Tag Archives: teacher bashing

WHY MARY THORSON’S STRUGGLE IS OUR STRUGGLE

HaroldMelvinAndTheBluenotes

Readers of this blog should be familiar with the story of Mary Thorson. She is the Illinois physical education teacher who took her own life on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. As the film Dying to Teach shows, as well as the piece I wrote last year entitled The Killing of Mary Thorson, Mary’s suicide was an outgrowth of harassment she faced at her school. Her harassment came not from the students she loved but from administrators who seemed bent on making her life a living hell.

Her family and friends have been devastated by the loss. While nothing will bring Mary back, some compensation might lie in exposing the circumstances behind what drove Mary to suicide. In this age of education deform, the systematic harassment of teachers is widespread. There are no accurate statistics on the rate of teacher suicides across the country. The best Mary’s loved ones could hope for, and the best anyone who dares to dedicate their lives to teaching could hope for, is to call attention to her story as a way of shedding light on what is happening in our public schools. Indeed, if the responses to my piece regarding the offensive math questions is any indication, teachers have not seen such a hostile environment since the day Socrates was forced to drink hemlock. Any teacher worth their salt knows exactly what drove Mary to such depression.

The first step was when Myra Richardson made the film Dying to Teach. Things improved when, at the last minute, I was invited to Washington, D.C. to give a short speech introducing the film at the annual Save Our Schools conference.These things, combined with my modest article, were small steps in calling attention to Mary’s story.

It has been a struggle ever since to get a major media outlet to really dig deep into the events leading up to Mary’s death. Then, not too long ago, a breakthrough occurred when CBS reporter Pamela Jones of Chicago started to take an interest in Mary’s story.

Ms. Jones saw Myra Richardson’s film, spoke to Mary’s parents and, by all accounts, wanted to give some honest coverage to this tragedy. She went to Mary’s school, Cottage Grove Middle School in Ford Heights, Illinois, to speak with the superintendent, Dr. Gregory Jackson. As we might recall, it was Dr. Jackson’s actions that seemingly played the major role in the misery Mary faced at work on a daily basis.

However, Ms. Jones was greeted with an unpleasant surprise when she arrived at the school. Nobody would grant her an interview: not a teacher, not a secretary, not a principal and certainly not Dr. Jackson. Instead, she was intercepted by someone speaking legalese who warned her to back off lest people’s jobs be endangered. Whose jobs would be endangered and why remains a mystery, although we can take a few guesses.

For my part, I find the actions of Cottage Grove Middle School to be bizarre to say the least. After all, they lost a member of their community, someone who, by all accounts, was loved and respected by her students. Regardless of Mary’s standing at the school at the time, what happened was a tragedy for them. The very least they could have done was to make a brief statement about how the loss of Mary Thorson devastated both students and staff.

This is what someone with a heart might expect anyway. However, as we know, school districts are not places with heart. They are cold, inefficient bureaucracies. They become even more so when they have something to hide. This seems like the most logical explanation for the cold shoulder received by Ms. Jones.

If she was not going to be able to get anything out of the school district, Ms. Jones was at least going to speak with Mary’s parents. She invited the Thorsons, who live in Indiana, to make the 5-hour drive over the border into Chicago for an interview. The Thorsons arrived, gave their heartfelt side of the story and Ms. Jones then spliced pieces of the interview with clips from Myra Richardson’s movie. It was supposed to air that very evening.

The key word is supposed to. At the last minute, Ms. Jones was told by an angry editor that the piece was not going to air. All of Ms. Jones’ legwork, all of the Thorsons’ time and emotional energy, was wasted for no good reason. There still has been no explanation for why her editor nixed the piece.

Perhaps the editor was worried about painting Dr. Jackson and the school district in a bad light, opening them up to a defamation lawsuit?

Perhaps, just like here in New York City, the media was afraid of upsetting the school district and, therefore, losing their privileged “access” to information and future scoops.

