Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top Ten Blots on Education for 2009

As we look back in horror at the education landscape of 2009, a few individuals stood out. Originally, I wanted to crown them "douchebags" because it's such a nasty sounding word. I looked it up in the urban dictionary and a douchebag is defined as "...a pretentious, sugar coated prick, but with emphasis on pretentious and sugar coated. It's not an adjective for an asshole, because assholes call other people douchebags, and assholes are more often than not proud of being assholes." Another definition says that a douchebag "can also be described as an overzealous, pompous, or vexatious asshole that most people wish were killed with a Mortal Kombat fatality." So there are definitely some people on the following list who, in my opinion, would have qualified, but a few didn't quite reach that storied low. And since it's a season for charitable feelings let's just say they're "blots".

Keep in mind that the following list is merely my opinion. These honorees most likely have mothers who love them, and perhaps even some friends. Still, as far as I am concerned, these individuals made being a teacher even more difficult than it already was in 2009. If you have any additional people to add, please write about them in the comments section.

10. Ariel Sacks--As a 4th year teacher, Ariel stepped up to the plate to deliver a diatribe against ATRs, many of whom have more than five times her experience, and pronounced them all unhireable. To her credit, it seems that Ariel learned something from the vitriolic outburst that hit her right between the eyes, and revised some of her comments. Nevertheless, as a UFT member, her comments were enough of a betrayal to earn her the 10th spot on our list.

9. David Patterson--As governor of New York, Patterson has decided to save money by eliminating metrocards for high school students who have to travel to get to school. This affects all students who need transportation, but disproportionately affects poor and minority students who can't afford to get to school or who must leave their neighborhood to get a decent education.

8. Eva Moskowitz--While actual students will be unable to afford transportation, former City Council member Eva Moskowitz managed to wrangle $371,000 in salary from the city by running some charter schools. As far as I can tell, her only qualification to run schools appears to be her extraordinary teacher bashing skills. Eva also tried to grab space for one of her charters by taking it from PS 123 without the approval of the DOE.

7. Your Principal--I don't know your principal. But I'm still willing to take a chance that you think he/she would qualify, even though mine would not.

6. Stephen Brill--Author of a completely biased article on rubber rooms, Mr. Brill managed to snag the 6 spot with a bit of journalism that even the New York Post would have been proud of.

5. Matt Polazzo--Even though Matt's call to rip up the UFT contract that protects his privileged ass did less harm than Brill's piece, Polazzo beats him out because like Ariel Sacks, he is a UFT member and should know better. Ignorance is no excuse. Apparently, Polazzo feels he is safe from the DOE because he can garner the support of a few hundred equally privileged students from Stuyvesant who protect him by posting on Facebook. I say, let's send him to Jamaica High School where he can become an ATR himself, and let's see how far his posse gets him.

4. Randi Weingarten--The former UFT president would have ranked higher on the list but she did us the tremendous favor of getting the hell out to become AFT president. She also put Mike Mulgrew in her place, who, so far, has not done anything idiotic. Randi was rumored to have formed some sort of alliance with Mike Bloomberg to sign a contract in exchange for the UFT staying neutral in the election, but apparently Randi couldn't even get that right.

3. Arne Duncan--Obama's Secretary of Education who brought the policies that failed in his Chicago schools, blended them with the failed policies of NYC schools, and is now in charge of 4 billion in RttT funds which he is using as a club to get states to union bust. As a teacher from 1990 to 1992, he has less experience than Ariel Sacks.

2. Joel Klein--No list of education deformers would be complete without the current chancellor of NYC schools. After eight years at the helm, schools are only doing marginally better on the NAEP than when he started, despite a longer school day and endless test prep. While he bears an uncanny resemblance to Professor Moriarty, he possesses none of the reasoning skills of that archvillain. Teachers hate him, admins hate him, and parents hate him. None of this matters, however, as he is liked by the one person who matters...our number one blot on the education landscape...

1. Michael Bloomberg--As the newly emboldened Mayor4Life, Bloomberg has called for an end to tenure and seniority. He has closed 20 more schools this year, thus adding to the ATR crisis which he blames on the teachers themselves. He wants to lay off senior teachers as a money saving strategy while he flies helicopters around Copenhagen pretending to care for the masses and the environment. He'd like to fire all ATRs and those in the rubber rooms, and it appears he wants to deny teachers the measly 4% he gave other unions despite humping the concept of pattern bargaining in his first two (legal) terms. Class sizes have increased under his watch despite an influx of money from the CFE lawsuit. His personal wealth has quadrupled this decade while teachers have to beg for the paltry $150 in Teacher's Choice funds we need to buy chalk.

That's it for this year. Enjoy the next few days off, because you can bet that some of the people on this list will be working hard to make a repeat performance in 2010.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Grinch Recycled

I'm far too lazy sitting in front of the TV to write a new post about Christmas like the indefatigable NYC Educator and Chaz. So I'll take the easy route and repost something I wrote last year when this blog was brand spanking new. I had about 4 readers when this first appeared, so hopefully it's new to you. Unfortunately, it's still as true as it was a year ago.

The Klein Who Stole Tenure
Align Left
Every teacher in Schoolville loved tenure a lot,
But the Klein, who worked in Tweed Courthouse, did not.
The Klein hated tenure! He thought it a cancer!
Now please don’t ask why, no one quite knows the answer.
It could be that a teacher once called HIM a dunce,
Or he got pelted with spitballs when he tried teaching once,
But I think the most likely reason of all,
May be that he knows nothing about teaching at all!

But whatever his reason for hating the teachers,
What he hated more, was one of the features,
Of the UFT contract that stood undiminished.
Despite 2005, he still wasn’t finished.
He knew the one hope, to which teachers could cling,
Could be dashed if he could destroy one more thing.
For every three years, despite all his jive,
Some teachers in Schoolville still managed to thrive.
And when they survived, it was tenure they got,
And this twisted the Klein’s BVDs in a knot!

“How COULD they get tenure?” Klein snarled with a sneer.
“After all I’ve thrown at them, why are they still here?
I don’t pay them enough and I make them feel small.
I’ve cut Teacher’s Choice down to nothing at all!
I give them lunch duty and potty patrol,
Sufficient to sear the hardiest soul!
And if that wasn’t enough to anger the staff,
I piled on thirty seven minutes—and a HALF!

They read to the children on germ-ridden rugs!
And share cafeterias with rodent-sized bugs!
Bulletin boards, walkthroughs, unsatisfactory ratings!
TAN notebooks, portfolios, PD unabating!
Acuity! ARIS! And monthly staff meetings!
Only a masochist smiles through such beatings!
Such horrible things! I don’t think I can top them!
Yet still they get tenure! Is there no way to stop them?”

And then he got an idea.
The Klein got a terrible, awful idea.
“I think,” the Klein chuckled, “I can end this whole mess,
If I can finagle support from the press!
But I’ll need an accomplice as heartless as me!”
So he called up his old bulldog pal from DC.
And together the Klein saddled up with the Rhee,
And declared war on tenure with malevolent glee.

Rhee’s taught for 2 years, and Klein less than one,
But has that stopped this duo? No, they’ve hardly begun!
Armed with three years of classroom experience between them.
They’ve set upon teachers, hell bent to demean them.
With data most spurious and a press most incurious,
The Klein and the Rhee hope to make parents furious,
So they’ll call for tenure to come to an end!
Are we going to allow this to happen, my friend?

I wish I could tell you the Klein’s heart has grown,
Or the Rhee’s tiny ticker was not made of stone,
Or the laughter of children would melt their exteriors,
Or the voters would finally boot their posteriors.
But unless the teachers in Schoolville take action,
And finally begin voicing their dissatisfaction,
The Kleins and the Rhees will most surely banish
Our tenure, and the last of our rights will just vanish.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Embracing your Inner Geek!

