Or should I say warehousing music in a New York City high school.
For those who have never paid much attention to the Class Size Limitation clause in the contract that allows 50 pupils in music classes (Art.VII.M.1.g.) — and I’m afraid that includes Ms Weingarten and Partners, who keep hoping this issue will go away on its own — consider what this means for just a moment.
1. The number 50 may have come about when performance groups like choruses, bands and orchestras had these many kids in them, or even a lot more. I’m not questioning those kinds of classes, since not only do the kids who are in them generally want to be there and know how to behave, but it’s really fun to make a great big sound. General music, though, is identical in every way to any other subject, and there is no reason at all for having 50 kids in that kind of music class.
2. Our registers are made up of kids in 4 different grades, 9th – 12th.
3. Our registers contain regular ed students, kids with IEPs (learning and behavioral), kids with hearing and other kinds of disabilities, and ELLs.
4. There are no stipulations at the state or city level that set percentages for IEP students in the class. For example, 65, 80 or 100% of the 50 pupils may have special needs.
5. It is true that not all students show up on any given day, but the same could be said for any other subject class.
6. On the registers alone, record-keeping (including daily and weekly attendance), marking and grading involve 47% more processing time and production than for any other subject.
7. Contacting parents and/or guidance counselors on attendance and behavior issues: ditto.
8. Music teachers still have to devote one period a day to Professional Activities.
9. Roll back to 2003 when the chancellor, new at his job and distinctly unprepared to take it on, decided that there would be a new emphasis on literacy and math and all subject teachers had to focus on skills in these areas. It’s not that I mind focusing on literacy and math. In fact, I’ve focused on it for 21 years, with lessons on poetry and song forms, lyrics and articulations in English and many other languages, with whole notes, quarter notes and all the rest. I feel that music teachers, unbound by a specific curriculum, can do a whole lot to bolster up what's taught in other subjects. But, if there’s to be a directive to do the same kind of work in a music classroom that’s being done in a major subject, then the class should not be 47% larger, because there’s nothing to stop administrators from criticizing you if you can’t make it happen. The union was very much asleep on this.
10. There was also the directive to set up your classroom in the “workshop model.” I could never bring myself to do that, I hated it so much, but I wasn’t in a high school at the time so I don’t know if principals enforced that ruling. A quick calculation makes it 12 groups of 4 kids. Zounds!
11. Discipline. Music teachers are held to the same standards as everyone else.
12. Differentiated instruction. Ditto.
13. Gym classes also have 50 on register in junior and senior high schools, but many of the points made above apply only to music classes.
About two years ago when I spoke on all this at a Delegate Assembly, and where the groans were actually audible when the delegates heard some of the factors listed above, Weingarten asked one of her henchpeople to follow up and see if the union could arrange for some “non-contractual relief” for music teachers.
For my money — literally, my union dues — she should have done away with clause Art.VII.M.1.g. altogether and have high school music teachers teach the same number of kids everyone else does. As long as the chancellor and the regional superintendents were requiring all teachers to include literacy, math, differentiated instruction and workshop models, it was never fair that music teachers had to do it all with 47% more kids. We were left open to any kind of criticism they felt inclined to send our way if we couldn’t make good on the directives.
Failing that, she could have insisted on a new clause “f.”, where the contract discusses Professional Activities (Art.VII.A.6.), something like: “High school music teachers are exempt from a Professional Activities duty because they teach 47% more kids than other teachers.”
At the very least, Weingarten could have asked for one more item in the Professional Activities Options (VII.A.6.a), something like: “f. Extra record keeping, marking and grading (music teachers only).”
Zip, nada, zilch til now, and I expect never.
Weingarten had been negotiating these contracts already for a decade and knew very well she wasn’t going to do anything about getting music teachers any “relief,” non-contractual or otherwise.
I’ll place the blame for this fairly, on the union, on Klein's negotiators, and on school administrators. No one's holding a gun to a principal's head to program 50 kids at a time into high school music classes. That number is a cap, not an order. It's both outdated and stupid, especially when some high schools have a majority of students reading at Level 2. Principals could instead program these classes like all the others, with 34 students.
When administrators soak everything they can out of a faulty contract for monetary reasons, kids suffer and teachers suffer. No bonus they pocket at the end of the year can add to their personal karma or put integrity back into the system.