Monday, September 3, 2018

The Heartache of Labor Day (Reposted -9/4/15)

It's Labor Day again and I find myself thinking about not only what it means for us as teachers, but what the UFT has descended into. We're different than most workers in that we don't break our backs doing manual labor, like many of our fathers and grandfathers did. Perhaps you come from such a family? Seeing the type of work they did helped me decide to get a higher education. They struggled to make a better life, and started unions to help protect workers from the abuses that were common place - low wages, dangerous working conditions, long hours, no vacations, six or seven day work weeks ... the list goes on and on.  They were beaten, imprisioned, fined, fired and died starting unions. Can you imagine the people running our union - Mulgrew and Weingarten doing any of that? Can you imagine any of us doing it? The UFT Poo-Bahs that are marching at the head of the Labor Day Parade had better start to remember the rich history and obligations they have inherited and must honor. Mulgrew and his toadies have not done right by ATRs, that are overwhelmingly veteran middle-aged teachers that have been turned into babysitters. They have not stood up and fought to end Fair Student Funding, the accounting scheme that individualizes school budgets - in order to make the experienced higher salaried teacher persona non grata. That means every working teacher has the likelihood of becoming an ATR. Working conditions for all teachers has declined markedly since the Weingarten endorsed 2005 contract. Teachers are fed up and want change. That may mean the ability to strike someday. The UFT won't even speak out on that right or endorse a gubernatorial candidate, Cynthia Nixon, that will fight for this right. The UFT doesn't want change and they certainly don't want the right to strike. It's leaders don't teach and haven't for many years. They are removed from the classroom and from reality. It's up to us to wake them up or keep getting abused.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Heartache of Labor Day 

 For the past 25 years I've spent my Labor Day in a U.S. Open trance. I watch it from the moment it starts until it's over. It's the end of my summer vacation and as such is a mix of melancholy, anxiety and dread. The mix of those ingredients has changed considerably over the years. During the beginning of my teaching career the anxiety was much stronger. When I was in a terrible school, the dread was palpable. I remember watching Jimmy Connors play Patrick McEnroe late into the night, hoping the match would never end. If it could go on forever, so would my summer vacation. It was Connors 39th birthday and I remember screaming for him. If he could win, we could all hang onto our youth for a little while longer. As an ATR I no longer feel the pangs of anxiety or dread. Indeed, I no longer feel like a teacher. Now as my children are growing up, the melancholy is stronger. A cocktail that is very bittersweet. I sacrificed a lot during those years for my family and my students. I've had some success on both fronts. Labor Day is a day of rest and recognition for all workers. Enjoy your labor, for there can be great fulfillment from a job well done.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Nixon vs. Cuomo - Debate Tonight

Andy for Gov!
Teachers must be held accountable for everything.

     The UN has said that 'the right to strike is a universal democratic right of all employees, regardless of where they are employed: Real or public sector.'  That right is not afforded those of us in essential NYC municipal services like teaching under the current Taylor Law. It institutes tough penalties for those that do - fines at double the amount of wages per worker for each day out, jail for the union president, fines at about a million a day for the union and usually very bad press. What's in it for those that strike? The ability to force the hand of those that have the ability to change things for the better. How? Usually improved working conditions and/or pay. What would make the rank and file take such extreme measures? Dangerous working conditions, constant disrespectful and/or illegal actions toward members, raising costs without requisite pay increases and higher retirement ages as well as another inferior Tier #, are some items that come to mind. Has a NYC municipal union gone on strike in the recent past? Well, it's been a while. The last one I remember was a transit strike in  December 2005 during a brutally cold winter. Even though many of us were inconvenienced, we supported our union brothers and sisters in their action. Schools were still intact back then - as were teacher's cafeterias, lounges and common areas. Chapter leaders were respected, knowledgable, had weekly meetings and stood up to abuses of authority. All that's gone now. Erased with the advent of Bloomberg's and Weingarten's endorsed 2005 Teacher's contract. Teaching as an occupation has been replaced with an overwhelming sense of DREAD. Everyone is in it for self-preservation. Everyone is covering their ass - from admins down to the custodial staff. There is no sense of comradery, loyality or pride. The UFT with its Unity enthroned pooh-bas has cultivated much of the current apathy, in that it has found in doing so it can maintain a stranglehold of power. It's worked very well for them - not so well for the rank and file.
     Why do I bring all of this up? Well NYS gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon has publicly said we, municipal employees, should have the right to strike. Would we ever strike? There might come a time. If a candidate is running with that right as part of her platform, we should vote for her. Don't hold your breath waiting for the UFT to endorse her - Andy Cuomo is also running and helped the UFT by making it difficult for disaffected union members to opt out of paying dues. This is the same guy that takes money from those that hate us, makes the city pay for charter school rents and makes us share our schools with them.
    There's a debate on tonight between Nixon and Cuomo. Check it out and vote.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Thoughts on Entrance Exams for Specialized High Schools