As someone who knows his fair share of reporters in the Tri-State area, this seems to be the number one concern of those working the education beat here. No matter what the issue is, or where the truth lies, their number one concern is not to alienate those with power within the school district. That is why sensationalized stories about teachers are rampant, the same types of stories about administrators are less rampant and stories about the educational malpractice practiced by Bloomberg, Walcott and Tweed is barely covered at all.

We can only speculate as to why CBS Chicago pulled the plug on the story. We can only speculate as to why Cottage Grove was so silent about the death of one of their own. What we do not have to speculate over is how difficult it is for teachers to get a fair hearing in the media. The Killing of Mary Thorson, much like the killing of Rigoberto Ruelas, is not an isolated incident. They are symptoms of a much deeper problem. These tragedies were outgrowths of the same environment that led to the termination of Christine Rubino and the hateful comments left by the supporters of Aziza Harding.

America hates teachers because America hates learning. How can anyone who tries to instill ideas in the next generation stand a chance in this country that brought us Fox News and reality television?

America hates teachers because America hates unions.  How can a nation of workers, most of whom are vastly underpaid, hate unions so much? It is because we also hate learning. We do not see how attacking one group of workers leads to attacks on all workers. We do not see it because we do not know how to think.

America hates teachers because Americans hate taking responsibility for things. Why hold ourselves accountable for rearing our children or alleviating poverty if we can just pass it all off on teachers?

The battle to shed real light on the true story surrounding Mary Thorson’s murder continues. Mary’s parents will never give up. Mary’s loved ones will never give up. Myra Richardson will never give up. As long as eyes are on this website, I will never give up. I sincerely hope that Pamela Jones of CBS will not give up either. Her heart is in the right place. Even though she has been temporarily cowed by her bosses at CBS she is in the right and, I like to think,  the right always triumphs in the long run.

The Killing of Mary Thorson is a tragic microcosm of the killing of our public schools, the killing of the next generation, the killing of the working class and the killing of our nation. This mass murder is taking place at the behest of very powerful and very wealthy interests who wish to subjugate the rest of us under the boot of unaccountable private power.

We can only fight back against this with enlightenment and education. We can enlighten others on an individual basis everyday. We can also hope to enlighten by getting the media spotlight for a split second and, like a bolt of lightning, illuminate the darkness around us ever-so-briefly.

The struggle of the Thorson family is our struggle. Together we can ensure that Mary Thorson was not killed in vain.

ABOUT THOSE RACY PICTURES

Is this picture too racy for a semi-private email account?

Is this picture too racy for a semi-private email account?

The print tabloids here in New York City have been all over the story of Matthew Maleski. He is the special education teacher from the Upper East Side who was recently terminated from the Department of Education for sending racy images of himself in response to internet ads.

At first glance the story seems to be seedy and shocking. Maleski, a gay man, had been responding to personal ads via a social networking site known as “Hornet”. Apparently, he was using an email account associated with the school to transmit pictures and videos of himself in his boxers, an email account he shared with another teacher.

The first question I ask whenever one of these salacious stories makes its way into the headlines is: “how were children hurt?” The next question is: “what DOE-related time and/or resources were used in the commission of the act?”

The answer to both of these questions seems to be: NONE.

First, the only other person that saw these images was the teacher who shared the account. Someone not reading these articles closely might think that entire classes of children somehow saw pictures of their teacher in boxer shorts. According to the NY Post article, the teacher with whom Mr. Maleski shared the email address spoke to him about the pictures and informed him she was bumping him off of the account. In response, Mr. Maleski apologized and stated that he did not mean to send the images via that address.

This is where things should have ended. To her credit, the teacher did the professional thing by bringing her concerns to Mr. Maleski first. Mr. Maleski, to his credit, duly apologized and explained that it was a mistake. However, somewhere along the line the teacher brought her concerns to the principal. Seeing as how Mr. Maleski did not have tenure, such an accusation surely meant certain termination. What the teacher’s motivations were, and what else transpired between the two teachers, is something I suppose we will never know.

