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.