Monday, December 17, 2012

I hear a train a' comin'...

It has been a while since I have written and there are a number of reasons for that but none that need articulation.  It feels awkward to be writing about these education issues after this week's horror story from Newtown.  Teachers in that school have set a high bar for dedication and responsibility and we as teachers need to honor them and this profession.  Thus, it is difficult to listen to the words of Bloomberg when, earlier last week, he urged that the DOE and the City and State put the "teacher's feet to the fire" in regards to the upcoming teacher evaluation formula..  What is this? Sign off on the evaluation or die?  Is this how one in his position starts dealing with his constituents, with the members of an honest profession?  He wouldn't say that to NYPD or FDNY.  But now, after the horrors of Connecticut, maybe the public will not appear to be so supportive of the off-handed demonization and vilification of teachers.
Our issue here is that our union, the UFT, is not fulfilling its purpose.  It has become sclerotic and intent on preserving its own limited power at the expense of true representation of the rank and file.  Here we are as teachers;  facing a new, questionable at best, evaluation system that will have far reaching effect on all teachers.  And what do we get from our union? Did our union send e-mails out to it's members informing them of this impending process? NO! Are we asked by our chapter leaders to select representatives to have district meetings to examine and discuss this very important issue? NO. Are we given a detailed and critical examination of this evaluation process to discuss among members? NO!   Why are we being kept in the dark? If it were not for the education bloggers, activists and organizations like MORE and ICE, the rank and file would have no idea of what is actually going on. Go ahead, ask a teacher in your school about the evaluation issue and the $ in Albany tied to it and you will get a shrug and "huh" at least 75% of the time.
One would think that a union and especially a teacher's union would be a progressive and transparent voice for the rank and file in education.  You have an educated membership that is in fact paid to be a thinking person. Why would the union and by that I mean the Unity caucus make every effort to keep it membership in the dark about the truth behind the evaluation process. Why won't they allow the union membership to vote on such an important issue?  I do not want nor do I trust the Delegate Assembly to voice my concern over this process of evaluation that has been discredited as "junk science".
The one good thing that has resulted of my being on the excessed list this past summer is that it made me take a look at my union. Once I saw how it failed in its charge of representing it's members (those who are still in the ATR/ACR), it has made me critical of the union mission and leadership.  It is one step of many in self-education and I recommend it to anyone in the teaching profession.  It is time to have one's voice heard; it is time to stand up for a change; it is a time a union leadership that has not empowered and insulated itself from the rank and file - I need and want a voice in a democratic union.
To all union teachers: there is a train-a-comin'...

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Getting Schooled

Ok Ok, so let's start from the beginning...
We are in an emergency mode.  Contracts issues are here...bogus evaluations are on the table and why are so many teachers unaware of what is going on?
Part 2 - after the commercial break.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Message to ATR/ACR Members

I suspect I will be excessed next year or my school will close down - either way
I will need a new vocation. I guess it will not be animation. Anyway, this is a message for all members of the ATR. The accounts I have been reading make me quite thankful about getting rehired this year. There is a contract to be negotiated and hopefully the attention of the rank and file can be drawn to the issues that will soon be at our doorsteps.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Late Night w Barack #2

More of Barack...meeting Simon Letgo at the Late Night Studio
Let's listen in...

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Dilemma of Our Own

In the old b/w 1930's Frankenstein movie with Boris Karloff as Frankenstein there is a scene in which Frank, already activated, is wandering the countryside.  At one point in his travels he comes upon an old blind man who plays the violin in his quiet little cottage.  When Frank is attracted by the music wafting through the window, the blind man, who is terribly alone, hears a rustling outdoors.  He calls out, "friend, friend?"   This somehow seems to resonant with me as I look at the post-election landscape.
Okay, so Barack is elected and really, it is so much better than waking up to find R/R and the WMZG heading to the Whiter House.  But now we need to be a little more clear-headed and put the real issues surrounding public education  into the forefront of discussion.  The assault on public schools in the name of the Rhee-form movement has by no means diminished.  Oh, if R/R had won then the issues of unionization, evaluation, merit pay, charter schools and the on-going teacher demonizing would have been clearly on the table.  But with Barack in charge we need to step back and really examine the policies being promoted.  We want to believe that the Democratic Party and the UFT/AFT share the commitment to the ideas and principles that support the teachers in their day-to-day engagement with the country's most valuable resource.  I think most of the teachers were in agreement with the union endorsement; most; but not all.  I mean on the surface, it looks like support and perhaps, for most members, that appearance is sufficient.  However, if you have reason to call upon your trusted union for a policy issue  like the status of ATR members, then you would begin to see that "all is not what it appears to be" at home. Is the same true for the White House, even with a Democratic president? Well, with Arne Duncan we are getting the same wrong-headed policies and it is not easy convincing non-teachers what is wrong with the RTTT.
 If the issues at hand were as clear as you would find in some other unions, I imagine productivity on an assembly line or the evaluation of the end product would all be pretty much clear-cut.  A widget is a widget is a widget. But teachers and the teacher's union are totally different.  I can't think of another endeavor where the dictum "the means is the end" is more appropriate.  Complicate this a little further: consider that the developmental trajectory of twelve-year old kids is somewhat universal though the expression of that development is individually moderated by the influencing culture. This is the teacher's "assembly line" and these are the "widgets".  The anti-union sentiment is loud once you step out of the teachers' blogosphere.   And this is no big surprise.  How many people outside of the teachers union would really understand the implications of such as simple a poster as seen during the Chicago Strike --" your child's school environment is our working environment".   Does Arne Duncan even understand this simple message?  If you deprive a struggling school of funds as some form of punishment, and design a system that self-destructs it kind of becomes apparent that an agenda is at work.  When the people who are most directly involved in the education of children are left out of the policy and direction of PUBLIC education then again, an agenda is at work.  When the terms and source of systemic failure is made into a political issue, the vilification of the weaker is on page two of the agenda.  Friend, friend?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Friday, November 2, 2012