One thing is for certain: no children ever laid eyes on these racy images. Ironically,  now that this story is city-wide news, it is almost certain that some of Mr. Maleski’s students have now seen the images and know the story behind it. It is clear that the media does not care about children. It is also clear that the DOE does not care either, or else they would have prevented this story from getting into circulation in the first place. If you think the DOE could not have possibly done so, then you obviously do not know the DOE’s propensity for sweeping things under the rug.

This brings us to the less serious question regarding what DOE time or resources were used by Mr. Maleski. Sources say that the images were sent early Friday morning and on Sunday. This certainly does not seem like DOE time. It might depend on how early on Friday morning the pictures were sent and if Mr. Maleski was on the clock during those hours.

Regarding what DOE resources were used, Mr. Maleski clearly did not use his DOE email address. Him and his colleague were using a Gmail address. This is clearly demonstrated in the tortured reasoning the DOE used to justify his termination: “[Mr. Maleski] committed employee misconduct by sending inappropriate email communications from an email address that represents a DOE site.”

Really? And what “DOE site” did the email address represent? More importantly, what is the DOE policy regarding the usage of commercial email addresses?

I can field that question: there is none. Richard Condon’s Office of Special Investigations makes policy up as they go along. Essentially, whatever allows them to fire a teacher is the policy du jour.

That means that the only remaining question, one that not even the DOE seemed to bother to address, is whether or not Mr. Maleski used a DOE computer to send any of the images. This would have only seemed possible if he came to work early Friday morning and sent the images over a DOE computer before classes started.

Let us say he did use a DOE computer. Heck, let us say he used DOE time. Let us assume that it makes sense for a Gmail account to represent a “DOE site”. Is any of this grounds for termination?

I suppose the answer to this question is a matter of opinion. Young, non-tenured teachers deserve room to grow and learn from their mistakes. Those mistakes not only take place in the classroom but in the teacher’s lounge and even private life. This entire matter could have been resolved with the principal calling Mr. Maleski into the office and telling him not to do it again. Given the apologetic attitude he displayed to his colleague, it is a safe bet to assume that he would have been more careful in the future.

As we know, however, this story is not about a bunch of racy pictures. It is about the DOE’s desire to terminate teachers whenever they get the opportunity. Veteran and minority teachers have been a special target of Condon’s office. In recent years, younger and non-tenured teachers have increasingly fallen victim to bogus charges as well. This is because the DOE does not want to grant anyone tenure. Instead, principals are finding any excuse they can to extend the probationary period for young teachers, then drumming up bogus charges to get rid of them. It is the DOE’s unofficial policy to have a temporary, and low paid, teaching force.

It is research paper season in my classes. In years past, I used to create a commercial email address for my students so they can send me drafts and ask me questions about their work. Now, however, I have been giving students my DOE address and that is it. At least with DOE mail there are semi-clear regulations. Teachers who use regular email addresses put themselves in a netherworld with no DOE regulations where Condon’s office can make up any charges they wish. No teacher should leave themselves open to such nonsense.

I wonder if teachers in the suburbs face the same paranoid policies? From what I hear I seriously doubt it. Teachers in urban areas are over-regulated and afraid to go that “extra mile” for any student. That means that our students in the inner cities, the children that need more “extra miles” from their teachers than anyone, are being deprived. The DOE and every urban school district wants us to be paranoid, robotic bureaucrats. Despite this fact, most NYC teachers do go that extra mile. Many have been punished for such an evil deed.

Finally, I wonder if this story would have gotten as much press mileage if Mr. Maleski was straight? Somehow I doubt it. The media’s goal is sensationalism. The DOE’s goal is to drag the collective names of teachers through the mud. This story exemplifies that perfect symbiosis between these two things.

Mr. Maleski did not deserve to be terminated. I sincerely hopes he sues the DOE and, like so many other wrongfully terminated teachers, regains his job.

WHEN NON-EDUCATORS GET INVOLVED

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There are more layers to the student-generated slavery math questions. This site is more popular than I thought because Aziza Harding, the student-teacher from P.S. 59, as well as some of her well-wishers from NYU have found their way over here.

