Sunday, March 20, 2022

And The Best Part Is ...

 I could hardly believe my eyes. 

"Dear Mr. DOENUTS,

Please join me in room ____ for a discussion about your time and attendance. This is a disciplinary meeting. Please bring your UFT representative."

I knew I had missed some days this year. My life after being sick is vastly different from what it had been. As a result, 'not feeling too well' has become sudden body aches with a high fever lasting only between 2-3 hours, or a sudden stomach issue so profound that I dare not walk too far from the bathroom. Or a reaction to fatty foods that can only be described as feeling like I have just been poisoned (only it was just a hamburger). And forgot about quickly climbing stairs or running or sports. I didn't know a human heart could beat as fast as mine now does with exertion.  With these types of ailments, and after losing so many folks I care about during the pandemic, I concluded that if I'm not feeling well, I am just staying home. 

But I am responsible. I almost always send a doctor's note along when I call out. In fact, I rarely call out without sending a doctor's note, with an email. 

This is why I couldn't really believe that I was being called into a disciplinary meeting during a pandemic for missing work. This was surprising for me.

My new chapter leader wasn't there for the meeting.  This left me all on my own with the (very affable) administrator who had called the meeting in the first place. He showed me his records with all of the absences that someone else had marked as "self-treated".  I showed him all of my doctor's notes.  He wondered aloud why 'they' didn't list these as a medically excused absence. I expressed "gee I wouldn't know. So sorry I have caused you more work this way". It felt like kabuki.  But it felt like productive kabuki. The meeting ended and I tried my best to put the whole experience out of my mind. 

And that's because I have other things to worry about. Long COVID is a nice catch phrase for the press and for people who are glued to their TV screen, but it (or whatever the hell this thing I now live with is called) is no fun to have to live with. That reality is made more difficult by people's confusions around exactly what it is and is not. The folks who hear that phrase and see it on TV must think long haulers are bedridden disheveled messes who can barely function. I'm really none of those things, per se. I just feel like crap -a lot. 

I can function. I just get sick -a lot. The fevers come from no where and go away just as fast. And this happens -a lot. The blurred vision and headaches are a consistent pain to live with. They happen a lot too, but only if "a lot" can be defined as every single damn day of my life. I don't read as much as I used to because of it. I hate that. I don't know as much as I used to because of that. My friends and former friends (in my world, lots of people have lots of 'former' friends, lately) laugh at me when I don't know as much as I once did. It sucks eggs. Not reading sucks eggs. Not knowing as much because of it sucks eggs.  But I can function. That's all that matters, really. 

Yet if you say the words "Long COVID", everyone suddenly  acts like they should be speaking to a cancer patient or something. I blame our information systems (the media) for this but it makes it no less arduous to contend with. I once used this term to describe to someone what I was going through. The person gave me a quick glance and said "I don't know, you look pretty good to me, doenuts" (no one ever tells me I look good unless I tell them I'm not feeling too well. I guess it's part of that passive-aggressive thing teachers are known for).  

The thing is, if you don't fit this singular pre conceived notion of a how a "long COVID" person should look, then people just conclude you are a 'full of crap' guy or something. I mean, damn; I'm not bed ridden. I'm not on my last breath of life. I'm not J. Alfred Prufrock waiting around for death to come because my the rest of my life is over. I'm still here. I just don't feel good anymore....

