Saturday, December 31, 2016

Happy New Year's

    The end of another calendar year. Not really a big deal for a seasoned member of that strange and endangered tribe called Teachers. Our year ends on or about June 28th and our New Year's Eve is Labor Day. That said I drove down to the Bronx today. I walked around, enjoyed the sunshine and visited some of the places of my youth. I try not to worry about the things I have no control over - which is almost everything. I don't really watch much TV or read much of anything but random stories that seem to come to me out of nowhere. (Today I came across the name U Dhammaloka . Fascinating story of a man that is still revered in Burma and that history tried to erase, that I knew nothing about.) I often see articles that seem to have no relevance to me, this time period or place. Of course everything and everyone is connected. Seeing that connection and becoming attuned to it is what has happened to me over the past few years. I think deeply about connections that don't seem to go together. Try it. Meditate. Talk to the kid that projects all that anger towards you. I throughly enjoy the art of conversation. It is a dying art. People are becoming more self centered, introverted and losing much of what it means to be human. Today I watched a brief snippet  on a gorilla, Koko, that was raised by humans and taught sign language. Koko sentences were brief, beautiful and innocent. Koko seems more human than many people I come across. I don't say that as an insult to people or a compliment for Koko. We have no control over what the future may hold, but like Dhammaloka or even Koko, we can control how we act and react to it. Happy New Year's.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Art, Sanity and the Bronx

Joyce Kilmer Park 

   This may surprise many of you, but after being rotated all over the Bronx, I've discovered many unusual and beautiful places. Parking is almost always a tremendous problem so I'm usually parked a mile or two from wherever I've been placed. The exercise clears my head in the mornings and afternoons. I can walk very quickly and cover a good distance. Last month, we had some brutally cold days that I wasn't dressed for. (As an ATR, I'm forced by practicality to travel lightly - there's no place to safely leave my belongings and I have to lug them everywhere.) I found myself parked on the Grand Concourse, the great vista of my youth. (Modeled after the Champs de Elysees, it was incredibly beautiful when I was young. It took a nosedive in the 1970s, but I'm happy to say it's returning to its former glory.) The wind was fierce and when I could no longer feel my nose or feet, I found myself in front of The Bronx Museum of the Arts. Free admission everyday, so I went right in. I wandered around and found myself in a stark room, lined with chairs, on which directly opposite me a film was playing on a white wall. There was no soundtrack, only natural sounds accompanying a film of the world outside the artists' window. The Cuban artist, Quesqueya Henriquez, lives in Santo Domingo and I became mesmerized.  As I was warming up, I actually felt I was there in the Dominican Republic. It was very meditative, and all I could do to break away and drive home. I returned twice during the week. The film is on a loop that lasts about 45 minutes. I usually viewed about ten minutes each visit. I must say it's the best contemporary art film I have ever experienced. The walk and the meditative aspects of the art refreshed me greatly. It had me thinking about the benefits of exercise, meditation and art for students and teachers. I believe it could benefit us all. Try to make the best of whatever circumstances you find yourself in. There can be beauty and peace wherever you go. Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Indicators and Schools

   Lately, I've been hearing about some horrible schools. Not really the schools precisely, but the administration of these schools. Can administration cause an entire school to fail or succeed? I would have to say, yes. Before Bloomberg's regime there were checks and balances in place - UFT consulation meetings, experienced principals and staffs, teacher cafeterias/ lounges and cohesive one building school entities with a shared focus. All that is gone. Each school is now its own fiefdom with their individual kings and queens ruling benignly or maliciously. When I was a kid and a big fan of the newly rediscovered Alexander Hamilton, I was shocked that his preferred form of government was a monarchy. I suppose he's not the only one who believes in them.