Tech, tock, tech, tock

Lately, there have been a growing number of articles on the role of technology in the classroom and many seem to pose the question whether today's students are wired differently and/or can you possibly reach digital natives with obsolete tools?   By obsolete tools I mean textbooks, and I  am really not trying to start an argument.  I am, personally, a bibliophile but I teach a computer class to 6th and 7th graders, and I can see what engages them and how they interact with the given tool of their time (think Kubrick's 2001).  The shift has already begun and much the way the printed word replaced pictorial representation as the vehicle to transmit knowledge, so will the digital world's entertainment arm be equipped to be the repository/dispenser of knowledge.  When I send my students to a site that displays a virtual animal cell, I find their engagement self-propelled, their learning self-directed, and their wonder genuine.  That is not to say that they can just be pointed to a site and let the site do the work.  Hey, ya still gotta teach.  But I am pretty sure that if you have one table of kids fulfilling an assignment, each reading separately from a textbook (the tool provided)  and another table with a computer (tool provided) displaying the subject of study in a 'virtual environment', the ohhs and ahhs coming from table two should make you at least take notice.  This is the world we are in and you cannot turn back the clock on technology.  The only real option is to use it and to use it smartly.  Don't you think the day of the poster-board display of the Harlem Renaissance is a bit dated, especially when your students know you can create a Glog and you can design a multimedia poster of the historical period including soundtracks, videos, interviews and so on.  These are the tools of the project. But you cannot stop there, as much as your students may like you to.  It's only the beginning since you want your students to not only THINK about  what they read, but also what they heard and saw.  This opens the door to learners who are not strong readers.  I personally make the students write about the influence of the Harlem Renaissance on the Civil Rights Movement. But the options are plentiful if we only take the time to find the free resources and make them  relevant to the students' interest, and connected to the school's curriculum.  Do the students learn any more about the Harlem Renaissance by  researching and listening to the music of the period than by reading about the music? Do they get to "feel the culture" by watching videos of the famed Cotton Club instead of reading about it? I contend that they do, and I don't think I need a "study" to verify.  Yet (to digress a moment),  I am explicitly told not to ever let the students listen to music...ever. Do not use the built-in features of our school's new computers --no camera, no recording, and again, no music! Brilliant I say, what a decree worthy of the Taliban. I don't believe I even have to address how inane that decree is. I think that if we keep in mind that the new technology is a tool and not a substitute for actual instruction, then the focus on the role of technology in the classroom remains clear. And who do you think is the caveman now?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

El Bronx

The New Bronx Beach
Vacation in the Bx. Tropics

Fun with Photoshop. Teachers report to your empty school tomorrow and please bring your own mop. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Desolation Crossroads

 Desolation crossroads, yeah, that's the expression I have come up with as I look at this presidential battleground.  The current attacks on teachers and the teachers' union are muddled with duplicity, obfuscation and false representation. On the national stage we, as teachers and union members, need to thread the needle here and really, "strait is the gate".  What do I mean?  The R/R ticket professes to love teachers and of course, this makes us all laugh because we know that they would really love us to death.   Hey, remember the '60's when Nobody For President had the rally with Wavy Gravy at the UN Plaza? Ah, the good old days.  Ya know some of us even considered voting for George Wallace with the hope that it would revolutionize by extreme. But I digress. So, here we are, still free to choose between O and the Green Party or you can take your pick of pointless choices. The problem with O is Arne Duncan is calling the plays on the court and the only people who can touch the ball are those on his team. Is this new?  No, it just happens to go along with the usual trajectory of power and for some reason, I guess we all kind of expected that this roadmap would have changed.  But not.  The RTTT is riddled with dubious distinctions and claims and is, again, typical of top-down solution thinking that policy makers seem to embrace.  In any case, for those of us in the classroom who see this as an end-run to privatize, the hope was with the true representation from our union. Surely, an educational policy designed with input from, oh, let's see, maybe some teachers would lend some credibility to the output. Surely, our union, our teacher's union for public education would see the Broad virus of privatization insinuating itself into the effort of school deform. So, what do we get? An endorsement without qualification and barely a mention of the media assault on our very existence.  Teachers with hard-earned tenure, who can withstand real evaluation and who understand that they are on a mission (see Blues Brothers) are going to find that they are standing alone at those crossroads and neither way will get them to their goal. We kind of thought that someone had our back, that we as unionized teachers had the backing of the D party but that has not quite worked out. And that is why our backs are now against the wall. Well, I guess we gonna have to make a new road; here we go again.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Mark Twain and the Dirt Eater.

Interesting yet bewildering; this idea of letting the DOE take over the certification of aspiring teachers.  Especially bewildering is the notion that placing a new college graduate with an experienced teacher in a "thriving" school would somehow provide the framework and support for that newbie to take over a class in one of our famous hard-to-staff schools.  Let's get this straight from the git-go.  I do believe that the best preparation for a teacher contemplating a career teaching in NYC is not only a degree in education but also the essential fieldwork that introduces the novice to the daily reality of the teaching profession.  When I returned to school and enrolled in a graduate program in education, part of our assignment was to do the required fieldwork in a school of their selection.  The fieldwork is the first step into a classroom - where you, as teacher, are finally facing the class and not the other way around. I was sent to a number of  schools but I want to focus on two experiences that relate to the subject of this post.
The first school I was assigned  to was a 5th grade class in an elementary school on the Upper West Side which is, by all accounts, a great school.  Great staff, facilities, parental involvement, money, and a student body that valued education.  I can recall being asked to do a read-aloud of a Mark Twain story. Having some experience on stage, I gave it my all with animated gestures, character voices and audience engagement.  The kids loved it, even applauding the performance - my mentor congratulated me on my efforts and gave me suggestions for the lesson follow-up. What I was expected to gain from this experience was to know how and when I was "on my game" as a teacher.  What did student engagement actually look like?  What did it sound like?  All of this out of the learning room of the graduate school into the teaching room of the public school.  Wow, I thought, this is going to be great; here are the budding minds, eager to learn, eager to show off what they already know, respectful, knowledgeable and wanting to know more.  So, this is what teaching is like and this is a teacher's classroom.
The other school I wanted to mention is located in East Harlem.  Not a difficult school by any means; nice modern building, helpful staff and just elementary school kids being kids. I was assigned to a lower grade - maybe 2nd or 3rd with a teacher who used "Shhhhhhhush" after every other word.  This was the first indicator that perhaps I have chosen the wrong second career.  My engagement with children so young was ineffectual and frustrating (thus my stint as a Middle School teacher).  However, I did learn an important lesson from one child and it is a lesson I always keep in the back of my mind.  Due to some malfeasance on part of the student, I was instructed to deprive said student of a privilege held dear.  As I was trying to explain my action to said student I was met with an impenetrable and defying stare that accompanied the words " I don't care.  I can eat dirt".  Clearly, the deprivation tactic to change behavior was not going to work here.  Wow, I thought, this is NOT going to be great; this is not as easy a being an animated reader to a group of inquiring minds.  Where is the desire to learn?  How can I get to make these children care?  Two starkly contrasting experiences of the daily reality of teaching in an urban public school.