Taken together, their responses paint a telling picture. Let’s start with the first comment from an NYU email address. This person’s moniker is “GONNA KILL YOUR ASS”:

Have you lost your fucking mind? YOU ARE OFFICIALLY RETARDED!!! WHO SAYS THIS SHIT!!!! SOMEONE SPEAK OUT ABOUT AN IMPORTANT ISSUE AND YOU MAKE A MOCKERY OUT OF IT?? I AM REPORTING YOUR ASS TO EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE I CAN THINK OFF, CALL ME A WHISTLEBLOWER, AT LEAST IM NOT A PSYCHOTIC BORED BITCH!

The irony is that I am the one that needs to be reported when they are the person threatening to “kill my ass”. How dare a teacher exercise free speech?

But “GONNA KILL YOUR ASS” goes further, this time using a handle called “WATCH OUT, SERIOUSLY”:

IF YOU POST ONE MORE THING ABOUT THE COURAGEOUS GIRL WHO STEPPED UP FOR HUMAN RIGHTS I SWEAR TO GOD I WILL HUNT YOUR EVIL ASS DOWN. BTW, YOU JUST PROVED EVERY GRADUATE STUDENTS THEORY ABOUT SCHOOL MATH TEACHERS BEING ABSOLUTELY BRAIN DEAD! RETARD!

Does this mean that I should be worried because I am now posting “one more thing” about this issue? What, exactly, is so “courageous” about putting nothing on the line and having nothing to risk? This person obviously does not know the meaning of courage.

What is more, and what is a common theme for all the rest of the responses, is the anti-teacher sentiment expressed. Every graduate student apparently has  a “theory” about “school math teachers being absolutely brain dead!” I guess that would hurt my feelings if I was a math teacher.

And then Ms. Harding responded herself:

Hello!!! This message is coming from the “stupid” student teacher that you wrote about awhile ago. You are totally entitled to your opinion (I mean this is AMERICA) but your blatant disrespect by calling me out of my name, I found to be a bit troubling. If you check my remarks I surly didn’t call my teacher out of her name nor do I think she is a terrible teacher. I just think she had a major lapse of judgement when it came to assigning slavery math as homework. As for being ‘media hungry’ yep..that definitely WAS NOT my intention when speaking to my professor about the matter. All I wanted was advice on how to engage in a meaningful conversation with the teacher about why I found the assignment problematic. And it also looks like you didn’t do your research WHAT SO EVER. For one if you read any of the articles my Professor clear as day states that he alerted the media (with out any clear warning to me) and in a way hung me out to dry. When speaking with NY1 I expressed my concern over the assignment and ALSO noted that I was never able to speak to the teacher because she was out of town when this whole issue took place. I’m assuming you really didn’t take much time to READ. So when someone found your rant and passed it onto to read I was taken aback by your mean spirited words. “Not to worry, I am sure there are a few charter schools who would love to hire you for three years before spitting you out like bubble gum that has lost its flavor. Then maybe you can get a taste of how it feels to be on the receiving end of the process you help set in motion on others.”–> Well let me assure you I have no intentions of being a teacher and was student teachers only to earn some ex cash while doing my graduate studies. But I do hope that some good will come of this and that I actually use my words and actions for good..unlike you. It just looks like you have your own agenda to push and you accomplished it. I never wanted media attention, I don’t crave it and don’t care for it and to see people like you who twist the truth well… I guess that just comes with this whole ridiculous story coming out.

To which I responded:

Hello there yourself and thanks for stopping by. Allow me to address your remarks:

a) Your name was already in the papers. Don’t blame me for “calling you out of your name” since it is already plastered out there for everyone to see. Don’t want your name in the papers? Don’t talk to the media. It is as simple as that.

b) While your actions were, in my opinion, foolish, I never called you stupid. That would be too vicious even for me. Please quote the place where I called you stupid.

c) Your cooperating teacher is out of town. I am sure you don’t have his/her email, phone number or any other method of contacting them in the year 2013.