There is a lot controversy, as of late, over entrance exams for schools like Bronx Science. I believe the specialized schools are roses in our unfortunate field of weed(s). Students learn and succeed without all the drama, grade inflation and false diplomas that have become commonplace. It seems like a simple and attainable goal - study and pass the exam to get in. There are however, other facets to this simple premise.

A couple of years ago, I became friendly with a freshman student inside one of the small schools at the Columbus campus. 'Sandy' was lamenting the fact that she couldn't learn anything, because of all the new teachers, constant cellphone use and 'asshole' students. The number one reason that she was so unhappy, she told me, was that she had failed herself. Sandy went to one of the better middle schools in the Bronx and almost all of her closest friends and classmates had made Bronx Science. Sandy said many of them paid for tutors. Their families made large sacrifices and it paid off. Sandy had felt that she could do it on her own - and as the only child of a Puerto Rican mother, she didn't want to burden her mom further. She studied every night and every weekend. The big day came and she took the test.  She missed by two points. Now she was stuck 'in the sewer with the sewer rats', to use her words. She told me her life was basically over. "What college will accept me from here? What will become of me? Fast food or welfare?! You have to help me get out of here!" I'll be honest, Sandy's story was compelling and I was very troubled over it. There was a program I knew called the Macy program, at Clinton HS, for students that had missed Bronx Science by a few points. I called that school and no one knew what I was talking about - everyone seemed to have just been hired there. I went to the principal at the Columbus school and explained as diplomatically as possible Sandy's circumstances. She said she would make sure that Sandy wouldn't be left behind, but that all her students were going to get an education. The principal was a terrific person, but that didn't change the fact that she really couldn't help. I knew of an excellent school I had been placed in, and tried to get her transferred. The principal there said Sandy would have to wait until the next school year to switch and that it would still be difficult. November came along and it was time for me to leave. I don't know what became of Sandy. If I had to guess I'd say she's still in that school at Columbus.

What can be done to make sure more deserving students like Sandy get to attend schools like Bronx Science? First, there needs to better middle schools, like the one Sandy attended. Second, there has to be access to extra help or tutoring for all students that want it. Thirdly. there has to be better schools or programs for those students who just missed the mark and/or a second chance at entrance for those students. Lastly, and it goes almost without saying - all schools need to be greatly improved.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

