Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Light at the End of the Tunnel, pt. 2

     I finally made my way through that dark tunnel and am on the other side. My other retired teacher buddies tell me 'you won't even miss it and you won't care anymore'. I don't miss being a babysitting ATR, not even one iota. I honestly can't say one good thing about it. The teachers stuck in the ATR pool are living lives of quiet desperation. That's not to say I haven't seen many appointed teachers living with the same internal and seemingly eternal scream. Many ATRs and teachers discuss their careers like convicts in a hellish jail. "How much time you have in?", "When you getting out?", "Keep your head down - don't let them notice you!" "Don't complain about anything, especially if you're in the right." "Don't trust anyone - especially the union!" "You need a good lawyer at the ready at all times!" Even with all that nonsense I do miss real teaching at a real school. Teaching is supposed to be a fulfilling career, not something that makes you want to jump out the window or start experimenting with hard drugs. Remembering that is important - getting to the point where you can walk is now all important - it's the only thing left to the ATR that he or she can control. Leaving the ATR forever is a joyous thing. Some told me I was lucky. It wasn't luck, I earned my retirement. Some tell me I wouldn't  have my retirement without the union, but there would be no union without us and our decades of dues. Both my parents were/are staunch union supporters and Democrats. I'm still both but I am disenchanted. I think it's extremely important to have a union, but if the union continues to alienate and discriminate among its minority rank and file members like ATRs, what good is it? If everyone at 'our' union takes a loyality oath and votes in unison, what good is that? If every UFT president is a pick from the former president, (regardless of experience, credentials or affinity to the position), what good is that? Even after saying that I will continue to pay dues and vote for those that I preceive as willing to try to change the UFT. The caucus stuff is ridiculous - look at the individual and vote for the best person. The fighting between these anti-Unity groups only insures that Unity and its deeply un-democratic stranglehold of power will continue. The time to do something is now, otherwise, for you and your fellow educators, that light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train. Cheers, Happy Hanukkah and a very Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thank G-d Almighty I'm Free at Last!

   Another Thanksgiving! Can you believe it? Where does the time go? Is it your favorite holiday? It's not mine but I certainly have enjoyed it. When I was single, back in the Stone Age, I would spend every Thanksgiving Eve watching the balloons being blown up and then doing a tour of all my favorite hangouts. We'd start at the Dublin House in the west 70s, then a surf bar on Columbus, then Teachers or Fugiama Mama for a late supper, then onto Bainbridge Ave in the Bronx - which had the most bars per block in the country at the time. Later it would be an after hours jazz joint back in Chelsea or a dive in Kingsbridge Heights. Those old friends are mostly scattered to the four winds, but not forgotten. Once I settled down and became a teacher, Thanksgiving became a respite from exhaustion and a much more traditional celebration. Happiness in different forms. Always happily married to my wife and for many years to teaching, but certainly not to the ATR pool. Those early idyllic days are long gone and I haven't thought about them in years - but I am now. I find myself free again. Free from the oppression, anger, depression and despair. I just retired. No more bar hopping or shivering on the West Side, but I'm having just as much fun. I highly recommend it. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

I'll Be Voting No on the Latest Joke

I read through the material enclosed with the ballot. My natural tendency was to line my cat's litter box, but I fought the inclination. However, I still came to the same reaction after reading everything carefully and researching the items that weren't presented.

First, let me say there are many different individuals with different wants and needs that this proposed contract tries to placate. Overall it does so inadequately or not at all. For those that see money as the foremost appeal of teaching - this contract does not meet inflation. For those that want less observations - that the rest of the state already has and have not had to negotiate for - this is an insulting enticement. In other words, it should not have had to have been negotiated for. For those that can't teach because of out of control students - all schools will have a SAVE room. SAVE rooms were mandated at least 5 years ago and slowly disappeared because of the scarcity of space, due to shared school locations from dismantled large schools. So again we negotiate for what we were already supposed to have. Then there are class sizes. If the UFT is not going to enforce our already contractual limits in this regard, why are they presenting it again? Appearances? (It shows impotency not strength.)

Secondly, paras rights are protected. They're due paying members, so why weren't they protected to begin with (?) - that they will be now is a good thing - but it's basically the UFT tooting its own horn for what it should have been doing all along. For me this is the only valuable item in the proposed contract.  How about new teachers that can be discontinued for wearing white after Labor Day? Where are their protections? Not addressed. How about veteran teachers that have high salaries that drain individual school budgets and as such have a target on their backs (a la Fair Student Funding)? Not a word. Those teachers, if they beat their trumped up charges will become ATRs. What about ATRs? That vile cesspool where the most experienced, older and highest paid teachers are tossed with the hope of drowning in despair? Well folks, they will be hired if there isn't anyone left, on the face of globe, that hasn't been hired for the particular position as of Sept. 1st. These positions are actively recruited for from April to September - so the only positions open will be ones that even starving twenty two year olds from Boise won't take. Hey, but don't worry  the UFT has you covered - ATRs can apply for small group literacy. LOL! SAVE room coverage and literacy in one full swoop.

Thirdly, undefined, undisclosed healthcare givebacks will ensure that this contract will cost us more than it will compensate us. I'm sure there are other items hidden in this contract that are only inferred but have the ability to greatly damage us - from extra pay (for the best teachers!) for Bronx high need schools, to greater distance learning, to having to get classes approved for your 30 credits over your Masters.

I'm voting NO.

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.