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.