Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “June, 2014”

I worked too damn hard to earn my tenure to have it taken away.

I have worked too hard, much too hard to earn my tenure as a teacher to just sit back and watch ideologues and so called reformers snatch it away from me. Tenure should only be defined as an employee’s right to due process as defined by state law.

When a failed journalist like Campbell Brown uses her name to drive her husband’s education reform agenda  and claims to have the legal backing to eliminate tenure in New York, it becomes instant news. Why is it that eliminating tenure is news while earning tenure is ignored?

I worked too damn hard to earn my tenure, as an elementary school teacher. I will not sit back and watch Brown and her corporate backers rip my due process rights away from me. I struggled and my family sacrificed so that I may enjoy a fulfilling career as a teacher. Now Brown and her cohorts believe they can label teachers as some sort of indentured servant to be shown the door at whim. That is not the America I teach my fifth grade students. I teach my students about the struggles all people in this great nation of ours faced and continue to face and  that has become the fabric of our great nation.

As teachers it is time to tell our stories. It is time to explain why we are teachers and what we had to do to earn a spot in  one our nation’s most precious assets, our schools.

My story started long before I even dreamed  of being a teacher. I was a self employed architectural designer. I had a studio, employees, and I supported my growing family. My degree in architecture, taught me to question the need for everything I proposed and I was required to defend every aspect of my projects. Most of my clients were well to do, many of the interiors I designed were well out of my own personal means and had a pretty good following. Being self employed I was readily available to be around for my children whenever I was needed. I visited their schools, I coached them in sports and scouts. It was a good life. Yet something was missing.

My work was not that fulfilling. Designing beautiful homes for the 1%,  furnishing resort hotels, or designing the occasional doctor’s office just did not seem meaningful for a life’s work. At the same time I was also dealing with the feast or famine nature of that field. Good times financially and bad times would fluctuate with the market. I began to question my purpose, is this something I really wanted to do for the next 20 or so years?

I began to look for meaningful work, I began by volunteering. I became president of my local chamber of commerce, served as a board member on our youth soccer league, Little League, and even our local senior citizen organization. I was the founding member and became VP of a ratepayer group called the Waterbill Watchdogs  that won a groundbreaking case against our municipal water supplier. I became president of our youth council and volunteered most Friday and Saturday evenings running a teen center where our local kids can hang out in a safe environment.I coached my children in every sport and I eventually became scoutmaster of our local Boy Scout troop.   I even ran for local office ( losing twice). 

I began to really think about my future, what did I really want to do for the next phase in my life.  I took out a pad and listed all the things I liked to do and all the things I didn’t. It became quite clear that I loved working with kids and that I was successful at it. I began to think, just perhaps I could become a teacher.

I began to question my friends who were teachers. One friend, a vice principal in a Queens school suggested I apply for a subbing spot and give it a try. So I did, and I was hooked, I subbed every now and then I continued to run my business as I pondered the idea of starting a new career. As I sought guidance from friends, one remarked, “you are never going to become rich as a teacher, but you will have a wonderfully fulfilling life.”

I talked over the decision with my wife and I decided to go back to school to earn a Masters Degree in Elementary Education. I attended classes at night, fresh with new student loans, and I ran my business during the day. My family’s sacrifice was something I will never forget. I wasn’t around as much, our income fell as less time was spent with the business, and we were going into debt due to student loans. I went “all in” and set a goal to earn that degree in only two years.I then student taught for a semester, (working for no pay), scraping by with my business as best as I could. I reached the point of no return, I was sacrificing my business to follow this new dream.

I had a mortgage, 3 children, bills to pay, and virtually no income during my student teaching experience.The bills piled up, the collection agencies called, vacations were put on hold, my family’s life was turned upside down. It may seem hokey, but I prayed for divine guidance and my drive to become a teacher grew stronger.

I finished my unpaid student teacher experience and then looked for sub work wherever I could. I landed a leave replacement spot for a few months and I hoped it would turn into something more permanent. Unfortunately it did not. I was without a job, a business that I was shutting down and more bills.

I then applied to sub in 6 districts, and was able to sub most days, getting paid anywhere from $90- $110 per day ( before taxes). I did this for a year. Do the math, that added up to less than $18,000 for that year. Thank heavens my wife worked and we were able to survive yet another year.

Then I landed a probational spot in a small elementary school. I believe this was meant to be, because I graduated from this school in 1969! Took me all those years on my journey to wind up where I started!  My first three years were a test. Without tenure I could be fired without any reason. I was observed several times each year, I volunteered for just about anything I could to stay in the good graces of the powers at hand.  I kept my mouth shut, did what I was told. Then it happened.

