Saturday, May 7, 2016

JUST Like Tammany Hall

        (No cute satire today, folks. Just a rant from a brilliant, very angry dude)

Before the first seniority laws were passed in the city, a person had to know someone within the political patronage system in order to get a job as a civil servant. This included jobs like teaching. Read this Harper's Weekly article from 1901 if you'd like to know how living and working under Tammany Hall, the major political machine that ran city and state politics, was like.

The seniority system was put in place in order to stop all this.  That whole period in history (the Progressive Era) brought a realization that jobs (like teaching) shouldn't simply go to people who had paid a political patronage on some level but should go to those who actually merited the job. There is a long history of the struggle to reach a merit based hiring system, on the state level, here. Respect the written word. Learn your damn history and read it. It is a continual struggle waged for hundreds of years in this state.

When seniority transfers for teachers were abolished in the 2005 contract, there were concerns expressed at my school about how teaching jobs could go back to a political patronage system, where your assignment relied more on who you knew than what you knew.  We were told, by our Unity Chapter Leader, that the guarantee of that not happening -the trade-off of giving up seniority- was that teachers were going to be given an open and free job market where they could search for any teaching job in the city and obtain a position based on their own merit.

That system -the Open Market Hiring System- has been highly criticized as being an empty vessel, where jobs are posted but instead go to political patrons on some level anyway. I have heard of of one school -in Queens- where the son of a one of the school's employees bragged to his grad class about how he had a leg up on an open social studies position because of his mother's position at the school. (Whether or not he was hired, I do not know. I do know that my very qualified friend was not).  I know of another -again in Queens- where a man answered the "how did you get the job here" question with "my mother is an AP at <school XXX> and I got it that way". What precise way that meant, I am not claiming to know (he seemed like a nice fella).

 There are schools in the city -right now- who have sent emails to listervs letting folks know they are hiring but have not placed the positions on the "Open Market".

What is the result of all this? A corrupted system of hiring practices for the city, just like in the days of Tammany Hall.

Now we, in the city classrooms, all know these examples exist. I won't pretend to be bringing you up to speed on something that should be blazingly obvious. This (the last time I checked) is a grown up's world and I'm not here to cry.

But this year's offenses seem particularly egregious. The "Open Market System" for non excessed teachers has been open since April 15th -for three weeks as of this writing. Thus far, the system has posted exactly zero openings anywhere in the city. That's Zero for any teacher on any level anywhere in the city of New York. This is the case for the account I have created and, thus far, the accounts of three other assigned teachers who are looking to change schools.

Zero positions open.


I sent an email to through system's help feature asking why I was prevented from having the opportunity to view the job openings.  The reply I received is below: the start of the Open Market transfer period, there are few vacancies listed in the system. If no vacancies appear in your search results, please check back regularly, as new positions are added daily.

If you are searching for vacancies and do not find any, you may still apply to a school instead of a specific vacancy.

That reference to *few* vacancies ignored my assertion that *zero* vacancies were being shown.

But it's just this last part that is absolutely infuriating. If the world had email during the Tammany Hall days, when patronage was the natural order of things and your merit was rarely considered, I am certain I would have received an email from someone inviting me to apply directly to a school, just like I was invited to a apply here.

A good friend shared the backstory (the real story behind this mess) with me. Apparently, the budget accounts in Galaxy, the principals' online budget system, had not yet been established for the upcoming school year and would not be online until roughly the middle of May. Once that was done, principals could begin -begin- posting the positions they anticipate opening at their schools (if they chose to publicly post the assignments).


Thing is, the opening of this system -the system established to replace seniority as a fair hiring practices for schools- was supposed to happen in April. This was done through a city/UFT agreement (which may or may not have been part of the contract. I honestly don't know). It was agreed on this date for a reason: To give schools and applicants enough time to look around and prepare for interviews and demonstration lessons.  Time is an important component to fairness.

(I can't believe I had to write that down; that sufficient time is important in the process of being fair. Honestly, saying the obvious is so ridiculous.)

Opening that the system in April, then pushing its population of data (the postings for positions) back until May helps to defeat the purpose of having a fair an open hiring system in the first place and it brings us right back to a patronage system, much like the one we had before World War I, when people like William M Tweed and Charlie Murphy decided who worked in this city and where they worked.

I wonder which colleagues reading this -the teachers who are working at desirable, "nice" schools- received their position without knowing at least one person who was already assigned to that school. I congratulate the few who can claim to have received their positions solely through the merit of teaching.

For the rest of you, I'd offer a different congratulations. You are the beneficiaries of a rigged hiring system; one that is corrupted either by its lack of competence or by the agenda driven by its politics. And you are using that corruption to get over on everyone else. Of course, you're no better than anyone else and you know. You just happen to have the 'hookup'. Congrats on having a 'hookup'.

