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Getting Back in the Swing (Sabbatical’s really over)

October 10, 2014 am31 6:09 am

Six weeks in, and I’m back in the swing.

I could write “it feels like I never left” but that wouldn’t be true. I’m calmer, feel better. Leave aside that I’ve studied a lot and seen a lot, been to a lot of cool places, made new friends… And I have continued life without an alarm clock. I hope to never use one again.

But the first couple of weeks – and I’m not asking for sympathy, since I deserve none – I was tired each evening by 7, sometimes earlier. I can write a lesson, and manage a classroom, all that good stuff, but physically I was a first year teacher all over again.

But here I am, finishing up my first “interim reports,” giving my second round of tests (in the courses where I test, more about that another time), collecting my first rounds of projects… Back in the swing.

This week three classes solved “How many three digit numbers are there?” (one class found six ways to count them) and “In a 73 player single elimination tournament, how many matches are played?” and wrote up their process.

Another class, that’s been getting a quickly paced diet of algebra review (trinomial factoring with two and three digit coefficients, adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing algebraic fractions, polynomial long division) oohed and aahed when they learned that for \frac{10}{27} \div \frac{2}{3} they could divide straight across.

And my seniors, they completed a four equations, four unknowns project, and turned in mostly clean, well-annotated work, and then had what I thought was a really good talk about keeping the stress level down during the next few months of college applications.

The only thing missing now is blogging…

Teachout for Governor, Robert Jackson for State Senate

September 9, 2014 am30 7:43 am

In the first UFT Executive Board of the year, New Action moved the endorsement of Zephyr Teachout for Governor. The motion was debated (2 speakers for, 3 against) and overwhelmingly defeated. Yet it was important that the issue came forward, and that opposition to Cuomo was acknowledged.

I spoke about Robert Jackson during the question period. Given the NYSUT endorsement of the other guy, a motion seemed besides the point. But what does Jackson have to do – Hero of Public Education, Dewey Award Winner (UFT), Lion for the Children of NY – to earn the UFT’s support?

Fuller report is at the New Action website.

Sabbatical – last 48 hours of freedom

September 2, 2014 am30 7:15 am

Summer Vacation 2013. Then a study sabbatical 2013-14. Then Summer Vacation 2014. And now, after 14 months out of school with very few exceptions, there’s one more hour until I’m going back.

The last 48 hours:

Sunday, 8AM Answer e-mails, read news, light breakfast in room, stretch, pack.

Sunday, noon. Check out. Check bag. Walk down University towards the Rogers Centre.

Sunday, 12:30. Front Street by the Rogers Centre and the Metro Toronto Convention Center are adjacent. Yankees fans, Jays fans, and Fan Expo Canada all mixed together, dressed like their favorite character, be they the Riddler, Jeter, or Lind. Who looks silliest?

Sunday, 1PM. Jeter Ceremony. They gave him a trip to Banff.

Sunday, 3:30. Quick game. Yankees lose 4-3.

Sunday, 4:30. Pho Orchid for a bowl of soup. (rare beef). Then cafe sua da, or whatever it’s called. Vietnamese iced coffee. Sweet. I spent myself down to about C$4.

Sunday, 5:30. Express bus to the airport.

Sunday, 6:45. Arrive Pearson.

Boarding Pass TorontoSunday, 7PM. I learned that that nifty passport card, good for Canada and Mexico, is only valid for LAND and SEA, not AIR travel. I get a confused agent at pre-security. Then an explanation at Passport Control, and a folder to carry, which they take at Customs and send me into an office, where I get a “talking to” and they stamp my entry stamp on my boarding pass. Then a confused flight attendant looks at my passport card. But I’m good.

Sunday, 10PM. On curb, LaGuardia. Wait half an hour for the M60. Not reasonable at that hour. Bus is packed. Woman blocks access to the center aisle with an empty stroller. Driver announces last stop is Steinway. Then repeats herself, “last stop in Queens…”

Sunday, 11:30. Home. I binge watch House (Season 6, 3 episodes) and go to sleep.

