Saturday, February 18, 2017

Why is the Teacher Always Blamed?

  I had a lengthy conversation today with an old friend, let's call him Niles. He a quiet, dignified intellectual. He's also a completely demoralized high school teacher.
Niles: Atlas, the students are beyond vile. The administration is clueless. The staffs are clueless.
Atlas: You must never blame the students, Niles. It's completely verboten.
Niles: Why and when did it all start?
Atlas: I distinctly remember it first being said during a staff meeting right after Bush, Jr. signed in the No Child Left Behind Act. The principal said that the Quality Reviewers were coming in to interview everyone and would be asking for input into how to improve the schools, and that under no circumstances were we to mention the students or their parents being at fault. The QR people had relayed this to the principal, as had the chancellor and the UFT. The chapter leader then got up after many of us vocalized outrage. We were told we simply could not do this as it would jeopardize our funding as a school and ultimately our jobs. 
Niles: Yes, that was the start of it, but how did everything become the teachers fault?
Atlas: Well, that didn't start right away. At first, we told the QR people that we need to take out more of the bad eggs from the school population and get better students.
Niles: How did that go over?!
Atlas: Not well, as you can imagine. We had another staff meeting in which we were told there were no more zoned schools and that we couldn't get rid of any kid, regardless of their lack of desire to be in a vocational school. Also there would be no more tracking and special Ed would be a service rather than a place. Tracking would not be allowed and multiple lesson plans would have to be developed for each class to meet the needs of the varied students. The start of differentiation!
Niles: Yes, I remember the teachers balked.
Atlas: Of course, but the by product of all this was plummeting statistics on every level. So someone had to be blamed. The students and their parents were off limits. So teachers were the default scapegoats. This was right around the time Bloomberg went into office. He upped the ante by using the media and the UFT's naïveté.
Niles: What do you mean?
Atlas: Guiliani didn't give us a raise, so people were eager for one. Bloomberg made a Faustian deal with us via Randi and it was all downhill from there. Bloomy stigmatized the veteran teachers as being subpar, closed the schools and turned most of us into ATRs. 
Niles: And by controlling the individual school's population he skewed the statistics to show marked improvement.
Atlas: Exactly. But the UFT never pushed back effectively after having that 2005 contract passed. Mulgrew said teachers weren't to blame, but he bought into the 'never blame students or parents' directive.
Niles: The UFT should have been screaming from the rooftops! Students actions or inactions are on them! If a parent doesn't parent their children, that's on the parent! 
Atlas: True , but I think Mulgrew's well meaning response was 'Well, we shouldn't play the blame game, and if Bloomberg keeps blaming us through his and his friends media outlets, we'll just ignore it.'
Niles: The result being that we are to blame for everything wrong with public schools and the public response was schadenfreude because of our preceived short work day and time off.
Atlas: Yes, it really comes down to a lack of leadership. No one wants to be the sole guy to stand up and scream from the rooftop. That's what we have leaders for. 
Niles: I blame the UFT for all it. Our sole focus was on pedagogy and the UFT's focus should have been on us.
Atlas: Niles, we have to remember our worth as teachers and people, even if those around us don't. Try to have a relaxing vacation! 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Misery, Thy Name is Teacher

I love my toadies!

    I have never, ever seen so many miserable teachers in school after school, as I have this year.
At first it was a bit of a mystery to me as the kids and administration have seemed pleasant in some of these schools. I've talked at length with several teachers in these schools and the common thread that connects them is administrative micromanagement. (The absurdity of staying until 4PM on Mondays and Tuesdays for meaningless PD cannot be mitigated. For many it's  simply torturous and seems to be 'the straw that broke the camel's back'. Some would give a monetary giveback or a pint of blood weekly to get out at 2:30 or 3 PM again.) If the King or Queen of the school is beneficent, there is happiness in the kingdom. On the other hand if you have an insecure, inexperienced and/or arrogant individual, life in the kingdom will be miserable. These individuals seem to exact much more discipline from their staffs than from their students. I was in one school where the kids left and  returned constantly all day (stoned, of course), phones weren't collected, but the staff had to sign out for lunch or a cup of coffee. Another school's administration publicly berated their staff for any preceived infractions - lateness, absenteeism, etc. These same things were completely ignored if committed by students. Add to this the lack of space, and the staffs' reluctancy to go outside to the only personal space available for them to eat their lunch - their cars. Some of these schools have no teacher lounges, libraries or any common spaces for teachers. (The kids in one place had a large room they would pick up free condoms though - we all tried not to slip on them as they were all opened and scattered throughout the hallways and stairwells - the NYC equivalent of the banana peel.) The teachers or royal subjects were forced to meet in a designated classroom or in the principal's massive office that was lavishly decorated (in the ostentatious Trump style) with a private restroom (no one even dared thought about using it). If the Royal Family of Administration liked you, you were fine - if they didn't, your life could be very difficult. (Needless to say, the UFT was basically nonexistent. I have yet to meet or have a chapter leader introduce themselves to me this school year or last.)
   This is all a legacy of the Bloomberg regime and it simply shouldn't still be with us. That said, students and staff should be treated with respect. Schools are not individual fiefdoms to be run as unsuccessful fast food restaurants. The students need discipline for their well being as students and future productive members of society. We are the last bastion before these students are released into society. I personally believe this preparation is more important than most of the information they are expected to learn and will never again use. Who do you want to be on the train with - the guy who can't remember his geometry proofs or the guy that will set you on fire, film it and laugh his ass off? Life skills, vocational skills, and basic academics for the average student. Much, much more (than what is currently being offered) for those who have the aptitude and drive.
    Happy Presidents' week and good riddance Andy Puzder!