So how does this fit in with the topic of the post?  Needless to say, I am basically against the DOE taking over certification but I am aiming at what I see as a misguided strategy for preparing any teacher to take over a classroom.  You cannot teach unless you can manage and you cannot learn classroom management out of a book; it helps and give you some tools to work with but you will only get it in the classroom itself.  Design for a teacher preparation program for an urban public school must place primary importance on classroom management and, in most cases, lack of management is not a big issue in a "thriving school".  The idea that you would mentor a teacher in a thriving school as preparation for that teacher to take the helm in a struggling school is to miss the mark, big time. We know that there is more learning than teaching in a teacher's first years on the job and the steepest learning curve to navigate is classroom management.  This is why it would make so much more sense to place a last year graduate student into a "managed classroom" in a hard to staff school in order to hone their skills in this critical area. To succeed in the trenches you need to learn in the trenches.  All this would seem quite self-evident to any teacher already in the system, so I am not offering any revolutionary ideas and, in fact, this "mentoring issue" is subsumed in the larger picture of the DOE efforts to drive experienced tenured teachers out of the building.  As I consider the bigger picture and how this "bogus route to certification" is being contemplated, I am tempted to suggest that their "mentoring' idea is valid with the idea that if implemented it is doomed to failure - another disaster policy brought to you by the DOE.  The only drawback is that another class of students will fall by the wayside as the DOE clumsily grasps for more power with their oversized hands.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Evaluate this!

If you are following the ATR blogs and such you know about the recent suggestion that the evaluation of the ATR's be based on the field observer's assessment of how well you manage a classroom.  How, really, HOW can anyone who has any teaching experience think that an appropriate measure of an ATR value as a teacher, their profession,  is to be in the arena of substitute classroom management.  The reasons one can come up with against this ridiculous suggestion are too numerous to mention.  However, it would have taken some creativity and coordination to actually come up with a true overall evaluation system; one that includes how well the entire ATR system has been implemented; what good has it done any school, excessed teacher or over crowded classroom.  Until we do that I don't see why we don't just use the evaluation system I just put together.

How to Evaluate a Member of the ATR

Said member of ATR still desires to work as a teacher in the NYC system despite being disrespected, devalued and demeaned...............................................................................10 Points

Said member of ATR arrives every school day prepared to step into a classroom that they know
nothing about and do the best they can..........................................................10 Points

Said member of the ATR has adapted their gastro-intestinal clock to a daily schedule that may have lunch at 10:30am or 11:15 am or 12:00 pm............................................................... 10 points

Said member of ATR has managed to survive the assault on their career and continue to believe that they have made the right career choice when they decided to teach........ ..............10 points

Said member of the ATR has cultivated a Zen like stillness that comes in handy as one sits on a pointless chair in a pointless room staring, always staring...............................................20 points

Said member of the ATR has developed the dexterity, reflexes and increased peripheral vision to combat the daily assault of UFO's during lunchroom duty...........................................10 points

Said member of the ATR has remained real and vocal despite the growing efforts to make them ghostly apparitions that  have no substance................................................................10 points

Said member of the ATR  has decided not to tutor, teach at a charter, work as a tour guide, nor start a career as a stand-up comedian instead of being a member of the ATR............10 points

Said member of the ATR insists that the UFT stand up for their rights and that representation not be denied the dues paying members...............................................................................10 points

The ATR is a good thing in that we are not in Washington DC.  The ATR is also a public relations nightmare and the sooner the DOE and the UFT come to realize that they can benefit the schools and children of NYC by utilizing the teaching resources we already have and that are being paid for the better off everyone will be. This "evaluation" is a poor effort to justify an unjust system by making believe that it has a solid educational framework as its base when it is nothing but a scythe to cut down tenured teachers. We are, after all, educators are we not?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Accordion Lessons

