Sunday, March 27, 2016

Schools : Social Institutions or Businesses?

     Years ago, when I was going through numerous education classes to get my Masters at Lehman College, I became involved in a heated debate with several students and our professor. This was the early 1990s and there was a push to have teachers become involved with students holistically. In other words, not just teaching them. Helping them through individual difficulties, no matter what those difficulties might be. Several students in the class balked and basically said they were training to be teachers, not priests or social workers. I came from an era where my teachers were rigid, feared and respected. The professor went on and said the students should call us by our first names. Some of my African friends nearly fainted on the spot. It took one a full minute to retrieve his power of speech, at which point he let out a scream that could be heard in Queens. I thought about it and thought it was a humanistic view. I wasn't keen on the first name basis, as that could blur the boundary lines for the students, but as a new teacher I thought it was ok.

   One of the first and many subsequent observations I received always commented on my close rapport with my classes. I cared about my students and most of them seemed to care about me. I never got too friendly, but I had many close relationships with my students. Many times they would come to me before their guidance counselor. I always let them know that if they told me anything that put them or someone else in danger I had to report it. Of course, I usually got a suicide threat once a year, usually right before Thanksgiving or Christmas break. One came to me as I was walking out the door at 4PM before Thanksgiving day. No one was left in the guidance department and the AP was gone. I followed the procedures and got her help. I knew it wasn't anything other than the bleak depressing thought of going home that had caused this. Schools were social institutions, meant to be caring centers of learning.

   Fast forward 20 plus years, same kids with the same problems. Teachers are fixated with their ratings, which are contingent on student test scores. Teachers are rigid again, but certainly not feared or respected. The rigidity is from stress and their own fear. Will this school close down? Will I get tenure? Will I lose my job? This is the business model of education. These are the same things the clerks in retail shops all over the city ask themselves. Each school has its own brand and if the statistics aren't high enough, it will be shut down. What about the students? Well they can go to a different school. No big deal, it's like buying a cheeseburger.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Schools And Bloomberg's Legacy


  As I wander around the Bronx visiting different schools what strikes me most is the lack of cordial relationships between teachers and their students. (Many students are openly disrespectful in a manner that was relatively rare, pre-Bloomberg.) While I'm in many classrooms helping students and teachers, I carefully watch the interactions between students and between teachers and their students. I see approximately 30% of students totally uninvolved and usually on their phones. These are usually the students who need extra support academically and emotionally. Many teachers are forced to tolerate the phones because they simply can't control these students and the phones keep them occupied. It's a pragmatic approach, in that there's virtually no SAVE rooms, detentions, suspensions, and a fear that calling for help will result in the teacher being scrutinized for poor classroom management. This (and the incredible amount of pre and post class digital/paperwork requirements) has resulted in a very detached attitude by many teachers. It's incredibly ironic that Mayor DeBlasio chose two of the very worst directives possible to combat the residue of Bloomberg's policies directed toward students. Long gone are the close relationships and caring about students' well being. Constant threats from students, who don't want to work, and from administrators who want teachers to force these students to do so, have ensured this. Those students are statistics, that can affect the livelihood of the staff and the survival of a school. As we have all been reading lately, many schools seem to be cheating one way or the other - for survival. Perhaps, the old W.C. Fields quote should be imprinted on these schools letterheads, "Anything worth having is worth cheating for". The thing is, I don't believe many of these Bloomberg created schools are worth saving - at least not in their current state.

   Schools have gone from institutions to industries while under Bloomberg's reign. Did he improve the schools? That depends on your definition of success. Educationally, monetarily, humanistically, and ethically - it's been an utter failure. However, those were never Bloomberg's goals. His goals were to divide and conquer. Conquer the union, move the classification of schools from social institutions to industry in the public's subconscious lexicon, and iniate all the requisite business directives to reach those goals. Change the population of targeted large schools, which skewed the stats to validate their closing. Train principals as managers, use the media to propagandize, view students as customers, cut out expensive labor, weaken job protections for that group, bring in inexpensive labor and replace it continually as it becomes more expensive. In those regards, his goals were a resounding success. The added expense of redundancy was a nessesary sacrifice to solidify the dismantling of large schools and their expensive and experienced staffs. There should have been much better leadership at the helm of the UFT in 2005, as none of this would have happened without our approval of the 2005 contract. It was clearly bait when a substantial monetary increase was offered for changes that were incongruent with the institution of teaching at that time.

