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.

11 comments:

jonathan said...

I agree with the thrust, but perhaps not with every detail of your list of priorities. And I am not as negative about our union getting involved elsewhere.

But details: Air conditioning is too restricted. Would you consider expanding that to properly equipped spaces, good repair, health issues (ventilation etc), as well as adequate basic supplies expanded to include working copiers, paper, etc ?

reality-based educator said...

Well said, Chaz. There is no reason why the union should be taking stands on the Iraq war, darfur, etc. The union should be primarily about labor/education issues.

I liked a lot of your ideas. I particularly like the fix the physical conditions idea. I work in a classroom where the heat remains on throughout the year. I for one would be a much happier camper if I could work in a place that wasn't full of mice, roaches, mold, dirt, and heat.

Chaz said...

Jonathan:

I agree that proper supplies and working copying machines along with an environmentally safe classroom is important and I should have added that to the list. However, if you ever worked summer school you know why its important. Plus, the boys will be more focused on the lesson than looking at the skimply clad girls.

reality-based educator:

thank you for the compliment. It does not matter where you are on the political spectrum, our union's priorities are all wrong. By the way I have a classroom just like yours. Too hot when the steam is on, too cold when it is off. Yes, I have roaches and mice as well and window shades that are stuck.

reality-based educator said...

I'm thinking about running for delegate this week, but I'm wondering if I'm just going to want to bang my hread with a blunt object every time I show at the meetings. I know it's important for people with alternate points of view than UNITY's to become chapter leaders and delegates, but when I hear about some of the things that happens at these meetings I think to myself, why bother? What could I possibly change?

I think that's probably what the leadership wants us to feel. That way, only the people who have signed the UNITY loyalty oaths show up.

reality-based educator said...

I'm thinking about running for delegate this week, but I'm wondering if I'm just going to want to bang my hread with a blunt object every time I show at the meetings. I know it's important for people with alternate points of view than UNITY's to become chapter leaders and delegates, but when I hear about some of the things that happens at these meetings I think to myself, why bother? What could I possibly change?

I think that's probably what the leadership wants us to feel. That way, only the people who have signed the UNITY loyalty oaths show up.

reality-based educator said...

I'm thinking about running for delegate this week, but I'm wondering if I'm just going to want to bang my hread with a blunt object every time I show at the meetings. I know it's important for people with alternate points of view than UNITY's to become chapter leaders and delegates, but when I hear about some of the things that happens at these meetings I think to myself, why bother? What could I possibly change?

I think that's probably what the leadership wants us to feel. That way, only the people who have signed the UNITY loyalty oaths show up.

reality-based educator said...

Oops! Sorry about the multiple posts - blogger had a mini meltdown while I was trying to post.

jonathan said...

R-B E,

If you are going to attend the Delegate Assembly regularly, why not run?

Even a losing campaign gets ideas out.

Our union's greatest enemy is not who is control, or the "wrong" caucus attending, but apathy. Not enough delegates and CL's attend the DAs. Not enough information gets reported out, and not enough people pass it on.

Don't think that you will make rousing speeches, spnsor hard-hitting resolutions, win controversial votes. (Not to say never, but...) But it is through the act of participation that we, one at a time, can make a qualitative difference.

Chaz said...

I agree with Jonathan that you should run and bring your school's ideas to the delegate assembly. As for me I have been on the school leadership team since 2003 and am always running against teachers that have administrative degrees who want to be on the committee for the resume. The danger is if they get on they will simply be the principal's puppet.

Go for it!

reality-based educator said...

Thanks for the encouragement Jonathan and Chaz. I'll keep you updated.

no_slappz said...

As always, the problem lies with the fact that the DOE is a massive monopoly as well as a massive bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the union, to disguise its inability to negotiate with the monopolistic DOE, discusses its position on Darfur and other matters of no concern to the worklife of its constituents.

Contrast that with labor negotiations between the UAW and General Motors and Delphi, the company that builds many components for GM.

They're not discussing Darfur. They're looking at the finances of GM and Delphi in bankruptcy court today in lower Manhattan.

The court might terminate the existing labor contracts if they add up to doom for Delphi and GM. After all, those companies can't extract funds from taxpayers. They have to sell a decent product.

If they don't, Toyota will take away their business by selling better cars for less.

So the school system remains stalled. The UFT won't recognize economic reality and the DOE doesn't have to.

But, as always, if the monopoly were dismantled and true competition were introduced into primary and secondary education, the six very sound demands you made to improve schooling would shape the education market.

However, as long as a primary and secondary schooling is controlled byh a monopoly, very little change will occur.