Saturday, April 20, 2019

UFT Elections: Core vs Coalition

The internal union elections are now over and some trends have not changed.  The group that dominates the union dominated this year's vote count. Less members voted this time around than last and the union's political positions, in City Hall, in Albany when faced with political progress and in schools when facing abusive administrators will not change because there is no focussed group of opposition to move them.

While there are a few aspects of this election that stand out, the most significant result of 2019 is what we all learned about the left: That this group of  "The Left" of the UFT is a very small group of teachers, indeed. We now all know that less than 2400 out of around 80,000 working classroom teachers are loyal leftists who, no matter what, will vote for the most left group. That has significance.

Politics are relatively simple to understand. Each leader or group has a core of loyal supporters, called a "base" and that core reaches out to other people or groups to form coalitions as they build toward majority. It may sound complicated but it is really quite simple: Your group joins with with other groups and stuff gets done. This isn't just how governments perform complicated tasks like developing policies. It's also how my family performs mundane tasks like deciding what to cook for dinner (and there are only three of us in the house). The core group plus a coalition gets you where you want to go. Got it?

It is rare in any political setup to get a bare unvarnished glimpse at the the size of the core of any coalition. Typically questions like "how big is this group?" "How people do they have with them?" are never fully answered.  Think about this: People say Trump's core is around 30% but that's all based on polling and so no one really knows how big is base is. Most times, folks don't know about the size of the actual core.

Yet here in the union, during this election, the MORE caucus presented all interested parties with a true gift: A clear view of how large their core really is.

You see, by purging all of their coalition partners, and moving into an election with only their core, everyone can see that their core is actually less than 2,500 teachers.

And we see glimmers of people understanding this fact.  Norm Scott noted how embrassing of a loss of support it was for MORE when he writes:

Think of it - in 3 years MORE lost 8000 votes. Someone do the % drop math -- from 10,600 to 2,600. Is 75% a rough figure or am I way off?

A 75% drop is bad anywhere. But the 25% who remained is actual the sectarian left. That's the MORE group without all of the coalition partners it threw out. That is them at their bare bones and they are less than 3% of working teachers in New York City public schools. Less than .08% of total membership of the UFT. This is not a large group. There is only one word to describe it: Small. This stigma  is going to be tough for people on the left to overcome.

There is good new for people like me, though: Less than three percent of working teachers are these extreme left sectarian socialists who have wrought so much damage everywhere they have gone (throughout history) in groups large and small. I somehow always thought that number was bigger.

But MORE has ensured that this movement of "the left", which started in 2011 with Occupy, has died on the vine. And unless they can figure out ways to rebuild coalitions, they are their tactics, and even some of their philosophies and causes, will soon die on the vine with them.

The group did far worse damage than lose just this one election. By choosing this course, they have exposed their core as an extremely small size of vocal left supporters within the UFT. NOw, every can see.  How they could have harmed the various causes of progressives with this one little bullet of theirs is beyond me. All I know for sure is that these knuckleheads performed a truly stellar act.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Poor Doenuts

From that friend again:

So, following my previous post I have discovered that we, apparently, do do that here. I have had to dig deep and dust off some proverbs in order to help me through. Here now are "Poor Doenuts' Proverbs for Early Spring Frustrations in a Toxic School Environment". I share them here because I hope you find them useful. These apply only to toxic school environments. All you "healthy climate" colleagues out there can keep it moving. If you have any you use, feel free to drop it in the comment section.

Stop working. If you're working hard, then someone else is controlling your reputation while you're not looking.

When being forced to eat horsesh__, reassure yourself that it, at least, comes from a thoroughbread of good ideas.

Always use your left hand to pull a knife out of your back. You'll need the right to defend yourself from others when things are real bad.

You're not perfect, and everyone who wants your job or classroom will remind you of that ad naseum.

Never forget your flawes. No one else will and most will want to remind you.

If you had absolutely anything at all to do with anything at all, it will be your fault.

If you don't think you'll be blamed, you'll be blamed.

Remember, no one pushes a person's buttons better than a teacher .. and all of you coworkers are teachers.

Booze will only get you through one night. Jesus, on the other hand, ain't only there on Sundays.

If there is anyway at all someone will undo your work, they will.

If they can't steal a good idea, they'll screw it until it dies. If they can't kill it, they'll come after you. It's best to just let the baby go.

Always have three places in the building where you can do your work.

Always have three places in the building where you can get some peace.

Calendars are like letting your adversaries know what you're planning. If anyone asks you to "calendar" they are looking to screw you over. Give them bad dates!

Always have three places from which to get coffee.