d) While your professor certainly helped create a firestorm, you played a role in this fiasco as well. You showed him the handout. You did obviously did not try to find out what was behind the handout or if there just might have been a decent explanation for such a handout. How much effort did you make to contact your teacher? Obviously not a whole heck of a lot. You said yourself your cooperating teacher was good. Why not give her/him the benefit of the doubt before you go showing it to anyone?

e) Your comments to the media were self-serving. After you create a media firestorm, you say how you want this to be a learning experience. You say you want kids to learn how horrible slavery was. According to the parents, their children DID learn this. Again, did you ever bother to get a full picture of what the students actually learned before you made your self-serving comments.

f) Wow, so you don’t even want to be a teacher. Thank you for demeaning the profession that me, your mentor and millions of other people make their life’s work. I guess that says it all, does it not?

g) Despite what you might think, I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your comments. I have seen teachers destroyed over things like this. I have seen people lose their livelihoods over an honest mistake. I have seen teachers pilloried and scapegoated in the media because of things “twisted out of context”, as you are so fond of saying. That is what the media does. They twist EVERYTHING out of context.

Do you know what it is like to be stripped of your identity, have to sell your house, have to see your kids go hungry all because a hypocritical system wanted to jump down your throat? Meanwhile, the people that do the real damage to our system: the administrators and political leaders who close schools and mismanage resources, not only get off scot free but actually get to move up in the system?

Of course you did not know these things. Of course you did not know the risk YOUR actions might pose to another human being. Now you do and, hopefully, you take it as a learning experience.

And the hits just keep on coming, this time from another NYU email:

a- “hare-brained educationists”

b- “Either Harding and McIliwain are really bad or really stupid people.”

c- Oh because someone really wants to receive a phone call or email about work when they’re on vacation in another country.

d- It seems like you’re basing a lot on the assumption that Aziza went to Professor McIiwain as a means of finding a way to create some sort of media frenzy. You could call into question what the professor is teaching, his lifetime body of work, and maybe, just maybe, that she went to him for advise on how to approach the situation. Furthermore, what besides ignorance could have been behind the premise for that worksheet? If a male teacher wrote a math problem for International Women’s day that read “14 girls were raped in Nepal. 3 girls were raped in West Africa. 2 girls were raped and killed in New Dehli. How many living girls were raped?”, how would you feel?

e- How are the children learning how terrible slavery is if they are the ones creating questions like this? Furthermore, how are parents confirming that something was learned when things like that worksheet were created? That is not learning in the spirit of inclusion, but learning just how superior one group is over another.

f- I missed the part where Aziza demeaned your profession. Meanwhile teachers are molesting students, calling them racial slurs, and having 8 year olds arrested. But not wanting to be a teacher is demeaning. Okay.

g- Irony.

Despite what this person or Ms. Harding might think, I never called anyone “stupid”. At the same time, the comments from Ms. Harding’s supporters do not speak well for her. Who would want their cause to be defended by people who threaten to kill someone else over the internet?

You can’t have it both ways. If this issue was so important, then why not text or email the teacher? I have texted and emailed people on vacation if the issue was important enough. If it is not so important, then it could wait.

The funny thing is that these comments are pressing me to defend the worksheet, something I never did. I acknowledged that the worksheet itself was foolish. My contention is that: a) the teachers should not be fired for this and b) Ms. Harding’s and Mr. McIlwain’s actions did nothing to improve the situation.

Since the person above “missed the part” where Ms. Harding disrespected the teaching profession, here it is again:

Well let me assure you I have no intentions of being a teacher and was student teachers only to earn some ex cash while doing my graduate studies.

I do not know exactly how this works, since student-teachers are usually not paid. It is sad that the person who left this reply does not see how Ms. Harding’s quote above is a disrespect to the teaching profession, especially in light of her actions. It is the same type of disrespect shown by Teach for America, who use teaching as a stepping stone. More importantly, it is a disrespect to the students who are subjected to an inexperienced teacher with no desire to improve or dedicate themselves to them. Furthermore, Ms. Harding’s actions not only helped endanger the careers of two teachers, it turned the school into a media circus. I still fail to see who won as a result.

