My New Thinking About Tenure

Girls in classroom, Traveling Library at Publi...
Image by New York Public Library via Flickr

My school has an old librarian.

I have no idea how old she is but I’d guess she’s well into her 70s.

She’s a lovely lady with beautiful script handwriting. She’s lively, opinionated and completely out of date.

She’s so out of date that she has become one more obstacle in the way of my students’ success.

Renovations completed a year or so ago doubled the size of our library. There are more shelves, more tables, more room to move, some computers and a printer or two.

We also have a big, wooden, card file with those narrow pull-out drawers. It is not maintained, but it is the only way to find out what books may or may not be on the shelves.

We may have the only library in NYC still using a card file. I hope so.

Two years ago I went to the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians because it was in Manhattan and because I was a member of the group.

At the meeting they have a smallish trade show for history book publishers to show their wares and for history-related organizations to try to entice new members.

One of those organizations was one of school librarians. They were showing the latest technological innovations in their field. I was drooling.

I told the woman behind the table that I wish my library were more technologically advanced but that we still use a card file.

“How is Mary,” the woman asked. “Hasn’t she retired yet?”

No, and she shows no signs of planning to any time soon.

I go to other schools where the librarians are using computers to teach students how to research beyond Wikipedia, how to tell a legit web site from a bogus one, and how to create a web page.

I go to other schools that have librarians who teach students about blogging, podcasting and creating animations.

I’ve only taken one class of students to our school library and that was six years ago.

I thought I’d arranged for a lesson on how to do research.

Mary decided to teach them cursive writing.

My students thought I was nuts.

My principal thinks it is time for Mary to move on.
I think it is time for Mary to move on.

All the students think it is time for Mary to move on.

Come the first day of school Mary will be in the library.

Mary doesn’t think it is time for Mary to move on.

Sometimes tenure sucks.

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When Bad Things Happen to a Good Teacher

New York City Police Department Chevy Impala p...
Image via Wikipedia

This is a story about the rubber room.

A teacher in my school got arrested today.

He got arrested after a student slapped him around and then, when he finally raised his hand to defend himself, she bit it and broke the skin.

All the students who witnessed the incident say the girl started it and that my colleague never struck her, pushed her or contacted her at all other than when she bit him.

Not one of his colleagues believes this man is capable of attacking a student. He is thoroughly easy going, relaxed, and non-confrontational.

This is a teacher who has dealt with most of the more violent, combustible, disturbed and/or psychotic students who have passed through the school in the four years he’s been there. He never even yelled at any of them.

While he was in the nurse’s office having his hand treated, the girl was telling the assistant principal that she had been attacked. The AP did what the law says he had to do; take the girl seriously and call the police, even though he was positive the girl was making the story up.

Instead of having a nice weekend my colleague will be waiting to appear before a judge for arraignment.

He will be released on bail, but he won’t be allowed to come back to work on Monday, not even to pick up his things.

Instead of going to work he will be told to report to one of the City’s Temporary Reassignment Centers, usually hot room with low ceilings and few windows. These are the rubber rooms.

On any given day there are about 700 New York City Department of Education employees assigned to rubber rooms. Some are principals, assistant principals or other administrators, but most are teachers.

Each person in a rubber room gets paid his or her full salary. They get their full benefits. They even get the pay increases they’d otherwise get for longevity or advanced degrees. This costs the city about $65 million per year.

People assigned to rubber rooms report there every day and stay there during school hours. That’s their job; they are specifically prohibited from having any duties. Then they go home.

Like all the others, my colleague will stay in the rubber room until the charges against him are resolved. Some people stay in the rubber rooms for more than three years. One has been in a rubber room for more than five years – the charges against him have never been proven or dismissed and he refuses to resign.

Rubber rooms exist because the teacher’s union, the United Federation of Teachers, insists that teachers not be fired without due process or based on unproved allegations.

Sometimes the accused person is guilty and deserves to be punished.

My colleague is innocent and his students are being punished. They are being denied this dedicated teacher.

A lot of people say teachers in the rubber room for more than a year or two should be fired. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they were innocent.

My colleague is innocent and will be there anyway.

Let’s hope it is for a very, very short time.

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The Votes Are In


Today was election day at my school. I was running for Chapter Leader to replace the woman who has held the post the past six years, mainly because no one bothered to run against her I was told.