Practice these words: "Hello. I don't know. Goodbye" and say only them to the adults for an entire week. If that doesn't settle things down, call out sick.

When things get real tough, it's only a day out of your CAR.

If you're out of days from your CAR and things get real tough, add the cost of alcohol, a good movie and a session with your therapist. If that all comes to more than $130, take the damn day.

If nothing is worth ruining your sanity, then why didn't these people tell you two weeks ago? Think about that.

Yes I've got to get coming to work. I know I've got to keep coming to work. Stop saying I've got to keep coming to work. 

Saturday, April 6, 2019

We Don't Do That Here

From a friend:

As a teacher in NYC's DoE, you meet all types. The successful teachers (of which I do not claim to be) learn how to deal with all of these different types of people and personalities. The really successful ones learn how to deal with them while smiling and being happy. My wife calls this 'being a duck' and just letting things roll off your back while going on your own way.

Speaking for my own skill set, I can be a duck where students are concerned. Just this week, I was threatened, had my phone charger stolen (my own fault. I left it out in the open around teenagers) and had to contend with a litany of criticism around the way I dress (literally 15 minutes from an articulate student about how jeans and shoes don't go together about how I need to at least pretend I know how to dress (I have a reputation of being a good dresser, so that one hurt my heart). Such is the case when you teach teenagers, so I have grown quit good at letting it all just roll off my back.

You know, like a duck.

If I am famous for anything in my building, it is for having no such patience with the adults. As understanding and flexible as I am with children, I am rigid and impatient with my colleagues. The way I see it, they are paid good money to do what they do. They have somehow landed in a school that many teachers would consider a dream assignment and they should not get to act like a kid every chance they get. So if an adult launches into a dialogue about someone's manner of dress (something the adults in my building have done to people in the past), they are usually greeted by me in a very different and hostile way.

I had an interesting encounter with a colleague this past week. He had gotten into an argument with another colleague about how and where to decorate a certain part of a public space -space that isn't part of any classroom. Apparently, both teachers wanted to use the same space and they argued over it. The argument was loud and it was almost raucous and, unfortunately,  it was public. It was just the type of dispute that we've all seen in schools before; it had no place in a professional setting, much less at a school, but it is something that happens.

After all, it's Spring and most of us who hear about these disputes just shrug it off and try to move on. This is the time where teachers grow tired of pretending to be nice to one another and it's the time when they quietly (and sometimes not so quietly) bicker over ridiculous things. That's sometimes how things go in a school (if you're experiencing anything like this in your school, it doesn't end anytime soon. It all ends with June nonsense. Feel free to read up on that here. My best advice to you is to just buckle up and hope summer comes quick. Invest in a few bottles of really Gin).

Anyway, five minutes after the disruption, the teacher burst into my office to break to me the big news: That he had just been in a big argument. I was unbearably busy at the time but that didn't seem to matter to my colleague (it never matters when you're one of the few people in a school with an office. It's just how it goes).

But this seemed different from the start. My colleague had, in tow, the student helper of the teacher he had been arguing with. He told the student not to worry about heading over to math class, that the student could just sit here with us for the period ('uh-oh' was all I remember thinking). He then proceeded to launch in to a blow by blow description of the argument he had just engaged in with the colleague. This happened in front of the student, with me as the intended audience of discussion.

Being an experienced teacher, I did what all cool headed, responsible, professional educators do; I stepped out of the room. (Ok, that's a lie. Me being a guy, I did what all guys do when they're confronted with craziness; I ran away. Sometimes running away is the best move)

I returned five minutes later expecting to discover an empty office and the mound of work I had to do that was waiting for me.

And yet, even those expectations were quickly dashed.

I instead found my colleague, sitting at my desk engaging this same student in details about how long the student had been helping this other teacher and how many hours the student had spent helping this teacher and how perfectly unperfect this other teacher was. I apparently, hadn't been the intended audience of the previous discussion after all. The student was the intended audience.

My colleague interrupted even my entrance into my own office to reengage me (I mean whatever I was about to do wasn't as important as this drama, right? So my colleague relived me of my papers and my  coffee cup and insisted I listen). He then asked the student to recite for me details about how the teacher was not a perfect steward of a student's good will. I stood there listening to stories from the student about how promises of extra credit and snacks for being a student helper were never kept. I listened to the number and amount of markers and colored pencils the student had used over the course of two years of being a student helper (the student remembered every detail. Who would have though you used 6 yellow colored pencils to decorate trim on a word wall? That's just not something you think about very often).

My colleague then completed his path to the dark, muddy water of character assassination: "Well, don't help that teacher any more. That's all I can say".

