Thursday, April 30, 2009

Edwize: Keeping Standards High

I hope you haven't missed the new look of Edwize, the unofficial mouthpiece blog of the Unity caucus of the UFT. I hope they didn't spend a whole lot of our union money designing it. I can hear the high level discussions about the new design now...."Hey! We're teachers, right? Let's put an apple on the banner! Get it? An apple for the teacher! Pretty good, huh? Man, I'm breaking a sweat earning this second pension!"

But I digress. There does seem to be a change in Edwize, in that they invite new teachers to blog for the New Teacher Diaries section. Apparently. they feel older teachers like myself won't be able to meet the new high standards they've set for bloggers. To get on Edwize, you have to fill out their contact form, which asks some tricky questions, such as what is your name, subject, etc. If you pass this stringent test--and hang in with me here because it gets tricky--you must answer the following question:

1 + 1 = ___

It all seems just a bit too easy, ya know? I have a feeling that if I fill out the form and submit, they'll ask me something even harder, such as "What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?"

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Who do you treat better--Victor or Victoria?

I was watching another teacher today, and I couldn't help but notice that she was nicer and more patient with the boys in the class. Occasionally she'd snap (mildly) at the girls or put her hands on her hips in frustration. When the boys asked equally silly or repetitive questions, she would answer, and sometimes lean into their desks to give them personal help. I thought it all seemed pretty obvious, but I'm betting that this teacher was unaware of her favoritism.

That's not really a criticism, because I think I do the same thing, as I tend to treat the Victorias better than I treat the Victors. It might just have to do with how males and females relate to each other, but it's not the first time I've witnessed this. So how about you? Who do you tend to treat with kids gloves--the boys or the girls?

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Is the Truth in the Middle?

I wasn't going to blog about Francisco Garabitos, the Bronx Middle School teacher who allegedly created a bomb scare in his school. The case seemed a slam dunk against the guy. The police were there, reporters were saying that he barricaded himself in his classroom and claimed to have a bomb, and the school was evacuated. It seemed a clear case of just a teacher who had snapped, no different than when other people snap. All I could think was thank God there were no injuries.

Now, I'm not going to defend the guy. What he did was clearly wrong. But what was also wrong, apparently, was the whole bomb scare story. This morning's Post reports that Garabitos was not charged with a bomb threat, or even any sort of felony. He was released, without ANY bail, with three misdemeanor charges against him, including criminal trespass, obstructing governmental administration and disorderly conduct.

Now he most certainly did barricade himself in his room, as you can hear in the audio clip (BTW, I apologize in advance for the Bloomberg commercial at the start of the audio. I won't even discuss the irony of it being there). He claims he was making a political statement. Maybe he thought he was. I don't know. But I do know they wouldn't have released him without bail had he made an actual bomb threat.

As the school's union leader, Garabitos was charged 14 times with corporal punishment with 2 charges substantiated, according to the Post. What the Post doesn't say is why those other 12 accusations went nowhere, and what the alleged abuse was. Did he simply raise his voice at kids? I know admins who WILL charge teachers with corporal punishment if they yell and the admins don't happen to like you.

Apparently, Principal Dorald Bastian was not quite a beloved man. According to the Post, "The episode came just a month after 20 teachers sent a letter to the school superintendent that said tensions with Bastian had become so acrimonious that 60 percent of the staff had left the school over the last two years."

So where is the truth here? Clearly, the newspapers and TV reports didn't bother to do their jobs until after the fact--they heard someone say "bomb scare" and ran with that story until it became the "truth". Garabitos is no angel here and can not be excused for his actions no matter what the provocation, but he is also not the psycho or criminal he was painted to be.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The UFT Has Your Back

Whenever I need a good chuckle, I head over to Edwize. One recent post got me really laughing. A certain Ms. Teach4life blogs about how miserable her existence was before she came to NY and joined the UFT. She claims to have taught in the South where there are no teacher unions (hmm...the South is a pretty big place to have NO unions at all). She never mentions where.

