Monday, January 20, 2020

The Sheer Power of the Stop, Jot & Share

This one is about how to stay current with teaching practices.

Any teacher working under the Danielson rubric knows well the challenges of hitting those points on Danielson 3D. Apparently, if we're not "assessing throughout the entire lesson", we're just not good, real teachers.

I'm a high school social studies teacher. For us, it's almost all content and skills during the class. For years, I have received the worst advice imaginable from admins about how to approach this assessment issue.  I mean, I can understand it through the lens of a math teacher or a phys-ed teacher, but through a history teacher? History classes don't work this way. So it has always been understood that fulfilling this Danielson 3D requirement will require the breaking of the integrity of how a social studies class runs and functions.

I consider myself to be an avid protector of my profession and I do not understand this need to be always assessing everything everywhere. Upton Sinclair once wrote the exact opposite of how I feel here. "It's difficult", he said, "to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it". Well, my salary depends on me understanding this assessing thing, so I'll damn well understand it as best as I can!!

And this is where the "Stop, Jot & Share" has really saved me!

Most of my lessons are workshop model in nature. Everyone has their own way and approach to creating a good lesson. Although I employ a variety of ways to use my time with students, the Workshop Model is my personal go-to (what's yours?). Typically, my mini-lesson lasts for 12 or so minutes and I use that time to introduce  the concept or topic for the day.  So, each day, at the end of my mini lesson, I use this technique. I throw up a quick questions assessing whether they were paying attention and understood what I went over in the mini-lesson and I A) Stop the lesson B) askt hem to write an answer in one sentence, then make them C) share that answer with people around them (for me, this means people in their group). When there is an AP in the room, I'll grab a clipboard or something and look like I'm keeping a detailed record (I'm not. I just look that way), but most times, I'm just eaves dropping on the kid who I wasn't quite sure about (you know, that one who was talking or sleeping or just staring out into space during the mini-lesson). Just enough to make sure they get it. If they don't, I'll intervene. If they do (and they usually do. This isn't high stakes. It's school), I'll grab my coffee and enjoy my little 3-5 minute break.
Best of all? It's got one of those wonderful, best selling little reformy names on it to make it look like something the reformy P may actually like. You can just hear it roll off your tongue, can't you? Stop Jot Share.

Problem solved.

It's actually a pretty effective technique you can use in any part of your lesson. You can read more about it here. 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Teachers in NYC Now Make More Money Than Teachers in the Suburbs

A few years ago, a friend got sick and tired of the commute into her Brooklyn school from Long Island. She found work as a teacher in one of the districts out here and has been there ever since.

You would think that she makes more money out in this fancy Long Island school district. But when I  once teased her about it, she was quick to correct me. Her NYC job was paying $89,000 at the time she had left. Her new district would honor only some of her time. She started at around $62,000.

To her surprise, the $62,000 wasn't the only hit she took. She now pays 6.5% of each check toward her healthcare. Her plan, as she describes is, isn't quite as good as GHI but is ok for her and her daughter. At the time of her interview, she was told that she would pay 6.5% of the healthcare cost. But my friend is very meticulous and she examined each of her first six paychecks from this district. and she learned that she was actually paying 6.5% of every paycheck. This brought her annual salary down toward $57,000 after healthcare (whereas she had been earning $89,000).

It is still a good trade for her. Some folks just can't take the commute from the burbs and the idea of living and working out there, as a teacher, was too good to pass up.

I had a conversation with another friend -a 32 year veteran teacher in one of the higher paying suburban districts out on the Long Island. His pay is $137,000 before his coaching salary. He also pays 6.5% of his overall salary for his healthcare. This brings his pay down to $135,000 (healthcare comes off of his base salary, not his differential). He makes more if his teams goes to the playoffs.

(many suburban school districts do not offer "per session". Instead, their BoE approves a position for jobs like a coach in their budget and allocates a differential to pay the entire position.  His salary is $144,000 with his differential.

