Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy New Year!

 Another calendar year over. We, of course, are on a different calendar, like an ancient disappearing tribe. We celebrate New Years Eve in June and cry on NewYear's Day, Labor Day. I'm grateful for all God has given me. I wish everyone a happy and fulfilling New Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

A Worker Without a Union

My son graduated from high school with a construction trade license. He went right to work as a low level worker paid very little with a private company. He would come home covered in dirt and exhausted. He said its cool I'm paying my dues and learning. Finally the plumbers union announced 50 spots to become an apprentice and union member - thousands applied. My son couldn't get in. He then started welding and the welder's union announced openings and again thousands applied, he didn't get in. Then he started doing electrical work and they announced a few union openings, again thousands applied and very few got in. Now he's learning another mechanical trade, got a 97 on the NYC city test and his number 5000, meaning 5000 will be called before him. He recently pulled his back out lifting boilers and is currently in a lot of pain. He's 25 years old, lives with me, is mechanically gifted and can't get a decent job - in large part because he's not a union member. They just can't let many in because they can't find their members decent paying jobs. The jobs are going to those who are desperate that are forced to work for much less.

    In discussing the UFT situation with my son, he said teachers are incredibly lucky. "You guys become automatic members with all the perks of membership. You don't have to go to different schools begging for a job and then hoping to get one for $10 an hour." I said you're correct and I'm sorry your in pain and anguish over your future. He said 'my friends who went to college have it much worse- they're not working and have a hundred thousand dollars worth of debt. I hope to become a union member some day and get a decent job'.  I'm very unhappy with the way the UFT is representing us, but I will continue to pay my dues regardless of what the Supreme Court decides. I urge all teachers to do the same.

No More Dues?

   A hundred bucks a month for union dues. Good deal? What do you get? Medical, dental and eye care? No. Contrary to popular belief the city gives that money to the UFT to dole out to us. The UFT perpetuates the myth that our dues are what pays for medical. OK, well now that's clear.

   What else do we get (or not get)? Representation in legislature and with elected officials. This is true, but what kind of representation has it been? It seems that for everything we have gained, we have lost its equal. Lately, we seem to be losing more than we are gaining - just in appreciation for having a friendly face. What about those who have been given the authority and privilege to represent us? Have they taken their positions seriously and honorably in the manner in which most of us expect them to? As a veteran teacher who is now an ATR, I have my own opinions. As members of the UFT, all teachers pay the same dues and are merged together in one union. The last contract divided us. Many veteran teachers are ATRs and the contract specified separate and unequal treatment for us. I looked up words that describe antonyms for the word 'union' - division, separate and unequal were listed. If a union acts against its own members that union will fall. You can't knock the foundation beams of a house and expect it to remain standing.

    Does it matter whether or not the Supreme Court rules for or against mandatory UFT dues? Its legitimacy is over. It simply can't claim to represent its membership with contractual discrimination against a portion of its members. Well, what if this was changed? How? 77% of the members voted for it. It seems that many members do not have a fundamental understanding of what a union is. If they did, that contract would never have passed. Those 77% will opt out if given the chance. The 23% who voted against the contract, the very people who were discriminated against, are the members who may keep paying dues.

     There is also a much bigger issue - the assault on the middle class. All unions will be affected by this, including the ones (all) that never have or would treat their members in the manner of the UFT. If unions have to fight for survival, so will the middle class. Most of us are not wealthy and many of us have or will have children. I don't want to see my children and grandchildren struggle the way my grandparents did.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Vocational Schools, STEM, and ATRs

     As I am pondering the state of education in NYC, there are many things that I find upsetting and frustrating. All students are being pushed into college. By all, I include those who are functionally illiterate and those who don't want to go to college.  I've met many students who want to be tradespeople, cosmetologists, and entrepreneurs. They don't know how to write a check, sign their name or tell time. No, they aren't mentally disabled - they just haven't been taught. Common Core, test prep and college readiness has made sure there is no time for that, or at least that's one (they're really all the same thing) of the excuses.