In the ongoing conversation about education we often hear of the necessity of teamwork in tackling the multifaceted problem facing our public schools today.  Teamwork...nice word.  And it is most often through playing sports that we learn the meaning of the word. I played Little League baseball, Pop Warner football, and baseball and football in high school where I tore up my knee playing the first football game of the season and then later, I had to leave the baseball team because I got caught smoking a cigarette on the field (after reading Last Exit...). In the end however, I did learn about teamwork from playing ball.  Another arena where teamwork is played out is music. From an orchestra to a jazz trio, teamwork is the only means of achieving the desired end. In my own case, I was a member of the much maligned but also feared army of ten-year old accordionists known as the Polka Devils being pumped out of the esteemed Palumbo Academy of Music in the Bronx. We were being primed to audition for Ted Mack's "Amateur Hour" or (my preference), shaping up for a stint in Venice;  I saw myself, propped in a gondola offering renditions of O Sole Mio to all.  In any case, my point is that the inherent value of teamwork is often truly revealed only to those on the team, so to speak. How that team fares on the field or on stage is determined by many factors, but the simple experience of being on the field or on the stage with the others, that shared event whether you win or lose, is a valuable character building experience. And it is always part of the manager's skill to assess the players' abilities - to weigh their strengths and areas of needed improvement in order to piece together a unified entity that is established for a specific purpose and for a specified period of time.
And there are many parts to a team and each is important to the composition of the whole. True for the baseball team, true for the Polka Devils and certainly true for our schools.  Wouldn't you think that it would take a team to make something like a school succeed?  This can't be done alone or by teammates at odds with one another.  It is here that the structural integrity of the idea holds and guides the team through the contest or path to accomplishment.  With schools, the integrity of the idea is that all the participants -- and that means teachers, administrators, parents and students -- are accountable because being a player means participating in the decisions that affect your future. With all this comes responsibility, and in this case, responsibility for a school that is struggling.  But somehow, as of late, the responsibility, the sole responsibility for failing schools, has fallen on the shoulders of the teacher in the classroom.  Not on the administrators who for some reason are not evaluated by either the teachers in the school (if you're thinking SQR, think again) or the parents in the community.  And as far as the parents go, I wouldn't be the first to call for evaluations, but who am I to judge?  We must call for and support any parental involvement we can get.  To do otherwise is to betray the integrity of the idea that the team can withstand flaws and still move forward. As far as instilling a feeling of teamwork in our students; well, it is very difficult to do this without the glue of shared experience. Just being in the same classroom without engaging in "teamwork" experience does not leave the indelible stamp of being on a team; of being an integral part of or a member of something bigger than oneself. Schools are woefully ill-equipped to provide the environment where teamwork can flourish, and our students bear the consequences.  And they endure these consequences year after year that the Arts and Sports program are reduced or cut from the budget and positive changes are not implemented.  You can't just say the teachers are shirking responsibility when in fact, teachers are only part of the larger team effort.  Yet we are the ones who are graded, evaluated, threatened, accused and excessed.  Teamwork...yeah, it's a nice word.
 Answers are organic.  They grow up from the ground and unless it is for the prayed-for rain, the answers don't come from above. Now here I am; standing in the doorway of my classroom wondering where all my teammates have gone.   A month in and still no school assembly, it's bulletin board update or die time, warnings of upcoming observations are circulated along with murmurs of a school closing.  As for the rest of the team, let me provide an anecdote to make a point.  A call goes out to a  parent that their little angel brought a gun to school; the parent's response: "What caliber?"  So, are we waiting for this parent to come into school or is this just a perverse play on the "parent trigger"?  Will it take a team to turn around a school? Yes, it will, but right now we don't have the uniforms. And more importantly, we don't have the vision.

Here is a shout out we can all hear -- and maybe this is what having a vision looks like.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Teacher v.Teacher

It seems that  the old adage that knowledge is power may still have some play.  Or at least we can say that the more you know about your situation the better off you are.  Let me be specific.  I have linked to two very informative and well written pieces that all of us in this education battle would do well to read.

The first link is to a letter written by a principal to is nothing that you would expect.
Principal's letter - YOU GOTTA READ THIS

The other piece I read was about teachers and again, please take a moment.the teacher speaks.

Simon Letgo Lives!
Sometimes we can find relief? or consolation? or camaraderie when we learn that so many teachers are experiencing that same situation - it is as though we are all in the same fight.  Hey, guess what?  We are!  I read, in the various teacher blogs, how some of our brother and sister teachers fail to recognize that those ATR people sitting in the lounge alone and ignored, are your colleagues. It doesn't take but a minor decision by a minor functionary to have your career go up in smoke.  You really have no control over what will happen to you and your career as a public school teacher because if you thought that tenure was your security ticket, you need to heed the serious wake-up call that many of us have heard. Look, once you are excessed, it's like, oh, I dunno, one of those experiences that after which you are never the same, perhaps like getting ...what? (and you will always remember your first).

 I personally think that every teacher in the union should think of themselves as on the edge - let's make it the serrated edge-of the blade and that the ATR fight for representation, transparency and fairness is a fight that must engage us all. However, I must confess, that as I sat with my ATR friend in the closet we now have as a lounge for the PUBLIC SCHOOL teachers, I was annoyed when a few CHARTER people moseyed their way into the lounge to use their cell phones.  They ARE teachers, right? We all have that in common, right? Then why did I get that same itchy skin and evil thoughts as when I am surrounded by people with Romney/Ryan buttons. I guess I am suspicious.  When Charter first invaded our school building I recall that the administrators thought it would be a good idea to have a crummy, certified DOE luncheon to meet and greet the marauding hordes. Now, that went over like West Side Story's "Dance in the Gym". We just happen to co-exist in the same building and there is an inherent resentment built into the relationship: we eat lunch at 10:30 am,  they can dine at noon; we have to share classrooms; they get a yoga studio;  we get a 75% IEP population and they can pick and choose who opens their classroom door. We are two sides of some coin - and these two sides will never meet and I don't know if that is because there are philosophical, political, or simply economic reasons for the two camps.  Don't get me wrong...I wouldn't trade my South Bronx kids for a Greenwich, Ct. middle school ever, and it is every urban school teacher's mission to help these kids to care about their future and have a will to succeed. But when we take a careful look at the school we cannot but see the discrepancy in funding, opportunities, school environment and parental involvement and that discrepancy is by design and for a purpose--and we, unionized, public school teachers are in the cross hairs.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sneakers on a Wire

"My, my, aren't we special" as the SNL's Church Lady used to say. I mean so much press and all the talk shows and specials on Education in America.  We had Education Nation, Dropout Nation and Won't Back Down Nation.  I guess there is some general public interest in the future of our national treasures, and I suspect that with this widening of the circle, we will have more and more people weighing in on these matters that concern us (teachers) directly.  We are certainly hearing from those looking to promote their agendas for the wholesale improvement or solution to  those very issues that seem to bedevil us poor teachers (never needs ironing, never need ironing...Tom Waits).   I guess the producers didn't know that the area code to Chicago is 312. I mean here they were, supposedly, to discuss the big picture in education; and the big picture was marching loud and clear in Chicago and it could not have been bigger and it could not be more relevant to the discussion. Nearly every issue, which I need not repeat, should have been addressed, and perhaps the teachers who stood up to the privatization enterprise should have their say as to why a teacher would strike. But, that's entertainment.

