But one decision, one rule, I kept. Almost. I decided not to go into my school.
When my sabbatical was approved, May of 2013, I had to make some decisions about the school year that just passed.
I chose an institution to take courses, and then I changed, and then I partially changed again. And I changed classes along the way. They were still, mostly, graduate level math classes. Just not the ones I had originally planned on, nor at the institution I had thought was perfect.
I decided to travel every other weekend. And while I did travel, and a lot, it wasn’t close to every other weekend.
I decided to visit schools and watch math classes. I figured I would get to 2 or 3 dozen. The visits were harder to arrange than I thought, and I ended up visiting fewer than 20 schools.
But one decision, one rule, I kept. Almost. I decided not to go into my school. Not to drop by. Not to say hi. Not to speak to a chapter meeting. Not to discuss administrative items with my principal. Never.
I cleaned out my personal items on June 26, 2013, so I wouldn’t have an excuse to “just drop by” for something.
There was excitement (not in the positive sense of the word) over the new evaluation system. Teachers wanted my input. They got it via e-mail. Or in person in bars or restaurants. I wasn’t going in.
The principal occasionally wrote to me, apologetically asking a question. He knew I was really disconnecting. He did not ask me to come in.
This winter a student was making a documentary film for class about specialized high school admissions (my school is a specialized high school.) Several of the teachers in my school worked on a UFT committee (organized by VP Janella Hinds) examining ways to improve specialized high school admissions – and I co-chaired the committee. And he wanted to interview me, and I wanted to grant the interview. But I arranged it in a college library, close to our school. I wasn’t going in.
My principal received papers, important to my sabbatical (eventually) and offered them to me if I dropped by. I asked him to hold on to them. I wasn’t going in.
I was really, really good.
And then the new contract proposal hit in May. And one of the co-acting-chapter leaders asked me to come in. I declined. And then another chapter member. And then another. And when I had my fifth request, from a chapter of just 25, I broke down. May 23, I came in and ran two Chapter meetings. And then I met with my designee and the principal about possible schedule options, assuming the contract went through. June 2 I came back, ran an after school chapter meeting to discuss schedule options. And while I’ve been in touch, at a distance, I did stop by twice after school ended – once to follow up on some questions, and once to collect copies of sabbatical-related material (I’m turning in my sabbatical papers today).
I guess this rule, not going in, this one rule was a really good one, as long as I kept it. Once I broke it once, it kind of broke down.
Not exactly, but something like it.
Because of “Turnaround” – adopted in a 2010 Weingarten/reform contract – there is a group of “displaced teachers” every year – who will have a job, but have to find the placement themselves. And because “turnaround” comes with stigma (it’s schools in poor areas that have it done to them, but they are labeled as failing), teachers leaving those schools tend to be shunned.
It also quotes union leader Dave Cicarella, on an interesting, different, note. New Haven adopted a five stage teacher evaluation system in 2010, before NYC’s H, E, D, I system. People I know there said that the dramatic change was not in the number of people scoring the lowest, and in danger of losing their jobs, but that principals had discretion over the difference between a 3 and a 2, and being able to punitively push teachers who spoke up into a “teacher improvement plan” which is apparently a miserable experience.
Before then, Cicarella said, “we had a ridiculous evaluation system” that involved nothing more than “a couple of drive-by” observations of teachers. As in most of the country at that time, teachers were rated on a binary system, either effective or ineffective.
New Haven was one of the first districts nationwide to start grading teachers on student performance—a trend that has now spread nationwide, prompted by federal pressure from the Obama Administration’s competitive grant programs and No Child Left Behind Act waivers. The initiative is based on the premise that the most important factor in a kid’s education is the quality of the teacher—and that that quality can be measured.
His response to principals: “Why don’t you tell your colleagues to do their job?”
If principals are using the teacher evaluation system properly, he argued, they should be working hard to help low-performing teachers improve—and firing them if they don’t. The teachers contract allows a principal to fire a tenured teacher after one year if he or she scores on the bottom of the five-point evaluation scale, and after three years if he or she fails to improve to “effective,” a three out of five. The system requires schools to give teachers plenty of notice: They have to warn teachers in November if they are on track to score on the bottom, or top, of the evaluation scale.
So here we have a new five point scale, and the reformers complain that not enough teachers get fired and blame the union. Sounds like the same complaints we’ve heard in the past about the S and U system, and about tenure. In fact, the problem is the complaint itself, and it would be nice if more AFT locals stood up and said so, rather than trying to mollify the reformers.