  • I have asthma attacks more often
  • I can't eat the wrong food or my whole body has a histamine reaction.
  • I can't  raise my voice because my heart rate shoots through the roof, which causes breathing difficulty.
  • I can't climb stairs too fast for the same reason. 
  • I can't stand in one place for a long time before I feel myalgia in my hips, knees, back and feet
  • I suddenly have a heart murmur that I think way too much about
  • My seasonal allergies affect me (much) more than they ever have before
  • My ears ring
  • My brain if foggy for about the first 4 hours of every day
  • I'm down 25 pounds from my pre-covid self and I was never on a diet. 
It's not an horrific experience, but this is life now. It is what it is. I'm not dying or anything.  I don't have yellow colored skin. I don't walk with a cane. I'm not in a wheelchair. And I'm not wasting taxpayers money (I'm still the best damn teacher around. I pull my weight, yo). I just feel like crap all the time and if I say or do one unhealthy thing, or if the weather changes, or if seasonal allergies flare, then I feel like crap (for a period of time) and can't function as well. And when this happens, I call a doctor and ask if I should stay home. Sometimes, the Dr says 'no. You're good to go to work'. Sometimes the doctors says 'no. Stay home" And when that happens, I use one of the many paid sick days (which I have earned) and I stay th home. 

Yet I feel like people expect an apology from me because my experience is not life threatening. This long hauler thing hits different people in different ways. It hits me this way. I'm sorry,  I'm sure it hits thousands of other NYC teachers in similar ways; in ways where they can function yet have to endure some pretty tough times; like a fast heart rate, or some difficulty breathing, or a disciplinary meeting for no good reason. But health is health. I mean, I love work and all. But health is a pretty basic need. 

This system will, indeed, eat you from the inside out if you let it. (I'm pretty sure I got sick in the first 2 weeks of March 2020 before the schools were close.  This was back when tests were not yet developed at that time, you see. Mine, when I took one, was negative. But we know when we're sick and I haven't quite recovered since.) But if you do get eaten from the inside out, this system will, absolutely, allow you ways to focus on your health. The administrator seemed very happy to accept the medical excusals and seems lo have preferred to end the matter, rather than having to write a letter to file. The system will allow you to focus on your health. 

But that doesn't mean I can act irresponsibly. Each time I am absent, I follow all of the requirements the school has made. Those requirements are listed in a 165 page "staff handbook" which we are all expected to follow (🍩). Per those requirements,  I must call before a certain time, so I do.  I must dial one and only one specific number, so I do. Because the person who is to be called doesn't arrive at work by the time we are expected to call, I must leave a voicemail so as to ensure that I have "called out" the right way, so I do.  And I'm a teacher. So I take the extra step of sending an email. And, because I am a teacher, my doctor's note has been prepared before I even send that email. Because of this, every email I send has the words "Doctor's note is attached" somewhere in it. And because I am NYCDOE teacher, the words "Doctor's note is attached" is prominently displayed in said email. And, because I'm a blogger, I'll also mention here that the very affable administrator who decided to arrange for my disciplinary meeting was CC'd on every single email. yet the same system that did that is the same system that will allow me time to be healthy again. 

And the best part is this ....  

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Camille Eterno For President

This has been a 'best of time, worst of times' campaign. On the one hand, the disparate yet passionate groups who form opposition have, finally, united under one flag/slate. That has the potential to be an incredibly powerful force within the UFT for years to come. Truly tranistory. Don't forget, this is America. And we want to know that there is a check and a balance everywhere. This is the case for all of the people who get paid represent us in any way. I shop around for doctors, don't you? I have shopped around for lawyers, haven't you? I have even changed vets once or twice. These folks get paid to represent our interests and the doctors and lawyers and vets all know we do this. As a result, they build their practices as strong as they can be so that when they represent us. they do it well.  Labor relations professionals are, in my opinion, almost no different. The folks who run my union need a little competition just like everybody else. Competition is as American as Apple Pie and everyone performs better having had it. I am just so thrilled about the formation of the new opposition. I cannot say enough about it. 

On the other hand, this campaign has taken a toxic turn. You can probably see that social media in this small world is just filled with slavos launched from both sides toward the other. Both sides have acted, in my opinion, in disappointing ways. And neither side has committed themselves to saying, in language rank and file members can easily understand, exactly what they will do for for the next three years if elected.

Because of this, I'm not sold on either caucus this season. And, as I have said in the past,  I don't think you should be either. 

Too much ugly. 
Too much toxic. 
Too much combativeness. 

And both sides want it. 