You hear, virtually all the time, how suburban districts pay more money than NYC districts. But do they, really? In many instances, city teachers actually make more than teachers in the suburbs. We also work less than suburban teachers do and, in many cases, our school buildings are much more modern.

That old trope from our parents' generation of Ronald Reagan and Huey Lewis is just not accurate.  If you take a careful look at the overall and pay, and carefully define the term "compensation", then compare the city to the suburban districts, the facts may actually surprise you.

(Disclaimer: Everyone likes to point to "the rich" districts, as though that is the only type of district in the Suburbs. That's just not true. For this post, I'm working off of direct knowledge of two middle of the road districts from my county, Suffolk. But, once you disregard the wildly overpriced rich districts, this is the accurate picture). 

Let's look at my second friend and compare his overall compensation with a teacher at top salary in NYC.   NYC teachers top pay is currently 124,909 (128,862 in 2021).  So, off the bat, it seems this suburban teacher is making more -$15,138 more to be precise.

But when you factor in the 6.5% he pays in healthcare, his actual salary is just 128,000. That's how much his healthcare affects his pay. The difference between he and a top earning teacher in NYCDoE district is now just $7,000.

We have to take a look at how our benefits affect our pay as well. If you use any of the Emblem plans, you pay just a small copay with every visit. Nothing is deducted from our paycheck. The City of New York pays 100% our monthly contributions for us. This is another part of our deferred compensation. We are not paid the money in cash each week, but we enjoy the benefit as part of our compensation package. When I was a kid, folks used to call these fringe benefits -benefits that come along with the job but aren't pat of the actual salary.  There is a way to determine how much our deferred compensation for medical care really is. The amount comes each year  along with our W2. Another statement, one that indicates how much was paid on our behalf through the UFT Welfare fund, comes in the mail. For me, this total amount was $35,000 last year. That is a whopping sum of money. This is what the City of New York reported to the IRS so it is as accurate a number as we are ever going to have.

And when you factor this deferred compensation for medical coverage, the top earning teacher's actual pay last year for a New York City teacher was really $156,862.  Once you factor in this medical cost, the total compensation package for a top earning teacher is now more than my friend's by about $28,000 per year.

It gets better during retirement. Retirees in many districts must continue paying into their healthcare systems. Not so in our case. One of the best factors of choosing to teach in New York City is that, once we're vested, our medical coverage is provided.

Now when we retire, my friend and I will still not make the same percentage of our salary. In both cases, our Tier IV pensions will be 60% of the average of our three highest earning years after 30 years of service, For him, this amount will be higher. If his team does not make the playoffs, and he receives no other raises, his 60% will be based off of his pay and differential; a total of $141,000. That's $84,000 per year. Not too bad! A top NYC teacher would expect to receive just $73,000 per year. That's an $11,000 difference (no other penalties or beneficiaries are being addressed here. Let's just assume we both take the most amount of pension).

Yet teachers in the city of two other sources of retirement that teachers in the suburbs do not. The first is the Annuity Savings Accumulation Fund, or ASAF. If you haven't heard about this annuity, then head over to Chaz' School Daze (who writes extensively about our retirement benefits) and read up on it. It's a small annuity the city pays into on our behalf:

The ASAF is created for each teacher that has completed step 8b of the salary scale.  Every year the DOE gives $400 to the teacher's ASAF and the City chips in by crediting the total account balance with an annual interest rate of 5%.

Chaz writes that, at retirement, many folks can expect to take between $1,300 and $2,000 more per year in retirement. So the $73,000 that a city teacher make then becomes $74,3000.

