Saturday, May 27, 2017

UFT Meteor

   First enjoy your weekend, but remember why we're off on Monday. Many people don't stop and give pause for all those who sacrificed for our ideals. Most teachers I meet seem to truly hate their jobs. Some were actually running to their cars this afternoon. It was like a meteor was about to hit the area and it was a matter of life or death to escape as quickly as possible. I never saw traffic like I did this afternoon - it took me one hour to go four miles. Unfortunately, for most of us, the thought of being off far outweighs the reality. Personally, I had a lot of fun with the kids this week. I had the same classes and was teaching literature. No excerpts, the entire book. I tricked the kids into learning, despite themselves. Old teaching tricks that I learned long ago. It hit me how much I miss teaching. Actually teaching classes, having kids listen and do work felt wonderful. When I teach, I get a feeling of elation that is unlike anything else. That that joy was taken from me, and so many others, for no other reason than we are at the higher end of the pay scale is maddening. The UFT has been more than disappointing, in that it doesn't seem to be willing to support us, even minimally. That it went so far as to agree to put in discriminatory provisions in the last contract (that have since expired) was a profound betrayal. It now openly lies and/or ignores us and tells us how lucky ATRs are to have a job. The truly fortunate group is the UFT. It is lucky that dues are still mandatory. Things may change for all of us. I will continue to support the UFT, despite my anger and disappointment, but I hope that the UFT starts to respect its veteran members. The UFT should carefully consider what it is agreeing to in its representation of us. It hasn't asked for our input. It hasn't informed us or kept us informed. That fact, at the very least, should imply strong representation on the part of the UFT. Let's hope that a darkly imagined meteor doesn't strike ATRs or the UFT.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

(Repost 6/2/16) The Anti-Vocational Education and 'College For All' Ideological Harvest


     Back in the early 1990s, I was enrolled in Lehman College working on my Master's degree. During one of my more interesting classes, I had a professor who became very angry with me when I told her I disagreed with her. She had stated that all vocational high schools in NYC should be closed. She had asserted that vocational schools were racist facilities that were being used to keep minority students out of college. She maintained that all students should be sent to college. I, of course, said that was ridiculous. She asked me how old my son was (3, at the time) and said, "So it's ok for your son to go to college, but not the Black or Latino kid?" I replied if my son had the inclination toward the trades, I wouldn't stop him and that tradespeople can make very high salaries. (There is and was a subtle snobbery with many intellectuals that view skilled labor as a demeaning way to make a living. My son did end up going to a vocational high school. I should mention that this professor was a very attractive, nice Jewish lady.)
    As the years went by, I saw a lot of chipping away at the notion of vocational schools. First, as I've mentioned, from education professors; then from teachers and administrators, and finally from our beloved Mayor Bloomberg. Right after the No Child Left Behind Act, my AP went around to all the CTE teachers in our school and told us we had to get another license. She explained that the increased push to get all students into college and the end of zoned schools would mean the demise of vocational schools. The kids had to take newly required classes and tests. These classes left very little to no time for vocational classes. Most kids in the school were now taking 9 to 10 periods a day with no lunch. (We had to have the parents sign a waiver allowing it.)
    Next came massive amounts of kids being placed in our school with no interest in vocational classes. These kids used to go to their zoned schools, (and we used to send the ones that showed no aptitude to those schools). These students were now destroying every CTE class. The final nail in the coffin was of course, the completely diabolical 2005 contract. It allowed failing schools to be closed down and the veteran staffs to be turned into babysitters. Vocational schools were sent high need students and the resulting falling stats used as evidence for their closing.
    Now all students are being sent to college, regardless of academic readiness. (The Regent exams were supposed to ensure this.) Many former public school students can not pass an introductory class. Some spend all their financial aid on remedial classes. They then go into the world with no skills and no degree.
    I was recently at a play at SUNY Purchase. During intermission, I started talking with a semi-retired lady that seemed very familiar. She was telling me horror stories of the students she was teaching in a community college, as a adjunct English professor. "They're all so entitled! They expect me to spoon feed everything to them. They have no social skills, no vocabulary and can't write. Why don't they go out and learn a trade?!" Yes, you guessed it - my former professor from Lehman. I reminded her of our former conversation so many years before  - which had left a lasting impression on me, but none at all on her. She eventually did however, admit that she did feel that way once upon a time - but had been wrong. The crop of anti-vocational education and "college for all" ideologies, sown so long ago, is now being harvested by the very same people and institutions that planted it.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


   There seems to be a deep divide between the ideals and personalities of pre and post Bloomberg schools. The person I always came into contact with first was the principal. Most of the principals I worked with, as a permanently appointed teacher, were excellent school leaders. They were highly visable, with an open door policy. They saw their positions as leading their staffs in the facilitation of teaching. Their APs were there to directly help teachers do that. We were one team working together to help students. Rarely did I see a bad teacher; if there was one, direct intervention was implemented to help the teacher get up to par. New teachers were mentored and teamed with veteran teachers. Rarely did I see a teacher fail to achieve tenure. I did see several APs fail to make tenure because they alienated staff and/or students. This type of individual was not welcomed into our school community. Several went out into the business world. Our environment was a close working relationship between students, teachers, guidance counselors, paras, aides, APs, the principal and even the custodians. We respected one another and oft times became close friends. There were always the dynamics of gossip and negativity that is apparent wherever you have groups of people working together, but in most schools I worked, it was minimal. If an overzealous AP or an overreaching principal directive was issued the chapter leader filed a grievance immediately. We had deans and suspensions, when a student's actions warranted it. We always had oversized classes and were told to grieve it within three days and it was ALWAYS rectified. We usually had our own room. We were always asked by administration to teach six classes and were always told not to by the chapter leader, as this was seen as taking a job away from a prospective teacher or creating the need to excess one. We spent most of every June going to retirement parties and we celebrated births and weddings. Many departments went out every Friday night for dinner. I also went to my fair share of wakes and funerals for former teachers. Many teachers after retirement would come back frequently to visit or sub. We had a large staff lounge, a teacher cafeteria and parking. The students graduated and went on to work or college. Most lived nearby and would also frequently stay in touch. All and all, it was a fulfilling career where most of us were content. Only the expert teachers - the best of the best - would become APs and then if they excelled, on to become principals. These principals were respected and in many cases loved, (yes, it's true).
    The past few years as an ATR I haven't really met too many principals. The few I've come across seem to be overwhelmed, as do most of the teachers. There's no real cohesiveness or much happiness.  There's no teacher's cafeteria, very little space for collaboration and people don't want to answer back to a 'good morning'. No one stays too long in one school without leaving or the school closing. There are no checks and balances in place for anyone, but the teacher. There seems to be a prevailing aura of dread. Dread for the next observation, dread for the next class and dread for the next day. I heard a quote by Demetri Martin on swimming that made me think of my past and present experiences with teaching  - 'Swimming is a confusing sport, because sometimes you do it for fun, and other times you do it to not die. And when I'm swimming, sometimes I'm not sure which one it is.'