When someone's computer breaks down in school, they don't call the computer teacher--they call me. I can program in BASIC (extra points if you know what the acronym BASIC stands for), I have a six digit ICQ number, and my first modem was a 300 baud job from Radio Shack which I used before the world wide web was invented (more extra points if you know the difference between baud and bps).

The point is, I'm a geek. A nerd. Always have been and always will be. I'm proud of my collection of antique expansion cards and the fact that I know the quadratic equation even though I don't teach math. So you can imagine how disturbed I was to read that there are people out there--including genuine nerds themselves--who want to get rid of the terms nerd and geek. They feel these terms have a negative connotation and that they hold kids back from wanting to become mathematicians and scientists.

When I read that, I nearly spilled the mechanical pencils from my pocket protector. Because of my geekhood, I now have a job I love and from which I can retire in a few years to pursue other endeavors if I so choose. Meanwhile, the kids who pulled my BVDs over my head in seventh grade are now stocking the shelves at the Dairy Barn while I'm hitting the top salary step.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against manual labor, and I believe all work has value. But being geeky gave me choices in life. I don't have to stock shelves, and I play with computers for fun instead of for a living. I can choose to retire or keep going. I'd bet you anything that the average annual salary of all the geeks you knew in high school is at least double that of the jocks and cheerleaders.

Get rid of nerd and geek because they're not cool words? Let's MAKE them cool words! Let's make dressing in Ecko clothing mandatory in public schools and prohibit the wearing of Pi tee shirts except on dress down days! Let's start talking about how great Lady Gaga is and before you know it, they'll be listening to Mozart! Let's ban Shakespeare because of all the sexual innuendo and the kids will be sneaking copies of Richard III in their bookbags!

Let's make geek the new black! Pull your waistband up to your nipples! And when we're done, we can klhdejihe fkieiu efiwoinf!

Oops...sorry about that. The tape that was holding my glasses together broke.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

School's Open!

Not a shocker, but at least it came early enough that we don't have to wake up at 5AM tomorrow to find out. The 2006 blizzard that dropped 27 inches of snow in 2006 didn't shut the schools or cause a delay, so why should this?

Everyone can look forward to a day of coverages, mass absences, and almost no actual learning. Don't forget to leave home an hour early!

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Some people are up in arms because NYSUT recently told teachers how to qualify for Tier IV before the new Tier V goes into effect. One blogger claims that NYSUT is gaming the system. In my opinion, this is one of the few worthwhile things NYSUT, or any teacher organization, has done in quite some time. It is their JOB to advise teachers of their rights under the law, so they finally got one right.

Detractors would say that NYSUT is simply helping teachers exploit a loophole in the law. Apparently, the detractors say, this is wrong.

We didn't hear much from these same detractors when Mayor4Life Bloomberg accepted the CFE funds that were meant to reduce class sizes and used them not to reduce class sizes. Not a peep was heard when said mayor began using school closings as a backdoor method of putting senior teachers on ice. The same deafening silence was heard when Bloomberg claimed that he could evaluate untenured teachers based on flawed test scores, in direct contradiction of state law, because these teachers happened to have been hired at the wrong time.

To paraphrase Ben Franklin, a loophole is always acceptable when it's in the first person, such as "our loophole". It's only in the third person, "their loophole", that it becomes unacceptable.

Is there a single person out there who thinks Bloomberg wouldn't fire all senior teachers if he could find a loophole that allowed him to? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Can Bloomberg do for the Environment What He's Done for Education?

Even though Mayor4Life Bloomberg is in Copenhagen, it did not stop him from his time-honored tradition of slamming teachers. Gotham Schools reports that the mayor took time out from his busy schedule of flying around in helicopters to imply that the way to solve the budget crisis is to fire senior teachers.

Mayor4 is in Copenhagen to gaze thoughtfully in some photo-ops at a bunch of offshore windmills. It seems he wants to create an even bigger offshore wind farm than the one he's visiting in Denmark. I'd have to say that we have the right man on the job. No one produces as much wind as Mikey.

Who better to work on the environment than a man who has TWO private jets and flies around in helicopters to learn how to save energy? And let's not forget the SUVs that bring him to the subway every morning. For a diminutive guy, he has a carbon footprint bigger than Sasquatch.

If Bloomberg does as good a job on the environment as he has done with NYC schools, we may end up buying water wings for a lot of polar bears.

Of course, there is always a bright side. When Bloomberg last called for senior teachers to be fired, he was in Washington, DC. This time, he's in Copenhagen. If the trend continues, he'll have to slam us from a ice floe in the Arctic. With any luck, he'll have to share it with a ticked-off polar bear.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Scarlet U

I don't know if it's just my school or a trend, but a lot of our untenured teachers have been getting U ratings lately. I'm much more familiar with the old BloomKlein school of harassment in which veteran teachers over 40 get U rated, so this is coming as a surprise.

In fact, in one department in my school there are 5 teachers, four of them untenured. Everyone but the tenured teacher received the Scarlet U. Truth be told, if anyone deserved a U, the tenured teacher did. The other four are solid. So I'm not sure what's happening. Is this some effort on the part of the DOE to wage war on untenured teachers so they'll end up begging the DOE to rate them on test scores?

To be honest with you, it's hard to see why anyone gets a U rating these days other than the people who really deserve them. In the last week alone, we've seen a teacher punch out a girl on a viral video; we've seen two teachers romping naked during a talent contest (they were not, however, one of the acts); and another teacher at the romping school sending salacious texts to a student. You'd think admins would be busy enough just handling the real issues without having to go after newbies. But the BloomKlein adminstration operates in mysterious ways its wonders to perform.

As a tenured teacher myself, and one who has had his head on the chopping block at one point, I'm glad to see a trend away from the assault on veterans, but I'm disheartened that it's turned into an assault on the untenured.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More School Closings

It leaked online today that 8 out of the top 100 high schools in the country are in NYC. In keeping with his recent policies, Joel Klein immediately announced the closure of all eight schools.

"It's the right move for this city," said Klein. "It's a disgrace that we have only 8 of the top 100 schools. So, I'm closing them all and opening four new small schools in each of their buildings. By doing so, we are effectively quadrupling the number of top schools in NYC, bringing the total number to...what's 8 times 4 again? Thirty something."

Mayor4Life Bloomberg applauded the move, saying the data bears Klein out. "Yes, 32 is much larger than 8. I'm a billionaire, so I know these things."

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Imagine DOE Style

While doing my traditional holiday shopping online, I ran across a game for the Nintendo DS called Imagine Teacher. You get to do all kinds of neat stuff in this game, like plan lessons, grade papers, and best of all, shut it off when you get sick of your students. Here's Amazon's description:

Play as a rookie teacher who takes over a class in a newly built modern school. At the beginning your class only has a few kids because most of the kids in town are used to going to a school located in the next town over. It is your job to bring those students back to make your classroom and school the best place to learn. The game really begins when you meet some characters who don't want you to succeed.

That last line got me thinking. Who is it who doesn't want you to succeed? Does Joel Klein suddenly pop up on the screen and deny you tenure? It seems to me there's a potential game series here, and I offer these ideas free to the game's manufacturer, Ubi Soft, in hopes they will give kids a real picture of what it's like to teach. Here are some possible titles:

Imagine: Leadership Academy Principal. Watch your school go down the toilet when a principal from the Leadership Academy takes over! Stare in disbelief as your once pristine file starts to look like the Manhattan phone book! And that's just for starters! You'll encounter exciting mini-games along the way, such as Spot the Rat in the Teacher's Lounge, The Observation Game (U rated for adults), and Fix that Bulletin Board. Watch helplessly as your school's scores on state tests plummet, and if you're lucky, you can move on to...

Imagine: ATR Status. When your school is closed, you can move up to ATR status! You're no longer a rookie, but a teacher on a mission. You'll go on an endless series of adventures, such as Searching the Open Market, Attending Job Fairs, and Trying to Fit In at the Teacher's Lounge. Make it through a week of teaching and you'll unlock a secret level where you can meet a cartoon version of Ariel Sacks and engage in mini-games like Being Looked Down Upon and Find the Hidden Chalk. Play carefully, or you'll end up in our next game...

