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The Backbone of our Union – Volunteers or Staff?

June 14, 2016 am30 7:27 am

At a small Bronx demonstration a few years back I heard a chant: “Who are we?  UFT!” Ouch. The demonstration, aside from three or four activists, was entirely paid staff from the Bronx UFT Office. This was not the UFT.

The UFT is a membership organization. There are tens of thousands of us. But the leadership of our union is unable or unwilling to mobilize the membership. Perhaps they have given up on ever being able to mobilize the membership. Instead, they think of the themselves as a union, and they think of the members as a passive constituency. This is a gross misunderstanding of what a union is.

The Backbone of a Healthy Union

They also misunderstand what healthy union should look like. The UFT should have a backbone. And our current leadership looks in the wrong place to find the group that should makes it up.

Not the officers and staff on the 14th floor. Not the appointees and paid staff in the borough offices. And not the mass of members, mostly unorganized. The backbone of our union should be the one thousand five hundred chapter leaders.

The members in each school make up a “chapter.” And every chapter elects a chapter leader. Chapter leaders are, today, the only leaders of the union directly elected by the members they directly serve.

Defending our Union

When the Friedrichs case threatened to defund our union, our leadership reacted. They searched for ways to continue to collect dues, and to protect what we had. They acted as if a union’s ability to fund itself is vitally important. And it is.

But what about when your backbone is attacked? What happens when a principal announces that he can take out a chapter leader with impunity? That he is not afraid of the UFT, because the UFT won’t fight? This cannot go unchallenged. It must be stopped. Our response to an attack on a chapter leader must be at least as vigorous as our response to a political attack.

In the coming days you will hear about a Chapter Leader being singled out by an anti-union principal. This principal must be challenged. It will be a test of our new New Action and MORE Executive Board members if we can convince the UFT leadership to rise to face down this bully.

These words cannot anymore be empty:  An injury to one is an injury to all.


Skinny awards, this Thursday

June 6, 2016 pm30 8:59 pm

Please come to the annual Class Size Matters Skinny award dinner honoring Juan Gonzalez and Robert Powell onJune 9 –just a few days away — it’s always one of the most joyful events. For more information or to buy tickets see

I forgot I was going, never have gone before, until Norm Scott posted a reminder. Bought my tickets two weeks ago. Can’t believe I already forgot.

The Skinny Awards are the opposite of the Broad Awards (Eli Broad, anti-public ed reformer, rich guy. Get it Broad ≠ Skinny?)

Leonie Haimson orchestrates it – she’s pro-public education, anti-testing, pro-all kinds of other good things. I’m curious. You should be too. If Thursday is open, join me there.


UFT Election Results – some discussion

June 3, 2016 am30 10:34 am

Some initial thoughts on the UFT election, based loosely on New Action discussion earlier this week.

  • This result (winning high schools, increased overall vote) was the result we were looking for. Sure, a breakthrough elsewhere would have been fantastic, but it was not expected.
  • The decision to run with MORE (rather than approach Unity, run with Solidarity, run on our own, or sit the election out) was the right decision.
  • The alliance was necessary for winning the high school seats. Would not have happened otherwise.
  • Discussion of “pizza parties” – huge result from Francis Lewis (CL Arthur Goldstein) – where else did the parties occur (real leadership required to run them?)
  • There was a definite uptick in support we got from the schools. All of us met “old friends” (not including MORE folks) who indicated that they were delighted to be able to vote for us, since they had been unwilling to support Mulgrew.
  • MORE’s leadership in the Opt-Out movement clearly made a difference in elementary and middle schools.
  • Distribution was smooth. The additional week was useful. (Side discussion of being completely blocked from one campus). The contacts with several hundred chapter leaders enabled wider distribution. (that’s a topic we need to return to)
  • Our committee that first met with MORE did a great job setting things up, paving the way forward.
  • Working with MORE went smoothly throughout, with only a handful of glitches, most (not all) of which were attributable to not having worked together previously.
  • We met a significant number of in-service MORE activists with lots of energy.
  • Mulgrew 91%, 84%, 76%.  Others will notice.
  • Retirees voting is highly unusual. We do not know of other unions that do this. However it would be easier to make this point if we were winning more than one of the four divisions of in-service members.
  • The second division we are closest in is Middle Schools.


