Saturday, April 29, 2006

The Abuse Of The Classroom Teacher & My Union's Poor Priorities

At this week's delegate meeting you would expect that the big issues would be teacher retention, classroom conditions, and improvements in teacher benefits, and salary in the upcoming negotiations. However, my union leaders of the UFT seems to have their priorities in a different direction. What are these priorities? The war in Iraq, Darfur, and same-sex marriage. While I may support two of the three issues the UFT supports, I question why am I paying $83.34 monthly in union dues for issues unrelated to classroom teaching?

In the New York City schools there is a culture of disrespect of the classroom teacher that is encouraged by the New York City Department of Education (DOE) and their pet anti-education newspapers, the New York Post, The Daily News, and the New York Sun. This culture of disrespect is very obvious as the DOE will get the three newspapers to publish headline articles about teacher misconduct while allowing the DOE to hide similiar misconduct by DOE educrats and administrators. When they do appear in the newspapers its usually well after the DOE employee has resigned or retired and is associated with a small article well inside the paper.

The DOE "rubber rooms", where teachers accused of misconduct are bursting at the seams as even the smallest infraction of the vague rules can get a teacher removed from the school. Further, any questioning of an administrator's action could get you a discipline Letter-To-a-File (LIF) that cannot be grieved. The DOE, increasingly lead by lawyers & business people who have little knowledge of schools and the classroom will mandate edicts that make no sense and when knowledgeable people question the DOE actions they are dismissed as malcontents or ignored. With the DOE abuse of the classroom teacher you would think our so-called powerful union would be on the front lines and counter the DOE attack of our schools? However, we are talking about the UFT whose leaders haven't been in the classroom in decades and have obviously forgot how it was there. Unfortunantly, for the classroom teacher our union is more interested in world events then school issues.

What should our union priorities be? Here is what I and many other classroom teachers think.

First, Let teachers teach as they see fit for the best academic results for their students. Eliminate the "one size fits all" approach that has strangled innovative teaching and make student learning boring.

Second, eliminate the mindless micromanagement of the classroom and curriculum. If the classroom teacher has to worry about the rugs, the bulliten board, and test preparation, where is the time for student learning?

Third, enforce student discipline codes. In many schools enforcing discipline codes can get the principal a visit from the DOE on why can't you control your school? The result is that the administrators are reluctlent to try to suspend students for non-criminal actions. Therefore, the classroom teacher feels that the school has no consequences for student misbehavior.

Fourth, ensure that "not ready to be promoted" eigth graders" be directed to alternate high schools where they can get the extra academic help they need rather than dumping them in the large comprehensive high schools where they are doomed to failure.

Fifth, stop the mindless persuit of small and or charter schools at the expense of the larger public schools. At the high school level the small schools are allowed to "screen the 8th graders". to ensure that they get the smallest percentage of the weakest students and no obvious discipline problems. This unequal selection process causes the large comprehensive high schools to compare unfavorably to the other schools and results in poor grades for those schools.

Sixth, ensure that all schools are air conditioned, especially if they are used for summer schools. The union's silence on using hot classrooms for summer programs is puzzling.

There are others, but suffice to say my union's priorities should be on the six issues I have listed above. World issues are important, as are social issues. However, until the UFT solves the problems in the classroom they should be using the dues money to improve the teaching conditions not non-education issues.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

New York City & Teachers Union Agree On a Bonus & Housing Subsides For New Teachers To the System What A Deal, Or Is It?

The New York City Department Of Education (DOE), with the approval of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) have started a 1.5 million dollar program that will pay a $5,000 bonus and up to $400 a month rent subsidy for up to two years for math, science, & special education teachers who join the New York City school system. That is $14,600 to join the "smartest" (the DOE logo for NYC teachers). What a wonderful deal you think? I think not. First, you are placed in the "worst schools" and are committed to teach for a minimum of three years. Second, you will find that the average studio apartment in bad neighbourhoods in NYC is $1,000+ monthly and in the more desirable neighborhoods $2,000+! Third, be prepared to sleep on a friend's couch or on the streets and don't get sick because it can take up to six months to be put on the payroll. Finally, if you quit before the three years are up (and many do), be prepared to reinburse the City of New York for the bonus and housing subsidies. The program doesn't sound as good as you thought huh?