     NYC is the business capital of the world and there are virtually no business classes being taught. Bloomberg became a billionaire by creating his own businesses and ran the schools as such, but he closed vocational schools! (Schools, of course, are not businesses - they are social institutions. Running them as businesses is incredibly wrong.) If Bloomberg imparted one tenth of his entrepreneurial experience into business high schools he could have jump started tremendous innovations. Mulgrew was (and should have stayed) a wood-shop teacher, why hasn't he requested that the new mayor reopen vocational schools? It's downright embarrassing that NYC public schools feel business and the trades aren't important enough to teach.

     Then there's the big push for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) classes, schools, and teachers. There's plenty of ATRs out there.  If you don't have enough STEM teachers couldn't ATR teachers be used to facilitate this shift? Many already are Math and Science teachers. Logic dictates ATRs have been permanently relegated to the position of "Sub".
     Happy holidays to all.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How Teaching has Turned into 45 Minutes of Pleading

   I'm in a fairly good school for this stint. Actually the best one I've been to in a year. Last week as I was walking down the hall to go to my team teaching class, I picked up a clicker/counter, the type that's used to keep count in lunchrooms. I put it in my pocket to turn in later. My acting part that day was regular Ed English teacher.
   What follows is an actual scene from a sophomore English class. There are two scheduled teachers in the room and two paras.  It's 55 degrees outside and the thermometer on my phone says its 84 degrees  in the classroom (it feels much warmer). All the windows are open and I can actually hear the heat sizzling from the radiators. The bell rings and a very loud group comes into the room. One girl is being dragged in by her legs. Another is carried in on the back of a boy. Upon entering the room, he stumbles, sending her crashing into all the teachers belongings on his desk.
    Mr. Hopkins (who looks and dresses just like Jack Black): Please! Please! Come in and find a seat! Trevor you don't belong here! Please leave! (Trevor leaves and comes in with about 15 boys who don't belong in the class)
   Mr.  Hopkins: (Screaming) Please go to your classes! Please go to your classes! (Trevor and his friends stay, but the students who belong there wander out into the hall.)
   Ms. Mercedes (para): (Screaming in the hallway outside the door) Por favor! Por favor! Entre!
   Mr. O'Rourke (me)  : Mr. Hopkins, where are the deans or security?
   Mr. Hopkins: This school has restorative justice and we have no deans. Just help me get them in and seated. (I do my best.)
 After about 20 minutes the students are finally seated. There are currently 30 students; 28 girls and 2 boys. The Do Now is on the SmartBoard. More than half the students haven't started it and are openly using their phones.
  Mr. Hopkins: Please put away your phones! Please put away your phones!
A student puts her phone over her head and using a recording app that changes the pitch of Mr. Hopkins voice plays back, "Please put away your phones! Please put away your phones!". It sounds just like SpongeBob. The rooms erupts in laughter- several students fall out of there seats. One girl is crying uncontrollably.
  Mr. Hopkins: I've had all I can take! I'm calling parents tonight!
  Jessica (student): Good luck getting hold of that bitch! I haven't seen her in two days.
  Mr. Hopkins: We can discuss it later.
  Jessica: Oh, shut up!
Ms Gertrude, the second para enters the room (30 minutes late) followed by 4 students. She sits down next to a student and helps her. The room is filled to capacity. It's very difficult to circulate (or breathe).
   Mr. Hopkins: Mr. O'Rourke will be collecting the Do Now for Mr. Hayes.
   Several students in unison: He's absent again? What's wrong with him, Mr. O' Rook?
   Mr. O'Rourke: I have no idea.
   Jessica: O'Rook, hmm? Are you a heavy drinker?
   Mr. O'Rourke: I'm not, but things could change quickly.
   Jessica: I like you, mister.
   Mr. O'Rourke: Let's try to help Hopkins out and do some work. OK?
   Jessica: OK, mister.
Things get better, then worse and the period is over. I kept a running tally with a clicker-counter I found in the hallway. 151 pleases from Mr. Hopkins.

(All names have been changed.)