Imagine: Rubber Room. This action adventure starts with the heart pounding excitement of having OSI show up at your school and cart you away in handcuffs, and that's only the beginning! Feel the excitement of a real kangaroo court as you try to figure out the charges against you. The fun continues as you play musical chairs with other rubber room dwellers and stake your claim to floor space. Endure for two years and you'll unlock the special 3020A level, in which you'll be appointed a UFT lawyer and face an administrative hearing officer who has narcolepsy. Persevere and you'll be slapped with a fine, but watch out for that guilty verdict or you'll find yourself playing Imagine: Unemployment Line.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Jamaica Conspiracy Theory

Mind you, everything I am writing here is pure speculation. But I think it needs to be said.

Jamaica High School is now slated to close. Some have anticipated this for a while, despite protestations from the DOE's Melody Meyer just last year. The timing, however, seems mighty suspicious. This was not announced until well after Bloomberg's third coronation. And very shortly, we will have an election to determine whether Michael Mulgrew will continue to head the UFT.

The timing matters because James Eterno is running for the office of UFT president as well, and he just happens to be the chapter leader at Jamaica HS. It's likely that Eterno will be kept quite busy as the teachers at his school, and perhaps he himself, are forced to look for new positions even as they fight to keep the school open. Not the easiest way to run a campaign. Nor will it look good to the rank and file that the ICE candidate is the CL at a "failed" school.

It's likely that all this is coincidence, but it sure smells rotten. Mulgrew can dissipate a lot of the stench by teaming up with Eterno and putting the UFT's massive resources behind a campaign to keep Jamaica HS open. This is something the UFT should do anyway, to prevent more teachers from being cast into the ATR pool, but it's even more important that Unity and ICE present a united front to the public.

I know ICE would join with Unity in this fight, but it remains to be seen what, if anything, Unity will do. Mulgrew can fight along side his opponent on this issue, or he can leave Eterno and the teachers at Jamaica twisting in the wind. It will be illuminating to see how this plays out.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Not What You Say...

Today's email regarding the upcoming contract negotiations struck the right note. Almost.

On the positive side, Mulgrew sounds angry. That's something that Randi couldn't even fake. About the ATR situation, he says "This is an inexcusable waste of human capital and mismanagement of resources." Regarding the Rubber Rooms, he says, "If the DOE’s ATR policy is the leading example of management ineptitude, the so-called “rubber rooms” are a close second."

Good stuff. But what I felt was missing was what Mulgrew didn't say.

He didn't say that we will never, under any circumstances, sell out the ATRs.

He didn't say that we will make eliminating rubber rooms a lynchpin of our negotiations.

I hope he meant those things, but I'd feel a lot better if he said them.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

'Fess Up, Teachers!

I was going through my Sunday morning ritual of reading PostSecret. If you've never seen it, you should give it a look. It's a site where people confess their innermost secrets by sending them in on postcards with appropriate pictures and captions. This one caught my eye:

I must admit that this is not my postcard, as I don't teach elementary school and I hate Twilight. Personally, I would have watched Die Hard. But this postcard did get me thinking. We all have little teacher secrets we don't let on to everyone. I'll tell a few of mine.

Many years ago, I spilled a Coke on a set of unmarked tests. I was too embarrassed to admit what happened. The tests could never be marked or returned to parents, so I kind of put the students off until they forgot the test ever happened. It tooks months for them to stop asking.

I often read essays aloud in class when someone writes something great. I don't identify the writer unless they choose to be identified. Sometimes, I choose essays by shy kids, even if their papers are not the best ones. The students often look mortified, but I've had a few claim ownership of their papers, and I think it changed their lives in some way.

An mean spirited admin once came into my class and tried to tell one particular student what to do. I knew the kid, and I knew the admin was walking into a mine field, but I let it go. Sure enough, the student told the admin exactly where she could shove her walkie talkie, horizontally. I still laugh about it to this day.

So, those are a few of mine. If you'd like to share, please comment. I repectfully request that you don't post anything that could land you in the rubber room.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Good Old American Values

Crime doesn't pay, you say? An ex-UBS bank employee, one Bradley C. Birkenfeld, was convicted of helping rich tax evaders sock away millions of dollars that should have gone into tax coffers. He was sentenced to 40 months in jail. But here's the kicker. He became a whistle-blower and told the feds exactly how rich folks were hiding their massive wealth in offshore accounts. As a result, these rich folks have finally had to pay--no jail time, of course--just come forward and pay. Now Birkenfeld wants the government to award him several billion (yes, you read that right--billion) dollars as a reward for blowing that whistle. And he just may get it.

I understand the reason we reward whistle blowers, but where I come from, if you participate in the crime, you're a rat, not a whistle blower. You don't get rewarded; you get to sleep with the fishes.

Of course, if you blow the whistle on the DOE, you don't get money--you get sent to the rubber room like David Pakter, a former teacher of the year who was vulcanized for his troubles.

There's a lesson here somewhere, but I'm not sure what it is. All I know is a criminal may get very wealthy, and a bunch of already wealthy people will suffer no penalty for trying to cheat the government.

And teachers? We get skewered for wanting a 4% raise.

Something is wrong here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mulgrew--Think Big this Time

Mayor4Life (M4L) Bloomberg thinks big and long term. He was always several steps ahead of the late lamented Randi Weingarten, and remains about a furlong ahead of Mike Mulgrew and the U-Crew. That's why, when assessing the mayor's latest assault on teachers, you have to think long term like the mayor. He's a big picture guy. UFT leadership has a short term view--from election to election.

Why does the mayor want to tie teacher tenure to test scores? Two reasons immediately spring to mind. One, he wants to qualify for the Race to the Top funds (always follow the money). Second, he wants to claim that this will improve teacher quality. On thinking about both of these, however, I don't think either is Bloomberg's long term agenda.

Let's look at the idea that tying test scores to tenure will improve teacher quality. It has a visceral appeal that voters will like--Why should new teachers get protection unless they can prove their worth? Lots of people, including myself and Miss Eyre in this blog post today, think granting tenure should be a more rigorous process. But why test scores? Even though state law prohibits it, does anyone really think that principals don't look at that data already? Sure, they can't explicitly fire new teachers for low scores, but in reality, they can fire untenured teachers for any reason or no reason at all for a period of three years. So why the sudden need to change the law?

Now, let's look at the Race to the Top (RttT) funds. Sure, Bloomberg wants them, but remember that he is a big picture guy. A one time infusion of RttT fund would be welcome to Bloomy, but it isn't enough for a guy like M4L. At most, those funds would stave off some of the cuts he has already planned for the schools. So what does he really want?

I think if you put RttT and new teacher tenure together, you get the answer. Once M4L gets the state to OK tying test scores to tenure decisions, how long will it be before he demands that the legislature approve the use of test scores for all teachers? I'd bet my pension it would be on the table for the next contract, assuming we ever settle this one soon. If Bloomberg gets that concession, he'd have license to fire almost any teacher he wants by giving highly paid teachers the worst classes with the least support.

Imagine the mayor with the power to fire senior teachers based on bogus test scores! He could get rid of those pesky high salaries, and basically ensure that almost no one would ever get in the 27 years needed to retire. That would save the city and state billions of dollars annually. All this makes the RttT funds look like chump change.

In my view, M4L wants to parlay a seemingly small change in tenure for new teachers into an evisceration of tenure for all teachers as a means of dismantling both seniority pay and the retirement system as we know it. That's the kind of big thinking SOB the mayor is.

The question is, can Mulgrew and the U-Crew stand up to it? I don't have a lot of faith. They are not big thinkers. They are contract to contract thinkers who only care about whether they can claim victory and so get re-elected to their high paid, high powered, double pensioned positions. So they do think big--but only for themselves.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Surgeon's Knife

Looks like I'm going to lose my bet that the teachers' contract would be announced right before Thanksgiving. Unless you let me count Thanksgiving, 2o10.