How about the classroom conditions you will encounter in the "worst schools" you will be assigned to? You will be given the most wonderful students. The ones who test well below average academically, who are disruptive, and disrespectful to adults, including teachers, and yes you! How about school discipline you say? Well the DOE does not enforce student discipline, you might hurt their self esteem. However, the DOE will go overboard and charge you with discipline infractions in a moment. You told her she looks nice in that outfit (sexual harrassment/proposition). You told him that was a stupid thing to do when he sent a spitball that just missed your eye (corporal punishment) and you just earned a 90-day unpaid suspension at the "rubber room". Better yet, being untenuried they will most certainly fire you and demand payment of the bonus and housing subsides.

Still interested? Good! how about parent involvement. Maybe they can help you? At the middle school and most certainly at the high school level the parent (if there is one) has long ago given up on the child. It's like spitting into the wind. It will only get you slimed.

How about those wonderful administrators. Won't they help you? Duh, the reason these schools are the "worst" is because they are the dumping ground for bad administrators. They were bad teachers who couldn't or wouldn't deal with the classroom and please don't ask them to help you in the classroom. They can't stand being in the classroom that is why they are administrators!
Maybe if your real lucky you will get one of the DOE Leadership Academy principals. You know the ones with little if any classroom experience, poor interpersonal skills, and clueless of how a school operates. Why are you lucky? Well when the LIS is scheduled to visit the Leadership Acadamy principal is allowed to pay you $37.96 an hour for up to 4 hours to fix up your classroom! What a bonanza!

You still want the job? Congratulations, you will get the maximum amount of students the contract allows (34 for general education classes). You will be required to buy many of your own classroom supplies. Photocopying? Go to Staples or Kinkos for photocopying on your own dime. Air conditioning? You will be lucky to have heat in the winter. Your own classroom? Fat chance, expect to have three or even four different rooms and don't dare be late to class otherwise, a reprimand with a Letter-To-The-File (LIF) that will land in your personnel file for Life. Finally, don't bother to shine by being innovative. You will be micromanaged, told what to teach, how to teach it, and when to teach it. You talked one minute over the time for talking? Your LIS will gently pull you aside and let you know to follow the script "AND DON'T DO IT AGAIN OR ELSE ANOTHER LIF FOR LIFE! Further, make sure your student work is hung up, no matter how bad it is. You don't want to hurt their self esteem do you? Finally, I'm sure you can't wait to pitch in and do cafeteria duty (ducking food thrown at you) or potty patrol (hanging out at the bathroom). What a wonderful job for an adult with a Masters degree!

You changed your mind? Your going to the suburbs where there are 22 students to a classroom, adequate supplies, fair and enforced student discipline codes, your own parking space, good administrators, involved parents, and for more money? I don't understand why your giving up all the advantages the City of New York is offering you? Don't worry, I'm sure their will be some unlucky loser who will take the NYC offer only to leave because of how the DOE treats its teachers.

Good luck and I wish you well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Marriage & Men Why It Is Important For Our Society

Many people seem to downplay the social unraveling of our society. Some cry racism. Others yell it's the seperation of the classes. While, our politicians decry issues based upon being a Republican versus being a Democrat. However, all seem to tiptoe around the major problem with our society; The avoidance of men to marry. This problem is especially true in the black community. An article in Ebony magazine stated that only 41% of black men married (The rest of the nation it is 62%). Interestingly during Martin Luther King's Civil Rights campaign in the 1960's, the number was 70%! (The numbers for the rest of the population was 90% ). Therefore, there has been a 42% reduction in married men as a percentage of the population. While the decrease is most obvious in the black community, this problem cuts across all racial and social lines. Why is this a societal problem?

First, studies have shown married men are less violent.

Second, married men tend to be more responsible and share responsibilities with the female in child rearing. The acceptance of responsibility by the male encourages them to make decisions that are best for the family.

Third, married men add income to the family unit by having a job and freeing the female to join the work force. This will increase the income of the family unit and resist temptation to engage in illegal behavior.

Fourth, married men are less likely to end up in jail. Interestingly, married women are rarely subject to jail as most of the female prisoners are unmarried.

Fifth, and I believe most importantly that married men are role models to their children. It is no accident that 90% of the men and 67% of the women in jail come from single parent (mother) households. You can spin this statistic any way you like but the lack of a father as a role model is a major contributor to criminal behavior.