And, as Cicarella inadvertently points out, HEDI, 54321, S and U, all rely on good administrators. And the lack of good administrators is something we should be looking much closer at.
My sabbatical is winding down. A full year of classes, travel, visiting schools, and no teaching.
I turned 50, hiked to Machu Pichhu, studied cryptography.
I am relaxed and healthier.
Over the next month and a half I will tell some sabbatical stories in this space.
But for now, I’m worried about one particular story: yours.
If you are eligible, you should do this. The time is amazing. The stress on the job is too great. The opportunity to learn is wonderful. And the time to do other things is too.
What are you waiting for? You need to be in your fourteenth year when you apply.
The DoE memo comes up in February. They leave you a window of about two weeks to get the application in. It’s not enough time… so start way before February. There are UFT workshops afterschool in each borough in the fall. Attend. Figure out where you are going to take courses. Use last year’s memo as a template. Figure out some likely courses. They need to be rigorous and job related. And the majority (you’ll need a total of 16 credits) have to be at times that you would otherwise be teaching.
Money? You still get 70% of your pay. After taxes, that’s a lot less of a cut than most people expect. If even that is too much, you can cut TDA for a year (but I don’t like the sound of that). Plus the year still counts towards pension. Find a way to tighten the belt a little, if you have to. But no excuses.
Many UFTers think that sabbaticals no longer exist. Wrong. Think that most applications get rejected. Wrong. Think they can’t afford one. Wrong.
So stop making excuses – get ready for the February application. You won’r regret it.
I arrived in Tucson, and I am leaving.
I spent last weekend in Los Angeles, at the American Federation of Teachers Convention. Instead of heading straight home, I detoured east by southeast into the Gadsden Purchase.
With my luck, the flight in Monday was delayed. And the great rate I got from Thrifty? It didn’t come with an actual car.
I got to my hotel (nice spot, Lodge on the Desert, big room, fireplace – well, fake, but I think it’s one of those gas jobs – balcony, comfy, clean… it’s a bunch of two-story buildings around a restaurant, bar, and pool) I got to my hotel around midnight, and slept in Tuesday.
More luck, Tuesday there was a morning storm, and it continued. Lightening, and on and off bursts of rain. But the natives seemed to like it, and told me it would be fine to visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and it was. Dips in the road were filling with water, and I’d been warned twice to be very careful. I’d also been advised of the “Stupid Motorist Law” which says that if I drive into a puddle that turns out to be much bigger than that, and need to be rescued – I pay the cost.
The Museum was like a massive nature center / botanical garden. They had an amazing variety of cacti, and the creosote plants (not creosote) scented the drizzly air, and the steel grey sky provided an awesome backdrop. There were animal exhibits, plant exhibits. There was a walk-in aviary, and a walk-in aviary for hummingbirds. I must have stepped in the wrong spot, because one buzzed my head a few times. There was geology, and paleontology. And it got hot when the sun finally came out, but I had already spent hours there. It was absorbing, and entrancing, though perhaps not amazing.
The road took me over a little hill with an overlook back east over the City, and another on the other side, west. On the return trip, as I made it down the east side, I saw a cop with flashers. I slowed. A lot. He was guarding a boulder that had fallen in the road – the shape of a huge wheel of cheese, maybe two-and-a-half feet high, with about a six foot diameter. Another trap for stupid motorists.
In the evening I ate at the Tucson Tamale Company, which was ok. The young woman who helped me let me taste everything, and then even came over to the table to unwrap a tamale for me, and told me I looked way better (she should have said younger) than her mother. One Sonora, one vegan blue.
And then I found the house where my father lived his first few years. Pretty sure the building is not old enough, probably newer construction on the same site. The West University neighborhood was interesting.
Then a few laps in the pool.
And today? Breakfast. The Pima Air and Space Museum. Connection to Phoenix. And an exit row from Phoenix to JFK.
1. Enough Press
And yesterday was another busy “tweeting” day, well morning. If you are curious, here’s the handle once again: @jd2718x . My twitter account saw more action this weekend than in the previous three months. One Unity delegate (and full-timer) joked as I passed him on the way to the bathroom that I needed to get back up front and get back to work. Others noticed that I looked a bit tired (it really was a bit draining). And a Unity retiree who I know slightly, seeing the fatigue on my face, offered to make me her guest in two years. (I know I can register myself as a visitor, but it was a really nice gesture).
I’d been waiting for this. The AFT is famous for pro-war resolutions, and despite their protestations, their draft Ukraine resolution was another example. I heard, and this was at least a little heartening, that it had only squeaked out of committee by two votes. And I expected, despite the odds, a fierce debate.