Among her complaints about this unnamed place?

Teachers were expected to be at school by 7:45 a.m. — even though school did not start until 8:30. We had to perform a number of morning duties: greeting students at the doors, directing traffic in the drop-off circle, supervising breakfast in the cafeteria, and monitoring the hallways.

Teachers in NY do all those things, too. We don't have to show up before school starts, but since her school apparently ends their day at 2:30, it seems to actually be about 15 minutes shorter than my day.

Classes began at 8:30. Our schedule was arranged into core classes of teaching blocks that lasted 90 minutes each. I taught from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. with no breaks.

Double periods in NYC now allow 4 periods in a row, which isn't quite as long, but we teach again after those blocks, as well. And I find it hard to believe that even this backwoods school doesn't allow potty breaks for teachers.

Teachers were expected to accompany the students through the lunch line, sit with them at their tables, and supervise student behavior. At the end of our lunch period, we had to make sure that our area was clean (table, floor) before exiting the cafeteria. We did this every day of the week.

Thanks to the wonderful 2005 contract brought to you by the sponsors of Edwize, you too relive the glory of the south by doing cafeteria duty as well! Thanks, UFT!

On Mondays, we had grade-level meetings, Tuesdays were team meetings, Wednesdays were PLT (Professional Learning Teams) meetings, Thursdays were curriculum meetings, and finally, on Fridays, we were given a true planning period — if there weren’t conferences booked during this block of time.

Sounds like these meetings were held during the school day. Not like our monthly staff meetings, weekly subject meetings, etc.

After our “planning” period, the students returned to us for a 20-minute enrichment block where we were supposed to teach a reading or math lesson. At the end of the day, the kids were not focused on enrichment, as you can imagine, and the teachers were completely wiped out!

So now that you're in NYC, you can look forward to not 20, but 37.5 minute enrichment blocks! What an improvement!

I look back on those nine years of my career and wonder how in the world did I make it through each day? I left work everyday exhausted, with stacks of papers to grade and tons of planning to do. I was tired and run down and frustrated, and sadly, there was nothing that could be done about the situation.

Ah...and now, you get to go home and jump in the jacuzzi, I suppose? NYC teachers, as teacher4life well knows, don't have to grade papers at home, or plan lessons, or anything. We are never tired, or frustrated, and when things go wrong, the UFT is always there to do something about the situation!

Yes, the UFT has our back at all times, and we should be grateful. Edwize says so, and teacher4life says so. With the UFT behind us, we have little to worry about, other than the occasional knife in the back.

Frankly, it amazes me that blogger after blogger on Edwize has nothing but good things to say about the UFT and Randi! What are the odds?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Rubber Rooms for Billionaires

Mayor Bloomberg said today that his pal, Steve Ratner, the federal car czar, should be allowed to retain his position despite the fact that his firm, the Quadrangle group, is involved in a probe by Andrew Cuomo. It seems that the firm was paying fees to get city pension funds to invest with them and didn't disclose this behavior. It seems also that this firm handles Bloomberg's billions. Cozy, but not necessarily illegal. It's good to be rich.

Apparently, Bloomberg feels that Ratner shouldn't be removed from his federal job because he says that "....this guy, he is scrupulously honest and a great public servant." There are a lot of scrupulouly honest teachers sitting in rubber rooms these days. The mayor made no mention of them.

Because the mayor deems Ratner so honest, "...there would be no reason to deprive the country of a very smart guy who is willing to devote himself to public service."

Hear that, all you smart teachers who have devoted your lives to public service? Bloomberg is now changing the standard for removal from one's position. Only not for you.

If things were fair, both Rather and Bloomy would be rotting in the Rubber Room for Billionaires pending the outcome of this investigation.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two Stadiums for Next to Nothing!

