Saturday, August 30, 2014

Rumor Mill: Final Ratings Released Next Tuesday

This is just a rumor. I hear tons of rumors. I ignore most of them, but if I think one is true (or pretty close to true), I'll blog it.

This one says that our final ratings, including the 40% based on tests, will be given to send, via DOE email, at 5 PM on Tuesday.

Yep. VAM scores out on Tuesday.

Carry on

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Why I Support the Common Core

This one is long overdue. 

I'm proud to rub shoulders with some of the most intelligent and influential bloggers and activists in NYC and beyond. As I lay claim to neither their influence or their intelligence, I find myself in the unique position of being able to carefully listen to their tutelage, while not having to accept their positions as some type of dogma. 

Many of them do not support the Common Core. They believe the standards to be a divisive tool of corporate education reformers who are hellbent on privatizing out public school system. For many of their writings, the matter is as simple as that. This is an oversimplification of course and the matter is, obviously, far more complex but at the end of the day, they don't support the core.

As a parent, I have to say that the Common Core, along with the high stakes tests that everyone is making a big deal about really does suck big rotten eggs. I am opposed to those tests and will be opting my seven year old out, in one way or another, from the imposition of them. But I am a well-informed enough parent to see that the Common Core is not, by itself, the problem.  In fact, those tests were harming children long before the CCSS were drafted and will be around after the CC are gone. The problem is these tests and that problem is made all the more worse when they are linked to a terrible curriculum matching the standards. A curriculum and tests, however, is not the Common Core. When my daughter's school dumped the corporate curriculum for Math and Language Arts last year, and opted for another approach, she started to enjoy learning again; but she was still learning along the Common Core.

As a teacher deciding whether or not the Common Core is good, I have to think about what's best for my students. A few factors go into that consideration. My own knowledge about pedagogy and getting ready the real world is only one of those factors (whether my students are enjoying learning is another, but not all learning should be fun. High School is also hard work, so that factor isn't the only consideration that should be made).  Another, really important, factor is how the parents of my students feel about the standards. Parents of my students want their children to experience a good education more than I. They also want them to be ready for that real world. I am proud to have chosen a career where I teach primarily students who are Black and Latin. So as I read the polls about the popularity of the CCSS (or lack thereof) my eyes immediately turn to how people of color feel about these standards. That consideration is as close as I can get to figuring out whether or not the parents of my students support the core.

No one makes a big deal about this, but it is a very big deal.

Two polls about the core were released just this week (here and here). Another was released last month. Some of the postings I've read about this week's polls are here (and here and here and here). They all address a CCSS that are unpopular and nearing their death in many states. The unpopularity of the CC is a particular point that is being made in much of what I've been reading about those polls.

But no one is making a particularly big deal about exactly how popular the CC is among members of the Black and Latin communities. Of the two polls released this week, just one -the Education Next Poll even bothered asking respondents to identify themselves by race or ethnicity. And that poll had some results that surprised me. For instance, 69% of Black Americans polled and 62% of folks who described themselves as 'Hispanic' actually support the Common Core.

Yes they do!!!

This matches a Sienna College Poll last July Showing that 60% of 'African-American/Blacks' and 49% of 'Latinos' felt the CC should "continue to be implemented". This, to me represents a fairly strong popularity for the core among the parents of the students I teach.

I don't know how you see yourself, but I don't see myself as any type of wise man. I don't see myself as some sort of 21st Century philosophe. I'm not going to spend my time weeding through the complexities of academic standards pretending that that's what I'd rather be doing for a living.  It is not.  I am, happily, just a classroom teacher. I'm proud to be just a lowly paid public servant (who's colleagues get kicked in the teeth in the press virtually every day).  And while I feel that the core will ultimately create less winners in America and more losers thus dividing the races along economic parameters even more than they are today (if you could imagine there being such a thing), I have to go with what I think the parents of my students want -not what I wish they'd want; what they do, in fact, want.

It seems clear to me that the parents of my students want the core, so I'm behind them. But I'm not writing just to say that. I'm also writing to say that if you teach student of the same background as I, that you should be aware of who does, as well as who doesn't support the core.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a three page reading rubric to write ;)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Whatever To Wherever My Comment on Ednotes Went

Norm Scott is a very busy guy and probably just missed the comment I published on his blog. Alas, it didn't get published. It happens (I once missed a comment posted to here from my wife; "I know you're blogging again. Knock it off", she wrote. For two whole weeks, I couldn't figure out why she wouldn't speak to me).