After all these years I was notified that I was being recommended for tenure. Recommended? It still was not guaranteed. The school board had to make the final decision. Then they held their meeting and voted to award me tenure as of September of the upcoming year. I made it.. due process! I did not have to worry about getting the boot without cause.

Now I was free to try new things in my classroom. I was able to introduce new projects and make my students really grow. I was able to tell parents the truth about what their children really needed to succeed. I was able to contribute , truly contribute on district committees with my own opinions. I was able to speak my mind when I saw a wrong. I was able to be the absolute best I could be.

I have been teaching 16 years so far. I think the first 10 was a learning process, I am much better now that I was 5 years ago. I am now president of our teachers’ association, I speak my mind more that ever, and I am free to write my blog. If you are a follower of my blog, you know that I have been outspoken on several issues and without tenure I most likely be on the street. And yes, now I can pay my bills and I look forward to a pension during my retirement years.

Would I do it again? Yes! This is the toughest job I ever had, but it is also the most rewarding. I touch the future every day, I wonder if Campbell Brown and her cohorts ever have that same feeling about what they do. I doubt it. People like that go through life with a miserable chip on their shoulders. They feel they need to tear down everything in order to prove some warped idea.

All I have to say is, Campbell Brown… don’t even try it. I’ve worked too damn hard to let you get away with it.

The culture of testing continues in NYS.

The culture of testing is about to be given a lifeline in a 4 way deal tonight in Albany. Governor Cuomo, the Assembly, the Senate, and NYSUT will be agreeing on a 2 year deal, that will continue to allow the students of New York to be tested for hours upon hours every school year. \

Last month I wrote that I was ashamed to be a teacher. Tonight, this proposed deal does absolutely nothing to address the concerns I wrote about. This proposed deal, ignores the institutional abuse we put our children and students through to prove that a series of tests, and rubrics can determine who is a good teacher  and who is not.

Here is a link to the bill

We were told that they were working towards a moratorium. That turned out to be untrue. The bill even states that this is NOT a moratorium. Now we are being told it is like hitting the reset button. This too is not true. A reset button starts something over, this bill does not do that. We are being promised that it gives us time to work things out. Really? What the hell have we been doing for the past several years? How does this bill give us time?

So here we are tonight, Albany working in it’s archaic way. Backroom deals abound. Promises made with fingers crossed. Sales pitches to the masses, that seem to ignore that  we can read what you just voted on.

NYSUT has been treading softly on Cuomo’s turf since our RA. My question now is why? For this?

So come next April it looks like I will be writing this again.

“Today I finished administering the sixth day of New York State Common Core assessments. I was a facilitator in a process that made my 10 year old students struggle,to the point of frustration, to complete yet another 90 minute test. I sat by as I watched my students attempt to answer questions today that were beyond their abilities. I knew the test booklets I put in front of them contained questions that were written in a way that 95% of them had no chance of solving. I even tried to give my students a pep talk, in hopes of alleviating their angst, when I knew damn well they didn’t stand a chance. Today I was part of the problem.

Governor Cuomo, and State Senator Martins, I pledge to you that you will not get my vote in November. I Pledge that I will actively work to have you voted out.

NYSUT, I pledge to you, that I will not be silent. I will continue to do whatever needs to be done to be sure our union works from a position of strength not from a position of fear of the Governor.

 

 

Time to reflect.. but not for long

As I sit in my backyard,  contemplating another end to another school year, I am drawn to the thoughts of why does this year seem so different than others. In the past, I would often look at summer break as an opportunity to unwind, reflect, recharge, and prepare for the following year’s challenges. But, this year is different, much different. The distractions caused by education reformers, political agendas, corporate raiders, and social upheaval have taken a toll. It has taken a toll on me, on how I teach,and on my students.

Education reformers have been successful in turning my classroom into some grand social experiment. We now march through a curriculum that is  geared towards a Common Core test that is meant to evaluate teachers and administrators. Our vocabulary lists now include words most likely to be found on these tests and we are now told to assess our students against these one size fits all standards. I have to test my students several times a year on an internet based program to determine their growth against students of their own ability. This is the true Race to The Top, as students are placed in categories and their growth scores are calculated to determine my effectiveness. They have turned our classrooms into assembly lines.