Another element is the high school dropout rate. The average female dropout makes $13,288 annualy, less than the poverty rate. While the male dropout does slightly better $16,345 . (The poverty rate is $14,000 per year). Children growing up in these households are in grave danger of dropping out themselves. According to Time magazine children of parents that dropout are six times more likely to dropout themselves. The risk is probably higher if it is a single parent household.

Bill Cosby, in his speech in New Orleans in March of 2006, made it clear that the community needs to straighten out their morale compass before complaining about government inaction in the wake of Katrina. He cited the large numbers of 12 & 13 year old girls inpregnated by young men, males who refuse to lay down family roots by marrying the mother and supporting their children, the community acceptance of the large percentage of students who drop out of middle and high schools with no consequences , and the acceptance of "rap music" that glorifies violence, criminality, and disrespect of females. He also stated that the family unit must be brought together if we are to make progress in our society. He meant men coming back to marriage. While he was mainly talking to the black community, he could have been speaking of society in general.

While race and income are factors in the falling percentage of married men. It is more a societal issue. It was not accepted behavior for women to have children out of wedlock and men were pressured (rightly or wrongly) to do the right thing and marry the mother of the child. Now, in many communities, the married women is a minority and an unmarried women with children are not only accepted but are a majority! While welfare programs were the initial cause of this change in society, under the Clinton Administration and State changes, welfare no longer encourages behaviors like teenagers being rewarded for having kids by giving them their own apartment and welfare and going after the father who can pay for the child's support. However, it appears the damage to society was already done by decades of easy welfare benefits.

The leaders of our nation must get together and encourage men to buy into marriage and discourage the irresponsible behavior that seems to be prevalent in many communities. How can this be done? Penalties for dropping out of school, increase in vocational education, parenting classes, tax breaks for married couples, stricter rules and penalties on child payments, and other incentives that encourages marriage. I'm sure there are many more ideas and they should be fully explored and implemented if they work.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Schools Are To Be Graded - A Tale Of Two Schools

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) has decided to grade the public schools based upon testing, attendance, school safety, and even parental involvement. Sounds good right! How can anybody be against a school report card? Well welcome to Chancellor Klein's world of education where he and his non-educators are pushing charter schools, failing that, the next best thing is small schools. The step child in Klein's world is the large comprehensive high schools, steeped in tradition and fame. This story is about two high schools. One a large comprehensive high school the other a small high school with a theme for social justice.

The large comprehensive school, lets call it Pierce high school, has been overcrowded for the past three years as other large schools have closed and the students not selected to the newly-created small schools are dumped into the school. By contrast the small high school , the school of Social Justice, has "screened their students" and does not suffer from overcrowding. Let's get to the statistics.


Pierce high school has a 80% attendance rate while the school for Social Justice had a 93% attendance rate. However, if you dig into the statistics the incoming 8th graders going into the school of Social Justice had a 94% attendance rate compared to a 81% attendance rate for Pierce high school. In reality, the school attendance rates reflect the attendance rate of the middle school students entering the two schools.

Weak Students:

The weakest students in the New York City school system are level 1 students. These are students that test well-below accepted standards. The school for Social Justice has only 10% of the incoming class as level 1 students while Pierce high school was required to accept 35% of the incoming freshmen as level 1 students. Further, of the level 1 students the school of Social Justice took in they made sure that there were no disciplinary problems among them. By contrast Pierce high school had no such discrestion.

Special Needs Children:

On a percentage basis Pierce high school admitted three times as many special needs children than the school of Social Justice. Historically, special needs students don't do as well as other students. These special needs chiildren range from disciplinary problems, slow learners, limited english language students, and emotionally reactive students.

Class Sizes:

The average class size at Pierce high school is 32 students per classroom. At the school of Social Justice the average is 20 students per class. All studies show that when it comes to education; class size matters!

Social Promotion:

Despite DOE denials eigth graders that are labled "promotion in doubt" are promoted anyway and end up in the large comprehensive high schools where that are doomed to failure as they are unready to do high school academics. The small schools like the school of Social Justice rarely, if ever, admit these students.

