January 29, 2009

Follow-up on Blacklists and Music warehousing

Sometimes blog posts get to have sequels.

Back in November, I brought up the subject of blacklisting, because so many senior teachers remain in ATR limbo, way out of proportion to the number of young grad students who do land jobs. Maybe it's salary or age discrimination, and maybe there's a blacklist. We're not going to find out the back story any time soon.

In response to that post, someone sent me an account of her own job search for an AP position. Here it is with her permission, but edited a bit because it was written as a personal note and not originally for publication:
I read your writing regarding the question of a blacklist, given your HR [Human Resources] and job inquiries.

I wrote to the DOE simply because after well over 100 job applications as an AP, with stellar written recommendations from my principal (since then forced into retirement due to malfeasance) and department chair, no one would hire me. My graduate school MAED in School leadership cum was 3.83 and [I got my] undergraduate degree from NYU. I am hispanic and when invited to interviews apparently did well.

I was only asked to a second interview on three occasions. At one, the principal greeted me with her mouth full and after asking me a question, in the middle of my answer she thanked me for coming. At the second, the principal lauded me, and upon rejecting me wrote a sterling letter.

Last year I received a phone call from a superintendent in my region on a Sunday evening. He introduced himself, and I recognized his name. He told me that I had been very highly recommended by a member of his team and [asked if I would be] interested in joining his team. I paused and said YES. He asked to meet me the very next day right after school. We spoke for over two hours, during which time he introduced me to the other members of the Instructional Leadership team and welcomed me aboard. He added that all he needed to do was call my Principal. I was confident, given that my principal had written so many eloquent letters recommending me. The next morning he sent me an email acknowledging receipt of my resume and saying he would get back to me in a few days. To this day I never heard from him again. I wrote asking him to inform me of the decision. I called, and [he did not even have] the courtesy one should accord to a fellow educator. The salary jump that I was looking at had me so happy.

In the meantime I have seen new APs with less than stellar credentials obtain AP positions, and I have finally given up on the whole process.

I firmly believe that somewhere there is something or someone who has blacklisted me — in spite of my education, my SAS, SDA, experience in staff development, curriculum development, ESL, Spanish and French licenses, and experience in teaching those languages and Special Ed. It seems so peculiar that there was not one position for which I was qualified in the past four years of steady applications.

You have no idea how disheartening it is to watch such mediocre new APs come in, out of the blue with no experience, no tenure, while one has all the qualifications.

So, I guess I am just sharing what I have gone through. I have to work another ten years as a teacher before I can leave the NYCDOE. I hope God gives me the strength to stay put.
Yes, I do know how disheartening it is, and so do many others who've had similar things happen to them.

I hope more people will tell their stories, on this blog or someplace else. Everywhere, in fact.

About ten days ago I wrote something about warehousing music in New York City. Yesterday I was told my position would be closed. Coincidence?

The principal said something about the "tallies" didn't work out. For student enrollment? budget constraints? I don't know what she meant, but I do know that ATRs who are excessed out of a position in a school that hasn't closed don't save the principal money. They remain on the school's budget until they get placed in another school.

So it's far from clear why she's closing one of the positions down. Why not use the two music teachers who'll be floating in the building this spring to make two smaller music classes out of the 50 kids per class they've scheduled up to now? This would be a great chance to let the students get their required semester of high school music in a more normal — and way more appropriate — learning environment. One can only speculate on her reasoning, but I can't imagine it has anything to do with quality education for children or tapping into staff expertise.

My other question is: Whose idea was this, hers or the DoE lawyers, who seem to be running the ship. I recall a comment she made when I had a step I with her a couple of months ago: "I don't understand this stuff. I just give it to the lawyers."

What a way to run a school system.

There is a kink to this situation, because being the senior music teacher in the building, I had to be offered the remaining band position. I assume she's speculating I won't take it, and instead opt for voluntary excess.

It may be that this cavalier way of marginalizing me for the past couple of years, with one extended tour of ATR duty through improper excess (was reinstated by the arbitrators last month) and another legitimate one looming, is linked to the concurrent issue of blacklisting explained in my earlier blog.

In other words, it's hard to know whether there's a directive from the region to handle me this way or if the principal is just on some kind of personal crusade.

As a chapter leader, delegate, activist and blogger, I've certainly not been invisible. Over the past five or six years, I made no bones about the fact that one principal was a downright liar, then stood up to a Manhattan superintendent who was trying to alter the makeup of a C-30 committee I had to put together. I reported a Bronx principal to New Visions for fraud: he had me sign a document as chapter leader, then changed the text to something he knew I would not have agreed to. (Their response, by the way, was that the man and I shouldn't be in the same school. LOL.) Then, of course, there's this blog, where for a year and a half I've railed against this chancellor, his non-existent credentials for the job, and the failed system he's created the whole length of his tenure.

