Saturday, February 25, 2017

What the UFT Should be Doing

Say hello to your new chancellor!

  Last week I wrote an abbreviated version of my conversation with Niles. He asked me to post the rest.

Niles: Tell me how you think the UFT should be doing things.
Atlas: You know how I feel. It should be democratic and inclusive. What do you think?
Niles: It desperately needs change. If that change means me opting out of paying union dues so be it!
Atlas: How do you think that will help?
Niles: It'll force them to work for the money! A type of artificial competition via economic incentive.
Atlas: You have a point, but you know how cheap teachers are. Many would want something for nothing, especially if someone else is paying. The people paying -
Niles: Like you!
Atlas: Yes, like me, may end up feeling like fools. But I think it would be a disaster. The UFT has to come off its high horse and help everyone paying dues, right now.
Niles: What do you mean?
Atlas: I mean the newbie who's on his fifth year of probation with five different preps, the ATRs that want a permanent position, the targeted teachers, and quality of life issues.
Niles: You mean like cellphones, parking, no cafeterias.
Atlas: Yes. Would that make you reconsider paying dues?
Niles: Yes, it might. But they'll never do it. Look how they just gave the endorsement to deBlasio. They learned nothing from the Hillary endorsement debacle.
Atlas: Endorsing deBlasio is nessesary. He will be the next mayor, in good part because of Randi's endorsement of Hillary over Bernie that put Trump in the White House.
Niles: They should have gotten some concessions - not the bullshit I heard that they forced the hand of the mayor to let Farina retire in June.
Atlas: That is BS. She was retiring anyway.
Niles: What the f-ing UFT should be doing is hand picking the next chancellor.
Atlas: I agree, but remember the UFT loved Farina.
Niles: Mulgrew would have loved Atilla the Hun after twelve years of Bloomberg!
Atlas: True, but the bloom is off the rose with Carmen.
Niles: Is it? Is it really? Let's hope the UFT does something right and help pick the best person for the job.
Atlas: Amen.

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.