Perhaps the students wrote such offensive questions because they were 9-years-old. This person is expecting 4th graders to have a nuanced or sophisticated view of  history. Children, by and large, lack empathy in general. The ham-fisted questions they created are not necessarily a reflection of everything they learned about slavery. Parents asked their children about what they learned and were satisfied with the answers. What is the problem?

However, the final part of what the person said above says all that we need to know about their perspective. “Meanwhile teachers are molesting students, calling them racial slurs, and having 8 year olds arrested. But not wanting to be a teacher is demeaning.”

Wow, does it get more disgusting than that? Of course Ms. Harding would not want to sully her hands on a profession whose practitioners are nothing more than child molesters, racists and supporters of the school-to-prison pipeline. The only thing teaching is good for is to make some “extra cash”.

Everything is very clear now. Why would people who hate teachers so much care one iota about potentially getting one of them fired? These people are scum anyway.

I remember I knew everything when I was a grad student as well. If people disagreed with me it was because they were wrong, not because someone could possibly see things differently. Being ensconced in books and academia has a way of numbing one to the real world. Being young and ensconced in academia has a way of simplifying one’s opinions. What is wrong is wrong and what is right is right. Everything is absolute and the standard used comes from books and professors.

And, if in our pursuit of doing right some people get hurt then “thems the breaks”, right? After all, what is a few measly careers when students are writing stupid questions? This is an injustice, a “human rights” issue even, and thank goodness the folks at NYU are here to call attention to it.

Out of curiosity, since P.S. 59 is in Williamsburg, where has NYU been for the past 10 years when Pharaoh Bloomberg has been pushing minorities out of the city through gentrification and stop-and-frisk? I forgot, NYU is one of the biggest gentrifiers out there. They are really nothing more than a real estate company that collects (overpriced) tuition for an education than can easily be had through the CUNY system. It is really no wonder that such an institution produces people so out of touch with reality and so in love with their own sense of justice.

Worry about a bunch of questions created by 4th-graders if you wish, those of us who actually care about public education will be at the protests against school closings, charterings and standardized testing. Those of us who actually have to work for a living, without mommy and daddy paying our ways, understand that jeopardizing someone’s career is not something you do on the fly because we are “offended”. Those of us with rent, bills, mortgages, children and taxes understand how valuable a job is to come by in 2013. Playing games with a teacher’s career is something to be done with a heavy heart when children are actually being abused.

It is telling that none of Ms. Harding’s defenders ever claimed that the school was better off for what her and her professor did. All they have are her good intentions. A perfect defense for a bunch of people who live in their own minds and not the real world.

MY GROWTH INTO A UNION ACTIVIST: A TRAGEDY IN THREE ACTS

Even the smartest people can be stupid sometimes. It takes a special kind of stupid to remain ignorant for more than 10 years.

Even the smartest people can be stupid sometimes. It takes a special kind of stupid to remain ignorant for more than 10 years.

ACT I: A (DIM) STAR IS BORN

It is said, by whom I do not know, that parents set the tone for all of the future relationships their children will have. Fathers set the tone for all male relationships. Mothers set the tone for the female relationships. My teaching career, born in the year 2000 when I was 21 years of age, was raised by two parents who shaped the educator I became both inside and outside of the classroom.

My first principal, the man who gave me my first big break, the father of my career, was Old School in every sense of the word. Not only did he approve of and nurture my traditional style of teaching, he was the type of mensch who looked a man in the eye and told the truth. One of the first persons to whom he introduced me was my United Federation of Teachers Chapter Leader, the mother of my teaching career.

My first UFT Chapter Leader was certainly old, just not Old School. The principal introduced her as “the person you go to when you are in trouble with me.” It made sense. When father is angry with son, mother should temper his ire. Mother would come into my classroom from time to time. On some occasions, she would ask me a relatively trivial question. On other occasions, she would just show up and stand there at the back of the room, arms folded in grim observation. This type of behavior just seemed natural to a greenhorn like me.