If you saw opening day at the Mets new ball park, Citi Field, you probably noticed our billionaire mayor sitting in the front row behind home plate. You probably got to watch the mayor not pay attention to the game from your television, as seats to opening day were exorbitantly priced. No worry, says Mayor Mike.

You see, the mayor says that the two new ball parks created under his watch, with a price tag of well over two billion dollars, are simply a business. That's why they are charging so much. Of course, other businesses don't get to reach into taxpayer's pockets for billions of dollars, but you can just ignore that part, says Mayor Mike, the Billionaire.

"These are great additions to the skyline of New York," Bloomberg said of the Bronx stadium and the new $875 million Citi Field home of the Mets in Queens.

I'm sure you're grateful, as am I, that I can look at these ballparks from the outside as part of the skyline. If you want to go inside, of course, you may need to be a billionaire like our esteemed mayor.

"We put next to nothing into these two stadiums," Bloomberg said of public funding to support the ballpark.

He's right, of course. If you have 20 billion in the bank, as the mayor does, two billion does indeed seem small potatoes. Especially when you take it from citizens who can't afford to go to the game.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Icahn, in a Nutshell

In doing a little research on the Carl Icahn Charter School for a recent post, I discovered that the school subscribes to the Core Knowledge curriculum. Now, I don't recall all that much about E. D. Hirsch, but I remember reading Cultural Literacy way back when it was new, and I liked the idea. In a nutshell, Hirsch said that we all need to know what the idiom "in a nutshell" meant--in other words, that there is a core base of knowledge that one must possess to be considered educated in our society. In an America educated the Hirsch way, there would be no such show as "Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?"--we all would be. (OK, I'll be the first to admit that I like this show. It's a guilty pleasure to watch a contestant who went to Harvard and got 3.7 GPA drop out of school on a second grade spelling question.)

A lot of people dumped on Hirsch for this philosophy, but I think he's right. We can sweat the details, such as whether everyone should be familiar with MacBeth or Hamlet, but unless you've read a Shakespearean play or two, you aren't truly educated (and no, you math geeks don't get a free pass on this--I know what the Pythagorean Theorem is and how solve a quadratic equation, so you have to know the name of the salesman in Death of a Salesman--and no, it's not Dustin Hoffman).

My question is this: Why does the Carl Icahn Charter School get to teach cultural literacy while I still have to teach to the test? If I tried to teach Of Mice and Men as whole group instruction, I'd be U-rated before your could say, "Living off the fat of the land!" Wouldn't this be a better country if more people knew who Sydney Carton was than who Jeff Foxworthy is?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Weekend at Mikey's

I saw one of the mayor's henchmen on NY1 the other day make the claim that New Yorkers are living a year longer since Bloomberg became mayor. I assumed this was a misstatement or perhaps a joke by one of the mayor's merry staffers but no--it's there in black and white on the mayor's web site. Here's what it says, in part:

Thanks to Mike’s increased focus on preventive care, New Yorkers are now living longer than ever. For a New Yorker born in 2006, life expectancy was 79 years – one year and three months longer than it was in 2001.

Forgive my skepticism, but someone born in 2001 is only 8 years old and someone born in 2006 is 3 years old. Now, I'm not a math whiz like Mike's statisticians, but as near as I can figure, that means none of them is anywhere near 79. So what we have is City Hall playing with numbers again, much like they do with school data.

I can actually see NYers living longer under Bloomberg, however. Cigarettes are ten bucks a pack now, so few working people can afford them. Mike is hoping to lay off the remaining workers who can afford them. There are, however, only so many smokers left. So how will Mike continue to stretch the longevity stats the way he does with the education stats? My suggestion? Follow the education model.

For example, Mike keeps the drop out rate low by using credit recovery, in which all students have to do is sit for a specified time in order to graduate. I propose that Mike begin corpse recovery. In this new program, Mike can place corpses alongside high school students. As long as they (the corspes) remain seated they are doing just as much as their high school counterparts and can be counted among the living. We might even start issuing posthumous diplomas to lower the dropout rate even more.