If I need to explain to you how destructive this act is and how dangerous it is for a school community, then you can stop reading now. Chances are you'll never understand the need to work together and be positive.

But I do understand it. And, when confronted with this ugliness, I would like you to know that I did what any responsible educator would do: I told him "Look man We don't do that here."

OK that's a lie. I did what any normal guy would do: I -literally- climbed my desk, took back my coffee and left my own office for the rest of the period. This teacher has been a drag on my time for months now and I accomplish less with this teacher around than I did before he was around so what's one more period, right? Run Forest Run. That's what I did! ✌

But at some point, sometime soon,  I have to have a conversation with this colleague about community; about how we build communities within schools and about how we don't. My immediate concern is that this teacher will respond poorly to this discussion. My real concern is that this person will find my student helpers and spend time with my students helpers helping them to articulate specific ways about how I am not perfect.

But a line has to be drawn somewhere and involving students in your own agendas and disputes should fall way (way) past that line. Character assassination of a colleague using children should fall so far past that line I shouldn't need to vent about it over a blog. Because, we're teachers and we are modeling behavior whether we like it or not. And we don't use children to cut our colleagues down like that. We don't do that here in schools.

We just don't do that here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

UFT Elections Part 3: Something Old. Something New (Action)

In this, my third installment of the 2019 UFT elections -and the groups that make them- I'll be focussing on the New Action Caucus (NAC). I had intended to do a lot of research before writing this up but then realized the date and wanted to get it all done quick. Aside from the ruling Unity Caucus, NAC is the longest running group within the UFT. In fact, they are the second longest continually existing caucus in the history of the UFT.

The caucus was founded by a group of progressive minded teachers in the mid 1980s and, according to their own website, is rooted in the activist spirit of the 1970s NYCBOE. Some call them small but small implies ineffective and, election after election, New Action has proven themselves to be very effective.  I have always thought of them as a lean, clear headed, progressively minded definitively pro teacher caucus.

They are always very adroit at making good, solid political decisions that allow them to put their voice across. In the mid 90s, NAC was part of the only "Vote No" campaign that actually won. Many (including themselves) credit NAC with leading the charge. By late 90s/early ought UFT elections, New Action was earning over 11,000 presidential votes (with a full slate). In the following years, they ran joint slates with the Unity Caucus. That decision, and the rather blistering attacks they received from other opposition groups because of it, resulted in a leaned out caucus.

But a caucus that managed to make a difference. Have you ever read "The Organizer?". The UFT Organizing Committee was formed around a NAC/Unity joint endeavor.  During their time on the inside, NAC members and Unity members would visit schools and NAC members would counsel teachers on how to fight back (as professionals) against difficult administrators.

And, like Solidarity, New Action has managed to survive. In 2007, they were predicted to "fade into obscurity". Here we are, eleven years later and the members of that caucus have never been more respected than they are today. NAC members aren't they type to run for the cameras whenever the press is in the room. They don't go to extremes to make their point and they don't stop the business of teaching and learning in order to advocate for their world views. They have managed to find a balance through all of that and to use that balance to bring some positive affect to the UFT.

They're saying for that this 2019 election, the opposition within the UFT has never been in worse shape. I would certainly agree that emotions are high. There are many voiced suspicions among the people who comprise some of the caucuses and tensions are running very high (I, myself, can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who is upset with me over something, I have wrote over the past few days. Everyone, in every caucus, wants to be right.  And every caucus thinks they have "the" solution. For folks within the opposition, if someone works with you on something they're "great. awesome." If they work for an opponent, then they're a "sellout" or "running around pretending". If they stay away from the frey, well then they "just don't know" or "simply don't get it". This is the suspicious nature of the opposition groups and, especially in 2019, it's fairly ugly -probably the ugliest thing about being involved with the UFT. It is, however, worth mentioning, and will bare repeating, that I have never once heard this type of suspicious ugliness advertised by the people who run the New Action Caucus. These are smart, serious union people who, at this point in their career are friendly and, under the 2019 circumstances, even sanguine. They will be running, probably a limited slate, this year and it will be worth researching some of the names on the slate and consider giving them a vote.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

UFT Elections Part 2: Nec Hannibal ad Portas

In this, my second installment of the 2019 UFT elections -and the groups that make them- I'll be focussing on the Solidarity Caucus. There may be lots of people who roll their eyes at the thought of having to read about Solidarity. In fact, that caucus has survived the most blistering trial by fire I have ever seen. Many of their members have been publicly ridiculed to the point of almost castigated -as individuals- by other UFT activists. Despite the many direct attacks at their personal reputations, and in the face of consistent rejections by members of other opposition caucuses, they have somehow survived and are still here, ready to stand for election again.