My administrators visit my classroom almost daily with a clipboard and  a  rubric used to again measure me. They look at my room and judge me on everything from what is on my walls to whether or not a kid may be daydreaming. I guess in today’s world, kids are not allowed to daydream, especially when an administrator happens by.

Political agendas have also been successful in upending my teaching apple cart. Here in New York, we have Governor Cuomo, who proclaims himself to be the state’s only student advocate. He proudly proclaims his tax cap policy is good for the state while  he funds his schools below 2009 levels. He seeks out tax breaks for millionaires while those of us in the classroom scramble to secure needed resources wherever we can. I have watched teachers lose their jobs all across the state as the concept of one person one vote has been thrown under the wheels of  his bus. This year we have seen the same Regents, that have approved the mess we are in, reappointed by our legislature. I have also personally felt the rage of my NYS Assemblywomen when I dared questioned her on vote.

On a national level, I supported President Obama’s re-election and heard his State of the Union as he praised teachers and asked for less high stakes tests. Yet, his Secretary of Education has failed or refused to do anything about it. Now we have to defend against an attack on  a teacher’s right to due process,and  justify our earned pensions. I have watched schools closed in places like Chicago and teachers’ unions vilified for standing up for the students their members teach.

Corporate raiders have begun the takeover of public education. They have discovered billions of dollars meant for educating the children of our nation can now be theirs. They have driven the Common Core, which in turn requires new resources which they then sell. They have opened their own schools, often turning those with special needs away, as they rob the budgets of local districts. They have even taken over public facilities, driving public schools into corners of their own buildings.

Social upheaval often is by design. We now have lock down and lock out drills in our schools. We often have to use valuable resources on security plans as as we must now fortify our schools. All the while the gun lobbyists point at others every time another school  shooting occurs. When a nation averages 1 school shooting a week and does not mobilize resources to change our mindset, one has to conclude this is by design. When a nation refuses to address poverty as the real reason some children do not succeed, it is by design. When one segment of our population fills our prisons and as a nation we do not direct our resources into those communities, it is by design. There is no other answer.

So this year, I am ending my year by reflecting. There is no time to unwind. I need to recharge because our nation is at war. we are at war to protect our nation’s future.. our children. Our public schools are needed, and I am not ready to be defeated by those who want to destroy and then steal our nation’s most important asset. Will you join me?

OK let’s not call it “Tenure” call it what it is… DUE PROCESS under law

OK let’s not call it “Tenure” call it what it is… DUE PROCESS under law.

Enough of the lies!

Let’s take a look at New York State Education Law

Education Law § 3012

I guarantee that most naysayers who demand and end to tenure have not read it, nor have they even have made an attempt to understand it.

Let’s take a close read as David Coleman would want us to

At the expiration of the probationary term of a person appointed
for such term, subject to the conditions of this section, the
superintendent of schools shall make a written report to the board of
education or the trustees of a common school district recommending for
appointment on tenure those persons who have been found competent,
efficient and satisfactory, consistent with any applicable rules of the
board of regents adopted pursuant to section three thousand twelve-b of
this article. Such persons, and all others employed in the teaching
service of the schools of such union free school district, common school
district and/or school district employing fewer than eight teachers, who
have served the probationary period as provided in this section, shall
hold their respective positions during good behavior and efficient and
competent service, and shall not be removed except for any of the
following causes, after a hearing, as provided by section three thousand
twenty-a of such law: (a) insubordination, immoral character or conduct
unbecoming a teacher; (b) inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental
disability, or neglect of duty; (c) failure to maintain certification as
required by this chapter and by the regulations of the commissioner.
Each person who is not to be recommended for appointment on tenure,
shall be so notified by the superintendent of schools in writing not
later than sixty days immediately preceding the expiration of his
probationary period.

Notice it states that a teacher must have good behavior and be competent….

…shall hold their respective positions during good behavior and efficient and competent service…

It also states that there must be cause for removal and these are the clear and concise causes:

(a) insubordination, immoral character or conduct

unbecoming a teacher;

(b) inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental

disability, or neglect of duty;

(c) failure to maintain certification as

required by this chapter and by the regulations of the commissioner.

This clause also tells us to read more for the proper procedures:

shall not be removed except for any of the following causes, after a hearing,

as provided by section three thousand twenty-a of such law

So let’s take a look at how districts can file charges against a tenured teacher.

Filing of charges…

Within five days after receipt of charges,

the employing board, in executive session, shall determine, by a vote of

a majority of all the members of such board, whether probable cause

exists to bring a disciplinary proceeding against an employee pursuant

to this section.