Anyway, Ednotes has something about the MORE caucus weighing in with a statement on the UFT's presence at a march this coming Saturday. Mentioned in the post was the internal 'debate' MORE was having over what to say (what to say? what to say? Whatever to say? Omigosh). He ended his post this way

I have such antipathy for Al Sharpton that I have a problem taking part in something he is leading. That the UFT has been funneling money to his organizations all these years does not make me happy. I stopped watching MSNBC when they gave Sharpton his own show.

Which reminds me of the joke my right-wing brother in law once told me.
Standing in front of you is Sharpton, Hitler and Stalin. You have a gun with only 2 bullets. Which ones do you shoot?
Answer: shoot Sharpton twice.

(the comment I dropped that didn't get published is below).

Not a big fan of that last line (although I am ever a fan of you). 

I have some concerns over the debate within the caucus. I suppose it's better than Unity that MORE does debate, but to take a vote is a bit different from reaching consensus. Taking a majority vote requires the creation of a minority who is upset that they didn't get their way. Reaching consensus, which requires far more work, means that the people who would be in the majority take the added step of reaching out to the people who would be in the minority and do what it takes to bring them into a position where they can be ok with what's about to be done. We used to work to reach consensus. I believe that's because we used to care enough about what other folks thought to listen. 
Used to. While I am less concerned about any one debate, I am greatly concerned about the processes through which MOREistas do their MOREista-ing. In this case, I'm afraid that just because one (very cool) blogger calls this a debate, doesn't quote make it so.

You can so what you want (or not) I won't be replying.

(whereas "Used to." should have been "Used to?" and "quote" is, of course, "quite". Pardon my typos, I'm on a summer kind of flow.)

Anyway, to say that there is some tension within MORE is like saying there's some water in a river. Sure it's there, but you sort of need to in order to have it. That said, how that river flows is important. Listening is important.

Ed (who is prone to friendly reminders from time to time and is way too cool to spend anymore time on such trivia as this)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

On Having A Tumor Without Tenure

So it's June 20th ("Regents' Week" in New York high schools) and I'm having coffee with the most wonderfully kind teacher of my school. We're in his classroom, talking about our wives, when he starts giving me some awesome advice about marriage. He has this beautiful baritone voice and speaks in this fabulously slow, deliberate manner so, as is my habit when I listen to his wisdom, I lean my head into my right hand and just take it all in.

At that moment -I mean at that very moment- I feel some type of bump thing under my ear. My colleague's voice fades just a bit as I begin to concentrate my attention on this area just under my ear. I pick up my head up and touch  it with the tips of my two fingers and quickly conclude that I have a lump.

My colleague's voice fades almost completely away now as I feel all around this lump. It's about 3/4 inch in diameter, comes up about 1/2 an inch off of the side of my face and is planted right there under my ear. There is nothing on the other side, nothing under my neck and nothing anywhere else. I can no longer hear a word coming from my colleague. I see a face and a moving mouth but no sound comes out. All I can think about it is 'wtf is this lump?'. It doesn't hurt, doesn't feel sore and isn't accompanied by any fever or discomfort. The skin around it is not brown or discolored. It doesn't feel like a huge zit and doesn't hurt when I press on it. Yet there it is.

One month, five doctor appointments, an X-Ray and an MRI later and I am informed that I have a tumor in my right salivary gland. I didn't even know I had one of those.  I'm also told that there is no certainty as to whether it is cancerous or benign (although, I'm told, it's probably benign). Finally, I'm informed that I'll need surgery to fix this broken gland of mine.

And just like that, I am tossed into the merry Go 'Round that is our American Healthcare System.

I dont suppose my ride will be a long one. I have recently seen this happen to someone close and  the full cycle of death by cancer is a vicious one. There are endless appointments, countless doctors who you see but don't know, as well as more trips for procedures, surgeries and/or scary tests than you can, or care to, count. And then there are the drugs -endless amounts of drugs. They have drugs to drain your fluids and drugs to fill you with them. They have drugs to poison you and drugs to make you feel better after having been poisoned. There are drugs to make you sleep, drugs to wake you up, drugs to make you eat and drugs to make you stop vomiting when you've eaten too much after injecting the poison.  Witnessing these things was one thing. But by mid-July, after just 20 minutes with my head shoved into an MRI machine, I came to realize the full scope of what I suddenly hoped I was not in store for. If it's bad -I mean if it's really really bad- I'll begin this slow process where I'll first stop being myself, then stop being able to work and finally stop being anything at all. If it's more than what it probably it is (because it probably is just a benign tumor), I will have to consider how to navigate the terrain through these lenses.