Some people think this school system is a game.

But who loses are the kids, and all the qualified professionals that are trampled underfoot.

January 27, 2009

Obama highs, DOE lows

AVoiceIn just alerted me to this tidbit by Yoav Gonen in Saturday's NY Post, which I hadn’t seen.
Administrators at a Bronx elementary school interrogated a class of 7-year-olds individually about their teacher - and then threatened to suspend those who told their folks, several fuming parents told The Post.

Education officials confirmed yesterday that they were investigating claims that as many as 20 second-graders at PS 70 in Mount Eden were pressured by Principal Kerry Castellano and other administrators to compose written statements about teacher Jonathan Alejandro's disciplinary methods.

Parents said they hit the roof when they heard about it. Students were promised McDonald's and other goodies for keeping mum, parents said.

"It's appalling! I'm raising my daughter not to hide things from me, and they're telling her to lie," said Rosa Caceres, who described her daughter, Loreal Luna, as an "emotional wreck" ever since last month's incident.

Angely Miliano said her 8-year-old son, Michael Mateo, was equally torn.

"My son was crying hysterically because he thought he was going to get in trouble with me," she said.

Administrators denied to parents that they had instructed the kids to keep quiet, but Miliano said she asked her son three times whether it was true.

"He said, 'Yes, they told me not to tell you nothing,' " she recalled.

Alejandro declined comment. Castellano did not respond to an e-mail and a phone call seeking comment.

Looking past the hype (it’s the Post, after all), we have a big problem here in this city. It’s the culture of insinuation, interrogation, and criminality that bedevils our profession and poisons our schools.

Each day since the inauguration, one columnist after another has tried to put into words how good it feels to breathe again, knowing that someone is finally at the helm of this great ship of state who can think, listen, evaluate, contextualize, and act appropriately to fight for the things Americans hold dear.

And then something like this story comes along, and we're reminded that if you're in any way connected to the school system here in New York City, your life is pretty much determined by the questionable vision of a single man, Joel Klein, and the enterprise he’s created at Tweed.

I suspect Obama’s going to make some decisions we won’t all like, but we’re happy to let him take the helm of this great ship of a country and do his best. That’s because his best mostly resembles the best in ourselves.

Not so with Joel Klein.

With him and educrats like him running inner city schools across the country, a lot of people will continue living under a pall, much like the one George Bush and his immoral oligarchy fashioned for us. It won't be made out of transparent cloth like Klein tries to tell us, and it won't be comforting. It will feel heavy, ominous and stifling, to teachers and to parents.

The sad part is that the more our new president gleams at the national level, the more we’ll see this chancellor and others who emulate him for what they are, fundamentally the wrong kinds of people to make decisions for our profession or for the kids we teach.

January 25, 2009

Doing it our way

I blame two columns in today’s NY Times for this post.

On the front page of the Sports section, there’s a picture of a formidable basketball coach doing her thing. Pat Summit's taking care of business. She's giving her all and demanding the same from everyone else. A younger coach she once mentored says:
"As a player, I couldn’t see why Pat would get so upset about a lack of effort, why she would say it was disrespecting the game. Now when I see a lack of effort, something about it just grates my nerves."
Pat’s obviously made a dent on the students she's coached. She's done it her way, and she's applauded for it in living color across six columns on two pages.

She's also one of those teachers Bill Gates is talking about when he says: “’It is amazing how big a difference a great teacher makes versus an ineffective one.” That's in the Op-Ed pages, where Nicholas Kristof reminds us that the efforts of this education-dabbler did not really work out. Student achievement has not improved in any significant way, admits Gates years after he started sinking millions into his small-school hobby, and that “In most cases ... we fell short.”

Yes, you effing well did. At our expense and at the expense of hordes of inner city kids. Blow-hard.

I agree with Pat. Teach your guts out. AGAINST ALL ODDS.

I am tired of kids whining when I ask them to take out a pen or a pencil to do some work, or when they suck their tongues in annoyance and roll up their eyes.

I am tired of parents being annoyed when I take the trouble to call them and tell them about their teenager’s unwillingness to work, or that there seems to be a certain proclivity for socializing, or that the standard they've set for themselves is abysmally low.

I am tired of putting crap all over my walls to fit some superintendent’s misguided notion of what a learning environment should contain or look like. (I wrote about that over a year ago in a post called Clutter).

I’m tired of school rules pasted on every square inch of bare wall with kids walking by them
in flamboyant disregard, even under the principal’s nose. At my school, the school uniform seems to be just that: hat, doo rag, earphone wires, pants hanging down below the buttocks, and if you’re really hip, iPod and/or cellphone attached to belt.