Mayor4Life Bloomberg launched an attack on the UFT today, asking for the moon and trying to run an end-around through the state legislature. He wants to tie test scores to tenure, have the right to fire ATRs and in the event of layoffs, to get rid of teachers based on test scores rather than seniority. (All of you who believe that good teachers with high salaries won't get laid off, raise your hands.)

Luckily, Michael Mulgrew and the Unity Crew wisely decided to tacitly support mayoral control and sit on the sidelines during the mayoral election. If they hadn't, the mayor might be calling for more serious concessions, such as water-boarding teachers based on test scores.

I'm sure the ed blogosphere will be buzzing with analysis of this latest assault on teachers, so I won't go too deeply into it here. But I did find an analogy by Bloomberg rather telling:

"...Mr. Bloomberg said that banning the use of student achievement in tenure decisions is “like saying to hospitals, ‘You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want — just not patient survival rates!’ ”

Any doctor will tell you that some of the best heart surgeons around have some of the worst survival rates because they take on patients in the most desperate situations. What teacher will want to take on the most challenging students, knowing that by doing so, they are risking their careers? Bloomberg, who knows as much about education as my dog (sorry, Spot) obviously can't see that.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

200 and Counting...

I had a few snarky, sarcastic things to say today, but I realized when I hit the "New Post" button that this is post #200. This blog is almost a year old, as well, so it's not too soon to start shopping for that perfect gift.

I honestly never thought I'd last this long as an ed blogger, and I sure didn't think I'd ever get to 200 posts. Thanks to all who have blog-rolled me, and everyone who has participated. While writing this blog has been enough to make my blood boil at times, it's been worth every minute.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bloomberg's New Math = Layoffs

Mayor4Life Bloomberg has changed an accounting procedure that makes it much more likely that municipal employees, including school employees, will be laid off. According to the New York Times, the change involves allowing city agencies to count health benefits and Social Security payments as part of an agency's budget, even though these costs are paid by the city and not the agency itself.

In other words, getting rid a teacher in the past would have saved only the teacher's salary. So if the teacher made 50K, the principal would save 50K. Now, the principal will save that 50K plus perhaps another 20K in benefits which the principal does not have to pay, bringing the total savings to 70K.

Now, if you're a principal and you're told you need to cut the budget by 70K, would you prefer to ax one teacher who costs you only 50K or find the full 70K in other reductions?

In other, but likely related, news, Michael Mulgrew visited a school and discussed the budget crisis facing the city and state. He said: “Tough decisions need to be made, but protecting our children and classrooms must be our first priority,” he said.

Funny, but I thought Mulgrew's first priority was to the teachers who actually pay both his salary and 120 million dollars in dues. Why doesn't he come right out and say that protecting school employees from layoffs should be our first priority? Or protecting our rights?

It's a scary time, because under Bloomberg's new math, getting rid of ATRs and teachers in rubber rooms would now save the DOE not only 200 million or so in salaries, but untold millions more in health benefits. And since those teachers are not Mulgrew's first priority, they'd better watch their backs.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Them's the Breaks

The other day, totally unbeknownst to me, I dropped my phone in the hallway of my school. A student stopped me and pointed out what happened. I thanked him and said, "I owe you one."

No problem, right? Well, not exactly. This student happens to be one of those kids who is always late, hanging out in the hallways and talking to girls. When there are no girls around, he just wanders until someone ushers him into class. Few teachers do that, because he's a big kid. It seems that the larger the student, the fewer teachers there are who want to move them along. It's never bothered me much.

Until now, of course. I owed him one. Today, he was cruising the hallways, late as usual, and I just nodded and watched him amble off to class. So I figure we are now even. Tomorrow, I'll go back to my usual self and yell at him to get a move on.

It got me thinking. As teachers, we often tend to give breaks to certain students. I know that I sometimes let missing homeworks slide for a day when my "good" kids forget, because, well, they're good kids and everyone is entitled to a mistake once in a while. Unless they are "bad" kids, in which case they get a letter home the very same day.

So, what's your deal? Who gets favored treatment from you? (Oh, come on--you know you do it. We all do.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Randi Reduhhhhx

In a stunning move that shows how much Michael Mulgrew learned from Randi Weingarten, the UFT delegate assembly today authorized the union to file for an impasse. That means, of course, that the union can send the matter to PERB to try to hammer out a settlement.

This is the same process by which, if you recall, we worked out the wonderful 2005 contract, where we gave away just about all our hard earned contractual rights in order to have a longer school day. It wasn't all a disaster, however. In exchange for 6% more time, we got a 6% raise. Yessir, those Unity types are really on the ball.

So, to sum up, in exchange for not endorsing Bill Thompson for mayor, who just might have won with our help, we are NOT going to get the 4% given to other unions without a long, protracted fight in which we will probably lose some of our few remaining rights, such as the right to have perforated toilet paper in the teachers' bathroom and the right not to be fired for being an ATR.

Way to go, Mulgrew. You're a chip off the old block.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Matter of Principals

A lot of talk has gone back and forth about how to improve teacher quality, empty the rubber rooms, and solve the ATR problem. Unfortunately, almost all of the solutions involve firing 'bad' teachers.

Of course, 'bad' is hard to define and harder to measure. To me, 90% of being a good teacher is the ability to maintain discipline. You can write, or buy, the best lesson plans in the world but if students are dancing the rhumba on their desks and launching paper projectiles at you, good plans won't help.

Once you get the discipline down (no small feat, believe me), then the next step to teacher greatness is delivering those lessons. A lot of teachers with good discipline stink on ice when it comes to content. I pulled my own daughter from public school because she was going to be saddled with a teacher who had no discipline problems but also had no desire to teach the curriculum. This teacher was a diva, as I discussed here---a principal's pet who could teach whatever nonsense she wanted as long as it was flashy and reflected well on the school in terms of elaborate plays and multi-dimensional bulletin boards.

The third, and IMO, least piece of the puzzle is being engaging. It's wonderful if your students like you, but in truth, your job is to teach, not to be liked. Generally, if you have good discipline and you teach good lessons, your students will like you and be interested in what you have to say.

It's insane to believe that individual teachers have control over all these things all by themselves. Discipline, for example, depends to a great extent on the school. Teach at Stuyvesant, like our friend Matt Polazzo, where the kids are top notch and motivated, and the discipline is so easy that you have time to call for the firing your fellow teachers who aren't as blessed as you. I'd like to drop Mr. Polazzo into a school like the one I used to teach in--a school consumed by poverty and where gangs owned the neighborhood--and see how good he really is.

What gets lost in these discussions is how much principals can affect teacher quality. If we want to make schools better, we have to hold principals accountable in a number of ways:

  • Discipline starts at the top. It's ridiculous to claim that a teacher is incompetent when the school is out of control.
  • Principals should stop allowing Divas to infect their schools. Make them teach like everyone else does.
  • Since principals can hire whoever they want, they should have their feet held to the fire when they grant tenure to someone who turns out to be a dud. Principals have three years to evaluate teachers before granting them tenure or firing them. Teachers can be fired for any reason in that time frame.
  • Penalties should be instituted for principals who grant tenure to teachers who later are brought up on incompetence charges. It is extremely rare for a good teacher to turn into a lousy one just because they were granted tenure. What really happens is that teachers with tenure begin making more money as they get their master's and climb the salary steps. They become more involved in union activities and become more vocal--not the puppets they were in their probationary years. Principals often file incompetence charges against teachers who make too much or talk too much to suit them.
  • Principals should be forced to tell the truth at 3020a hearings. As the law now stands, principals can flat out lie at a hearing and there is no penalty. What kind of fair hearing is it when one side can lie with impunity? Principals who lie at 3020 hearings should be charged with perjury and subject to civil penalties for slander.
  • When it's found that rubber room charges were unfounded, principals should be penalized. Read the story of Daniel Smith and you'll know what I'm talking about. If it turns out these are trumped up charges, the administrators involved should be fired and hit with massive civil penalties.
  • Principals should not be allowed to flaunt the contract by refusing to hire ATRs in their schools. There are many--mostly--high quality teachers in that pool, despite the outlandish claims of newbie teachers like Ariel Sacks. Yet principals refuse to hire them, preferring instead to skirt the rules and costing the city millions of dollars and priceless teaching talent.
I don't want to make more of this than what it is. Some principals are a part of the problem, as are some teachers, as is the mayor, the chancellor, and {{{gasp}}} some parents. Unfortunately, teachers, as the most visible face of education, are the sole scapegoats when things go wrong.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mr. Talk's Complaint

I hate condemning things I don't understand, although I have written a few posts about Sarah Palin. So when I blogged about Bronx teacher Greg Van Voorhis, who had his students read a story from Playboy and ended up in the rubber room for his trouble, I decided I had to read the story for myself. It's called Guts and was written by Chuck Palahniuk. You can read it for yourself here, although I'd advise against settling down with a snack before you read it.