So I'll be voting for individual candidates this year. And the first person I'm be voting for is Camille Eterno. 

I'm not going waste your time listing Camille's CV. If you have made it here, then you have probably already seen it and, I'm sure, you are either considering voting for her or have already made an informed choice about who you ,may or will be voting for. 

Instead, I'll just say that Camille would be do for the UFT what Karen Lewis did for the CTU.  Karen Lewis turned that local into a powerhouse and, through their collective strength, helped her members take back the dignity of being a teacher in an urban environment (and they have held onto that dignity ever since). Karen Lewis didn't do that by sitting down at a table. She did it by flexing all of the muscles that local 1 could muster. That's what Camille will do for the UFT. That's what she will do for me.  That's what she will do for us. 

Look, there is great dignity in our work. And that dignity is always kicked around or marginalized or unappreciated in one form or another by folks who don't support or by leaders who don't lead. Like our colleagues in Chicago, we need to get that dignity back.  There is only one road to that happening and it's not a road with many conference tables. 

Yes. She will call us to many rallies. Yes. She will ask us to participate more often than many of us have become accustomed to. Yes. We may responsible for a phone tree/text thread or have to go attend, in our middle ages, a sign making part or two.  But that participation, under her leadership, will lead to a complete rebirth of our day to day work experience. That is a complete rebirth of the largest, most powerful, union in the United States. That will yield untold benefits to the outcomes and supports of our students.  And something like that may just plant the seeds for a much needed renaissance in American Unionism. I know Camille. I know her leadership. Her election could lead to precisely that. Please vote for her. 

And I like Mike Mulgrew! Since the '09-'13 war against teachers, he and his team have slowly clawed back a more reasonable level of professional expectations of us. I don't have to take meeting minutes any longer. I have more time during the day to do things like contact parents or do grading. These (and others) are real achievements over the years. But Mike ain't gonna do anything that will lead to a renaissance in unionism. He won't have 200 teachers rallying outside an abusive principals' office. He won't be able to get out in front of the cameras and extole teachers the way Karen Lewis could -the way Camille can- while fighting to lower class sizes or to end this disastrous experiment of mayoral control.  

Look,  I like that he has a seat at the table and I like that he and his team are at it. I just want a new person there; one who can and will stand up and walk away from it -because she knows those f*****rs will come right back to us. I want a new approach. I want Camille's approach. 

And so, I proudly endorse Camille Eterno for President of the UFT this year.

(But for secretary, I'm going for LeRoy Barr!! And I'll drop more thoughts about that in my next post ...) 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

UFT Greenlights Debate On Ending Mass Grading Sites For Regents Exams

If VP for Academic high schools Janella Hinds and Independent Executive Board member Mike Schirtzer get their way, one of the last vestiges of the teacher wars from the 2000s may finally make it into the crosshairs of the UFT -this month. 

Last week, the union agreed to open a full internal debate as to whether or not it will work to end the mass grading sites for NYC high school core content teachers. 

These sites, which have been around since 2012, have become notorious centers for the mistreatment of teachers. Two times each year -during the coldest week of the calendar year in January and during the hottest week in late June- high school teachers are rounded up by the thousands and are told to report to one of several locations established by the city as a designated  Regents' Grading Site. Each site houses hundreds of teachers. These sites are often located across the borough in a neighborhood and school we are unfamiliar with.  Once there, we are placed in rooms filled with between 30 and 40 other teachers whom we do not know and are kept in uncomfortable conditions while we are told to score thousands upon thousands of regents exams that have been taken by students who go to schools many of us have never heard of. 

While there, we are micromanaged. Our work is tightly supervised. Our scores are often called into question, sometimes in a very public way (generally, being treated like a professional in one of these sites is, by no means, expected).  Many of these school buildings are decades old. In several instances in years past, hundreds of teachers were told to share only two small bathrooms, barked at for being late or for returning late from lunch, or were publicly embarrassed in their grading room for not keeping a "fast enough pace", or for giving a score that made the administrator of the room (or the supervisor in charge of the floor) unhappy. These sites onced employed whole teams of people in different rooms whose only job was to pour through regents exam scores to try to find the one or two teachers who seems to be grading "too low" as a habit and teams more whose job it is to find the teacher who was late or to scour for one or two who may have left early. These are miserable places to work for days at a time, yet thousands of teachers have been asked to do exactly that for the past ten years.