I’m tired of the “Blame it down” apparatus they’ve set up. When kids hang out in the classrooms way after the late bell, it's your fault. You didn’t usher them in — as if now you have to supervise the halls as well as your classroom all at the same time. When ambulant students wander into rooms they don’t belong in, it's also your fault. Your door should be closed at all times (no excuse you don’t have a window), and locked. Who cares if latecomers keep you busy as gatekeeper for ten minutes and instruction goes seriously off course. Or when a student is seriously disruptive on numerous occasions, no parent can be reached and you already brought it up with guidance: Your fault, you must be doing something wrong. Your fault, your fault, your fault.

I’m tired of defending every email or letter to the file filled with disinformation, distortion, and downright lies. Those comments get immortalized in cyberspace — not on your computer (they’ve only given you a thimbleful of memory) but on theirs — and in print, for three years minimum in the folder the principal keeps on you at school. No doubt there are backup files on all of this stuff at the region and central.

I’m tired of trying to second guess how some morally challenged administrator will turn the chancellor’s verbal abuse regulation (A-421) on its head to score points. It has some very ambiguous wording indeed:
Language that tends to cause fear or physical or mental distress;
Language that tends to belittle or subject students to ridicule.
not to mention this clause I forgot about altogether:
Nothing in this regulation, however, prevents a supervisor from counseling or disciplining an employee for inappropriate speech or conduct that is not otherwise in violation of this regulation.

That's why I’ve been thinking about putting a sign on my forehead to announce what I'm all about and just be done with it.

Because I'm very tired of administrators at every level not understanding the differences in teaching styles and trying to codify everything from visuals and speech to behavior, professional skills and judgment.

And I am very, very tired of education dabblers, including software philanthropists like Gates, anti-trust prosecutors like you-know-who, and big businessmen, not understanding what kind of commitment it takes to teach in a New York City classroom.

Or maybe they do, and think that if they keep the pressure on, teachers will jump ship way before they’ll ever get a chance at a reasonable salary and a decent pension.

Now, that's something philanthropists and financial people do know something about, and they're going to do their best, by gosh, to make it happen.

January 18, 2009

Breaking my silence, musically speaking

Now that I've been reinstated into the music position from which I was excessed two summers ago, it is time I devote at least one post to teaching music in a New York City high school.

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 — c
onsider 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.

January 2, 2009

REVISED: The error was at TRS

SUBSTITUTE POST: Originally I called this blog:
"BloomKlein computers that get it wrong."
That's because I was told by TRS (Teaches Retirement) a couple of weeks ago that the DoE computers had changed my status from "Active" to "Inactive" on October 31st.

In fact, I found out today that TRS got it wrong. 

The UFT acted very quickly to help sort this out, and it seems my change of status was the result of a TRS employer error. Moreover, efforts were made to ensure it was not done to a lot of members, particularly ATRs as a group. 

I was tempted to remove this entire post, since I was given the wrong information as to who created the error and went after BloomKlein. Then I thought perhaps it would be better to leave most of it, so that people can see that problems like this occur from time to time over at TRS and payroll and you should be aware of them. So, here's the revision:

Still unable to spend a lot of time on the computer as the result of a back injury, it's worth mentioning the following. Consider it an alert.

With my retirement age fast approaching, I got to daydreaming this morning whether I'd have enough money to live on a NYC pension and a couple of annuities. I remembered that on the TRS website, there's a nifty little Retirement Allowance Calculator that could possibly make all one's dreams come true.

Strangely enough, I couldn't find it today, so I decided to give TRS a call. Maybe it wasn't working in the holiday season. The phone was answered by a nice gentleman who found my account and quickly told me that TRS doesn't offer that Retirement Calculator to "inactive" members, which according to his records, I have been — since October.

This news horrified me, since apart from Nov. 4th (which I spent at the Protect the Vote offices down in Manhattan) and the 8 days I was laid up in excruciating pain, I've been quite an active member of the workforce. In fact, restored to the music position I was excessed from a couple of years ago, I have resumed a program of five classes a day with 50 kids on register each. This regimen is not for dawdlers or for the faint of heart.

[Here is where I removed my sarcastic comments on BloomKlein's fake accountability, fake computers and fake expertise, because the DoE was not the culprit in this case. But, it's not to say I don't still loathe them for all that. They've been manipulating data since they've been in office, a real threat to both reality and transparency.]

My advice to anyone who reads this blog:   Here's the TRS tel. no. 1-888-869-2877 — in case you want to check for yourself whether your status is as it should be.

Now, see how easy that was? I changed the entire thrust of this blog once I found the error was not made by the DoE or its computers.

Would that principals would change the distortions, exaggerations, omissions, and lies in the letters they write to our files when they find out they've been wrong. Dream on. These days, they're leaving all that garbage right where it is — just in case they may want to build a big case against you down the line.