“the AFT has a long, ugly pro-war history (they were Kerryishly for the Viet Nam war before they were against it, a dozen years ago my local passed a blood-curdling “let’s invade Afghanistan, because we need to invade someone” resolution, and just four years ago the AFT passed a blueprint for justification of a war they clearly were hoping the US would launch against Iran). This time? Pro-war resolution on Ukraine. Look for it to pass, but in a hot debate.”
But a funny thing happened. There was some sort of agreement, and the Cold War reso was replaced by a substitute, introduced and strongly motivated by a math teacher, PSC-CUNY delegate Glenn Kissack. The substitute dropped support to the current Ukrainian government. It added opposition to IMF-imposed austerity. It added support for labor rights for Ukrainian teachers. The Whereas’s (preamble) in the substitute, among other things, pointed harsh fingers at the nationalist right wing parties, Right Sector and Svoboda. That was too much, Shanker Institute Administrator Leo Casey rose to swallow the new resolution, but asked to blank the entire preamble, and PSC-CUNY President Barbara Bowen generously agreed.
This was one of two places in the Convention where something better than what the leadership proposed was passed, and clearly the more important. (The other was getting a symbolic anti-Duncan resolution). The Ukraine resolution is not a resolution the State Department would be comfortable with. Excellent.
Two speakers stood out on Monday – the NEA’s new president Lily Eskelsen García and the AFT’s new Executive Vice President, Mary Cathryn Ricker.
Lily Eskelsen García spoke plainly, and well. She struck good teacher chords, good labor chords, and was genuinely funny.
Best: “When I die, I would like to die in a faculty meeting. The transition between life and death would be so subtle.”
But she hammered reformers, and testing, and sounded as militant as anyone who’d addressed the assembly.
I wasn’t taking notes when Mary Cathryn Ricker spoke. I had moved to the back, bag over my shoulder, watching my phone, waiting for my ride to call. But as I caught some of her words, my focus was pulled back to the stage (or the screens, I guess). She is from Minnesota, and had been involved with the St. Paul local’s militancy, and so it should have not been a surprise that it was a real labor speech, and kind of tough, and I know it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but it was a good last note to AFT14.
4. Election Results
The Progressive Caucus (which binds many major locals to UFT/Unity, and loosely ties some others, prominently CTU and PSC-CUNY) won an overwhelming majority – on the order of 97-98% over perennial opposition BAMN. Of some interest, Mary Cathryn Ricker received the highest number of votes. More interestingly, while the vast majority of votes are slate votes, there are enough votes for individual vice presidents to see a difference – and indeed CTU and PSC-CUNY presidents Lewis and Bowen received more votes than any of the other vice presidents, outpolling the last VP by about twenty thousand weighted votes each.
5. And then? I visited the La Brea Tar Pits and the Page Museum, had lunch in Little Ethiopa, and flew to Tucson for a day and a half of sightseeing – which I need to get started on!
1. More Press
I spent another day front row, listening, writing, tweeting. I’m “Press” here because I blog. But then it turns out I tweet… another 40 yesterday, even though I missed a bit. Maybe a little more intense during the two big discussions. If you are curious, here’s the handle again: @jd2718x
2. Common Core
The second resolution of the morning supported the Common Core, but criticized implementation, testing, etc. It called on teachers to rewrite the standards. This was the most contentious resolution, probably of the entire convention.
Randi Weingarten opened by asking to suspend the rules, so that the question could not be called for the first 15 minutes, and to allow the suspension to be extended 15 more minutes (guarantees debate). In the event, the debate went on about 40 minutes, and included a range of points from each side.
At first it looked like UFT against CTU, but as other delegates joined in, it looked like Chicago and some rank and filers on one side, against AFT Vice Presidents on the other – an unfortunate blunder on the part of the common core supporters.
Almost none of the debate addressed the actual content of the CCLS. Which is unfortunate. The math has some plusses, but the demerits are overwhelming. The high school component is a disaster. And no one seems to care what’s actually in them. One Chicago delegate did address reading: Kids naturally learn to read between ages 4 and 8, and not on schedule. One special ed teacher talked about how inappropriate the standards were for “her babies” (phrase made me cringe), another (unconvincingly) described how the standards would help (hmm, she described things that she’s not currently doing? I was confused, probably for good reason).
The Vice Presidents spoke, some in favor of the Common Core, some in favor of reclaiming the Common Core. A woman from Rhode Island was quite clear about not liking them the way they are, others seemed to endorse them as written.