Now as of this writing, this system has been open for three weeks. Not one position has been posted and my union -the same Union that stopped the whole city in 1968 over due process for city employees- has been absolutely silent on this topic. They, obviously, could care less.  The people in the schools posting the assignments could clearly care less. The principals of these schools could clearly care less.

But there is a principle at play here that is larger than any rat scrambling for his or her piece of cheese at a nice school. When I'm not being a smart aleck on a blog, I happen to be (by any metric used thus far) a highly effective teacher. Danielson? HE. Student surveys? HE. Frameworks other than Danielson? HE. Student achievement? Informal colleagues surveys? Outside reviewer visits? HE. HE. HE. The point is that, unless you're an idiot who doesn't know what good teaching is, it's pretty clear that I'm good at what I do.  If I wanted to change schools, I'm sure I could get a job by putting out feelers and seeing which friends knew which principals (Ok. I know I could get a job this way because I say no thanks to two or three each year. Not to brag, but I felt a sudden urge to assert that I'm not coming from a disgruntled place).

 But I shouldn't have to do all of that. You see folks, for the last 100 years, a system has been put in place to measure me (as an applicant) on my merits. It's just not being used.

What will (or won't) my union, including my friends in both dissenting caucus', say next year,  when the positions are placed on the open market even later? Or the one after that?

Or the one after that -when any idea of merit based hiring practices for schools is lost to everyone memory?

Update: It is four hours after initial publication and 92 vacancies have been listed. They were not there at the time of publication. I will continue updates.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Is There A Dichotomy Between Practitioner and Advocate?

I recently read on the ICE blog a few thoughts about an activist's need to write more about being  a teacher. James Eterno, the primary writer of the blog and leader of the ICE caucus of the UFT wrote:

I'm often criticized by my friend Norm Scott for writing too much about union issues and not enough about teaching.  He is of course right as I am known to separate the two in my head and this blog mostly concerns the union stuff with an emphasis on standing up for teachers.
I know James and he's a great union man. I've been to his school, where people judge you only on how well you do your job, and I believe him to be a good teacher as well. The point he makes about teacher-activists needing to present their teacher side more often is a valid one. NYC Educator, another educator I know to be a good union person and teacher, touched on this point as well just today. During a fairly scathing mock up of what seems to be the writing of a young supervisor, he wrote (in the voice of the supervisor named 'Boy Wonder'):
So that we may reflect on our practice. On Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays the entire department will assemble. For mandatory voluntary meetings. I shall assign each of you. To a proactive working group, and you will examine student work to determine precisely why you failed to make it better.
As funny as this is (and it is), NYC Educator is also demonstrating, with a sophistication that only he can pull off, that he has a fairly deep understanding of the rather complicated process of Looking Together at Student Work (I'm acknowledged in that book, by the way. Just bragging saying).  Only a seasoned, and very effective, teacher can demonstrate such a practitioner's understanding of the process of looking at student work. In demonstrating this, the author is demonstrating that he is both an excellent blogger and an excellent teacher.

And ergo, my point: There's that balance again.

That 'good teacher' side isn't always present in the blogosphere or in the places where edu-activists tend to meet to be active. I know. I read the blogs and I've been to those places and showing our good teacher stripes isn't usually on the agenda.

But striking that balance between being a good advocate for the profession while also being a good practitioner of the profession is really important. I'd even go so far to say that it's vital to the work we do.

And it is unbelievably challenging! I embraced my practitioner side about two years ago and thought I had separated myself  from my advocate side.  Recently though, when a colleague nominated me for a fairly selective teaching award (one of those "XXXX teachers who are nominated, but only 1/3 of them are 'vetted and invited' to apply!!!"), I found myself having to film a three-minute video of myself talking about my thoughts on education. They wanted to hear what a practitioner had to say and I was all ready to give it to them! I was set to talk about classroom practices and curricular development and all of the things that a judge would want to hear from a teacher. Instead, that little advocate inside me took over and I found myself talking about runaway school segregation and the need to bring more equity to the overall system -stuff that I knew no judge would ever want to hear from a classroom teacher but stuff I couldn't not say to someone from Tweed who was listening.  I just couldn't help myself! It's part of the dichotomy.

Or maybe it isn't. The one thing I have in common with James Eterno, and NYC Educator, the bloggers from Accountable Talk, Assailed Teacher, RagingHorse, South Bronx School, Labor's Lessons or Perdido Street or even Norm Scott's Ednotes Online is that the sum of what I am as an educator can't be seen by just observing what I do in the classroom or what I write on some blog-with-a-funny-name. You've got to take both of these things into account when adding it all up.

But that goes for everyone else, too. You can't be a poser and put on the hat of "teacher" just because you think it can help you make your societal points or because you want to be famous. In the same manner, you really can't just grab your chalk-chuck every day and go be a teacher without doing something to advocate for the betterment of your profession and your colleagues. There has to be a balance somewhere along those lines and you (yes, you, reader) have to work to find that balance. The two blogs I talked about above -blogs by teachers with more than 50 years experience between them- are emblematic of the effort of finding that balance.