School Safety:

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to realize that the more overcrowded the school, the more incidents of bumping and shoving there will be. Unfortunantly, some of the pushing and shoving breaks into fights. The result, a safety report is issued. Large overcrowded high schools will always have more safety incidents than a small school. At Pierce high school not only is it a day school but a regional night school as well. Further, the regional Truency Center is located at the school. According to the DOE all incidents that happen during night school or in the Truency program is assigned to Pierce high school. Not fair you say? Who says it needs to be fair? This is how DOE works.

The report card? Can Pierce high school really compete with the school of Social Justice? I can only bring up the statement the late Rodney Dangerfield said " Its like a one legged man in an ass kicking contest". The answer is no.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Boys And Pencils

In my decade-long teaching career there has been one recurring theme. That is approximately 25% of the boys in my classes do not bring pencils for their scantron-based science test. What is that about boys and pencils? Well, being a scientist I did a limited study, based upon the 125 students I have in the classroom (62 girls, 63 boys). The results were as follows:

Boys don't bring pencils because it's not cool to carry a pencil!

Girls carry pencils because it's important to be prepared.

Secondary issues were:

Boys just plain forget to bring one or claim they lost it.

Girls almost always have a pocketbook with them and having a pencil in it is no big deal. In fact, many girls carry two pencils with them and usually give one to the boy. No, I didn't question the girls with two pencils why they carry two. Maybe that will be my next study.

How can you correct the boy/pencil problem? I came up with a novel way of handling this issue. First, you need to understand the mind of a male high school student. They want to impress the girls! No male high schooler wants to be called irresponsible or immature in front of the girls, especially by teachers that are respected by the students. Second, you need them to understand that responsible behavior is rewarded with good grades and respect from others. That means having individual meeting with them and letting them know that high school girls are always looking for the boys that shows promise as an adult (not always true, but most of the boys believe that anyway) and that colleges are always looking for the good student. Finally, all boys want respect from their peers and the adults they interact with. Even the more obnoxious boys crave respect. The ultimate form of respect for a teenage boy is being told he is maturing into a man.

My solution? Is to equate the pencil with manhood. I simply tell my students that the boys who have pencils are real men, responsible, and respected. The boys who don't bring pencils? I tell them that their still boys and not mature enough to be considered a man and have the responsibilities of middle schoolers. This illicits laughter by the girls in the classroom and yes, embarasses the boys. The next test and every test after, all the boys magically have pencils. Is this corporal punishment? Noooooooo! It is an effective teaching technique that is not racist, religious, cultural, or biased in any way. It is based upon personal responsibility and the tools that all students must have in a school setting. Than again, its a rare female that fails to have a pencil with her.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Seventeen and No Credits

The New York City Department Of Education's (DOE) policy on teenagers who are seventeen and are classified as a freshmen creditwize is a danger for all high school students who want to learn. The DOE has stated that the New York City high schools cannot remove a student from a school due to academic non-performance until their eighteenth birthday. Therefore, the student(?) is allowed to disrupt classrooms, disrespect staff, and walk the halls without any consequences. In fact, under DOE rules trying to suspend a student for academic non-performance or minor behavioral infractions is almost impossible. As the DOE educrats sit in their ivory walled Tweed offices and dictate policy that have no basis in reality, the schools must deal with this very real threat to learning.

Ask any school Dean and they will tell you that many of the problems in the high schools can be traced to the older students with little or no credits. In the past, the city had special schools for these children and others were sent to a different school, usually across the borough so that they couldn't hang with their posse. However, the DOE has limited alternative schools and eliminated transfers to other schools. The result? These students are free to prey on the student population of their home school.

Many of these students are academic non-performers and in the past would have gone into vocational schools. However, under the misguided philosiphy that all children are academic learners these students are frustrated and cannot compete with the other students so they disrupt the school. Some of the worst end up committing crimes and are sent to jail, only to return to the home school on their release.

Finally, the child advocates run roughshot over the school system by threatening to sue the city if they try to remove dangerous students from the school setting. These child advocates have even been known to threaten schools with lawsuits that try to enforce afterschool detention programs. In other words there may be no consequences for the actions of these students.

If we are to take back our high schools the first thing that most be done is to remove the older students who are operating with freshmen credits and send them to a work or vocational program. This would be a win-win situation with the student finally getting focus and a career and the school proceeding with their mission of graduating as many students as possible while providing a safe learning environment