On those occasions when I was not teaching, I would sometimes catch mother in the principal’s office speaking to father with the door closed. They were talking serious school business, I gathered, the types of things that I might one day understand when I became an adult. When father would have man-to-man conversations with me regarding the birds and the bees of my teaching, he seemed awfully knowledgeable about what went on in my classroom in the moments he was not there. What an intelligent and perceptive man he was. I surely was one lucky teacher-son.

It was not until a few years later that I realized my principal was not the omniscient creature I thought he was. After a few of the remarks I made to my mother in confidence got back to father, not to mention other members of the extended family, I finally realized that my union mother was nothing more than a snitch. Meanwhile, my principal father showed a genuine interest in my career and let it be known on many occasions that I had what it took to one day become Teacher of the Year. These family dynamics from my formative teaching years forever shaped my style as an educator, colleague and employee.

Specifically, I came to think that the job of a Chapter Leader was to inform on the staff. She was the administration’s eyes and ears. As a result, I learned not to confide anything to whoever held that role. Conversely, I came to think of the principal as the guardian of my career. He brought me into profession and he could take me out of it. I might not be his friend but I could take him at his word, since he just wants what is best for me and the school.

Over the course of the next few years I would have many principals and many Chapter Leaders. Day in and day out I would close my classroom door and work on being that Teacher of the Year my father had seen in me. Perhaps I was partially motivated by a desire to earn a father’s respect, especially considering that I had grown up without a real father when I was a real kid. No matter what types of principals I had, whether they were men or women or white or minority, I did everything they ever asked of me. They were the bosses. My place was not to sabotage or question the boss’ decision. My job was to teach and that is exactly what I did.

On other hand I saw the Chapter Leaders, whether they were men or women or white or minority, as nuisances. Regardless of who they were, I just assumed they were out to get as much dirt on me as possible. There were teachers who had gotten in trouble. For whatever reason, the Chapter Leader was always there with the embattled teacher. It was not a great leap of faith for me to assume that they were in trouble because of the Chapter Leader.

At the end of the day, none of this was my concern. Teachers would complain to me about this administrator or that administrator. I assumed that these teachers were just crazy, lazy, incompetent or all of the above. Why was I able to lock myself away in my classroom and teach how I wanted to teach while these other teachers were always in trouble? It must have been their fault. As my first principal showed me, administrators are always fair, honest, upright and want what is best for their staff. How could you have trouble with such perfect people?

So, maybe you can say I was warped by my early career experiences. Although I do not believe these things anymore, the innocence (or stupidity) of these perceptions kind of makes me wish I did. I was always an island of a teacher. Never would I attend union meetings or bother to inform myself of union goings-on. At staff meetings I would keep my mouth shut. Every day I would come to work, close my classroom door and teach. My students passed. My students learned. I worked hard to earn my living. Then I went home, usually to do more work before it was time to get to sleep. It was not until relatively recently that I was snapped out of this stupidly innocent way of life, and what a rude awakening it was.

At some point, the opportunity to be a chapter leader had presented itself to me. It was not because there was a groundswell of colleagues who supported me. Quite simply, nobody else wanted the position. I was a veteran teacher at this point. Up until then, I had been a dean, senior advisor, after school coordinator and countless other exhausting things that brought little reward. Chapter Leader was about the only thankless position I had not held down during my career, so why would I not take the job?

ACT II: CANNIBALS ALL!

There were other, more personal, reasons why I decided to become Chapter Leader. My upbringing had demonstrated that Chapter Leaders were nothing more than informants. No matter what else I did while holding down this position, I made a vow that I would not inform on any of my colleagues. It would be my way of compensating for the failures of my career mother. Things were really as simple as that in my mind. Unfortunately, being a Chapter Leader proved to be anything but simple. It would change me from a mere teacher to an assailed teacher, the very same assailed teacher you see before you right now.