We Don't Work in Mayberry


     I read last night’s NY Post concerning the marked increase in school weapon confiscations . Not a surprise. For the past two years, on the first day of school, there have been handguns found inside our schools Those schools have metal detectors. The vast majority of schools that I have been in, in some of the worst areas in NYC, have no metal detectors. Can you imagine the sheer amount of weapons, that are not found and carried daily by hundreds, if not thousands, of students? Most of the students may be carrying these weapons because they feel unsafe - not only on their way to school, but inside the school itself. Why? (This is conjecture, in that I know of no survey by the DOE or the UFT.) I believe it’s because a small minority of students, that are dangerous, have been given carte blanche to fight, bully, sell drugs, disrupt the learning process and intimidate staff and students alike.  I would stress students aren't the only ones that feel unsafe. There has been increased violence throughout our country in a variety of public venues which has become especially notable inside classrooms and schools. Our own beloved, President Trump, has suggested that teachers carry guns. While I think that is taking the situation to extreme lunacy, I do believe something has to be done. The slavish adherence to statistics, and what they may or may not say, has stopped the reporting and arrests of those that are committing crimes inside our schools. This has been to the detriment of students, schools, teachers, the learning environment and society at large. Have you ever seen a fight in which one person pulls out a box cutter? I have, many years ago. One guy got it across the face and as he was fleeing, was cut straight down the back. His skin peeled away like a cellophane wrapper off a cigar. Box cutters are the weapon of choice for our students. After seeing that, one becomes super-cognizant of their surroundings at all times. 

   Even with metal detectors such things may happen, but the probability is greatly reduced. I understand that the city, the union and Mayor de Blasio  like to view our schools as they are portrayed in fictitious towns like Mayberry, but that isn’t our reality. We are not doing a service to our students, if we do not face the stark truth that our society has become increasingly violent and mentally ill. Our students and staffs deserve a safe and conducive learning environment. Put metal detectors in every middle and high school and bring back consequences for violent and aberrant behavior that interferes with and/or thwarts learning.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Moral Bankruptcy (video link updated)


    I've been reading excerpts from Michael Eric Dyson's book, What Truth Sounds Like. Dyson's book looks not only at the views of the leading Black intellectuals (that were sought out by the likes of Robert Kennedy), but interestly references the anger of ordinary Black citizens during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. I also recently saw Dyson on Bill Maher. brought up some interesting points concerning Trump and those during the 60s that tried to initiate lasting change. Trump is an amazing manipulator in that he will meet with the disaffected individual and offer them specific recourse. 'What do you want?' 'Who do you want me to see set free?' Trump set Alice Marie Johnson free. That's great, it shows up his predecessor, who could have done the same thing and didn't. This is a grand action, but does nothing to change the systemic problems and the cemented structures that cause inequality and discrimination. I immediately thought of the UFT. ATRs have been pulled from their positions as teachers for over thirteen years and have been forced to babysit. We are ostracized from all staffs in regards to governance and respect. This has happened inside our temporary schools and has been extended to the union we support. We have been continually denied a chapter to facilitate our unique needs and wants. Not only hasn't the UFT attempted to repair its corrupt structure and the absence of mechanisms towards change, but it hasn't made the effort to listen to our concerns.

      What we currently have seen and heard from the UFT, concerning change, is nothing. Ignoring the problems of  the disaffected fuels greater anger. We now have a means to show our rage via Janus. I want a real union that represents all of us. I don't want to hear from some guy that touts Manchester United's weekly scores to tell us that 99% of the membership will remain in the UFT. If the UFT ultimately refuses to acknowledge us, then we should start a separate union. If any of the caucuses, or all of them, joined together to try to facilitate a separate high school union, I believe they would achieve great success. I believe many would help, as ATRs are not the only disaffected group. Again, I don't want to drop out of the union, I want to drop in - but I am prepared to leave. I am not in the least concerned with the bogeymen Koch brothers - Bloomberg and Weingarten did a lot more damage than those two could ever dream up. I, and many of us are giving the UFT the benefit of the doubt. Next fall, if we are again collectively ignored, many of us will exercise our right to stop paying dues to the corrupt entity that is the UFT.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

G-d Save the Quail!

Make a wish, but not on a quail bone!

