)

Resolution--To commemorate Women's History Month--contributions immeasurable, UFT, majority of women honors creativity, impact of women...for this month.

 total 937 yes 218 no

Question--What are rules for making sure people heard both for and against? Only one side heard...

Mulgrew--You are out of order. 

Motion to move quorum from number 6 to 3. 

total 63%--does not move.

Motion to suspend rules---

Mulgrew--Out of order. Majority says they want to get work done,

Resolution 1--Tom Brown, supports Deborah Penny to retirement board. Respected and trusted, advocate for pensions. Currently chair of TRS, oversees investment and board meetings, has presented on panels. Impressed by knowledge, diligence and compassion. Pensions stronger and safer with her as trustee. Asks DA to pass resolution nominating her for re-election. 

David Kazansky--Supports resolution and Deborah Penny. When many members were ill at onset of covid she contacted every member, worked for state covid benefits they would not otherwise have received. 

Peter Lamphere--Motion to suspend rules.

Mulgrew--Out of order. I know you think you understand what you're doing. You do not. I went back and checked. Yelling out to suspend the rules can be out of order so chair can continue business. Recognized you because I thought you would continue debate. You chose not to speak for or against. 

Lamphere--Appeals ruling of chair.

Anthony Harmon--Everything here should be on resolution at hand. All else out of order.

?--calls question.

894 yes 71 no. 


922 yes, 40 no

Janella Hines-- Rises to motivate resolution on healthy relationship education, eradicate domestic violence. 2019 we resolved against domestic violence. Heard many stories of abuse. We are tired of this. We still accept family primary school for love--but that often eludes us. We can create space to talk about healthy positive relationships in schools. 

?--Survivor of domestic violence rises to support. Victims often feel silenced, are not believed. Imperative that we support this. Time for us to break silence and give every survivor a voice. Tell abusers we will take no more.

Marie Baker--Rises in support. 49% of males report using violence, gives other stats. Need to reach out to youth coalitions. 

Question called.

Mulgrew--Says please be safe during time off, and find time to relax. Thanks us.

860 yes, 38 no


895 yes  18 no

We are adjourned. Wishes us safe and peaceful week off. 

Monday, February 14, 2022

Why I'm NOT Voting for UFC

I was pretty stoked about being in opposition for a pretty long time. A few things turned me around. The big one was when MORE, with which I was affiliated, and to which I'd contributed, started acting very strangely and doing odd power plays. 

At the last MORE meeting I attended, I was criticized for putting forth a resolution without running it by "steering." Steering is a committee I'd had no contact with before. I wasn't even sure what it was.

It was odd because I'd already put forth a number of resolutions without contacting "steering." I couldn't attend the next MORE meeting. I was at a UFT event for ELLs. Evidently they voted, without me there, that we needed to run things by them before introducing them at Executive Board. This directly contradicted an agreement I'd made before running--that we'd be able to make our own decisions. 

Then there was some other resolution I don't remember, about how awful we were or something, that kind of surprised me. Soon thereafter, the steering committee was term-limited and replaced. Somehow, MORE managed to dump all or most of the new members. Rules were important when they were making them up as they went along, but didn't matter much when a small clique was no longer in control. I then saw an email by a MORE leader labeling me, the deposed committee, and other people I know as "right-wingers."

The people behind these moves were part of some socialist faction or other that's since disbanded. I don't know what the agenda was of these particular socialists, but whatever it was, my priorities were not theirs. I'm not sure exactly what made me a "right-winger." My first choice for President of the United States was Bernie Sanders. If that makes me a right-winger, so be it. 

Whatever it was they were doing, it entailed trying to sell me socialist newspapers for a dollar, and going to meetings at a diner where one faction of socialists would argue vehemently with another. Some were not UFT teachers anymore, and I had no idea why they were even there, let alone why we needed to listen to them. I sat through these long discussions, didn't favor one side or another, and, for the most part, didn't even understand what they were arguing about. 