     Can Mayor DeBlasio turn back the clock and rebuild what was destroyed? I don't know. There was a lot of cash, with strings attached, contributed by various individuals and corporations. These strings may still be controlling the future direction of public schools in NYC. I like our current Mayor and hoped that the positive relationship he seems to have with our union would have started to change things for the better. The goal of education is, was and should always be to educate students. Happy Easter to my Christian friends.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Teachers are an Endangered Species - Facing Extinction by 2030

New teacher, Mr. Dodo, "At least I'm not an ATR."

I just read a blurb from MSN that teaching and teachers may go the way of the dodo bird by 2030. No big surprise - technology, a carefully coordinated campaign and passive unions have all but made it a certainty. Logically schools could also go extinct.

Many, many years ago - long before I had even a twinkling of a future in teaching - I was reading everything I could get my hands on by Isaac Asimov. Thinking about this brought to mind an old story, . The anti-teacher movement needs to consider the road it's paving for future generations.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Will There Be a Buy Out? Let's Hope So.


 Many of my brethren ATRs are languishing and hoping for a life preserver to get out of the ATR pool. Is there one coming? The city has billions in surplus, in part because of the great deal Mulgrew gave DeBlasio. Mulgrew says there's no need for an ATR chapter and rumor has it the current ATR provisions have been extended. There are over 2,000 ATRs, so I'm not sure an extension would be signed prematurely unless there an expectation that this number will drop dramatically (also clarifying Mulgrew's viewpoint that an ATR chapter isn't needed).
I'm apt to believe there will be a buy out and that it will be more attractive than the chicken wish (you'd retire)- bone thrown to us last year.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My 2 Cents

    Someone recently asked me how and what I would do to improve the schools. I would focus my attention on the students that want to learn. Their rights should take priority over those that disrupt the learning environment. (But, we have to educate them all! I know that - send the disruptive students to the charters, let them make their money the old fashioned way - earn it.)

     First, I would rescind the cell phone policy, citywide. It's completely absurd to allow students into classrooms with cell phones. Maybe someone should just sit down with Mayor DeBlasio and explain this fundamental fact to him. Carmen can you do it, please?  Secondly, do away with restorative justice. It's making disruptive students worse and pushing marginal kids to the dark side. Next, I'd cap classes (regular ed, hs) at 25. (The better the school, the larger the classes - the one decent school I've been in during the last two years -hey, it's the Bronx - had close to 40 in a class.) I would also focus on improving schools in the Bronx. The Bronx can be beautiful again - iniate diversity by having great schools. I would also bring back vocational high schools. Our students turn into adults and will need to be able to support themselves - pushing students that have a third grade reading level into college is a disgrace. Next, make all the large campus buildings whole (one school) again. It would streamline decision making, unify students and staff, and bring back school pride - and save a ton of money. Bring back seniority rights, making ATRs teachers again. New teachers should be intensively mentored and supported. I'd also bring back  the basics - cursive writing, learning how to tell time and home economics. Last, but not least, mental illness is rampant and many students need help. Get them help, use the professionals (ATR Social Workers and Guidance Counselors) that are being paid not to work, and teach the staff to recognize the warning signals.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

A Reality TV Star Has Come Home to Roost - As Our Nation's Next President

I want Rosie O'Donnell put under house arrest!

 I've believed since late July that Trump will be president. Many people are incredulous at this prospect. How could a reality TV star become president?! Similar things were said about Regan. People kept showing him with a chimp that was in one of his B movies. If you think about Trump, it makes perfect sense. We are a nation of reality TV enthusiasts. Narcissists that constantly take selfies and one in which (what used to be serious) news programs follow social media trends or the Kardashians. Will Trump be good or bad?
Who knows or cares?! As long as he's entertaining, the nation is satisfied. My question is who will be Vice President? Caitlyn Jenner?

Yes! Of course, Donald! I accept the vice presidency!