A few notes

June 1, 2016 pm30 11:48 pm
  1. High Schools gave the Common Core Algebra II / Trigonometry today, and most were not in session. Mine?  In session. A few classes got moved around. But otherwise regular day.
  2. I said “Tribonacci” in one class, and a couple of girls started giggling. It lasted half an hour.
  3. Voted SBOs today, and began to plan UFT luncheon. End of the year is really approaching.
  4. I’m following a hot argument between Chaz and NYC Educator (In post and comments here, and post and comments there.)  I should write something….  But for now, one thing I notice is the language directed at new teachers. “Inexperienced” is fair. “Newbie” sounds intentionally insulting. I wish we wouldn’t hurl insults at the people we need to stay…
  5. Last regular UFT Exec Board  Monday next week. Last High School meeting Wednesday next week, Central. Last DA Wednesday June 15.
  6. I’m going to the AFT Convention in Minneapolis in July. If they let me in (I think they have to). This time I don’t get to vote, and certainly I don’t get to speak.  I liked speaking in Seattle (just once, and I probably shouldn’t have). Let me know if you’ll be in Twin Cities and want to hang out… (I’m also planning a ball game at Wrigley, and another at Miller Park.

More Worksheets?

May 31, 2016 pm31 11:32 pm

It’s a point of pride for me…

That phrase should warn me that I’ve stepped outside of “rational”

… pride for me to use very few worksheets.

I think this year I’ve used fewer worksheets than any of my previous 17 years of teaching.

My first year – 1997 – I was a young teacher with some promise, and senior math teachers in my department tried to help me – not with my math, which was strong, but with classroom management, which was not. Estelle (her real name) visited my class – bedlam – and suggested that instead of writing out a long, lousy lesson plan, that I instead design a worksheet that contained all the problems I intended to do in class, plus some extras. She sat with me, I recall the daylight drifting across the table in the teachers’ room, we were alone, and laid out a row of four similar problems. “Do this on the board, do the next with them, and then ask them to do the third, faster students may try the fourth.” Then she started the next row, with four more problems, but with a new level of complexity (perhaps they included minus signs).

I had not, to that point, understood anyone’s advice about how to run a class. I was probably destined for one year and out – pretty common among new teachers in NYC in 1997, especially alternate certification (read – no student teaching). But Estelle’s advice was about how to construct a worksheet, with a logical progression. It was math. I picked up my pen and completed the work she had started. She praised the effort. I thought the lesson had been pedagogical – but it was a classroom management lesson, and it may have been the pivotal moment that kept me a teacher.

Worksheets were easier to design than lessons were to write in “Education School” format – so that was good. But all of a sudden, more kids were coming in and getting to work, paying attention. Damned if attendance didn’t even get a little better. In retrospect – it was Estelle’s Developmental Worksheets. Kids liked getting paper in their hand, with a clear expectation of what to work on. By my 3rd or 4th year, well-designed daily worksheets were my thing. I prettied them up, included homework assignments, challenge problems, starting typesetting them, but the basic structure stayed the same.

They were also my worksheets. I MADE them. But I started picking up bits of criticism about worksheet use, not directed to me, but directed to math teachers in general, about the lack of variety, dullness, repetition, the use of worksheets as a crutch. And I began cutting back. Which was easy, as I’d been overusing them. And cutting back more. And more. And I was still successful. It became a point of pride… and that’s where I got in trouble.

I realized these last two weeks, as I have occasionally gone for a worksheet of my own design, that I’d reduced sheets to a rarity. I’d also forgotten how well some kids respond to sheets. And in seeking variety, I had eliminated one form of lesson – I’d reduced variety.

Estelle’s Developmental Worksheet, is ironically, the mainstay of my lesson design. It’s just in the lesson now, and not on a sheet.

Next year some lessons will have worksheets. Not every day. But more than this year, or the previous year. A little variety should trump irrational pride.


Deciding not to Vote in UFT Elections – A Rational Choice?

May 30, 2016 pm31 10:49 pm

Pretend you check into a resort, plan on staying there three weeks. It’s an unusual place with an assortment of lodgings: a big hotel, some smaller hostels, bungalows, cabins… And there seem to be crazy guests running all over the grounds.  Turns out most guests are short term, like you, but there’s a reasonable number of long-termers.

One day there’s a huge ruckus over shuffleboard. One long-term group has agreed with management to slightly shorten the hours the courts are open, and the other, slightly more disheveled looking long-term group is angry and yelling. You move on, because the argument was weird, and you don’t play shuffleboard.  Maybe you’ll try to keep your distance, spend more time with short-termers.