There was some sort of agenda in all these resolutions. The leaders of MORE, evidently, shared this agenda. I have no idea what it was. It certainly did not entail winning more union elections. After all, we'd really tried to push them in that direction. We had a newsletter that they took over and promptly ran into the ground. Then, of course, they made it a priority to boot out the only people who ever won elections for them. They ran again, and were pretty well-trounced, on all levels.Now, perhaps, they want to be relevant again. Why? I haven't got a clue.

Alas, I don't trust them at all, I don't support them, and I won't be voting for them. There are some people in opposition I have great respect for. There are, however, a good number of them who I wouldn't count on to spit on me if I were on fire. Some of them, who I'd naively considered friends, sorely disappointed me.

I've been going twice a month to Executive Board meetings for years. I've also been taking notes and sharing them publicly, which no one from opposition ever bothered to do before.

At first, several people from MORE assured me they'd be there supporting us. Their presence, in fact, turned out to be a very rare and fleeting thing. That wasn't so bad, particularly after they made it clear they didn't really support us anyway. What was important, for some of them at least, was control. For the life of me, I have no idea why they wanted it. We did bring their suggestions to meetings. That, though, wasn't enough.

My primary union involvement, for 12 years, was as chapter leader of Francis Lewis High School. It's a huge school, with 4500 students and 300 UFT members. The job was immense. The most I ever got support or assistance from MORE was never. I didn't know anyone there who was particularly expert in the Contract, or in resolving the frequent conflicts that occur in a building this large. Given the frenetic and tense nature of the meetings I attended, I didn't think conflict resolution was their strong suit.

I tried to help one of the opposition leaders get a job in my building. I got a teacher from the department in question to advise this person how to ace the interview. The person was set to get the job. Concurrently, my principal had just appointed a person dean who'd just been dean. This was a violation of rotation rules. There were several candidates ahead of this person, and they planned to grieve this appointment. 

When I brought this to the principal's attention, he withdrew the posting, deposited the would-be dean back into the department, and there was no opening for the opposition member. This person was strident and abusive to me. Evidently I should have said to hell with the rotation, screwed the members I represented, and made sure this person got the job. I see this person as unfit to lead.   

MORE is the big dog in UFC. I love dogs, but this one is not getting my vote, ever. When I needed support, for twelve years, I got it almost exclusively from Unity members. When people contact me asking for help, I refer them to Unity members. When I want things done, I ask Unity members to help me. And they do, always.

I will have chapter and verse on that in a future blog.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Weathering the Apocalypse--There Is a Bright Side Somewhere

Everything sucks, kind of. Last summer, I was comfortable getting together with friends, unmasked. I went to a weekly gathering upstate with friends and didn't worry at all. It seemed like COVID was subsiding. Of course, when Omicron hit, I thought again. I became much more careful at work and elsewhere. I've got enough KF94 masks to get me through the year, or almost. 

Now there's a new one, Son of Omicron or something, and we could easily have another surge. I hope we don't, but COVID has proven to be nothing if not unpredictable. I'm prepared for whatever. There are some bright points to consider, though. 

First, consider that we now have a vaccine, and don't have to have nervous breakdowns every time we go to the supermarket. While none of us want to get COVID, the fact is our risk of death or prolonged hospitalization is very much diminished. We also know that surgical masks tend to protect others from us, and are a courtesy, while N95 masks and their near-clones go a step beyond and offer us some protection as well. 

Of course those who say schools are the safest places are delusional  Still, they're not precisely death traps either, not even with those crap humidifiers de Blasio went out and bought. (If Adams really had swagger, he'd buy HEPA machines for all of us and trash the other ones.) Most of my colleagues who were infected have theories as to why, and most of them involve outside contacts. Of course, that's far from a scientific survey, but I'm happy to say all those I know of are back and doing very well

Another thing that's important to note is that we, NYC teachers, did not do all that badly through this crisis. Sure, every moment of it has been stressful. Sure, every twist and turn is excruciating. But no one I know of is the Oracle of Delphi with some simple answer for how things are, or how things will be. 