Established in late 2014 Solidarity grew out of a battle between Francesco Portelos and the people who ran the MORE Caucus. Undeterred from the falling out, Portelos stepped out and formed his own caucus.  By 2016, and to the surprise of many, they actually fielded a partial slate and stood for election. They finished third out of three but that this was behind the mighty Unity Caucus and a combined MORE and "New Action Caucus" ticket that included the famous and vote-catching teacher unionist Arthur Goldstein. Since then, MORE has been greatly fractured, Arthur Goldstein is no longer supporting them and New Action is running on its own line. As this has happened, Solidarity's numbers have grown. They enter the 2019 election with a playing field that includes both the shrinking of other caucuses and the experience of one election already under their belt.

And, as opposed to other opposition groups,  they have a candidate at the top of their ticket. And one with quite a background story.  Lydia Howrilka was an untenured teacher when the DoE fired her for running afoul of her principal's good will. Lydia, believing her rights had been grievously violated, fought back as hard as she could. (I'm not sure if these two facts are related but after almost two years of Lydia not giving up,  the department A) rehired her and B) ended the employment of the principal who had fired her). The experience left her with a strong sense of empathy for both teachers and students who had been mistreated. It also left her with a deep commitment to develop into the best classroom teacher she could be.

Other candidates are running as well. Here is a complete list of their slate so far, along with a link to volunteer to run with them. At least some of these names have already earned respect within the UFT. They are all working educators. None are activists. Few have been in the system for less than five years.

Because of tensions with its founder, this group has been ridiculed and castgated within the UFT to almost no end by each and everyone one of the other caucuses. Whenever somebody mentions their name, they refer to it as "FP" or "Portelos" or just "his caucus" instead of calling it the Solidarity Caucus. I think this is both disrespectful and near sighted. The caucus is made up of many experienced classroom teachers. They have included people from all parts of the political spectrum and now, in their fifth year,  have managed to continue to exists and, in fact, grow. Whether you like them or hate the, any serious UFTer who doesn't take this caucus seriously, does so at their own political peril.

Yet the hatred and mistrust for Portelos continues to be the lens through which other UFTer use to understand Solidarity. I will make no judgements about Portelos here (I will, however, remind readers that he and I have been friends for six years now and, in fact, greatly bonded with each other during the War Against Teachers when both the union and the opposition caucuses were uninterested in helping teachers who had put under undue pressure by the department). During his initial struggle with the department, Portelos was so assertive that it prompted me write the experience up and to relate him with the Carthaginian general Hannibal (the military leader who maurauded through Italy for more than a decade while the Roman Army stood helplessly by) and I joked that the old expression Hannibal ad Portas could be reused as "Portelos ad Portas" for the Bloomberg DoE (a DoE, by the way, that seems so distant from what it is today). That's how tough Francesco is, so I get that people would be concerned about him in the UFT political sphere.

But the truth is, Portelos has not been at the helm of this caucus for some time now. "Hannibal" is no longer at the gates, people. So you can all chill out and relax. This caucus is now run by other experienced teachers. It follows its own agenda, one that does not quite match Francesco Portelos' and, if what looks like is going to happen this year actually happens, Solidarity is about to become the second largest caucus in the UFT -and the number two in vote count this year. I respectfully suggest to others in the opposition (and in Unity) that it may time to take the Solidarity Caucus a bit more seriously.

I do. There is a chance they will finish right behind Solidarity this year. And while this all depends on how well they can organize and how adroit they are in selling themselves to UFTers,  it will be interesting to see how they do.

It will be a little while until I write about the second oldest caucus in the UFT (the New Action Caucus). This is because I have a bit of research to do. But i'll be back next week for the final two posts in he series.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

UFT Elections Part 1: The Retards of Progress

In this, my first installment of the 2019 UFT elections -and the groups that make them- I'll be focussing on the MORE Caucus. Future editions will focus on the other caucuses but I though I would dispense with the least serious of them first so that I can focus on the serious business of teaching and of unionism in later editions.

I talk about the seriousness of teaching and of unionism because both are very serious. Teachers are up before the crack of dawn every day. We face the most grueling schedule of any profession and we don't stop working until long after the sun has gone down. If you're outside of New York, they do this for a very small amount of pay. Within New York, however, we are a profession. This 'New York difference" is because we developed a very strong tradition of teacher unionism and this is why it is important as well: Unionism has allowed us to consider ourselves professionals. It has empowered teachers to drag ourselves into the middle class and continues to empower us to strive so that we remain in the middle class during a historical period where many Americans have fallen out of it. For teachers in New York, unionism has made the difference.