Another educational model Mike could follow is turning New York into a charter city. We could accept, let's say, only 3% of the people who apply to live here, much like the Carl Icahn Charter School in the Bronx accepted only 3% of the children who applied to it. As Jeffrey Litt, Superintendent of the school said (and no, I don't know why a single school needs a superintendent), "You cannot fail at Icahn Charter because I have a million programs there to help you." Let's do the same for future New Yorkers. Before you can live here, you have to apply and pass a physical. We'll accept only the top three percent in terms of fitness. And if those people should have the temerity to get ill, we can put them on life support almost indefinitely. Those who blatantly fail to live would be shipped off into the corpse recovery program.

I think Mike should get cracking on this ASAP. He ought to be able to raise the longevity rate to about 106 years with a little creativity. And wouldn't we all like to live that long so that we can help Mike get elected to his 27th and final term under the stringent term limits law?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

No News is Bad News

It's good to be a billionaire. You find entire newspaper organizations in your pocket and they print puff pieces that aren't news at all. Bloomberg couldn't have gotten better press if he had placed an ad.

Under the title Teacher Quality Pays, the Post recounts the mayor's 'accomplishments' in education, none of which are actual accomplishments. Most items are leftovers from the 2005 contract, such as the 37.5 minutes our fearless leader Randi negotiated for us in exchange for a tiny raise that doesn't cover the cost of living, as NYC Educator frequently points out. The Post also claims a 43% "hike" in teacher pay, which is technically true. However, let's subtract the 6% we got got working an additional 37.5 minutes (more pay for more work is NOT a hike). That leaves us with a 37% increase in the 8 years of Bloomberg's tenure, barely more than 4.6% a year.

In addition, the Post repeats the lie that this hike has led to teacher pay parity with the suburbs. Mayor Mike claims "Teachers in New York City are now paid, for the first time, roughly comparable with what they can get in the suburbs. That's never been done before." The top teacher salary in NYC is 100K, and that is earned only after 22 years of service. While it's hard to pin down an "average" salary for the suburbs because of the many districts, I found an article from 2005 in the Times that states that "One in 12 teachers in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties now earns more than $100,000, and the ranks are growing fast..." The article quotes a teacher who was making 116K. A graphic in the Times pointed out that in '05, 32% of teachers in Manhasset, for example, were making more than 100k and the median salary was 90k with a median experience of 18 years. In other words, there are districts that actually pay quite a bit more than NYC has ever done, and who manage to retain those teachers for long periods of time. They do what the mayor pays lip service to: attracting and retaining quality teachers. Let's not forget that half of NYC teachers leave in 5 years.

So this tribute to a billionaire in the Post contains no news at all, and that is bad news for teachers. If the dailies are willing to present a distorted picture from the past as news, what chance does a good man like Bill Thompson have? Especially when Randi Weingarten refuses to endorse him after 8 disastrous years with Bloomklein at the helm?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rock / Me \ Hard Place

My child has always gone to NYC public schools. Now that she's getting a little older, I'm seriously considering pulling her out of her zoned school and putting her in private school. I wasn't going to blog about this, but I figure I should in the interest of full disclosure, especially now that Arne Duncan has admitted that he wouldn't send his kids to urban public schools, either. In fact, he chose his neighborhood so that he wouldn't have to send his children to the DC public schools. Yet, you can bet your bottom dollar that Duncan will tout Rhee as the example for the nation to follow while he sends his own children to school in Arlington, VA.

I was really torturing myself over this issue, but if urban public schools aren't good enough for Arne Duncan's children, why should I send mine there?