And the fact is, while we were at highest risk, we were able to get accommodations that kept us out of buildings. That was a mixed bag for me. While I was happy not to be out risking my life, I absolutely hated teaching online. Looking at 7 kids and 24 cat pictures, knowing that a good portion of those kids were asleep, playing video games, or committing unnatural acts somewhere made me nuts. I am all over my classroom. I like to know what's going on. This made me a teacher tied to a desk with no idea whatsoever what my kids were doing. 

It bummed me out to no end. We were looking at an incentive, and I thought, the hell with it, I'll retire. Then they pulled the incentive, and I thought. "I'll stay and show those assholes. I'll make them pay." However, I'd already stepped down as chapter leader. I made sure there was someone to take my place, and she's doing a great job so far. 

I have a lot of friends who are musicians. When the apocalypse hit, they had no work at all. They had nothing to fall back on. (This is distinctly different from countries in Europe, or Canada, where governments decided, you know, people should not starve.  If you want to understand why we in the US can't have nice things like that, read The Sum of Us, just out in paperback.) Unlike many Americans, we continued to receive full pay throughout this crisis. With all my complaining about everything that goes on, I deem us relatively very lucky. 

I'll tell you another thing that surprised me. I've been teaching five classes for months and I've been very happy doing it. With many of my colleagues fleeing, I've decided not to retire. I've been lucky to find a job that I love, a job that I'm good at, and I've been lucky to have such great kids through the years. I can't speak for anyone but myself, but I'm hanging in. I hope you can find something, some way to find this too. 

Remember, when admin tells you it's serious but not impossible, think, "It's impossible but not serious."

Monday, February 07, 2022

UFT Executive Board February 7, 2022--We Resolve to Stop Distributive Scoring, Move Regents Back to Home Schools

UFT Secretary LeRoy Barr--introduces minutes


UFT President Michael Mulgrew--Asks for moment of silence for Lowell Wayne, Michael Levine, and Edward Hines, all of whom did work for union. 

State budget--Multiple meetings about mask mandates. NYC has a mandate issued by DOH, not governor. Court case that issued stay had to do with governor's mandate, not NYC mandate. Things are moving toward options on masks. Governor says it's premature to speak of dropping mandates on schools. Positivity is going down. There is a movement, though, among people who see Omicron nearing its end in our area. We still have concerns about vax percentage for 5-11 year olds, and all students. 

For us, the conversation has to be with NYC DOH. We are talking to doctors. People are pushing for masks optional. Members have diverse views. We will work with doctors.

Legislators want to move quickly so as to focus on primaries and elections. We fought for CFE and advocated for federal money.   Legislative reception in Albany tonight--endorsed Kathy Hochul. We have a lot of people running for Congress and this will go through NYSUT and AFT. This is early, but we are moving forward.

Hoping we can move forward with understanding DOE priorities. Educational agenda has focused on early childhood. Need to preserve that. People who put this system together were not really part of DOE. They knew bureaucracy would hamper them. We need to keep it in place and keep quality up. Next focus will be graduation levels in other branches. Schools are working a lot on their own, without DOE support. Frustrating that people are so used to having to work on their own. This will be big challenge with this administration. 


NYSUT governor endorsement--Is there a reason we didn't make it more participatory for UFT?

Is NYSUT endorsement. We follow their lead. Over 700 NYSUT local presidents. They have their process. We haven't endorsed governor in long time, but respect their process. Many felt strongly about it.

Can you speak to retirees about mayor's support for new health plan?

I will bring it up. When his admin dug in and saw the plan, it made sense. I don't know of anyone else who designed their own program, put it out for bid, and is now making sure it works. 

Reports from Districts--

Rashad Brown--Black History film series. Finishing up second film this week. Had good turnout and feedback. Next one Thursday.  

Wendy Walker Wilson--Thanks everyone that supported awards ceremony and scholarship fundraiser.

Anthony Harmon--Saturday CL training part 2.. Working on part 3 March 5 and 6.