If you have read any of my posts you know I am not a policy person when it come to problem solving.  I don't think that the solution to local problems rests in the hands of policy makers, miles away from where the rubber hits the road. And I feel that much of teaching is a form of  problem solving in the most visceral of ways. I use the word problem without any negative connotation but rather as a complex energy source with a simmering density and a trajectory of impending resolution.  In short: a student.  A student as a problem is a person on the cusp of change and evolution and hopefully a disentanglement  towards a genuine resolution.  And when you teach in an urban middle school there are a lot of problems careening down the hallway.  The range and disparity of middle school students is the widest of any school-age group.  The elementary age kids are like random molecules all pretty much under four feet tall. When you hit high school, you are already shaving either your face or under your arms, and you are who you are for better or worse. But middle school, ooh, baby, this is in your face evolution.  I have watched sixth graders come in like little munchkins and stroll out with tattoos on their chests.  The sixth grade boys are often smothered by the eight grade girls greeting them in the hallway, if you know what I mean.  It is a period of drastic physical, social and emotional changes and if you think those changes are tough in a stable home environment, try running those changes if you are also homeless or abused or in such an environment that you are doing all you can just to survive another day.  So, when I say that teaching is a form of problem solving, I am only stating the obvious to any other teacher - we look to the whole child and not to their pre-test assessment, test and post test reflection on the pre-test assessment and how well it predicted the outcome of the test...ya know what I mean.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dumping Grounds

What a couple of weeks, right?  The strike in Chicago has brought the issue of education to the front page, as  well it should be.  Most of the coverage seemed to address both the specific issues propelling the Chicago teachers as well as the larger picture (privatization), of which we are all fully aware.  Many of the education bloggers have given pointed assessments of the strike and made useful comparisons of the teaching conditions between Chicago and New York. All this action in the arena has been illuminating and helps in understanding how policy plays out in the ongoing battle.

This past week I resembled, for a moment, an open-mouth trout when I learned that my school, which I thought was comprised of a student population of roughly 30% IEP students, instead is expected to educate a population where nearly 75% have IEPs. So, the school has effectively become a dumping ground for struggling students. We all love a challenge but, hey, at least give us a fighting chance.  However, because the overall population decreased, we will now have less money to solve bigger problems.  Add to this, the dimension of havoc brought on by the new NYC school discipline code and the movement to mainstream.   I can begin to see the not-so-invisible forces that are behind the deconstruction of what was once our model school.  We are told that the school's future will be announced by December.  None of this bodes well.

Now a word from Where the Rubber Hits the Road.  I can remember when I was a student at P.S 76 in the Bronx, how every Friday morning we had a school assembly.  Each class column-marched to the auditorium and took their seats in their class row. Once everyone was seated, the Color Guard, made up of students carrying the flags of country, state and city, marched down the center aisle.  I remember, as a Color Guard, the neat leather holster we used to help hold the flag pole as we proudly marched before the assembly.  Okay, okay.  I am making this observation because this is the second year that my school has not held a single school assembly.  I happen to think that at least a weekly general assembly is a great tool in creating a school spirit and school's unity in purpose.  To not have an assembly is to miss an opportunity to address a myriad of topics, from current events to class based projects, with the class body.  You can remind the kids on a daily basis what their goals are, or how they can achieve what they want in life. You can reinforce the importance of education and the role of the teachers in the school and the necessity for respect. Encourage them to work every day to keep up with assignments and to be active learners.  You can have the school bands show their stuff, the poets can read, the video/computer kids can show their videos, and on and on. This is what we could do, and it doesn't cost much money, if any, but we would have to have an auditorium, and the administrative will, to pull it off.  Or, the auditorium can be used as one of the three new charter schools in our building does every morning in my school. They use it for pep rallies. And because we (my school) have surrendered the auditorium (on our floor) to a charter school - they are the ones who can take advantage of this opportunity to create school/class awareness. Class awareness. Yeah, some of our kids look into the auditorium during these assemblies.  I wonder what they are thinking?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Next Step Forward

Give the Kids a Break

Well, here we are in the second week of the Chicago Teachers Strike and the beat goes on.  Despite the striking teacher's best efforts to keep the children's welfare in the forefront of the debate, the critics have been doing their best to portray the teachers as money grabbing ($76K avg. OMG we are almost milliionares) slackers who simply put in their time in (not enough of it apparently) without regard to the educational responsibilities that go with being a teacher.  I dunno, maybe they never had a Miss Crabtree in their sorry lives.  Some of these critics should spend a day in one of  the inner city classrooms that the striking teacher's decry.  Maybe if they spent the day in an over-crowded room, without the benefits of an air-conditioner, trying to get the intellectual engagement of forty, hungry, ten year-old kids who are sharing a seat and a textbook, they would perhaps see that the "working environment"of teachers is the "learning environment" of the students.  Perhaps, just perhaps, one of these critics would see that the teachers struggle is for the benefit of the children in their care.  Every issue at hand, from the teacher evaluation to hiring formalities will, in the end, impact the students.  Teachers already know the political dynamics of how teacher evaluation will effect not only their status in the system but also how this evaluation framework can be devised to essentially dismantle public education and the mandate that all children have access to quality public schools and teachers.  This is more than a struggle for wages and benefits that might normally be the focus of a striking union.  Teachers are different - you can't measure our effectiveness by looking at the bin to  see how many widgets we assembled during the hour.  And just because some private edu-enterprize devises a self-serving system of evaluating teachers or the skills teachers employ in education, it does not mean that the teachers are going to buy into that system especially when it is exposed as intellectually bogus, misleading and serves neither the teachers nor the students affected. Enough is enough - it is time to forcefully inform those who look to portray us as "cry babies who get so much for putting out so little", that we will not back down, will not be bullied into submission and we will continue to fight for quality public education, for funding in distressed communities and dammit, to put a piano in every music classroom so we don't miss out on the next Frank "Sugar Chile Robinson".

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Miss Crabtree? Really!