The Post article mentioned that the story contained a bit about a boy masturbating with a carrot up his anus, and the good news is that the Post got something right for a change. The bad news is that the carrot is by no means the worst part. As the story unfolds, we meet another boy who was hospitalized for masturbating--he put a thin rod of wax in his urethra and it got sucked into his bladder. Finally, the narrator relates his own tale of auto-erotic doom. It seems he enjoyed sitting on the drain of his parents' pool while jerking off, and it sucked his guts out of his body. His decision on whether and how to extract himself is pretty graphic and nauseating.

If this all sounds pretty disturbing, it is. I read some of the comments by readers of the story on the author's blog, and they all seem to think this was an shining example of narrative description. I think they miss the point. In my view, the author meant this as a humorous piece in the tradition of Philip Roth in Portnoy's Complaint. If I'm right, then Chuck Palahniuk has a huge problem--namely, that Roth did it far better. Roth's hilarious description of Alexander Portnoy's masturbatory obsession is an example of literary greatness. Palahniuk just isn't as funny.

Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe Palahniuk meant for Guts to be what it appears to be on the surface--a gross, raw piece of shock lit. There's something to be said for that interpretation. After reading the story, I was immediately reminded of the movie The Aristocrats, in which a group of comedians try to top each other in telling the most rambling, foul, disgusting version of the same joke. If that was Palahniuk's intention, he succeeded, but it's hardly literature.

All of this begs the question of whether Van Voorhis should have read this story with his class. In the end, I'd have to say no. I'm a great fan of Philip Roth, but I'd never recommend teaching Portnoy to high school kids. And Palahniuk is more graphic without the literary power of Roth.

As to whether Mr. Van Voorhis should be fired, I'd again say no. In my opinion, he showed a lack of judgment, but in no way was the story pornographic (in the sense of appealing to prurient interest). I can understand how a teacher, enamored of an author, would want to share that interest, but this was just a little too much.

Ironically, Guts is basically a tale about that one thing everyone does that they end up regretting for the rest of their lives. We all have one, or two, or three. I have a feeling that sharing this story with his students may be something that Mr. Van Voorhis will end up regretting for a while. I hope the DOE doesn't disembowel him for it.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Matt Polazzo Schooled by Veggie Tales!

If you needed any more proof that Matt Polazzo was wrong, wrong, wrong for calling for the confetti-ization of the UFT contract, it came in today's NY Post. If you recall, Mr. Polazzo was the teacher who called for principals to have the right to fire 'bad' teachers--essentially eliminating tenure protections.

Today's story is about one Greg Van Voorhis, who teaches 11th grade English at the Bronx School of Law and Finance. He gave his students a story to read from Playboy, which the Post says "discusses a teenage boy's use of a carrot in a sex act on himself and autoerotic asphyxiation." Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I have not read the story, nor have I purchased any carrots lately. The point is that word of the story swept through the school, and now Mr. Van Voorhis has been removed from the classroom--he now sits in a rubber room, or 'teacher reassignment center' as the DOE like to call it, awaiting a verdict on his fate. Chances are he will languish there a long time.

I don't know whether the story was inappropriate or not. The point is that in Matt Polazzo's brave new UFT, Mr. Van Voorhis could have been fired on the spot--no questions asked. Polazzo said, "The contract must allow administrators to fire bad teachers, give them the power to hire any teacher they want..."

Thankfully, Mr. Van Voorhis will be allowed a fair hearing and due process under teacher tenure laws. These laws protect teachers like me who teach books that might be objectionable, such as one in which a boy incessantly uses the N-word; or in which the protagonist recalls a visit to a prostitute, later has sex, and is finally tortured; or another in which the main character commits an attempted rape and murder (Huck Finn, 1984, Of Mice and Men).

The dilemma for all of Polazzo's defenders is: whose side are you on here? Those of you who stuck up for Polazzo so vigorously, do you agree that Mr. Van Voorhis should be fired, or do you believe in due process and academic freedom? Before you answer, you may wish to know that Van Voorhis' students believe that he is an excellent teacher, too. They even have a Facebook page up defending him. Sound familiar, Team Polazzo?

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Place Your Bets!

Many of us believe that a contract was in place before Randi Weingarten set out to prove the Peter Principle and became president of the AFT. The would help explain why the UFT sat out an election for mayor in which we had a real chance to effect change. Many union hacks have explained that it would be crazy to endorse Thompson during negotiations for fear we'd be retaliated against. Oddly, to me, that is the very reason we should have done everything we could have done to haul Bloomberg out of City Hall by the slack of his pants.

If the contract is a done deal, the only question is when it will be announced. My guess is that it will be on Veteran's Day. The UFT tends to do things when there is a day off ahead so teachers won't be in school to discuss it. It will also be more than a week after the election so they can avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo--at least in their own minds.

I'm thinking of starting a pool. What do you think? What's the magic date that the agreement will be announced?

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Tenure Thing

The press and BloomKlein, assuming that they are two different things, have managed to sell the public a bill of goods on tenure. The majority of citizens, including many of the more recent contributors to this blog, seem to actually believe that tenure is a guarantee of a job for life. I'm not an expert, but I know the basic facts, so let me set the record straight.

A recent poster said: " impression is that the tenure process is as follows. You teach for some number of years. You put together a few slightly more polished lessons that the principal will observe (that you know about ahead of time), and then unless the principal can find a specific reason not to give you tenure, he is all but required to do so."

Nothing could be further from the truth. Teachers are hired as probationary employees, and remain as such for at least three years before being granted or denied tenure (I know some principals have figured out how to stretch that to four years, but since I'm not sure how they do it, I'll skip over that). An administrator can observe a teacher as many times as he or she pleases without giving any warning. They can ask to see your lesson plans whenever they wish. And they can terminate your employment at any time and for any reason (or no reason at all) for that entire probationary period.

So, in other words, a principal has the opportunity to interview many candidates, but chooses one. He can then take three years to decide whether that teacher has what it takes. If the principal says no, that's that. But if the principal says yes, tenure is granted. At that point, it becomes more difficult to fire that teacher. Shouldn't it be? It's crazy to believe that teachers work hard for three years, fool the admins, and then put their feet up on their desks for the rest of their careers.

It can, and does, occasionally happen that a teacher burns out or is granted tenure by a nincompoop principal. In such cases, charges may be filed against the teacher. That's where tenure kicks in. Tenure doesn't guarantee that a teacher can't be fired at all; it guarantees that a teacher will be granted due process when charges are filed against him. It only makes sense that a teacher who has proven his or her worth for three (or thirty) years should be given an opportunity to put up a defense against charges.