Monday, 9:30. Katie arrives. Pack a little. We drive to a deli, get trail snacks, and a sandwich for me. Pick up Adil and Meryem.

Monday, 11:30. Storm King. Beautiful weather, skies clear for us, storms must be to our south.

Monday, 4:30. Home. We did a shorter loop.

Monday, 6PM. Walk to Garden Gourmet (about 2 miles). Shop. Walk home.

Monday, 7:30. Phone calls.

Monday, 8:30. Binge watch House. Season 6, three episodes.

Monday, 11:30PM, last sleep before work.

Tuesday, 5:30AM… you know… but without an alarm

Tuesday, 7, coffee in hand, write blog post.

Tuesday, 7:15 (right now). Finish post, shower. And the first walk to work…

Unjust, unfair firing of probationary teachers – give them a second chance.

August 30, 2014 am31 9:52 am


NEWS RELEASE   Contact: Greg Distefano    August 28, 2014     Phone: 718 757 4552

Unjust, unfair firing of probationary teachers – give them a second chance.

Press conference
Tuesday, September 2, 4:30 PM
in front of the Department of Education (Tweed), 52 Chambers Street.

Stephanie (Barchitta) Casertano  PS3 Staten Island and
Dana Parisi PS253 Brooklyn,
both discontinued,  will speak briefly, will deliver their appeals to Carmen Fariña, and will be available for interview.
Others may join them.

Under the Bloomberg / Klein administration, many principals were hired based on management, not educational/pedagogical skill. While some grew to be fine principals, hundreds remained incompetent and became abusive. And as probationers can be fired without cause, hundreds of probationary teachers were unjustly discontinued and prohibited from working anywhere in the NYC Department of Education.

The teachers here today could work elsewhere in the system – other principals want them. They spent many years of college preparation, and were fired without being given proper support. But they are unfairly barred. They are asking the Chancellor to review their discontinuances. And we urge the Chancellor to review all the discontinuances of incompetent principals.

New Action is a caucus within the United Federation of Teachers.

Frustrating Endorsements

August 22, 2014 pm31 11:55 pm

State Senate
11 – UFT ally, John Liu, against Tony Avella who once challenged Bloomberg, but more recently joined the IDC to help Klein and the Republicans steal back the senate that they’d lost
31 – long time friend of public education and the UFT Robert Jackson, against Adriano Espaillat. Espaillat was not supposed to be in this race, but his primary challenge to Charlie Rangel failed
34 – Jeff Klein, head of the IDC, is finally facing a primary

Oliver Koppell vs Jeff Klein (NY State Senate 34. Klein led the IDC)
NYSUT – Klein
AFL/CIO – Klein
de Blasio – Klein
WFP – none

John Liu vs Tony Avella (NY State Senate 11, Avella joined the IDC)
NYSUT – no endorsement
de Blasio – Avella
WFP – none

Robert Jackson vs Adriano Espaillat (NY State Senate 31, Espaillat ran because he lost to Rangel in the primary)
NYSUT – Espaillat
AFL/CIO – no endorsement
de Blasio – not sure – probably no endorsement
WFP – Espaillat

Cuomo vs Teachout
NYSUT – no endorsement
AFL/CIO – no endorsement
de Blasio – Cuomo
WFP – Cuomo


March for Justice on Staten Island

August 21, 2014 pm31 4:21 pm

My union and my caucus have called for participation in the march on Staten Island. Saturday, August 23, noon, Bay St and Victory Blvd, near the ferry terminal.

There’s been a flurry of opposition, partly on social media, partly fueled by the New York Post and the like.

Perhaps as a result, the UFT webpage notice is weaker than the UFT action alert (which we received August 14, over the signatures of LeRoy Barr and Ellie Engler). We should not be afraid of the opposition we are seeing. On the contrary, it should strengthen our resolve.

The UFT Action Alert (with flyer – cannot locate it at (8/14):

Join the UFT at the March for Justice for Victims of Police Brutality

Please join Rev. Al Sharpton and the family of Eric Garner at a march to demand justice for victims of police brutality.