Even Miss Crabtree would be vilified, yes, Miss Crabtree!
Last year at this time I was engaged in the usual teacher's routine of early September and my thoughts were pretty much swirling around the perimeter of my classroom.  But today, aside the personal moment of silence for 9/11, I can't get away from the billboard-sized event of the strike in Chicago. Well, the union issues finally made the front pages of the NY Times and another column by Joe Nocera. In this situation we need to be in front of how the teachers are portrayed because there is an army of media people in the deep pockets of the privatization movement who are out to demonize us with broad strokes. Is it that they think teachers are coddled education slackers who get compensated enormous sums from the strangled tax payer for sitting behind a desk... and with the summer off?  Or perhaps they think we have a different agenda, perhaps a grand conspiracy to create a generation of illiterate welfare recipients?  I really don't know what happened to the image of Miss Crabtree?  Maybe they think we just don't care? Or then maybe it is just a union thing, you know, collective bargaining and all that.  We know schools are failing, hell, we are in them, but we as teachers also know the students and why they are failing.  Look in your old yearbook and see if you have any extracurricular activities at your school.  I can name about six kids I knew in my 8th grade class who would not have been in school were it not for JV Football. Look at my school's 2012 yearbook: we have band (during school) and track (no more) and rock band (also, no more with the teacher excessed). That is it and that is pathetic. This is not news for teachers. I think even most teachers would agree with the precept that we have to make the kids care, to care about something that matters: if not about educating themselves for the love of learning, then at least about getting prepared for a career, or at least a job, or maybe about getting a HS diploma, or of getting to school, of getting up out of bed, of getting up at all.
What on earth do these education deformers know about teaching? The very first thing is a near insurmountable task of making many of these children care about anything. But we try and try and though it is sometimes thankless and often without any real results, you do get to see those standardized test scores at the end of the year and reminisce "Yeah, hey what ever happened to what's his number? 789478 ?  Did he ever graduate?"
And what happens when the kid and their parents do care? They are invited to a charter school.  I watched it today in the hallway at school.  A parent was in with his bright and smiling, young daughter and they were coming to tell her teacher that she was leaving.  Teacher, "...oh back to Puerto Rico?" "No, to the charter school," she said.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Voila! A Teacher's Lounge.

To operate:flick wrist briskly
Turn over to turn off
Am I glad to have been picked up again by my old school? Yeah, because I'd rather be in the nightmare I already know than in the one I don't.  So, like Lazarus, I returned to looks of surprise and welcome from my colleagues and friends. However, it wasn't long before the eerie disturbances began to take shape. A quick report card: we lost one wing on our floor to an expanded charter school forcing us to share classrooms, our  "facility" lounge which used to be the teacher's lunchroom, which is air-conditioned, was given over to charter and cleared out so they can have a dance and yoga studio. I don't know where they managed to put the dozen or so tables and scores of chairs except perhaps in our classroom. We spent that Tuesday clearing cabinets, which we were told not to put in the hall ( so where?) so they can be carted off (to where and when?) so we could actually set up a classroom.  During school day, Thursday, you can see the stuff carted away to the back of the school, to the small section of grass enclosed by a hurricane fence - yeah, that looks nice. So, in exchange for the yoga studio we get to sit in a conference room. A small, crowded, stifling room with books and boxes, over sized tables and yes, a nice vase with artificial flowers, but no air-conditioner, no fan even, but open to the side long glances of the kids in the hall. And, not only did the "teacher's lounge" disappear, the conference room is now the lunchroom for the entire staff in the school. Ah, the well know aroma of KFC in a closed room.  So who made this deal?  Who came up with this? I can see what we gave up but what did we get beside a piece of cardboard (see pictures above)? Why do we in the "public school", it is OUR school after all, have to be the ones who have to accommodate these charter intrusions and expansions and dance to their tune. Were there negotiations or did "I SAY SO" just come in and rearrange everything to accommodate their needs. I mean, it is not a big deal, and there are more serious issues at hand but it is simply indicative of the casual disregard  for teachers and staff as displayed by whomever is agreeing to these changes.  I guess it just doesn't matter how that affects staff and faculty - but hey, keep telling us we're family and there is nothing but respect.

We shrunk as a school; probably in anticipation of closure. There are about 435 or so students at this time and about fully 30% have IEP. We lost our librarian to the ATR, so no one is there, all the computers in the library are disconnected and we did not have an assembly which in my mind would be something to do without question. There were no new hires in my school which was good to see but a bad omen as this years population has dropped again.  I tracked down the teacher assigned from the ATR - the fellow wheeling the cart of history books down the hall. We had a chance to speak and he has been swimming in the pool for a year already, he has gotten used to it and in the end, will just accept his paycheck for a couple more years to retirement.  Not too big a bullet to bite he says and as Vonnegut wrote..."so it goes, so it goes".

And now for a little entertainment...

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Out of the ATR

Last Thursday, as I was writing a post about the recent changes in the discipline code, I received a phone call.  It was the AP from my old school and I was being asked if I was interested in returning.  It appears that the final head count brought forth additional funds for teachers and that I was one moving up in line. I accepted the offer to return from the dead and was assured of my old computer lab as my room.  Thus, no longer am I "Excess'd -- A Teacher Without a Room". And I was just getting comfortable being an ATR. What with a blog that at least a few people seem to read, an animation character; Mr. Letgo who, it seems, has taken on a life of his own now that he has a Facebook page and a new attitude on my own part about my work as a teacher and of the current skirmishes on the educational battlefield. If nothing else, being a member of the Absent Teacher Reserve has evolved to being a member of the Angry Teacher Revolution. There is a fight against the privatization of education and the dismantling of the teachers union and it is being waged on every level and across the country.
You never know what might set you off in a particular direction.  When I was a jock at seventeen and laid up in a hospital bed from a football injury, I read my first book on my own: "Last Exit to Brooklyn"  by Hugh Selby Jr. and it changed my life. For me, being sent to the ATR pool has made me more engaged with the political realities surrounding me and my profession and made me want to add my own take in my own way.  I am clearly, not a policy wonk, but I am in a world where enacted policy has a direct effect and I intend to communicate that reality in my own personal way.  Now that my "situation" has changed my perspective has shifted.  My feet are no longer in the ATR;  I am in my classroom where I have my first obligation. 
We return to school on Tuesday and I know what an empty feeling that gives those who are still in the Reserve.  Their welfare and future must be an issue that stays alive despite the union's efforts to keep them silent and fragmented.  I am going to keep this blog going and advocating for our shared principles and goals under the current moniker.  I just will not be able to give first hand accounts of life of an ATR (and I had just signed a contract with Mr. Letgo for three more episodes) but I will continue to post as a teacher in the NYC system.  As far as Mr. Letgo's Facebook presence and his page for the ATR's - well, I will keep it going as a platform for ATR people but if no one is going for it then I am not going to keep it open, there is enough work to do already.  Well, I think I have a handle on all this...and now, I need to get ready for school.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Excessed 6