Some ask why teachers need tenure when business people have no such protections. One reason is that if I'm an accountant, for example, and I get fired, I can apply for a job with the company's competitors or any other company that needs an accountant. In NYC, there are thousands of business that hire accountants. But there is only ONE public school system, and if you are fired from one school you are prevented from working in ANY of them. So you're not just out of a job, you're out of the profession entirely unless you choose to relocate to another city or state. Would good teachers want to work in a system where they could be fired at will and forced to uproot their entire families because of the whim of a principal? Another reason is nepotism. Without tenure and seniority, an admin could replace you with his nephew or because he likes pretty young grads more than gnarled veterans. Tenure protects whistle blowers and teachers who hold unpopular beliefs. Yes, it even protects teachers who write articles in the Daily News that may honk off an admin or two, or the teacher who rebuts that article on a Facebook page.

Yes, it can take a long time to resolve charges against teachers, but that is the fault of the system, and NOT the UFT contract. The Klein administration has filled the rubber rooms to the breaking point without hiring enough mediators to hear all the cases. I know of one guy who was (unjustly in my view) brought up on charges of incompetence and languished in the rubber room for two years. If he was lucky, he would get a day before the mediator once a month. As a result, his hearing dragged on and on for what seemed like forever. His real crime against the DOE is that he was a union rep who stood up for teachers. Even with tenure, he was eventually forced to resign or be fired.

I'm not an expert on 3020A hearings, but both Norm and Chaz have many informative posts about them. When you read them, you'll understand why tenure is needed.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

How NOT to Tear Up the Union Contract

I've gotten a lot of heat for criticizing Matt Polazzo, whose destructive piece in the Daily News advocates getting rid of the UFT contract and giving administrators total power. I've been accused of trying to protect bad teachers and of offering no solutions. I beg to differ.

It is Polazzo who offers no constructive solutions whatsoever. He also would never surrender his union membership and live up to his "ideals". Despite the attacks on me, I have actually offered solutions many times. See here and here. See in part below:

1. Reinforce the idea of tenure. Principals have three years in which to decide whether a teacher is acceptable. I could tell you in three days who belongs. If principals change their minds after three years, they better be damn well able to prove a teacher incompetent.

2. Create a meaningful curriculum with the input of teachers (this is done at my school, and you'd be amazed how much teachers want to do justice to the curriculum when they have a hand in creating it). If any teachers fail or refuse to teach the minimum skills agreed upon by their respective departments, they should be put on the hot seat. Divas would be no more--they would have to teach certain units at certain times just like everyone else.

3. We all know that a principal can get his or her admin buddies from other schools to do so-called "impartial" observations, which is nothing more than a way to bolster a case at a 3020 hearing. How about we create "observation teams" of highly qualified teachers to observe teachers outside their own schools instead of admins? These teachers, who truly have no stake in the outcome other than justice and the education of children, would be a better barometer of the truth than the principal calling his friends in to give U ratings to people being targeted

There are other ideas for reforming schools. Some of them have merit and some are awful. Mr. Polazzo's idea has no merit whatsoever. It is purely destructive of schools and the dedicated professionals who work in them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Teacher Bashing--It's Not Just for Politicians Anymore!

If you want your 15 minutes of fame these days but you can't think of anything other than claiming one of your students has commandeered a hot air balloon and is somewhere over the Atlantic, I have good news for you. As a NYC teacher, all you have to do is be a traitorous rat and dump on your fellow teachers.

Ariel Sacks just recently did that, and she got considerable attention for it. I thought she was pretty bad, but she was nothing compared to fellow attention whore Matt Polazzo, who recently had an opinion piece published in the Daily News (which he refers to as the NY Daily Post on his Facebook page, which speaks to how accurate the guy is). You can read the article here, especially if you're a fan of illogical arguments and limited vocabularies.

To save time, Polazzo basically says that incompetent teachers, presumably those unlike him, should be fired immediately, while good teachers, presumably those like him, should stay. He never defines good or bad, but I bet he can tell the difference pronto.

I was tipped off to Polazzo's Facebook page by an alert reader, and it tells us a lot about the guy. Other than being unable to identify the newspaper he was published in, we receive many other insights into his mind. For example, the page is called "Team Polazzo" and has a nice picture of a pirate instead of his actual face. What's really unusual is how many teachers have commented on the article, including one who says that they should all wear tee shirts with the words "Team Polazzo" written on them. Personally, I think they could save a lot of time and money by just buying a bunch of "I'm with Stupid" tees.

So, why did Polazzo write a piece trashing his colleagues? One can only guess, but attention whore suggested itself to me immediately. Also, I'd bet his physique isn't quite what Survivor (or even Tool Academy) is looking for, and he most likely flunked the exam for Are Your Smarter Than a Fifth Grader, so he had to look for another avenue for self promotion.

To be honest, Polazzo doesn't bother me that much. The education world has always had bottom feeding ass kissers who look to further their careers by smooching the wrinkled buttocks of the Kleins of the world. What bothers me is that he has followers. In a similar vein, I can understand why the world has Charles Manson types, but I'll be damned if I can figure out why others want to be part of the family.

Since Polazzo wants to tear up the teacher's contract, I assume he has the courage of his convictions. When his supervisor writes him up one day, I assume he will immediately resign. Right, Mr. Polazzo? When that day comes, I bet he'll wish he'd pulled a balloon boy stunt instead. But with that much hot air, he'd probably leave the Earth's atmosphere. Not that I'd object.

UPDATE: To clarify, the FB page mentioned above is a team page, and not Mr. Polazzo's personal FB page. Sorry for any confusion.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

To Have and Have Not

There's been a lot of talk out there about charter schools. Bloomberg is for them. Arne Duncan is for them. Barack Obama is for them. Even Randi Weingarten is for them, despite the fact that she's being paid big bucks to represent public schools.

And I have to admit, charters have a lot going for them. For example, they have:

  • The ability to 'cream' students, or choose the ones most likely too succeed.
  • No nasty union contract.
  • Freedom in hiring (and firing).
  • Flexible pay and the ability to reward teachers for merit.
  • More motivated parents (you have to sign kids up--that alone indicates more motivation).
  • Longer school days and longer school years.
  • Far fewer ESL students and special education students.
  • Lots of seats and good facilities, often taken directly from public school kids--sometimes in a manner reminiscent of a daylight smash and grab robbery.

In fact, charters seem to have all the things that politicians say we need in order to make our schools a success. Of course, there is one thing that public schools have that charters do not:

  • Success.

Yes, that's right. Despite all the so-called advantages mentioned above, public schools kicked charter school ass. We took their lunch money. On state exams, public school kids showed greater progress this year than charter school kids. Yes, the state exams that BloomKlein tout as the be-all-and-end-all of education.

Now, you know that Bloomberg and Klein love data. It wouldn't surprise me if they put little chunks of data in their boxer shorts before going to work every day. So this has to sting. Still, they are plowing forth regardless. As NYC Educator points out, far from admitting any error, BloomKlein appears to be doubling down on charter schools.

Nevertheless, it's time to rejoice, NYC teachers. We beat them at their own game. We did it despite them stacking the deck against us.

We rock.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Other Side of the ATR Coin

Our favorite Gotham Schools contributor, Arthur Goldstein, weighs in on the ATR situation. Unlike much of what we've been reading lately, Mr. Goldstein speaks from knowledge of the system and of the DOE. Give it a read.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Open Letter to Ariel Sacks

If you aren't following the Ariel Sacks saga, you should be. She is (to me) a newbie teacher who has seen fit to disrespect ATRs and veteran teachers alike by claiming how incompetent they are on Gotham Schools. Read it for yourself.