It turned out to be a three-way race as the woman who has been our UFT delegate since forever also decided to run for chapter leader. It was a close vote, but she won. I came in second and the incumbent a distant third.

I am only slightly disappointed to have lost. Being Chapter Leader is a lot of work and I have enough to do. What really disappoints me is the voter turnout. Only 74% of the voters eligible bothered to cast ballots. At a time when teachers are under increasingly strident attack as the cause of whatever educational miasma might be affecting the nation’s students and teacher jobs are threatened, 100% turnout should be the norm.

What the teachers in my school don’t seem to understand is that their union is only as strong as the members’ willingness to stand up for themselves. Voting is the first step. I think my victorious colleague is going to have a long walk.

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Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009

Vote for Me!


Today my candidacy for United Federation of Teachers chapter leader at my school began. For those unfamiliar with New York City, the UFT is the union for teachers, paraprofessionals, psychologists, social workers and a few others.

It feels odd running for office. I spent a large part of my teen years working on political campaigns for people running for President, Governor, US Senator, Congressperson, Mayor, State Legislator and the like. I think this experience will do me good in this campaign. There have been insinuations that my opponent, the incumbent, stole he initial victory six years ago and no one has run against her since. I’m sure the statute of limitations has expired on some of my electoral activities. Let’s just say that no one is going to steal an election from me.

There are many people who say that unions are out of date, that they stand in the way of innovation and whatever set of priorities or policies that carry the mantle of reform at the time. Because they have almost no control of the policies that affect them most, It is particularly when policies and procedures are in flux that front-line workers need strong representation and, in some cases, protection.

I have already told the story of how unscrupulous bosses committed murder in the pursuit of profits. These days, at least in education, the bosses hardly ever resort to murder, but they still have thugs to do their bidding for them. For example, there is Iris Blige, the principal of Fordham HS for the Arts in the Bronx.

According to staffers and students at the school, Blige belittles teachers and is prone to screaming attacks and general all-around bullying of staff and students. Her reign of terror has resulted in an astounding 70.5 percent turnover rate for teachers between September 2007 and September 2008.

“She has turned a fresh, budding school environment into a fractured community of turmoil and betrayal,” said teacher Peter Healy, adding that Blige has ruled by “creating a fear-filled environment.”

You can read the whole story in New York Teacher. Ms. Blige is not alone. The principal of the elementary school where I started teaching yelled at teachers in front of their students, changed ratings from satisfactory to unsatisfactory for observations at which she was not present, and once commented “I like my new white teachers better than my old white teachers.”

Fortunately, principals like those two are in the minority and the one I work for is generally approachable, collegial and reasonable. Even so, one of the lessons history teaches us is that rights not fought for soon disappear, and I’m going to be on the front lines of that battle.

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Why I Am a Union Man


Today is the 98th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in which 146 young women, many of them teenagers, died in a fire on the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building, then a modern factory-loft building thought to be fireproof.

March 25th, 1911 was a typical day at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. located in lower Manhattan. A couple of hundred women, mostly immigrant teenagers, were hard at work as cutters, at sewing machines and as pressers. They were hardworking women who were paid by the piece.

These women felt safe. They were in America, the greatest nation on earth. They had jobs, and while they had to work very hard, they were earning their keep and, some of them, supporting parents and grandparents. They were working in a modern building, built to the highest standards of the day and reported to be fireproof.

Then the fire broke out.

There was really nothing to worry about. The building had fire exits that led to stairwells that led to the street. Everyone could get out safely. That was the plan when the building was erected. Safety first.

There was only one problem. The bosses at the factory made a small alteration. In order to prevent the women from taking breaks or going out to smoke or chat the bosses had done what bosses all over the City did.

They chained the fire exit doors shut. All of them.

Panic. Women were killed as they were pressed against the steel doors by dozens of women trying desperately to escape.

Women were killed by inhaling the smoke generated by a fire attacking a hundred or more bolts of fabric ready to be cut.

Women were killed when they jumped out the windows of the ninth and tenth floors, figuring that gave them a better chance of survival than anything else.

Some did survive. They were lucky enough to not hit the cement sidewalk because they landed on the bodies already there and were not killed by the other bodies landing on them.

One hundred forty-six lives lost because the bosses were greedy and chained the fire doors closed.

There are still greedy bosses. That’s why I’m a union man.

Look at the pictures before you start to argue with me:
fire and its aftermath

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