And if these two issues -teaching and unionism- are serious, it's worth repeating that this week's caucus -the "movement" of Rank and File educators, has materialized as the least of the bunch. This not because they are some type of joke. They are not. It is because their many missteps have led them to the very back of the line of groups who have made a difference.

Founded in 2010, as an amalgamate of differing left wing groups within the union, the "movement" promised to empower regular rank and file teachers. They promised that, with enough hard work and an honoring of all voices, they would develop into a large broad based coalition caucus that would grow -with regular teachers- to take over the union. The group grew by 2016, embracing open balloting for elections, open committee meetings for each level and two rounds of votes -one at meeting and another through email in order to capture the most amount of voices -the whole while allowing for and working to find agreement with the voices that were not left wing socialists. The results were relatively impressive. They made a good showing in the union elections and won back seats on a committee called the UFT Executive Board.

But there were irresolvable differences just beneath the surface and those differences cost them everything.

At its height, the amalgamate was made up of different groups of activists, many of them (but not all) were fervent believers of progressive ideas.  Some of those folks were comprised of left wing activists. These are folks who would identify themselves as activists first ... and they also came to teaching. Others were outright revolutionary socialists. I respect the presence of outright revolutionaries (from the left or from the right) and I'm happy to be friends with some. These are young (in age or heart) idealists and we all need those folks around. But  some of these folks,  sectarians,  actually stopped teaching to move on to other activist things. One began publicly identifying with  Antifa. Others moved on from the profession to work with their activists groups and related organizations. Of the scant few who remained with teaching (thereby remaining in the MORE caucus), infighting became the favorite flavor fantastique  . They descended into territorialism. Members of one socialist group, who have been around since at least the 1930s, moved to take over the caucus and take it on a hard left turn into issues that were not directly related to teaching in the classroom or in New York. They began employing lies and deception in order to achieve their strategic intra-caucus goals.

And they were committed to these goals! They ended long-standing personal relationships with people who were their friends. They publicly asserted that the union's ruling caucus didn't care about Black Lives Matter (the ruling caucus is, in fact, made up of a great many persons of color, including many West Indian-American and African-American teachers (and many of us are proud to be part  this)). They tried to convince members that Chicago teachers -who lose their jobs if they become ATRs, who enjoy far less health and retirement benefits and who have never heard of Teachers' Choice funds- are better off than are we here in New York. They purged the "MORE Duo" Mike and John, calling them trouble makers for disagreeing with them. They then insisted that anyone from the Independent Community of Educators (ICE) choose between membership in ICE or membership in MORE.  This was how that group has spent their time since 2015.

(Full disclosure; most folks in ICE just ignored them and have retained their membership in both groups anyway. That "I" sure stands for independent).

In 2019 -after nine years of hard work, the "movement" currently has less than 50 members and has almost no one other than left wing socialists and revolutionaries wiling to count themselves among them. That's great if you're a college fraternity or a social organization. Not so good if you're a union (which can be defined as "the set that comprises all the elements ..." (in other words, all of the elements (left and right wing) coming together around a common purpose). At one recent meeting, 40 people showed up. Longstanding members counted less teachers, with the rest being "guests" (activist talk for visiting activist, just there to support).

Outsiders are not even sure if they are aware of their own state of affairs themselves. Recently, when one new members came to a UFT Executive Board meeting to try to introduce a resolution, he found that no MORE members of the EB were there to introduce it on the record for him. They did not even bother attending. Some observers felt that maybe the MORE EB members did not get the memo.  Others speculated that there was no one around to read it. Still others joked that there was probably no one left to write it. They are currently so small, they will not even run a presidential candidate. That is a far cry from where they once were in the political sphere. And it seems as though those who still remain want no one knowing. Says one former member "I really don't know [what they are] anymore. They do everything in secrecy now. How can anyone really know? But their secrecy is obvious now".

You want a union? You have to learn to deal with people you don't agree with. You want a party where no one comes? Alienate, in-fight and purge. That will scare others away quite well.

Please don't be confused by the title of this blog post. I don't throw insults.  MORE is filled with some very smart, savvy and experienced people. To "Retard is "to "delay or hold back in terms of progress, development, or accomplishment". Progress is defined as "forward or onward movement toward a destination". Progress is forever held back missteps. Infighting among other progressives is one. Excluding moderates or conservatives is another. Not realizing how badly you have shot yourself in the foot is still another. These are missteps that  retard of the type of progress that many signed up for with MORE and these setbacks are what MORE will be remembered for most: For the many retards of progress that occurred during their moment in UFT History.