Karen Alford--March 19 elementary early childhood conference, in person or virtually. March 22 elementary town hall.

Shelby--Fireside chat with Mulgrew for paras upcoming.

Rashad Brown--Injectable HIV treatment now. Working on details for how it relates to members. 

Resolution for President of US to pardon Marcus Garvey--Rashad Brown--Asks for pressure on President Biden to exonerate Marcus Garvey, accused of mail fraud, was political. J. Edgar Hoover targeted him. Crime came down to an enpty envelope. Our students don't know who he is. He did a lot for us, as a people, as a nation. created pan-African movement, is seen as prophet. Waiting 82 years for pardon. 

Barr--If you learn about this stuff, about Hoover's counter-intelligence, it began with Marcus Garvey. Take opportunity to study it. 

Passes unanimously.

Acknowledgement of contribution of Haitian Revolution--DeShana Barker--Important we honor and acknowledge contributions of Haitian Revolution. Often our students are not acknowledged, nor are their ancestors. Haiti expanded limits of freedom and US reaped benefits, influenced Louisiana Purchase, end of slavery, modeled strength and perseverance. This supports our students. Asks for support. 

Passes unanimously. 

Move to eliminate distributive scoring.

Mike Schirtzer--We expect Regents will happen in June. Teachers have been sent out to scoring sites. Seems more cumbersome than usual this year. Should be in home schools. Private and charter schools do it. We think we can work out issues to make this adhere to state regs. Will be more cost efficient. Asks for support. 

Passes unanimously. 

Janella Hinds--Very happy about this. Thank you all for your support. You should know HS scoring is different from elementary and middle school scoring. Thank all of you for your support. March 4 will be our Herstory event, virtually, to celebrate contributions of women to UFT. 4:30.

6:33  We are adjourned.

Friday, February 04, 2022

Bean Salad

That's what Mayor Adams was serving today at Francis Lewis High School. I took a peek at it. It was iceberg lettuce, carrots, tomatoes and beans. It came with French dressing, which I recall as sickly sweet orange stuff. However, one of the kids I spoke with told me the dressing made the meal okay. I don't know what it's like in other buildings but ours is grab and go.

There were two other choices--peanut butter and jelly, and cheese sandwiches. I'd have opted for none of the above, and if I were a kid with money in my pocket I'd have likely walked out to the grease truck and eaten something totally unhealthy. What I actually did was go to my car and eat a container of tuna salad I'd brought from home.

Why do our kids have such limited options? Mayor Adams, who not only has swagger, but is also a self-styled nutritional expert has declared that vegan diets are the best. This diet evidently helped him personally with a health condition. So he waves his mayoral magic wand, and it's vegan Friday in NYC.

Eric Adams is a vegan, so therefore everyone should be. Alas, damping the magic of vegan Friday, some lunatic from the federal government enforced some stupid rule that milk had to be served. Adams must be beside himself with grief, knowing in his heart of hearts that children all over the city are just clamoring for carrot juice (not that he'd lay out a dime for it). 

Now here's the thing--in his infinite wisdom, Mayor de Blasio declared that Mondays and Fridays would be vegetarian. That didn't have sufficient swagger for Eric Adams, so he made Fridays vegan. Evidently, if every child grew up to be like Eric Adams, the world would be a better place (for Eric Adams at least). Of course, since the schools have to serve milk products, vegan Friday has no meaning whatsoever. 

I regularly see cafeteria staff putting sandwiches and grab and go stuff on tables. They tell me there is more waste this year than when they served regular lunches, particularly on vegetarian days. Kids open up the bags, take the chocolate milk and chips, and dump the rest of the vegetarian delights in the trash, or right back on the serving table. These meals arejust not making the kids feel the love somehow.

I'm not vegan, or vegetarian, but I'm really fond of Beyond Burgers. If you cook them right and dress them up, they pretty much pass for the real thing. There's also a Thai place near where I live that makes a spicy mixed vegetables and tofu dish that's really good. I'm open to all-vegetable meals. The kids in our school, though, are eating a soggy container of iceberg lettuce with some beans sprinkled on top, and a salad dressing that's probably full of sugar. In fact, the sugar is probably the only reason the kid I spoke to liked it.