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The UFT and Right to Work - Both are Contronyms

   Right to Work and the UFT are contronyms - words or phrases that have the opposite meaning of what they should have. Right to Work is really the right to become quickly and easily unemployed. The United Federation of Teachers is not United in any sense of the word. Even after saying that, any union, even the UFT, is better than none at all - but I don't understand some of us expecting radical protesting from teachers.  Expecting us to take up our yard sticks and erasers to fight the establishment isn't going to happen. The only reason the UFT, which is really run by a handful of people, even notices is because they feel individually threatened.  Many of us feel completely disenfranchised. The UFT is complicit in the creation of our defeated and apathetic rank and file. Teaching under the Bloomberg administration, the shuttering of schools (2005 contract-Weingarten), the end of seniority transfers (2005 contract- Weingarten), lowering of our TDA (Weingarten), the influx of charter schools (with UFT joining in), fair student funding, the mass hiring of inexperienced, inexpensive and rural young teachers, the failure of the UFT to endorse Thompson during Bloomberg's  run for a third term (Mulgrew), the choice to remain silent instead of doing anything (Mulgrew) during Bloomberg's third term, the army of veteran teachers turned into subs (the ATR pool), the discriminatory ATR provisions put into effect from the UFT (Mulgrew), the never ending expansion of class sizes, the army of lawyers to terminate teachers, the observation games, the constant claims of victory after defeat, the raises that aren't (Mulgrew), the increased healthcare (Mulgrew), the Weingarten endorsement for the entire AFT of Hilary over Bernie and the exclusive, non-democratic governance of the UFT are but a few of their benchmark atrocities (yes, they put the ATR in atrocity).
    The fight over DeVos also shows the continued lack of political insight from the UFT. This lady doesn't know what she's doing, good intentions not withstanding. (There are at least 20 much worse candidates that Trump could get with excellent credentials, that woud easily get in and completely  eviserate us.) Remember Cathie Black? When complaints of oversized classes reached her she commented that the parents should start using birth control. While I don't think DeVos is such a callous person, I don't think she'll last long - especially if she has to fight some of the very obnoxious people that have repeatedly shafted us and are supposedly on our side. I would greet her and work with her. She may not get in and that will be used as the excuse to allow Andy Puzder in as Secretary of Labor. 'We gave up Betsy, now you give us Andy.' Puzder is the real danger. He doesn't doesn't believe in minimum wage, wants the entire country to be Right to Work, and makes the pre-enlightened Ebenezer Scrooge look like the personification of generosity. This is who should be scrutinized, publicized and protested against. He's the dude that can put us all out of work - you, your spouse and your kids.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

What's Going on with the ATR Pool?

Livia - I won't read it, so don't ask.

   Yesterday, I received the monthly UFT rag, The Teacher, so I decided I would actually read it. It's been quite a while as I usually put it right under my cats' litter box. The first thing that hit me was the third page. There's an article that reads 'DeVos, voucher measured OK'd'. My teenage daughter, who desperately wants to be a teacher and writes for her high school newspaper, said, 'Wow, the UFT is backing DeVos and vouchers?!'. I said let's read it first as it's written by the UFT, but that wouldn't be the first time a counter intuitive strategy was used to hurt teachers. (Let's not forget the discriminatory provisions against ATRs in the 2014 contract or the UFT charter schools.) Upon reading the small article, it just mentions the opposition to DeVos and against vouchers was passed. My daughter read the rest of the paper and remarked some of its articles were excellent, good and terrible. We agreed it was terrible in the places it was unintentionally humorous, misleading and  especially for the information that is left out. No where are ATRs mentioned. It's like we don't exist. There's plenty of recent rumors and news concerning us, and no one from the UFT is informing us. We learned that Mr. Randy Asher was hired to help ATRs get back to teaching from a Daily News article. Since that time, there have been numerous rumors, which have ATRs elated or despondent, depending on their perspective. I believe as veteran teachers, that have been paying dues for decades, we deserve some respect from the UFT. Why not have a UFT ATR liaison write a monthly paragraph that keeps us apprised of news, negotiations, trainings and opportunities? Is that too much to ask for or is the ATR pool being drained as I write? I guess we won't know, until we know.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Can You Feel It?