At this point, we have to talk about the difference in annuities. Our annuity (TDA or 403B savings account) is money that we save and is paid to us in addition to our pension. We pay taxes on this money only when we withdraw at retirement. All districts, including the city, offer an annuity. But our annuity is run by actuaries who work for the fund and the suburban district annuities are run by for-profit banks. The result? I benefit from an amazing 7% compounded interest contribution year annually (deposited every month). When retirement happens, a city teacher can ("and should") withdraw only the interest of his or her annuity. Every other district in the state of New York is not eligible for this and, in most cases, withdraw their actual balance to help compensate. My retirement package will be closer -a lot closer- to that magic 100% amount.

So when you factor super low cost medical coverage, and two annuities (each of which pays more than the suburbs) you see that the $11,000 extra my buddy makes isn't exactly worth it.

You can debate me if you want. But the pay is close. The buildings are new. The retirement outlook is better. It's clear to me we make more money that a typical teacher in the suburbs.

Monday, January 13, 2020

About Portelos

Well it's happened. It took a long time and it followed a windy path but the DoE was finally forced, through yet another court order, to send notice to every one of it's employees that Francesco Portelos will no longer be a target for any of his actions.

It is somehow impossible for these folks to inform every single employee in the system that their paystub is ready for viewing, but it sure as heck notified all of us that Portelos will no longer be a target.

I've seen much confusion and one or two rolling eyes at this notice. By in large, folks feel like they should not have to be seeing this kind of notification at their workplace.  They don't. In fact, I would wager that, if you asked Francesco, he would say those folks are right! They shouldn't!! In fact, he would probably say that was the whole point. Department resources should not have to be spent on things like this notice precisely because department resources should not have been spent on straying from the law to go retaliate against an employee in the first place.

Among other things, Francesco sued for a letter of acknowledgement from the department that he had, in fact, been a target of their reprisals and for an attestation -a simple statement- saying that he would and should no longer be targeted by them or by their subordinates. When some people sue, they sue for money (and I hope he did that as well). This guy sued for a letter -a letter- and he brought that old Captain America I can do this all day attitude to his lawsuits and stayed with them through their conclusion -eight years.

And for those folks who may be reading and rolling their eyes (or thinking about some crap he may have done to them somewhere along the line), Stop. And read this story I have to share:

My story isn't quick. It happened almost eight years ago. and it requires a lot of context. I was being put through a 3020 by the DoE for a harmless article I wrote for a blog I was connected with at the time. I had never been in trouble in my entire career up until that very point. I had thirteen letters of commendation in my file from various supervisors across various schools. I was well liked by colleagues, by parents and by my students and was, by almost every measure, a model pedagogue. I even wore a jacket and tie to work every day!  And yet, there I was, having my entire career, and life, turned upside down because I had published something to a blog and had worked with folks to help mitigate and work against Bloomberg and his wildly destructive education policies.

It was a clear retaliatory attack, but what could I do? I'm just a doofy little teacher and you can't fight city hall. At that time, the real City Hall influenced all of the newspapers.  The DoE didn't like the blogs so, at some point, it was decided to find them (us) and go after them. Another blogger was just starting a similar very long, and very painful, process of his own during this time and although the DoE swore it had nothing to do his blog, we knew it was retribution for writing. Writers who didn't have important friends to protect them were all a focus of *that* DoE. We had to just weather the storm as best we could.

And we each weathered that storm in our own way. I have a mortgage and children, and had a principal who was very confused about being "told" to sign off on a 3020. He, as a matter of consequence, had decided to help me get past the ordeal. So I did what he suggested and I kept my mouth shut throughout the entire process. I eventually got off with a slap on the wrist and was allowed -permitted, I believe, was the actual term from the attorney- to go back and serve the children of New York. (He was right. It is a privilege to do what I do. I shrugged it off as best as I could and got back to work). My other friend fought back. His struggle was long and painful but he would eventually go on to uncover evidence that there had, in fact, been a conspiracy against him. This helped him fight off the lawyers and save his job.