Later that week there’s a todo about whether the hotel should be managed as one entity, or whether there should be one manager per floor. The calmer group likes the new plan, and it makes some sense, more personal. Not that it will matter to you, but they are fighting right outside your door, so you’re forced to think about it.

The next day some of the same people are fighting again – this time one of the pools, the nice outdoor one you prefer, is going to be cleaned more regularly – well that makes sense – but will be unavailable a few more hours each day. The disheveled group is angry again, and this time they have a point. The pool matters to you, but you are only here two more weeks anyway. And the calm group does all the talking with management anyway.

Few days later, they come around to your door with two petitions – one of them to get the windows replaced with better windows before winter, and the other to leave the windows alone, but lower room rates by 3%. The disheveled people are apoplectic. The windows are SOO important. And they have a point. And they were right about the pool. But you won’t be here in the winter, even if you feel bad for them, and that discount would be useful…  You sign for the lower rate.

Finally, with just a week left, you learn there will be a new liaison to management – one of the cleancut people, or one of the sad disheveled ones. You can go to the third floor to help make the choice, but it’s at the same time as when the pool is open, and you really need that swim.

It was a rational choice.

– – — — —– ——– ————- ——– —– — — – –

Obviously I’m thinking of many newer teachers. When many sit out the UFT election, I do not believe they are being apathetic. That implies that this stuff matters to them. I believe they are making a rational choice, a choice based on being a “short-termer” – someone with little invested in changing the system.

There are a lot of lousy reasons not to vote. Apathy is one of them. Feeling distant from the decision-making is another. Too many undelivered ballots is a third. And we can do better in all those areas.

And, honestly, both sides in this election did better outreach than in the past. Getting the teacher vote to move from 20% to 27% is a big deal – credit all around. And having the election committee run a serious, non-partisan Get out the Vote operation was impressive.

But what about those short-termers? How do we make voting – forget that. How do we make involvement in the union a rational choice for them?

It is something that both sides have an interest in addressing. There are plenty of issues that divide us. This one draws us together.

Retention. Better retention would help. But how we get there is not easy.

I started blogging in April, 2006.  Ten years and a month ago. For those of you who were counting. And guess what I wrote about first?  Retention. Maybe there were some ideas there worth thinking about. Take a look.




UFT Election Results – Mandates?

May 29, 2016 pm31 11:26 pm

Turnout was up in every division – but still far too low. If “I didn’t bother to return my ballot” was a candidate, he would have swept every office, every division.

Voters tend to be more involved, more active. Their voices should be heard. But let’s be careful about the responsibility to represent members (what the winners actually earned) and a mandate.

Let’s take a look. I’m going to use teacher votes only, since I am most certain of them.

President. This time Mulgrew got 16.2% of all eligible teachers, Jia Lee got 8.2%. 74.8% Not Voting.
Last election: Mulgrew 14.1%, Julie Kavanagh 4.6%, 81.3% Not Voting.  Time before Mulgrew 21.2%, Kit Wainer 3.4%, 75.4% Not Voting.

Elementary School Exec Board. This time Unity 19.8% to MORE/New Action 6.5%, with 73.1% not voting.
Last time Unity 15%, MORE 3.3%, New Action 1.6%, 80.1% not voting. Time before Unity 21%, New Action 2.6%, ICE/TJC 1.9%, Not Voting 74.5%.

Middle School Exec Board. This time Unity 14.7%, MORE/New Action 7.9%, Other 1.6%, Not Voting 75.8%.
Last time Unity 11%, MORE 3.7%, New Action 1.5%, 83.8% Not Voting. Time before Unity 16.9%, New Action 3.6%, ICE/TJC 2.1%, Not Voting 77.8%.

High School Exec Board. This time MORE/New Action 11.6%, Unity 10.5%, with 77.3% not voting.
Last time Unity/New Action 10.8%, MORE 7.5%, 81.7% not voting. Time before Unity/New Action 16.9%, ICE/TJC 6.9%, Not Voting 76.2%.

Participation in the elections has clearly improved, but it’s not enough. All of us, every caucus, have a strong interest in seeing even greater participation next time around. And I think that means greater participation in everyday union life in the schools. Which means inactive chapters need to become active. Inactive members have to get involved. And in schools without chapters, we have to help start them.

Especially in high schools, the break up of our traditional schools made it harder to maintain regular union functioning – which both makes our organizing efforts in the mini-schools more important, and serves as a reminder that we must be advocating the reassembly of some of our large high schools.



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