The employee may be suspended pending a hearing on the charges and

the final determination thereof. The suspension shall be with pay,

except the employee may be suspended without pay if the employee has

entered a guilty plea to or has been convicted of a felony crime

concerning the criminal sale or possession of a controlled substance, a

precursor of a controlled substance, or drug paraphernalia as defined in

article two hundred twenty or two hundred twenty-one of the penal law;

or a felony crime involving the physical abuse of a minor or student

Within ten days of receipt of the statement of charges, the

employee shall notify the clerk or secretary of the employing board in

writing whether he or she desires a hearing on the charges

The unexcused failure of the employee to notify the clerk or

secretary of his or her desire for a hearing within ten days of the

receipt of charges shall be deemed a waiver of the right to a hearing.

http://public.leginfo.state.ny.us/LAWSSEAF.cgi?QUERYTYPE=LAWS+&QUERYDATA=$$EDN3020-A$$@TXEDN03020-A+&LIST=LAW+&BROWSER=BROWSER+&TOKEN=08568209+&TARGET=VIEW

So I ask, where is the guarantee for a job for life? Where does it state a poor teacher can keep their job regardless.

Folks, tenure in New York State is a guarantee of due process that must follow the laws of New York.

Let’s call it what is really is, Due Process.

Lets make the deformers say ,” let’s get rid of due process rights currently guaranteed by law” . Make them accountable for their words.. just calling it tenure makes it too easy for them.

§ 3012. Tenure: certain school districts. 1. (a) Teachers and all

other members of the teaching staff of school districts, including

common school districts and/or school districts employing fewer than

eight teachers, other than city school districts, shall be appointed by

the board of education, or the trustees of common school districts, upon

the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, for a probationary

period of three years, except that in the case of a teacher who has

rendered satisfactory service as a regular substitute for a period of

two years or as a seasonally licensed per session teacher of swimming in

day schools who has served in that capacity for a period of two years

and has been appointed to teach the same subject in day schools, on an

annual salary, the probationary period shall be limited to one year;

provided, however, that in the case of a teacher who has been appointed

on tenure in another school district within the state, the school

district where currently employed, or a board of cooperative educational

services, and who was not dismissed from such district or board as a

result of charges brought pursuant to subdivision one of section three

thousand twenty-a of this chapter, the probationary period shall not

exceed two years. The service of a person appointed to any of such

positions may be discontinued at any time during such probationary

period, on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, by a

majority vote of the board of education or the trustees of a common

school district.

(b) Principals, administrators, supervisors and all other members of

the supervising staff of school districts, including common school

districts and/or school districts employing fewer than eight teachers,

other than city school districts, shall be appointed by the board of

education, or the trustees of a common school district, upon the

recommendation of the superintendent of schools for a probationary

period of three years. The service of a person appointed to any of such

positions may be discontinued at any time during the probationary period

on the recommendation of the superintendent of schools, by a majority

vote of the board of education or the trustees of a common school

district.

(c) Any person previously appointed to tenure or a probationary period

pursuant to the provisions of former section three thousand thirteen of

this chapter shall continue to hold such position and be governed by the

provisions of this section notwithstanding any contrary provision of

law.

2. At the expiration of the probationary term of a person appointed

for such term, subject to the conditions of this section, the

superintendent of schools shall make a written report to the board of

education or the trustees of a common school district recommending for

appointment on tenure those persons who have been found competent,

efficient and satisfactory, consistent with any applicable rules of the

board of regents adopted pursuant to section three thousand twelve-b of

this article. Such persons, and all others employed in the teaching

service of the schools of such union free school district, common school

district and/or school district employing fewer than eight teachers, who

have served the probationary period as provided in this section, shall

hold their respective positions during good behavior and efficient and

competent service, and shall not be removed except for any of the

following causes, after a hearing, as provided by section three thousand

twenty-a of such law: (a) insubordination, immoral character or conduct

unbecoming a teacher; (b) inefficiency, incompetency, physical or mental

disability, or neglect of duty; (c) failure to maintain certification as

required by this chapter and by the regulations of the commissioner.

Each person who is not to be recommended for appointment on tenure,

shall be so notified by the superintendent of schools in writing not

later than sixty days immediately preceding the expiration of his

probationary period.

3. Notwithstanding any other provision of this section no period in

any school year for which there is no required service and/or for which

no compensation is provided shall in any event constitute a break or

suspension of probationary period or continuity of tenure rights of any

of the persons hereinabove described.

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