April 22, 2011

Clearing out some files

I just found an email I wrote to UFT exec Mike Mendel in September of 2009 about being a music teacher.

Clearly nobody at the UFT responsible for negotiating the contract has ever understood the overload: there's way too much disparity between those who teach general-ed-type subjects to a class of 50 students and those who service a mere 34.

Of course, the points I made to Mendel a couple of years ago only apply when you work a full music program, not when your school cuts music and makes you teach out of license most of the day.

Here's what I wrote him:

Sent: Sunday, September 13, 2009 8:35 PM
To: Michael Mendel
Subject: About music overload


I meant to write you earlier, but the overload is enormous.

HS Music teachers can be given 50 kids per class. Of course they all do not show up each and every period, but some things are constant:

1. You have to take attendance on a weekly bubble sheet IN ADDITION to keeping your own attendance records. This usually involves Delaney cards because you can't memorize so many kids (250) without a seating plan.
[editorial comment: you do get to know all the names, sometime in October]

2. If one of these classes is your "homeroom", which requires a daily attendance sheet, that's a third attendance effort.

3. These lists are complicated because they have to be accurate, and you can't do it quickly. Let's say you turn over the Delaney cards to save time. You still have to do the bubbling in your lunch or prep for 250 names per day. And they're not just absent or present. They can be late. They can also be late halfway through the period, which means you have to go back and annotate those too.

4. Talking about differentiation: you get in the same class: grades 9-12, spec. ed (learning disabled plus behaviorally challenged), regular ed, self-contained class members (their IEPs allow them to be mainstreamed for the electives), hearing impaired, and ELLs.

5. Absenteeism is erratic. There is little consistency, so some kids are up to date with the work, and lots and lots of others are missing a day here or there each week.

6. Grading: if you care about your job, you give classwork, and it needs to be graded. Grading so many kids is a nightmare.

7. Report cards are another nightmare, because even if they don't show, they all have to get a grade and a comment. This can only be done on a PC, not a Mac, and many music teachers use Macs at home because it was traditionally the best computer for music and art.

8. When they ask us to CALL HOME for every single person absent, try doing that kind of volume. It's only possible to do this on your lunch hour and in your prep. You should not have to do this kind of work at home or on your own time, but one is forced to under these conditions.

9. Now they're asking for PROGRESS REPORTS: they have to be done on a computer for each and every one of the 250 students, even if they aren't coming to school.

10. This leaves no time whatsoever for lesson planning, collaborating with other teachers, fixing your room, making your music tapes and/or class materials. It all has to be done on your own time -- which is normal for teachers, but so very much more for us.

11. On top of this you get a Circular 6 duty taking up a period.

Please can you to do something about this terrible disparity. A spec. ed teacher or a RR teacher has 14 kids max each period, gen ed has 34, and we have 50 — that's half again the reg ed class. But admin makes no exceptions in the obligations we must fulfill as subject teachers.

Failing a contractual class size change, please can you get someone to say that Music teachers with these numbers should be given NO other circ. 6R duty than to finish up the attendance, calling home, grading, and school marks.

The remarks above are for GENERAL MUSIC and small music classes like Keyboard. They are not for CHORUS, BAND or ORCHESTRA, which are "perfomance" groups and many music teachers want as large a group as they can get for better sound. I was most happy in MS with a performance group of 80 or 90 (though I rehearsed them in groups of 32 or so, as well as some lunchtime kids 3 times a week, then combined them all for concerts).

I brought this up two or three years ago at a DA. RW's response was to see if there could be some "non-contractual relief".
That never happened.

Best regards,

His response: "I'm going to push this."

Good luck, you guys. I threw in the towel a month ago and am on terminal leave.


  1. It is a terrible time to be a teacher. I want to throw in the towel too. I am looking for a way out after almost 20 years. Many are coming to hate what the billionaires the the president and mayoral control are doing to a free and once democratic public school system.

  2. Congratulations, UA!! I am just retiring, wishing I can take terminal leave but not enough days "saved" in my bank. Back at the ranch, as a special educator for over 33 years, we are newly burdened with a computerized IEP system (doubtless another no bid contract with benefits for friends) which now forces us to work hours at home. School computers are broken and inefficient, leaving us no choice. I'm so happy to be leaving this system, but unhappy about the state of education. I hope that arts education does not suffer any more than it already has. Welcome back to the blogosphere! I plan to do more singing and less paperwork in the very near future....

  3. Hi, Ms Ts: I definitely would have left earlier if my job were as pointlessly computerized the way it's going these days. Educators are not office workers or data entry staff. There are subtleties to children that cannot and should never have to be inventorized, categorized and force-labeled. Business paradigms slapped onto our professional tasks are totally misguided and deadly.
    Hope to chat with you again on the other side (of retirement, that is) !

  4. I'd just like to add that my classroom is still not a data production laboratory....I still am attempting to educate, nurture and encourage my students who are forced to take tests that are both invalid and inappropriate for them, given their learning issues. I will be very happy to chat with you again, especially once we "break on through to the other side" (of retirement, of course!)

  5. It's good having you blog again. I did miss your insight into the education nightmare all the teachers are going through, except TFA teachers. They can't wait to work 15 hours a day, and give up their rights, including LIFO. Anyway, I hope you continue to blog. Teachers have to continue to fight, fight, fight as much as they can. We cannot let the mayor, the chancellor, and all the ed deformers annihilate the public school system. I hope that other music teachers take up the call of asking for class reduction to the same class size as the other subject teachers. It's only right.

  6. I salute you, my fellow teacher, for your sincerity and your labor. And for drawing attention to some of the real problems faced by teachers and those of their students who are sincere. Unfortunately, all of these qualities (sincerity, labor and drawing attention to the real problems) are handicaps when faced with a system that has been, in some respects, a sham, and is now headed towards being an outright criminal swindle -- no different from the wars in which sincere soldiers fight and perish in utter futility.