  After being in well over fifty schools, I can quickly tell the good from the bad. One of the first indicators is the name. There is an inverse relationship between the length and complexity of the name of a school and it's true nature. If it has one or more long syllabled adjectives, you know you're in trouble (i.e. The Extraordinary High School of Excellence for the Examination of Elipitical Exercise). Another indication is the civility of the staff. If no one answers (or even acknowledges your presence) or makes eye contact, you can bet the staff is pretty much demoralized. Teacher absenteeism is another big clue. I've been in schools where 60% of the staff was absent on any given Monday and Friday. Another clue is seeing a half dozen or more pregnant teachers, not all of them women. (I'm joking of course, some of them may have been hysterical pregnancies brought on by gas, stress and despair.) Another H-U-G-E indicator is students with cell phones.
     Since the cellphone ban was lifted by Mayor deBlasio, I've seen a marked decline in the discipline level of many schools where the phones haven't been reigned in. Teachers there are unable to teach and students are unable to learn. I've been to only one such school this year  - last year it was seven out of my nine schools. The schools that allow them have severe observable behavioral problems. If I was a media, UFT or DOE statistician I could correlate phone use to bad behavior - but that would be a flawed assumption. It's partially correct, but incomplete. You see the phone use isn't the only or most important correlation I see - it's the fact that many schools don't collect those phones at the door. What does it say about the administration of that particular school? What does it say about the administration's attitude toward the students and staff? At best it's indifference, at worst incompetence. There's the correlation. If they don't care about cell phone use in school, what else don't they care about? Usually it's discipline, bullying, teacher contractual rights, and basic civility. If the UFT and DOE want to quickly ascertain which schools have a baseline indicator of competence, just walk in the front door. Then again does anyone really care? Other than fools, like me, who care about kids?

Extraordinary HS of Excellence for the Examination of Elipitical Exercise mascot 

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The UFT is Correct to Endorse deBlasio

   This may surprise many of you but I believe Mulgrew is correct in leaning towards an early endorsement of deBlasio. It's a situation we have been backed into because of Randi Weingarten's early endorsement of Hillary, which precipitated the loss of Bernie in the primary and which catapulted Trump into the White House. We now have a Republican President elect, Republican controlled House of Representatives, Senate, Charter school Education Secretary, anti -worker Secretary of Labor and anti-union tie breaking Supreme Court judge to look forward to. People don't seem to understand what's coming down the pike - the severe curtailment of public education, massive layoffs of public sector employees through privatization, as well the end of unions.

     Some may say we should play a wait and see because he may be indicted. DeBlasio will not be indicted - he was just fined. A carefully orchestrated fine in order to get him flustered and combative in front of the media. Get him to do or say something which will call his support into question. Have things been great for teachers under deBlasio? No, they have been much worse than when Bloomberg was mayor. Actually, you wouldn't know Bloomberg left. All the same people ruining the schools, massive gotcha schemes, no discipline, inexperienced teachers in the classroom and experienced ones treated like pariahs. Lets not forget the "raise" and health care costs. All of this because Mulgrew saw a sympathetic face in Bill and Carmen. Bill's job was to ask for the moon and Mike's job was to negotiate it back down to Earth. Mike was in a enviable position of strength for those negotiations, but he just handed Bill everything that he asked for. Do I blame deBlasio for that? No, that falls on Mulgrew.

    Many are saying, myself included, that we should get a consensus and negotiate terms for this early endorsement. I agree, but this negotiation is from a position of weakness. Bill doesn't need our endorsement - most of  us (75%) live outside the city. Now when we're backed into a corner, the UFT will attempt negotiations? It's worth a try.

  The real problem with the AFT/UFT is with Randi Weingarten and her dictatorial leadership style, of which Michael Mulgrew is part and parcel of.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Andy Puzder Will Hunt the Middle Class into Extinction

The Middle Class is Next

      If you feel a little depressed this holiday season, you aren't alone. I know there are many that are scared and miserable over the recent election, and you need to prepare yourselves for a fight. We are not alone in facing uncertainty. Many professionals are facing displacement because of a variety of causes - technology, out-sourcing, and foreign competition. Technology will have a devastating effect on the American worker (and there should be a national job retraining iniative to counteract it). Not many occupations will be left unscathed. The American worker and our rights as workers, union members and human beings should be protected and respected, especially as the future looks so troubling. Unions, minimum wage, unemployment insurance, and overtime pay are all things many of us take for granted. This is at the heart of the middle class. The same heart that was won by Trump and is now being staked as if it was Dracula's.
     The person Trump has picked for Secretary of Labor, Andy Puzder, doesn't take our rights for granted - he doesn't believe in any of them. He's a fast food tycoon. He will help run our country the same way leadership academy principals have run and ruined our schools. The infamous business model at work again. I believe he is a much more troubling and dangerous choice, for our respective ruination, than DeVos. DeVos at least seems to want students to succeed - Puzder wants us replaced with robots and slave labor.