Here is where Mr. Letgo tells of his Facebook page for the NYC ATR

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Observations From Under the Bus

I have to say, in the heat of this summer, it has been pretty cool under the bus.  We do get a little breeze near the rear axle which is a small but gratifying relief during high noon.  I have been thinking and it seems that the thought of being tossed under the bus is more disturbing than actually being under the bus.  I guess you never realize how vulnerable you actually are when you assume that certain elements of your life are in place.  I thought I would be a teacher until I retired because I had a degree of job protection afforded me by my union.  We in the ATR now know that such is not the case.  I guess that is what made the abrupt and unceremonious tossing of tenured teachers so dispiriting.  But there is more; let's give credence to the budget restrictions, just for argument sake, because the budget is the excuse for releasing tenured teachers -- right?  The school could no longer afford that teacher. So, here we are with the creation of a made-up group of senior teachers labeled ATR who have spent the summer basking under the gas tank of a school bus.  Does the union assist those of us who need the union now more than ever?  Is there even an e-mail address to specifically answer our concerns?  Why doesn't the union create a Facebook page for ATR's and send a notification out to all concerned that they have created a line of communication?  One of the difficulties of being in the 800 or so ATR's is the isolation and forced fragmentation of its members. If not for the blogs addressing these issues we would be left entirely in the dark. We have issue with evaluation, with representation and with support.  It's not that I'm expecting the union to gather activist members to load 100 buses to head to Chicago in support our brothers and sisters in CORE.  I mean, that would be too..what, progressive?

How much time is devoted to make the best use of the teachers in the Reserve? Apparently, very little, if the best that they can come up with is to send each of us, willy-nilly, to a different school each week to be given a generally pointless, keep busy assignment by the AP. I wonder how that is done?  Maybe with a dart board, or spinning wheel that matches the Teacher with the School. We know that the UFT and DOE are designing an onerous work environment that pushes its constituents out the door.  This is not news.  What would be news is if the union announced a new initiative for its long time members. So, instead of sending us out to the annoyance of principals citywide, let us gather at various job training sites to learn our new skills.  Just a quick perusal through Craigslist "education jobs" we find the ever present charter schools offerings, ESL teacher requests, tutoring, selling or shilling education software that will reduce the number of teachers in the new classroom. Real opportunity abounds!   Let's see?  A teacher can easily be retrained-- to do what?  I know! A standup comic.  There is a real tradition of teachers becoming stand-up comics -- Robert Klein for one. Hey, we know how to address an unruly crowd, we are already quick on our feet, we have stories that will lay you out laughing and finally, really, this whole thing is a JOKE!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

They're Already Here!

There seems to be a general sense of betrayal in the ATR.  Betrayal by the very union we having been paying into for our representation. Having become a member of this select ATR group, I find myself more isolated than ever.  One would think that the UFT would call a general meeting for all the members of the ATR to discuss, to commiserate and devise a plan of action.  They are supposed to be on on our side, and there is so much that needs to be looked at. So far, the lack of transparency has been blinding and the lack of support has been crippling.  How many qualified, tenured teachers are in the ATR and please, let's break this down by license?  Can we compare this list of teachers with a list of the newly hired and have the principals explain their hiring decisions? If we, as ATR, are a special designation, and it seems as if we are, then we demand to have representation as that designated body. After all, we are unique in this system -- with different concerns, different issues. The big issue of having to go to a different school each week is a major problem in our club but it is just about of no concern at all if you are an assigned teacher. Teacher observation is another issue that we all have to deal with, but just imagine having to be observed and rated in a classroom you have never been in before with a group of students you have just met giving a bogus lesson for a meaningless assessment.   I think we have an issue here.
The ATR very simply serves to isolate and dishearten those teachers that have stuck with a very difficult and demanding calling.  The stats on the number of "teachers" who run from the classroom within the first few years should increase the value of those who stick it out but it is quite the opposite.  Instead of looking to keep us on board and as a resource in the fight for quality education for New York City kids, we are basically cut loose to float away.  Not only are we left on our own; we are additionally demonized and degraded as dead weight by our own union.  Just wait until this "paying teachers for not really teaching" makes the news cycle once again. There is no help out there.  Oh, I know that if we were in DC we (the ATR) would already be out on the street but so what, make that a lesson learned.  You see, the big picture of the privatization of education is not only getting in focus but hitting home.  It's like in the "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" where Kevin McCarthy warns the unsuspecting motorists "..they're here, they are already here"!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Joke Continues.

Well, here is Part 3  where Mr. Letgo begins to see the light or in his case, the darkness that surrounds him.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tenure Schmenure

Tenure.  What a joke...though it does kinda rhyme with manure. I have tenure but no class to go to in September.  I have been observed and given an S rating each and every year yet I, like so many others, do not have a teaching assignment.  Tenure does not guarantee a classroom assignment; hell, tenure doesn't even guarantee your contractual rights.  See the most recent post in the Assailed Teacher blog. This point has been brought home to me during my most recent induction in the  renowned Absent Teacher Reserve.  In truth, I'm still kind of scratching my head and wondering how in the world did this so called "excessing" happen. I always thought of teaching as a worthwhile career and even though I did not enter the profession until much later in life, I considered the safeguards and benefits afforded by the UFT as essential to a profession that did not pay all that well. I believed that once I found my "home", the trajectory would be upward...ever learning, ever improving.  If you did your job well, your position was secure.  After all, we understood that experience is good for a teacher's growth and development and as you increased your value as an educator, there would be all the more reason to keep you at your job.  But apparently this is not the case. Oh sure, textbooks and teacher education classes and academic journals will all extol the irrefutable evidence of the value of experienced teachers in the classroom but when it comes down to making a hiring decision, well, that is another matter .  All of a sudden, the value of experience falls off the table and the only consideration is the mandate to stay within the school budget.  Tenure means you have put in years of hard work and learned from your mistakes  and once you have achieved tenure your teaching has really begun.You can begin to look ahead instead of looking over your shoulder.  In a way, tenure meant that you have arrived as a professional in a demanding yet personally rewarding career. But wait!  Something has happened, a magician came and made tenure disappear.  Well, it's not really fed to us like that, I mean the value that tenure connotes has been stripped of any consequence.  This ATR is the magician's trick whereby rights are made to disappear with smokey mirrors.  We just saw the drastic reduction in the number of teachers given tenure this term which would be an alarming issue if the designation meant anything.  To those who received their tenured status: beware, your position is not secured; in fact, by gaining experience in your field and increasing your value you are seriously jeopardizing your job.  Tenure? Tenure Schmenure.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Novel Idea