Now, let me state what should be obvious. As a parent of a public school child for many years, I salute the job the teachers and school have done, especially given Klein's whacked out curriculum, if you can call it that. My child's education has been superlative, primarily because of excellent teachers and (pardon me while I pat my back) caring parents. But as my child gets older, I have several concerns about letting her continue in public school:

  • Class size: Her class size has grown all throughout her years and will mushroom next year.
  • Lack of Discipline: I hear about what some of the kids in her school get away with, and that's just what she's willing to tell me about. As a teacher, I see worse every day, and I work in what would be considered a very good school.
  • Non-stop Test Prep: I want my child to be able to do more than answer increasingly easy questions with a #2 pencil. She is a top reader but she often gets grouped with slower kids and I am tired of it.
Now that I've been in the system a while and am making decent money, I've explored my options, and I found a great private school that I can afford. I hate to do it, but I feel like I have no choice. This scares me because, in truth, my choices are fairly good. Most parents in NYC have no choice at all but to send their kids to their zoned schools.

Don't get me wrong--I am NOT in favor of so-called 'school choice'. I am in favor of fixing every single public school--every single damn one--so that no parent has to be concerned about where his or her kids go to school. Why should anyone, even Arne Duncan, lose a moment's sleep over this?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Riddle Me This

How do you know when the UFT has done something useful?

When the press excoriates them.

The City Council held a meeting on charter schools, and the UFT was there in force, distributing cards to council members with questions to ask about charter schools. The Post rails that the questions about charters were "sharp", as if that's a negative thing. It's a GREAT thing. Someone should be asking the tough questions about charters rather than accepting the biased pronouncements of Arne Duncan, Joel Klein, Michelle Rhee, and Gotham Schools.

The only negative quote the Post managed to find was from Simcha Felder, a councilmember from Brooklyn who has his head so far up Bloomberg's ass that a dentist could work on both of them at the same time. Said Simcha: "You couldn't get by without (the UFT) handing you a card." Again, this is GREAT. Finally, the UFT doing exactly what we pay them 80 million dollars a year for--to lobby for us.

Let's face it--charter schools suck. They are an educational gimmick that work only on a small scale by syphoning off the best students with the most motivated parents. They then claim success without ever having to show that they can achieve the same results when they have to accept students with disabilities, behavior problems, and parents who don't give a damn. Of course, politicians generally love charters because they give them a chance to say that they are doing something and weaken support for unionism at the same time.

Far from being embarrassed by this, as the Post claims we should be, we should all send letters of thanks to Randi for finally getting something right. We should encourage her to show up at city council meetings in person and hand out those cards herself. Let's face it--Felder and the NY media aren't really upset because unions show up at meetings, they are upset because they absolutely hate it when anyone questions their goofball education ideas.

So, in a rare gesture for this blog, I salute Randi and the UFT for doing the right thing. Keep it up. Let's start fighting to make all schools great.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Taking the Mayor to School

Diane Ravitch in the Times. 'Nuff said.

Trading Time for Money

As you sit there enjoying your well-deserved spring break, don't forget that Arne Duncan wants to take it away from you. Displaying a unique knack for saying the wrong thing at the wrong place at the wrong time, Duncan suggested to an audience of 400 kids that they should pretty much go to school all the time. He said:

"I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short, and our school year is too short." He went on: "You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week, 11, 12 months a year."

If schools are open seven days a week and twelve months a year, doesn't that rather suggest that they might be open every single day of the year? Perhaps Mr. Duncan, like Mr. Scrooge, will give kids the day off for Christmas, considering that Christmas trees are not allowed in public schools.

The students he was addressing gave a very telling response: Instead of boos, the AP reports, the students offered Duncan "bored stares."

Every teacher knows those stares. They often come after lunch, which can come as early as 10AM at some schools, when students no longer feel like working. Tacking a few more hours on per day and few more days per week is going to send those bored stare statistics through the roof. The fact is that for the vast majority of students, additional school will do absolutely no good. Most students have difficulty staying alert during the school day as it is. For many students who are borderline, additional time will actually have the reverse effect, causing them to decide not to attend school at all.