I was one of the first to comment on Ms. Sack's unfortunate post, and I blogged about it here as well. Then Gotham Schools blogged about me blogging about it. It has taken on Balloon Boy proportions in the local education blogosphere, as I pointed out in a comment to this post. Ms. Sacks herself responded, which was quite kind of her, so I thought the least I could do was write a personal response. So here it is:

Dear Ms. Sacks,

Thank you for taking the time to post on my humble blog. First, I'd like to correct a few aspersions you have cast on it. You called this blog a ..."safe space where you have a group that is on the same page about enough things that you don't have to explain yourselves to each other." In truth, I've posted on many blogs where I have meticulously explained my views. Blogs tend to be places where like minded people gather anyway. Far from your implication that I am somehow cowardly for posting here, I would remind you that I was one of the first to call you out on your post on Gotham Schools. Furthermore, I have posted at least ten times about the ATR situation--all of them long before your post to Gotham. Everyone has the opportunity to refute my views on this blog--including you. I don't delete opposing viewpoints.

Now, please allow me to address some other issues. In your comment, you tell me: "You're (sic) "scathing," or perhaps just rude, remarks make this into a personal not professional debate, which weaken your arguments." If that makes my arguments weak, yours must have positively atrophied by now. In your Gotham post, you call 37 ATRs unqualified to teach at your school (what your qualifications are that exceed theirs remains unclear). You smear these veteran teachers by presenting an ad hominem and a false choice argument in one (quite an accomplisment, BTW): "Are these teachers really the dregs of the profession? Or is it that they’ve become all too comfortable being ATRs with no teaching position and do not want to go back to the classroom?" Can you enlighten me, Ms. Sacks, on how calling veteran teachers the "dregs of the profession" elevates the level of discourse? You proceeded to say that ATRs are not welcome at your school, and that they "behave like incompetent substitutes". Would you not consider that scathing and rude? You say they are like "refugees" in the teachers' room. How should they feel, given your attitude towards them?

You wonder why you get negative reaction when, in addition to the above slurs, you appear complicit, or at least in total agreement, with the decisions of your administration to skirt the terms of the hiring freeze and education regulations. Your school passed on 37 candidates and numerous subs for a math class while "...we attempted to wait the hiring freeze out." (emphasis mine). How long did you plan to violate the terms of the hiring freeze? How long did you intend to allow a math class to be without a regular teacher because of your distaste for ATRs? You seem in full agreement of your principal's decision to pull a special ed teacher from a CTT class in order to avoid hiring a senior teacher. Do you really feel it was appropriate to deny mandated services to children with special needs because you prefer not to have any of the "refugees" mingling with you in the cafeteria? Shouldn't their education come first?

You seem to be resentful that teachers like me don't work as hard as teachers like you. In truth, I probably don't work as hard as someone like you. I don't need to. I know what I am doing. I've taught every grade numerous times and I know my subject area inside out. I have written plans for every type of class for every type of reading and writing assignment imaginable. I have a stockpile of tried and true lessons that I can adapt for any class and which I have refined over the course of several decades to be as effective as possible. Perhaps you work so hard because you lack the experience to draw upon when writing your own lessons. When I was as new as you, I had to work much harder, too. The difference is that I didn't resent senior teachers; I reached out to them to learn how to become the best teacher I could be.

You also seem resentful that veteran teachers make more money than you do. You specifically mention an out-of-license ATR who, while adapting to the class, irked you because " I feel like I’m training her, while she gets paid twice my salary." Perhaps you are unaware that teaching has never been a well paid profession, and it used to be much worse. I made about $18K in my first year--how about you? Do you resent the fact that I achieved my master's plus 30 (plus much more) and put in more than two decades of dedicated service?

I do have a question for you. As a young teacher, what gives you the right to judge all of your fellow teachers and paint them with such a broad brush? Did you sit in on the 37 interviews your principal conducted? Did you personally observe each one teaching? If so, what qualifies you to make an evaluation as to what you saw? What qualifies you to say that ATRs have an "apparent low ability to teach"?

I suppose we should give you a break. Being lead teacher and department chair are heady things, after all. Your principal must think a lot of you. I can only hope for your sake that this principal stays around forever, because with a change of administration in a few years you may find yourself working in a school where you are considered the pariah for being one of those over paid veterans who soak up too much of the school budget. Should that ever happen, you may just find yourself standing shoulder to shoulder on the interview line with your fellow ATRs, avoiding eye contact with all the newbie teachers who consider you one of the dregs of the teaching profession.

It shouldn't happen to anyone. Not even you.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Get Out the Barf Bag

The latest post in the community section of Gotham Schools is so alarmingly inaccurate and deceitful that it deserves special mention here. One Ms. Sacks writes about the ATRs in her school and proceeds not only to smear them, but virtually all veteran teachers in the process. She obviously has her head up her principal's ass, as she condones his attempts to thwart the hiring freeze and subvert the contract. Read the piece, and please comment. Let Ms. Sacks know what you think.

Here's my comment:

This article is a disgrace. We have here a teacher who obviously resents other teachers who make more than she does (one assumes she thinks she is worth more). She accepts the principal’s assertion that not ONE ATR was qualified to teach at her school as the gospel truth. She implies that she thinks these teachers are the “dregs” of the profession based upon…what? Hearsay? Obviously the author is in league with the principal–”WE’ tried to subvert the hiring freeze…”WE” found a way around it. As a teacher and a union member, do you really feel that you should be on your principal’s side as he violates the spirit and letter of the contract?

There is no such thing as a teacher who is licensed to teach all subjects in a middle school. Did anyone fact check this piece? In truth, that special ed teacher is teaching OUT OF LICENSE in violation of the teacher’s contract and Klein’s hiring freeze.

There is an assertion here that TFAs are “more committed and faster learners” than ATRs. That is nothing but a bald faced slur on a group of teachers who have put in more years than the author and all the TFAs in her school combined.

Finally, I don’t think it’s the twilight zone you’re in, although I have no doubt, Ms. Sacks, that your head has wandered to some nether region and has somehow made it up a passageway vertically.

Gotham Schools–you should be ashamed to print such nonsense. Ms. Sacks, I sure hope your principal promised you some plum job for writing it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pot...Kettle...Leo Casey

Leo Casey is all up in arms. He alleges on EdWize that Answers Vending, which contracts with Tweed, is guilty of wage theft from its employees. Casey is upset that this company will reap a 15-18% profit from the DOE while another company--with a union workforce--lost the contract.

While all this is bad, one wonders why Leo Casey, whose wages are paid with the hard earned dues of teachers, doesn't consider himself guilty of anything. We pay his wages, we pay for Edwize, and we pay for the nice pension he receives. Yet he's using our resources to fight for a union that isn't even his own.

I think it would be nice if he would fight for us sometime. Last I looked, there were still a lot of ATRs and rubber room dwellers, overcrowded classrooms, and unresolved grievances.

Fight for us, Leo. We pay your wages.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stumping for the Mayor4Life

Mayor4Life Bloomberg, apparently not content to outspend his Democratic opponent Bill Thompson by a 16 to 1 margin, has enlisted the help of Rudy Giuliani to help boost his cause. Giuliani immediately set about helping Bloomberg by implying that a Thompson administration would bring a return of violence and crime to NY. The Times reports that Rudy spoke to a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders:

“You know exactly what I’m talking about,” Mr. Giuliani told the group, in what many people in Mr. Thompson’s camp have interpreted as a reference to the days of unchecked violence during the 1991 riots in Crown Heights that started after an out-of-control car driven by a Brooklyn Hasid struck and killed a 7-year-old black child.

Apparently, Mayor4Life shrugged off the comments of his predecessor, which seems to me like tacit approval of possible race baiting by the last mayor who tried to extend term limits.

Giuliani, who is about as polarizing a politician as NYC has ever known, is apparently out to get the "I'm still afraid of Crown Heights and 9/11" vote. He has the added attraction of inspiring hobbyist transvestites to go to the polls.

In order to further support his flagging campaign, Bloomberg is enlisting the help of some other famous NYers:

Eliot Spitzer is drumming up the "Hooker and Johns" vote.

Anne Coulter is courting the "Horse faced pundits with huge Adam's apples" vote.

Bernie Madoff is stumping for the "Greedy Amoral Wall Street Banker" vote.

David Berkowitz is aiming for the "Psychopaths who Take Orders from Dogs" vote.