While the grading sites may be terrible, they only affect a very small minority of teachers -only high school teachers and only high school teachers who teach the core content subjects (math, science, social studies and ELA. No gym teachers have ever been asked to go and no art or music teachers either. And only rarely have I seen a special education educator or ELL educator assigned to one of these sites). Because of this, and because the union is a democracy, the issue of being assigned to this terrible working condition has only come up now. 

But three weeks ago -a working teacher and activist who is running as an independent candidate for the Executive Board named Mike Schirtzer, teamed up with the VP for Academic  High Schools Janella Hinds and asked the UFT Executive Board to allow the union to debate ending this harmful practice once and for all. Both are running for reelection this year. And both will be forcefully endorsed by me (just as soon as I get around to writing their endorsements!)

After they spoke. the Executive Board, which is the union's second highest legislative body, voted unanimously to ask the UFT's venerable Delegate Assembly to open up the matter for debate and to vote on it. 

Officers of the union hardly ever pursue a goal without it first being debated and voted on inside the union's Delegate Assembly (DA). One way an issue can reach the DA is for it to be placed on the agenda through a vote from the higher placed Executive Board. While the body had voted to endorse the process of ending these sites, it had not yet taken the step of actually placing the issue on the DA's agenda. 

But last week, the Schirtzer and Hinds duo brought the matter up again; asking the Executive Board to do just that: to schedule the matter for debate at the very next Delegate Assembly. The body voted unanimously to do so and the president agreed to raise the matter for debate (and vote). 

The next DA takes place on March 23rd. Last week's procedural vote was a small, but important step in ending these terrible working experience which have persisted at Regents Scoring sites for almost a decade now. Barring any strategic related derailing of the meeting by the Unity Caucus-opposing UFC slate, the whole DA will vote on the matter then. 

Once raised, the resolution will require only a simple majority vote to pass. If it reaches that threshold, the union officers will then go to the city's Department of Ed and say "whats up. Stop this, please" (and that's how your union works, folks). They will raise the matter, including its history of workplace abuses and senseless waste of money, with them then and will ask the DOE to do what hundreds of other school districts across New York State have been doing for years; follow best practices and score Regents Exams in house, in accordance with the law.  

And I'll most assuredly keep you posted on that process. 


Post Script; 

While there, the DoE might argue that the law requires the city to do this. Let's be clear: It does not. 

These centers were created to fulfill a rule that teachers should not score their own students' exams. 693 school districts in New York State responded to this rule by sending teachers to different classrooms to score the tests and by supervising their staff. Only one district -the NYC Department of Education- decided to spend millions upon millions of dollars to create massive grading centers. 

(And, just incase you're interested, the DOE spends extra money to on the following things):

  • Transport hundreds of thousands of regents exams from the school building to one of these grading sites and then back to the school building for storage. 
  • Pay the school the extra money needed in order to accomodate all of the staff members
  • Pay administrators extra overtime to organize and implement these grading sites
  • Pay teachers per session to work nights and weekends scoring the exams (because many of us just call out of work for all or part of the nonsense). 
  • One time -in 2012- The DOE actually paid tens of thousands of dollars for the exams to be A) Shipped to another state B) Scanned in electronic format by one of the testing companies and C) Electronically transmitted to us so we could score them on a computer screen. When that didn't work, they had to pay overtime for teachers to stay and score after the school year had ended. 
That is money that no other district in the state of New York spends. That's what I call a lot a lot of wasted money (and that's a lot of doenuts). 

And, while the road has been long, an end to an institutional abuse set up during the Bloomberg Days may, finally, end.