  One weekend, about three years ago,  a friend and I dropped by his sister's place for a quick visit. Her husband is a nice guy that during a conversation on world events began describing some disturbing incidents in Scandanavian countries. They involved Muslim attacks on young women. He was telling me how the tide was turning against Muslim immigrants in those very progressive countries. I did some fact checking and found what he said was true, but that there seemed to be much more violence committed against Muslim (especially Turkish) immigrants there than the few isolated incidents my friend described. Worse the national empathy towards immigrants in those countries seemed to be changing to hostility and restrictive laws. The farther south in Europe I searched, the worse it seemed to get. Germany, Italy, France and many European countries had fringe groups that were viewing immigrants as scapegoats and using their hatred of them to burgeon up national pride through fear. Fear of losing jobs, ethnic identity, language, loss of religion, thefts, drugs, rape, and welfare. What was even more troubling was that some of these groups were getting anti-immigrant politicians elected into very high offices and were carrying that agenda into new discriminatory nationalistic laws. These laws were not merely a celebration of their native culture, but were and are used to stop the spread of different cultures, people, beliefs and religions.
       A week later, I gathered a few friends together to go to a traditional Jewish restaurant for dinner. (I get the urge every so often.) I started telling a few of my dinner companions my research on some of the attacks by Turkish immigrants. I assumed the waiters were Jewish, but they turned out to be Turkish. At first our waiter assumed I was anti-Muslim and asked me why I hated Turks. I, of course, told him that I didn't.  He then started telling me of some of his experiences with roving skin head gangs in Germany. It was a slow night so he basically spent about a hour talking with us. At the time, I thought to myself that whole European scenario could come here, especially if Muslims start coming en masse. As time flew by and Trump emerged, I often thought of those European stories. (Brexit can also be seen as another example of growing nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment.) Germany's PM Merkel has been an exemplary head of state and I had hoped that if such nationalistic fervor came here it would be offset by our own Merkel like president. Needless to say that didn't happen.
     Part of Trump's ride to the White House is because of that sweeping nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment that seems to have spread world wide. I've been noticing many young Trump supporters wearing not only,  "Make America Great Again", but pro-war slogan tees and hats like - "Back to Back World War Winners", "Don't Make U.S. Go for a Threepeat". I think these young guys actually want a war, 'to kick some foreign ass and show everyone the USA is still #1!' It seems every country feels the same way. Gorbachev was interviewed recently and said the world seems to be gearing for war.  Can you feel it?

Friday, January 27, 2017

WitchFest: Randi vs. DeVos and Moskowitz

I should have been Secretary of Education!

    Which witch will win? Randi is out against DeVos. What a surprise. I'm underwhelmed by the confrontation. DeVos seems a little shaken in that she's taken out ads to counteract Randi's spells Moskowitz wouldn't have done that. She would have set up a boxing ring in Times Square and invited Randi over. Trump knows this and wanted her. (Fortunately for us, taking a position as Secretary of Education is a step down in salary and she refused it.) Eva recently came out in support of DeVos I believe DeVos' intentions may be honorable, but Trump is giving her the shot for one reason only - her husband's billions. There is no way she should ever be considered for Secretary of Education and the Democrats agree  . Randi Weingarten, I wish you well in our shared battle (against someone who wouldn't have been there if you had endorsed Bernie).

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Would You Like to Play ATR Russian Roulette? Part 2


    Deja Vu! Yesterday several friends called to say there was a new school listed on their SESIS account. This after we have received our weekly emails telling us to return to our current schools. The concern, based on recent rumors, is that the listed school may be the only one we are sent to for the remainder of the year. I understand the concern, but it's the same concern we used to go through weekly, monthly and now bi-annually (?). Some are concerned that we may be placed permanently or provisionally. I understand that concern also. What if the school is geographically undesirable, like that beautiful girl you met on the train to Albany in 1984? What if the school is ill managed? What if the school is populated by gangs of evil elves? These are the dark imaginings of a panicked mind. Don't imagine or consider these things. We are great teachers and will do well, no matter where we are sent or for how long. Mr. Asher does not want to be viewed as forcing sub-par teachers onto unsuspecting schools - he logically wants us to succeed. If these rumors have any veracity, the UFT should notify us. If there are current negotiations, we should be asked for input. If there are no more rotations, we should revert back to (what I like to refer to as) ATR Russian Roulette. We pick one school out of six. That said, I'd like to treated with respect again, or with the same lack of it as every other teacher.