Mayor4Life is truly leaving no rock unturned, however slimy it may be underneath.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kristoff, Revisited.

I've written a number of posts on Nicholas Kristof's off the wall views on education. See here, here, and here, for example.

I thought I was going to have to do it again after reading Kristof's latest diatribe in today's Op-ed section of the Times, but Thoughts on Education Policy saved me the effort. Well worth a read.

Mike and Joel Plus Eight

In a recent poll, it appears that Mayor4Life Bloomberg is a mere 8 percentage points ahead of Bill Thompson. According to the Daily News, in a poll that identified Bloomberg as a Republican and Thompson as a Democrat (as they will appear on the ballot), only those 8 little points separate the two.

Camp Bloomie is also concerned because they believe there will be a huge turnout among those who hate him, and a much smaller showing among those who just kind of tolerate him.

I'd be a little worried if I were the Mayor King, as well. He's probably spent at least $80 million dollars so far, and he is losing steam fast. All his negative ads serve to give Thompson name recognition and plausibility as a candidate.

And although most of the dailies analyzed the mayoral debate as a draw, IMO it was a clear win for Thompson. Bloomie looked dull and defensive, while Thompson was sharp and nailed all his talking points--especially the one that may well dethrone the Mayor King--term limits.

Of course, the UFT is standing by, twiddling their thumbs. A full throated endorsement from our union might be enough to put Thompson over the top. Don't expect it any time soon.

UPDATE: Philip Nobile wrote an interesting post on this topic on EdNotes here. It appears the DA, to the surprise of no one, has decided to twiddle their thumbs a little longer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Common Misconceptions

A comment today by Gideon is so representative of the pro Fair Student Funding model that I thought it was worth commenting on separately here. Gideon comments:

You state "The opinion piece wrongly says that under the old system, richer school districts got more money. In truth, the money was for the salaries of more senior teachers who transferred into those schools." That's exactly the problem: more experienced teachers go to the least challenging schools with the least need; as a result the schools with the lowest poverty end up spending far more per student than the high poverty schools.

I don't know Gideon, but this sounds like the comment of an admin or someone who has only heard the mayor's spiel of FSF. I have worked in what Gideon would call a "challenging" school for most of my career. What made it challenging was a lack of discipline, violence, gangs, crime in the streets, and a huge turnover of the least senior people. That's right...least senior. I put in 20 years in that school, and I watched hundreds of new teachers come and go once they discovered how difficult it was to maintain discipline in such a tough neighborhood, and how dangerous it was to leave your car on the street, assuming you could find a spot within walking distance of the school. At any given time, at least half the staff had 3 years or less of experience. The problem here was not one of funding, but that conditions in the school made it hard for anyone to do a good job. It's ridiculous to think that teachers should spend their entire careers in buildings that are unsafe and where conditions make many classes unteachable. If the mayor and chancellor actually fixed the schools--made them places where people wanted to work, there would have been no need to dream up FSF as a fix.

And your argument about using Fair Student Funding to discriminate against senior teachers doesn't make sense. You yourself state that it takes 5 years to become a proficient teacher, but fail to note that most teachers don't improve significantly beyond 5 years.

Proficient isn't excellent. Many teachers become proficient in five years, but excellent takes a lifetime of experience. I don't know who dreamed up the myth that teachers don't improve after 5 years, but it's nonsense. I get a little better every year. I'm much better now that I've been teaching more than two decades than I was after my fifth year.

And let's take your argument to its logical conclusion. If teachers don't improve after 5 years, why not just sign teachers up for 5 year tours like the armed forces does? After that, you're out. Would that make the system better? Would you want your child educated by such a transient workforce?

Ignoring the ATR problem doesn't make it go away. It was caused directly by FSF, no matter what they mayor and the Daily News say. Principals have no incentive to hire senior teachers, and that is discrimination, pure and simple. Young teachers are more pliable and cheaper, but they certainly aren't better.

FSF is just a way to claim the schools are getting better without doing a damn thing. If BloomKlein ever get serious about fixing the schools, they will focus their energy on making every school a safe, pleasant place for teachers and students alike to be.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

You have to wonder how the Daily News can get it wrong just about every single time. Today's attack on teachers focused on Fair Student Funding, a bullshit idea that BloomKlein have fed to the press as a way of democratizing schools but is nothing more than a way for the DOE to skirt the UFT contract and try to fire or marginalize senior teachers.We blogged on this issue several months ago.

The opinion piece wrongly says that under the old system, richer school districts got more money. In truth, the money was for the salaries of more senior teachers who transferred into those schools. As far as I know, almost none of that money went to the kids, but to the teachers who worked in those schools.

This article says that under 'Fair' student funding, money is allocated based upon student needs, which again is false. Schools get a certain amount for each student, but they can spend the money as they wish, including on large catered affairs for the superintendents who visit or on extra copy machines or perhaps even betting on cockfights for all I know. The idea that the students get the money is absurd. What has happened in reality is that principals have denied high needs students something they desperately need in order to succeed--highly qualified teachers. If a principal can hire a newbie for 50K or an experienced veteran for 90K, whom will he hire? And there is LOTS of evidence to show that newbie teachers are not as effective as senior teachers--most research shows that it takes 5 years to become really proficient at teaching--but principals generally don't hire those teachers because they cost more.

The article says, "What's wrong with this? Nothing. The students in these schools are clearly in need. If they either can't entice senior teachers, or if they are happy with the junior teachers they have, why shouldn't they be allowed to use the money allocated for their particular students' needs for more books, supplies or additional staff?"

Actually, there's a great deal wrong if a school can not entice senior teachers. That usually means that the school is broken in some way. It's violent, it's abusive to teachers, or it has no intention of enticing them in the first place. Rather than take real action, such as actually fixing the schools no one wants to teach in, BloomKlein concocts a cockamamie funding scheme.

Let's use an example. Suppose a school has 100 teachers making an average of 80K. That would be 8 million in salary. Let's further suppose this school has 1500 students, which is about right for this many teachers. That's a student teacher ratio of 15:1. If fair student funding worked as advertised, a principal could hire 100 newbies at a cost of 5 million, leaving 3 million. With that 3 million, a principal could hire another 30 newbies, bringing the total staff to 130 and a student teacher ratio of 11.5 to 1. Can anyone show me a single example--just one--where this has happened? Where anything close to this has happened? So where does that extra 3 million go?

I'll tell you exactly what happens in real life. Principals look to cut senior teachers to save money, or they replace retirees with newbies. Then when the savings come in, Bloomberg institutes draconian cuts to school budgets and tells principals to just deal with them. So teaching staffs become less and less experienced, and needy kids don't get squat because Mayor4Life cuts the money from the budget anyway.

Finally, the author of the article, one Raymond Domanico, makes the patently absurd claim that, "...fair Student Funding plays no role in putting teachers into the reserve pool." Pardon me? When schools close or enrollment declines, excessed teachers are put in the ATR pool and principals do not hire them because they do not want to take on the salary of a senior teacher under fair student funding because doing so will cost them as much as 50K a year. As a result, we have a bloated ATR pool that has cost the city well over 200 million dollars so far.

Imagine how that much money could have helped needy kids.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Revenge of Jerry Lewis

I think about Jerry Lewis about once a year. It's around Labor Day, right before we have to return to work. That's when he holds his MD Telethon, which I used to hate because it reminded me of the end of summer. Then Randi gave away the Labor Day weekend, and Jerry and I were at peace once more. This year, however, we got the weekend back, so I blogged about how I might have to go back to hating Jerry.

That's how Jerry got his revenge. I used the picture you see above in that post, and now, every time I check the traffic to this site, I see that someone arrived at this blog because of the picture. If you type "Jerry Lewis" into Google and click on Images, you'll see that this picture is linked to this blog, probably forever. I don't know why. All I know is that every single day, perhaps for the rest of my life, I am doomed to think about Jerry Lewis.

I'll never blog alone.