I am not averse to encouraging a love for vegetables in our children. It's a good idea. We have a terrible diet, and we consume way too much sugar. I'm not sure whether or not anyone has told Eric Adams that chocolate milk is full of sugar, but I'd say finding substitutes for that might be a good move. I cut it out and lost a whole lot of weight over the last four years. 

If we want to encourage our kids to eat vegetables, we need to offer them in a form that isn't slapdash crap. It's not the fault of our cafeteria workers, who do what they can with what they're given. If Eric Adams wants our kids to eat healthy food, he should skip a photo-op or two, invest a few dollars, buy better quality food, and find someone who can create tasty, quality vegetarian dishes that can be easily replicated in school cafeterias.

This is not climbing Mount Olympus. This is common sense if you genuinely want to make this something attractive to kids. Otherwise it's just an empty mandate, a waste of food that someone could use better, and more sound and swagger signifying nothing.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

Having a Voice

Teaching beginners English is really frustrating sometimes. Most of my colleagues don't want to do it. I'm generally assigned to teach them because no one else even asks for that level. It has its rewards, the prime being rapid observable progress (and no, not on those stupid tests they make us give).

But there are those frustrations. Most teachers never see them.

While I see colleagues complain of unruly students who do or say this or that, I have wholly different issues. The biggest one, for me at least, is the preponderance of students who will not speak in a voice loud enough for anyone to actually hear what they are saying. 

So what do you do about this? You can scream at the kids, or threaten them of course. The problem is that this only makes them even more frightened. You really don't want to send these kids out into the world mumbling incoherently about who knows what. At least I don't. 

Sometimes I just ask them, "When you studied English in your country, did the teacher tell you to face the floor and speak in a whisper so no one could possibly understand you? Did the teacher say that way no one would hear your mistakes? If any teacher told you that, it was incorrect. Language is useless if it doesn't reach other people."

I've had mixed success with this. By "mixed "I mean very, very little. Now a few times I've heard these kids speaking in their native languages, so I know they have real, viable voices. But pulling English out of their throats is quite a trick. By confronting them with the fact I know they have voices, I've sometimes been able to get them to use said voices to speak English. Still, that seems not to last forever. I find myself not precisely begging, but seriously imploring to get these kids to use their real voices.

When we talk about having a voice, it's got a lot of implications. Can your voice be distinguished from others in a way that makes it uniquely effective? Is your voice standing for one important cause or other? Does your voice inspire people to stand up and join you? (Teacher voice, for me at least, is another thing altogether. I'd argue that really good teachers, despite the nonsensical ratings to which we're subject, have their own voices that can't really be emulated or taught. I'd compare great teachers to great writers, but not in the sense that they remotely get credit.) 

I'm on the very basic end of that spectrum. I just want the students to, you know, talk so they can be understood by me and others. It's a constant battle. 

I have one student this year with a big loud mouth, and I'm very fond of him. Others of my colleagues have issues with him. Truth be told, he's failing two of my classes. His attendance is not so great. Sometimes he comes in the morning and not the afternoon. Sometimes he comes in the afternoon but not the morning. Today he didn't come at all. 

Still, he's got a lot of joy, albeit not always at appropriate times. He often interrupts my class, but he smiles, which I now see only in his eyes, and I can't stay mad at him. Of course, I'm not always the best with him. For example, the third time I caught him charging his phone in an outlet, after having warned him twice, I had a dean confiscate his phone. I'm not getting my first letter in file because he forgot to charge his phone. (For my first letter in file, I want to commit a real atrocity. Otherwise, it's hardly worth it.)

In my student's defense, he has great class participation. He always volunteers to write on the board, even if it's examples from homework he didn't actually do. If only I could find a way to make him harness that energy to, you know, pass the frigging class. 

But that's part of my eternal struggle, right along with making chronically silent ELLs speak English.