   As some of you may or may not know, the UFT has extravagant tastes in everything. They own a huge building at 52 Broadway and have an elite force of reps that squeeze into three thousand dollar suits, collect two salaries and pensions and enjoy the finer things in life. Their coffers went up again this week as they signed up 800 new teachers out of the 4000 the DOE is expected to hire this summer. These new hires will be replacing all the excessed teachers that have been thrown into the ATR pool because of school closings and budget cuts a la Fair Student Funding.

    New hires are the only ones that will have to opt in to the UFT- those malcontents that would like to leave, a.k.a. ginks, finks and goons, will have to opt out. The UFT will cry poverty regardless and are embarking on austerity cuts. No more quail - at least openly. They seem to be expecting a few (that are willing to jump through hoops) to drop out - but mortgaging 52, signing up 4000 new hires and all those commercial rentals should see an increase in the UFT's bottom line, not a decrease. (Say nothing, don't breathe a word of it.) The rank and file need to think the very idea of unionism is at risk with the Janus ruling. Peer pressure, guilt and shaming through name calling must be employed to keep those that are on the fence, off. Under no circumstances should the needs and wants of those disaffected individuals be allowed to become verbalized; and under no circumstance should any of these potential communicated outrages be allowed as leverage for change to the status quo. The UFT will not negotiate with anti - UFT terrorists! These democratic provocateurs must be stopped! The UFT elite are prepared to make a huge sacrifice and forego the quail, if necessary. G-d save the quail! (And G-d, please save the rest of us from the UFT.)

Monday, July 9, 2018

Andy is Looking for Your Vote


     As you probably know Cynthia Nixon will be running against Andy Cuomo this November. It seems that many, many teachers have forgotten his atrocious attacks on public schools and public school teachers. (This forgetfulness is known as the halo effect. It's occurs when more recent behavior counteracts repeated long term behavior - our students intuitively use this against us about a month before report card grades are imputed.) Let's review them. Cuomo stated in his 2015 inaugural address that the key to education reform was teacher evaluation. He said they were flawed because so many students were failing and so many teachers were rated effective. In other words, a scapegoat was needed and public school teachers were going to be it. Cuomo has not been a friend to public schools, teachers or students. His current promises should not be given any credence, especially if the UFT endorses him. He will turn on us quicker than a rattlesnake. I will, of course, be voting for Cynthia Nixon.

       Here are some more reminders of Andy attacks from the NYSUT referencing Cuomo's agenda :
  • Dramatically increasing the state's role in teacher evaluations and stripping away local control. The weight of state tests would increase from 20 percent to 50 percent. And, in a stunning lack of trust for all district professionals, the governor would mandate that the other half be at least two observations, with one conducted by a so-called "independent observer" - a principal or administrator from outside or within the district, a SUNY/CUNY professor or a "trained independent evaluator" from a State Education Department list.
  • Gutting teacher tenure. Cuomo wants teachers to remain on probationary status until they receive five consecutive "effective" ratings on their teacher evaluation. A single "developing" rating could derail a teacher's professional path. In reality, it would negate tenure and keep re-setting the clock.
  • Raising the cap on charter schools by 100 (to 560) and ending regional caps to make the number a statewide tally. New York City has 24 charter slots remaining under the existing system. Cuomo would also increase per-pupil funding for charters by $75.
  • Giving SED the power to put failing schools or even districts into receivership, with broad powers, further eroding local control. Cuomo called for appointing nonprofit groups, school-turnaround experts, or other school districts to oversee schools that have fallen on the state's lowest performing list for three years. The law would give "receivers" the authority of local superintendents, allowing them to restructure schools, overhaul curricula and offer salary incentives. It would undercut collective bargaining agreements and contracts.
  • Renewing mayoral control of New York City schools. He encouraged other cities to apply for mayoral control as well.
  • Amending the 3020-a hearing process for "poor performance," creating a presumption in favor of administrators; teachers would have to prove their evaluation score was fraudulent.
  • Offering $20,000 merit pay to teachers who are "legitimately rated highly effective.