And it was within this political climate that Francesco decided to publish his now famous humor piece about how to hack the DoE!. I have to admit, when I first read it, I put my head down and asked "Why Francesco. Why?". But then I quickly realized something: None of this should have been happening to any of us anyway. We, and many more of us, were all caught up in some bizarre totalitarian-like retaliation policy -and none of us had important friends to help protect us. We were, what you might call, low hanging fruit for the machine -and that machine was hungry.

You see, during the last few years of the Bloomberg administration, the unwritten rules in the DoE were very very clear: If you spoke out, you were retaliated against. If you spoke out in your school, your school retaliated against you. If you had the testicoli to speak out beyond your school, then the part or the whole system came after you -and it is a very, very big system. Hell, different people in that system might trip over themselves in hopes of being the first to come after you if you were able to draw an audience wider than your school.

So clear were these rules that, once I was charged, a friend in my school renamed me "the dead man walking" -and everybody knew what he meant.

That was the world -the DoE world anyway- in which we all worked and lived. Thank goodness it is a different world from today. THAT world was like a Kafka novel -a poorly written and very predictable Kafka novel -and none of it should ever have happened-but it was what it was.

Public resources -resources that had been intended to teach children- had been used to silence any voice that spoke against any arm of its more sinister policies in any biting or meaningful way. Bloomberg folks defend this, by the way, even to this day (not folks from legal or any other area but Bloomberg folks generally). They'll say that public approval was a requirement for their policies and some of the voices may have threatened that a bit.

Which brings me to why Francesco dropped that humor piece!. In hindsight, it seemed that he was daring them to do the wrong thing and go after him for nothing.

And, well, they did. 😂😂😂😂.

In the middle of my ordeal, I got a call from Francesco. It was just one night, out of many, where I was at home -afraid about what might happen to me in my trial. Apparently, a detective wanted him to "come in" so they "could talk" about the humorous piece he had published. Earlier in the day, Francesco had learned that this was NYPD code for "Look, I'm going to arrest you but I don't feel like driving to you. So why don't you just come in like a good guy instead, Okay?" As it so happens, a DoE official had gotten creative, tripped over some other DoE official's attempt to retaliate and just filed a complaint with the police.  Francesco -a teacher- was set to be arrested for practicing free speech.

I need to write that again, don't I? That's OK. It sounds crazy just typing it!

The Department of Education of the City of New York had one of its pedagogues arrested for practicing free speech in the form an obviously humorous article. That really actually happened.

We spent about 2 1/2 hours on the phone that night, both of us perplexed about how they had been enabled to go so far.  I remember hearing the fear in his voice as we spoke (I also remember hearing the fear in my own voice that night. These experiences back then were pretty scary!!). But I also remember -clearly- hearing a tone of resolve from him. And it was a strong resolve. At one point, I heard him say "look. I'm probably have to go through this. It is what it is. But this shouldn't be happened and, you know me so you know this isn't going to be the end it. It just isn't". As best as I could tell, he was resolute the night before he was arrested, as well as scared, as well as perplexed at a DoE that would do this. But resolution was the feeling I remember sensing from him the most. (This is his rendition of what happened to him during hiss 33 hours in jail. You should read it. You should be taken aback about how a DoE employee could make this happen over a harmless, funny little article). And now, eight years later, that resolution has found its way to reality in the form a section three of the letter that we have all received.

But just know, he was scared that night, as any of us would be.

And just to be clear, there is a hero in this story.  It isn't any of the guys or girls who took to blogging or protesting during the Bloomberg Administration. It certainly isn't me. It's the guy who never ever stopped trying to get things set right for himself.  I mean, I'm proud to be the guy who shut up and tried his best to not upset my employer again ( instructed, Madam Hearing Officer! As instructed... ). But I'm also the guy who will now enjoy the remainder of my career free -completely free- from that type of viciousness and retaliations which we all witnessed and which some of us experienced. And, I have to say, Portelos is why I'll enjoy that freedom.

And, unless I'm advertising his robotics club or program he's running at his new school, that is ALL I'll have to write about Francesco Portelos!