Date: Saturday, Aug. 23

Time: 11 a.m.

Place: Intersection of Victory Blvd. and Bay St., Staten Island (site where Eric Garner was killed) Directions »

Complimentary transportation will be available from the Brooklyn end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at 10 a.m. The march will begin at noon and proceed to the intersection of Hamilton Avenue and Richmond Terrace (site of the Staten Island Police Department), where a rally will take place until

3 p.m.

The UFT webpage notice (8/20?):

March for Unity and Justice

Members of the UFT will be joining the NAACP, Local 1199 and others on Staten Island for a march for unity and justice. We can come together as a community by respecting each other and listening to all voices. The march begins at 12 p.m. at Victory Blvd. & Bay St. and proceeds to Hamilton Ave. & Richmond Terrace for a rally. The march organizers are providing free transportation from the Brooklyn end of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge at 10 a.m.

Sabbatical – Teaching Math? – Math Circles

August 15, 2014 pm31 6:48 pm

I took a sabbatical 2013-14, to study. But I did other stuff, too. Including learning more about teaching. It wasn’t required (Just the graduate math classes were required). I did it for me.

Even before Labor Day, even before the first day of staff meetings that I did not have to attend, I was using my sabbatical. It was early July when me and a friend hopped in his car, and after sampling our way through one brewery in New York (meh) and one brewery in Ohio (nice), and one brewery in Michigan (very nice), landed in South Bend, for a Math Circle Summer Institute.

Math Circles are… well it can be tricky to generalize. They are extra-curricular. They are sometimes led by non-teachers. Some are free, some cost money. Some are geared towards contest preparation. In this country, they are far more often geared towards curiosity and enrichment.

The summer institute drew teachers and non-teachers. The founders/leaders/patriarchs, Bob and Ellen Kaplan, couldn’t make it. A math circle/math community in South Bend organizes the event, and brings kids to play with the participants, and to participate in little circles. I knew in advance myself, my friend, Sue, and Owen. The rest were new to me.

Each day began with a math circle type problem for the adults. The instructor modeled posing the question, but not giving too much information, and letting the teachers and kids play with the problem, ask questions, explore. We worked individually, together, and as a whole room (there must have been 25? altogether. It’s a year ago, I’m a bit fuzzy).

In the afternoons we broke up by level (high school, middle school, upper elementary, lower elementary). There were kids at each level. And we ran daily “math circles” with each participant getting a turn to lead or co-lead.

How was it?

We were playing math all day. You can guess, but I’ll tell you. I had a ball.  One of the interesting bits was how few actual teachers there were. I mean, motivated parents who run or want to run circles and university types who want to run or facilitate circles, or people who might become teachers – they were there in larger numbers. That meant there was a sort of freshness and newness to some of the conversation. The mix meant there were people to engage in math with at all levels. But it also meant that there were people trying to rediscover or discover stuff that you figure out pretty quickly in the classroom. It was… interesting. And it was … different. And it was … engaging in a new sort of way. Plus, I made a math-y friend, which was nice for me.

IMG_1522 IMG_1535 IMG_1526

Return to NY – Any impact?

The way back involved more stopping. Bell’s again. One famous (bit disappointing), one fun stop in Michigan. And a tiny stop in Horseheads, NY.

And since? I’ve kept thinking about how the Math Circles organized time, and allowed kids to explore, and to bang their heads against hard problems, without rushing to the answer. I already do some of that, would like to incorporate more of the “feel” into some of what I do.

My friend kept thinking about how fun the circles were. He played with ways to set one up. And he ended up spending time at the NYC Math Circle, hanging around with instructors, volunteering for the summer.

How do you sign up? Should you?

So it’s fun. And you’ll learn stuff. And meet interesting people. And exchange ways of thinking. And get to try stuff out. But it costs money. I paid, but most people… I’d recommend it more for people who can get at least partial funding by their district.

But if you are going to go ahead, it’s a week in July, e-mail Bob Kaplan at and get more info directly from him.


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