Mr. Duncan also seems unaware that many inner city children have other obligations besides school. Many work in their parents' business or take care of siblings. And there is something to be said for just letting children be children, and not turning them into miniature Arne Duncans.

To be sure, Mr. Duncan has risen pretty high in the education world. I wonder how many days he went to school per year? I'm betting it's about 180, and yet somehow he managed to become secretary of education. Most of my colleagues and I have master's degrees and we all had summer vacations--I wonder how that could be? Even Barack Obama, who has been brainwashed into believing this garbage, became president of the Harvard Law Review and subsequently POTUS while attending the same type of public schools we have today.

Rather than do the hard work of trying to improve public education and public schools with meaningful reforms that empower teachers and involve parents, Obama and his team think we need to do more--much more--of the same old crap. It won't work.

So all you teachers out there: enjoy your breaks while you still have them. Even though we have a contract that stipulates the number of days we must work, it won't be long before Randi trades time for money in her continuing efforts to appease politicians and grab power. Don't forget the 2005 contract when she sold us out for a measly 6 percent and increased our working day. Me, I hope to retire before that day comes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Polling for Dollars

So, what do you do if you're an incumbent mayor who is still way ahead in the polls, but you've got a few billion dollars around burning a hole in your pocket?

If you're Mike Bloomberg, you start playing dirty politics.

You start attacking Anthony Weiner, who has not even announced his candidacy for mayor--who, in fact, has implied that he probably won't run. You pretend that you're conducting a poll and then you spread propaganda about the guy who isn't even running against you.

That's the kind of campaign you run if you've got a billion bucks lying around. And it's why we need to dump this mayor.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fun with Maisie

I remember watching Maisy Mouse with my child. It was great. Just watching it with her always put a smile on my face.

True to her namesake, Maisie, a poster on Edwize, makes me laugh to this day. Check out this kneeslapper from the other day:

On Edwize, I speak for myself, not Randi or the union. (Thanks to her, Edwize is a space for diverse views.)

I mean, you can't make this stuff up. Diverse views? They regularly censor posts on Edwize to the point where most people don't bother to read it anymore, let alone comment on the posts. I've never been invited to post there. What diverse views have ever been aired on Edwize? Leo Casey gets to try out new vocabulary words on a regular basis, but other than that, I haven't seen anything new or diverse there in quite some time.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

From Goat to Golden

I read a lot of blogs by people who have been targeted by their principals and APs, and believe me, I drip with sympathy. When I write about people with targets on their backs, I know whereof I speak; I was one of the dead teachers walking. My admins did a number on me and several others in my old school on a monumental scale. That was when my eyes were opened about the UFT, because they utterly failed to protect me or anyone else at that school. They kept telling us that we had to band together and fight back. The truth was that those being targeted were fighting a more powerful foe as best we could, while those who felt safe had no desire to step into the fray. I made the near fatal mistake of believing that the union would be our big older brother and vanquish the bully. In effect, they did nothing. Less than nothing, really, because by stepping back they made the hatchet job being done on us that much easier. A number of people I worked with had their careers destroyed. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to escape.

The irony is that now I am in a school where I am actually respected as a professional and my experience is (gasp!) seen as a plus. Yes, Virginia, such a school does exist. However, now that I have gilt edges I've noticed that some teachers at my school are not so lucky. So, how to respond? I'm in a truly strange place. I am happy where I am and grateful for the treatment I get, and yet I know others at the same school aren't as lucky. A part of me wants to speak up, but a greater part of me wants to get my years in and retire in peace.

If I had a union behind me--a REAL union--one that I knew would stand up when I did, I would be the first one on my feet. But knowing what I know about our useless union, I'm sitting out for now. I truly envy Pissed Off Teacher, who has 30 years in and can say what's on her mind. When I am closer to retirement I'll follow in her footsteps.