The ATR.  The Absent Teacher Reserve.  Wow, what an idea.   Who was it that sat in the big leather chair and  crossing his legs thought, yes, that is a good idea; experienced teachers are an unnecessary expense and should be the first  to go under the new budget.  I wonder how that would work out in other industries with other professions? The airlines for instance.  Could there possibly be a similar type program going on?  Is the an Absent Pilot Reserve?  I'm sure that in the major airline hubs, one could find enough "excessed due to high cost" pilots, who have lost their airline route to some newly minted junior from flight school. I don't know, maybe the pilots would have to hang out in the hangar and wait for a call from Central.

Meanwhile, "Good morning ladies and gentleman, I'm Jack Gordon, your pilot.  Now, I'm kinda new at this flying, but, I will confess I did pretty well in school so I know how to fly OK, ah, so be patient.  Alright?"  Doesn't make much sense does it? 
What industry penalizes or threatens it's experienced employees with onerous working condition that are devised to make them retire early or quit the profession altogether  It's like Shirley Jackson's story, "The Lottery" but instead of being stoned by the town's people we are sent to wander in the dessicated wasteland of the Absent Teacher Reserve, like an animal reserve for endangered pedagogues. Hey, now that's an idea I can go with; a reserve, or like a theme park or hey, better yet a reality show pitting Reserve teachers against one another for a crappy provisional assignment. Watch as the ATR squad of disenfranchised teachers fight their way through a weekly maze of ever changing procedures, morphing administrators, fifth-floor offices with no elevator, impossible classroom assignments and NO PARKING EVER. This program will be available for your viewing for the entire school year.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

You've Wasted My Time.

Usually, the last couple of weeks in August are spent casually getting ready for a new year in the classroom.  As a computer teacher my curriculum and projects were pretty much up to me as long as I was in alignment with the goals of the core subjects.  Granted, this afforded me a degree of freedom currently not offered in most other subject areas and as such, I have been "allowed" to follow the progressive development of my skills as a teacher.  I have taken advantage of the professional development (P) courses mandated (but now totally irrelevant) and have implemented what I considered the best practices into my classroom. I know I have grown as an educator and even some of my third-round 7th graders would agree.  I am not blowing my own horn, every teacher worthy of that title, has to grow by being critical of their own skills and practices.  We, as teachers, do learn from our mistakes and by doing so increase the value of our pedagogy.  One would think that such a statement was a reasonable assessment but...not. Classify this under the heading of DEVALUATION OF EXPERIENCE  because the majority of excessed teachers are experienced, and somehow and for some reason beyond our understanding, experience has become a liability in the DOE.
And so, here we are, and I am sure the pool will be filled with hundreds of teachers with five plus years of hard work, loyalty and purpose, wading and waiting for the pointless ending of their career.  It is not going to be easy to switch from your classroom (I was going to say assignment but that's their speak), ...the one you have been preparing for as long as you've been teaching, to a series of unconnected classrooms none of them at all familiar. Forget what you have learned and the hands-on projects you've developed for students that show how simple machines work as you'll very likely not even step into a science lab nor would you even know what is being taught in that class. It is a sad time for teachers in the ATR.  However, we need to keep in mind that this is indeed a fight and though the current is dragging us out to sea, we need to stand tall and tough it out even though the sand is shifting beneath our feet..  Perhaps we will also need to change ATR to Angry Teachers Revolt.
Well, anyway it seems that being a teacher in NYC is kind of like being in the Twilight Zone...the more you  learn and work and are bold enough to think you are increasing your value as a teacher, the less you are  valued in your endeavor because you have become more expensive and now, despite all good efforts and sacrifice, you find yourself, quite frankly, expendable. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

This is a joke, right?

Alternative Teacher Redeployment

So, I imagined something different.  Instead of having me covering the lunchroom or the "excessed" student room, the Alternative Teacher Redeployment program has managed to have me in rotation at four schools in my district, each without a computer teacher.  I met with the principals, looked over the school and its computer lab and have discussed the overall needs of the school with all involved.  A planned schedule was drawn up and everyone agreed to the particulars.  In the end, each of the four schools now had a computer teacher (albeit one week a month) and I knew where I was going and what I would be doing each week. Best of all...there was purpose.

But this won't be happening even though it probably could.  All it requires is a clearheaded yet creative effort to solve a problem. I would think that a scenario like the one described can be applied to a number of different teachers at a number of different schools.  If, in fact, the teachers can not be paid from the particular school's budget, there is no inherent reason why that teacher's services must be eliminated from the particular school.  Pay that teacher's salary from Central which is being done anyway; the check stubs look the same ya know, and let the school and students benefit, at least somewhat, from the purposeful ATR assignments.  It makes a whole lot of difference for the teachers in the trenches to know where they are going and what they will be doing each week   

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Situation Simply Stated

On one side of this situation is the pool of teachers in the ATR.  We are experienced teachers who cover the range of core subject areas, as well as the enrichment classes like art, music and technology. We come from all parts of the city and have a variety of skills and strengths. Our salaries are funded.  We are a valued resource for the public school system and we are ready to go.

On the other side we have a struggling school with limited resources for a variety of reasons.  Because of a reduced budget there are fewer teachers; consequently, each class in each grade is at maximum size. The students can't get the attention or special help they need because their teacher is too busy with too many students.  There is one music and one art teacher for 500 students.  The more the school struggles the more it continues to slide. The deeper it sinks, the more the budget shrinks each year.

So what happens?  The school is assigned a different teacher from the ATR each week to cover a class, or lunchroom or to monitor the hallway.

The value : Nil

The lost opportunity: Priceless.