One rank and filer from Minneapolis, dynamic speaker, distinguished between corporate standards and educational standards, rebutted the idea that kids would be on the same page in different states, and pointed out that we could never “reclaim” standards that are copyrighted.
The vote was about 70 – 30.
Can we make Duncan resign? No.
Can we say we are pissed? Yes.
And that’s the unstated motivation for the amendment to an unrelated resolution calling on him to resign.
Only another delegate comes up with a snarky “Improvement Plan” for Duncan. Cute? Yup. Motivated? With precise, sharp criticism of things he’s already done to harm us. But it kind of distracts from the “We’re pissed, resign” message. So Mulgrew gets up and speaks for it. And the house, still edgy from the Common Core debate, divides along similar lines – Resign vs Improvement Plan. In the end, the Improvement Plan passes overwhelmingly, and it’s only a slightly weaker way of publicly venting.
4. Other stuff
Argentina’s defense was amazing, but they could not score against Germany. I watched with a delegate whom I’d met in June, in Cuba.
Donna Brazile spoke on the Democrats for Public Education. I was outside the hall, eating.
A resolution to create physical infrastructure in the US closed the session. A delegate rose to amend, to add a pro-environment line, and an anti-Keystone line. Randi separated the two, but the question was called right away (delegates were in a rush to end the session). Keystone went down overwhelmingly, but Randi was horrified to see the environment also fail, about 2-1. She called for a revote, and enough of a signal went out that the new result was close enough to a tie that she could conclude that the amendment passed. And who would object? Those were mostly her votes that were still going the wrong way.
6. On deck: International Resolutions. The AFT has a long, ugly pro-war history (they were Kerryishly for the Viet Nam war before they were against it, a dozen years ago my local passed a blood-curdling “let’s invade Afghanistan, because we need to invade someone” resolution, and just four years ago the AFT passed a blueprint for justification of a war they clearly were hoping the US would launch against Iran). This time? Pro-war resolution on Ukraine. Look for it to pass, but in a hot debate.
Did I really say I didn’t like LA? Almost. Look at #5: “I do not love this city” And Fred Klonsky forgave me (Even if Jonathan doesn’t like LA. He’s a New Yorker and can be forgiven), but I vowed to do some repair work.
I guess mostly it was just a NY prejudgement. An idea that the Bay Area was good for transportation, and southern California was good for traffic. All kinds of movie stereotypes. Have you ever seen Annie Hall?
But how can I have an informed opinion after visiting for 4 days (stayed in Culver City) once in the late 80s, and 3 days (all AFT convention) this week? Well, I can’t.
And there’s already some good stuff I can mention. Two of my favorite movies are set in LA. Chinatown, but I haven’t visited Chinatown. Chinatown holds up after over 40 years, as if it were made yesterday.
Better than that, Double Indemnity. You know, Fred MacMurray, from My Three Sons? An insurance salesman, lured into crime by a seductive Barbara Stanwyck? And betraying his close relationship with his boss, claims adjuster Edward G. Robinson? (doesn’t he usually play gangsters?) “Know why you couldn’t figure this one, Keyes? I’ll tell ya. ‘Cause the guy you were looking for was too close. Right across the desk from ya.” “Closer than that, Walter”
So we found a livestream of Double Indemnity, and my cousin, who’s been in LA for a year and change, loved it. Because she leaves in the direction of Glendale (not there, just in the direction) and she recognized every corner, every address. Plus it’s, ya know, a good movie.
And then there’s Dodgers Stadium. We saw a game yesterday. Great game. Pitchers’ duel. 0-0 into the 9th, bases loaded, one out, sac fly to left to win it in the bottom of the inning. Love those games. And the shtick between innings was more middle America honky tonk than big city. Loved it. Running to second and back to first. Unpiling cups faster than Jose Uribe. Good wholesome shtick. And the views, and the moon. Yeah, it’s old and falling down a little. But it was no National League cookie cutter. Good sight lines, comfortable feel. Someone should tell the Dodgers fans not to come late and leave early (a couple in front of us left 0-0, bottom in the 9th, one on, no one out), but other than that, good place to watch baseball.
And there’s the ethnic food, which I haven’t figured out yet. And I’m about to leave. Maybe next time. Korean tacos? Really?
And then there’s Uber. An App to call special cabs. You can see how close they are, and get an ETA. And they bill your credit card without swiping anything or opening your wallet. And they are cheaper than regular cabs. Cool.
The only sightseeing I’ll get in is tomorrow, on the way to the airport, La Brea Tar Pits. And what’s Hammer?
So, honestly, I don’t love LA. At least not yet. But I’ll come back, and give it a real chance.