I don't mention this because I think it matters much for an Edu blog. Nor do I mention it because I think this extreme possibility will happen to me (again, odds are that it won't). I certainly don't mention it for attention or sympathy. I only bring it up because I'd like you to see the landscape from my perspective as I begin talking about my job protections.

You see, at this point in the summer, it looks as though the surgery will take place sometime after the start of the coming school year. This means that I will probably have to miss at least a few days of work. My license is not in a shortage area. 'High School Social Studies Teacher' is a dream job, you see. The fact of the matter is that there are ten guys who are just as smart (and five who are just as handsome) who could quickly move in and do what I do for literally half of what it costs to pay my salary and the healthcare benefits that will probably save me.

I also need to say that I have seen school leaders move to get rid of teachers for something like missing work in order to address needed health issues before. I haven't seen this once or twice mind you (although I haven't seen it "a lot" or "often" either), but I have seen it enough over my thirteen years in the classroom to have clear recollections of being thankful for my good health on more than one occasion. And I've seen it enough to count myself grateful that I do not currently work under such school leaders. Those observations make me feel grateful for having the job protection of tenure.

I know what the process for a ruthless principal is to get rid of someone with sudden health issues. A principal I worked for between 2001 and 2005, and another I worked for for one semester in 2008 both followed it well. Before the health issues, the teacher is a fine and productive teacher. Suddenly, the health issues arrive and the teacher is not able to wait until the summer to take care of it. Soon after, the administrators share concerns about the teaching practices of this teacher. Before you know it, administrators and their lackies, label this person as a 'bad teacher'. From there, it's a quick ride out. I've witnessed three teachers be forced into an early retirement, one forced into a resignation from the system altogether and just this year, heard that another was forced into a medical pension that she did not wish to take.

The principals didn't force these teachers into these positions on the grounds that they were sick. Of course, that would be reprehensible. Rather, they forced my colleagues into these positions because they were 'bad' at what they did. Of course, the rub is that they were only labelled 'bad' after they became sick. Any dimwit can tell you that that's how things work in the real world.

I make this point because just yesterday, Whoopi Goldberg jumped on the bandwagon of 'fire the bad teachers'. I have to admit that, at face value, it is an honorable bandwagon to jump on. No one, and that includes me, wants a bad teacher teaching. A slightly closer look will reveal that Ms. Goldberg is embracing a specific form of commentary -one that happens to be called the "Bad Teacher Narrative". That's the commentary that chooses to discuss only the bad apples that populate our classrooms and no others. It's a useful narrative, in that focusing on the bad apples allows people to take hard earned privileges away from all of us.  Julie Cavanaugh, the lady who ran for president of my union last time around  once mentioned that “The ‘bad teacher’ narrative as a way of explaining what’s wrong with our school system gets really old,”. Looks like she was wrong. It's not old for Ms. Goldberg. On her show yesterday, Whoopi seemed to imply that tenure for all teachers should be removed simply because a few of us (anywhere between 1% - 3% according to testimony during the Vergara Case) may be bad. Of course, she doesn't consider how any one of us can arrive at the label of being bad. Some of us, like my colleagues under a ruthless principal, can be fine, but then become bad suspiciously after becoming sick. Others can befall this label for other reasons that are nothing short of dishonest and corrupt. Whoopi didn't seem to address this. No one who embraces the 'Bad Teacher Narrative" ever seems to address this.

At this point, I would like to point out that, should Campbell Brown's lawsuit designed to repeal teacher tenure in New York State be successful, I, along with the 'bad teachers', will be an 'at-will' employee until the New York State Legislature acts. This may stand in opposition to some things you have read in the past. The fact, however, is that New York's Civil Service laws do not apply to teachers and will not kick in as some sort of magical backstop should Brown's suit be successful. If she wins, teachers throughout the state will be "at-will" until some type of new laws are passed in the legislature. That is a fact.

And it leads me to an important point.  That without tenure, I'd have a lot more to worry about this year than just this damn tumor.