I felt I could slide by without being a schoolhouse snitch. After all, I had decent relationships with everyone on the staff, including administrators. I was not known, nor have I ever been known, as a rabble-rouser. The goodwill I had built up over the years would allow me to be a positive bridge between teachers and administrators. Through cooperation, perhaps I could help the school attain heights it had never seen before. This is what all administrators wanted, just like my career father had taught me, and it was exciting for me to think that I could play a role in it.

Then the rubber roomings started. One of my closest friends and colleagues was slapped with charges that I would label as bogus. The next year, another one of my close friends and colleagues was rubber roomed for even more bogus charges. These events gave me a glimpse into a side of the system that I never knew existed. I often wonder how things would have turned out for me if I remained the isolated teacher I had been for most of my career. Instead, unbeknownst to me, my foray into union activism was just beginning.

The rubber roomings taught me that the system is ugly. There seemed to be an entire sector of the Department of Education whose purpose it was to rob teachers of their livelihoods. On the way to robbing them of their livelihoods, it also sought to rob them of their dignity, identity and sanity. It was not enough to merely fire a teacher. Many people get paid good money to ground good, hard-working teachers into dust. They do it with such a clear conscience, thinking no more about taking food off of someone’s table than they would swatting away a gnat.

All I could think of were those colleagues from my past who had tried to warn me of the evil in the system, the same teachers who I had written off as insane malcontents. If these people were such good teachers, I used to think, then why would the system want to get rid of them? “Children first… always”, are they not?

I could have kicked myself for such stupidity. All along I had been a cardigan-wearing company man. Here I was, a teacher who had taught students about Hannah Arendt’s idea of the banality of evil as a warning against merely going along with the flow, and I had been unable to take the beam out from my own eye. How many good teachers had I written off in my lifetime simply because it was convenient for me to do so?

This was only the beginning of my reeducation. Now that I was bearing witness to what the system was capable of doing, it was my job as the Chapter Leader to bring the full brunt of the United Federation of Teachers down on the evildoers. Finally, all of my years of paying union dues, all of those years of never burdening the union with my problems, all of those years of suffering through duplicitous Chapter Leaders without so much as uttering a peep was going to pay off. Ooh, did I relish the thought of serving some just desserts. Evildoers beware: I was going to dust off the UFT contract and use it as a bludgeon against anyone complicit in trying to destroy good, hard-working teachers; good hard-working union members.

It was time to make some phone calls. There were plenty of high-powered people down at 52 Broadway who would be shocked to hear about the injustices that were going on. My tone over the phone was “can you believe that? I know, it’s crazy, right?” The response I received was going to take the wind out of my sails forever. Every single person I spoke to at the UFT, all of these six-figure salaries, told me things in the tone of “well, yeah, the teacher really should not have done that” or “so what?” or “who the hell are you and why are you calling me?”

What I gleaned from my flurry of phone calls to the union was that their job, my job, was to ensure that this thing called “due process” was being followed. That means I would have to brush up on certain parts of the contract that I thought I would never need. All of the clauses from these sections start off strong with promising-sounding provisions like every teacher shall have this, be protected from that, shall not be subject to this and so forth. Then, in the very next breath, these clauses say if the DOE sees fit to do this, if investigators find that or if administrators do not want this. Literally, every single step in due process exists at the whim and privilege of the Department of Education. The loopholes were big enough for Mack trucks to penetrate, and the DOE was flying jets through them.

Even worse, when the teachers whose careers were on the line called the UFT themselves, they would get yelled at. If they were not getting yelled at, they were being ignored. If they were not being ignored, they were being told that their careers in the DOE were over and they should look for new jobs. This, apparently, was “due process” in action. It is a way to keep teachers quiet as they are shepherded out of the door.

How many teachers have been lulled into a false sense of protection by their union as they were told that their “due process” rights would be honored, only to be met with a termination ruling for the most trivial of charges? How many of these teachers have come to me at some point in my early career, way before I was a Chapter Leader, to try to warn me about how the system works? How many of these teachers did I write off as kooks, incompetents and loudmouths? I had been blind, stupidly blind, for many years. Perhaps there was something I could do to atone for my stupidity while also helping my friends who were in trouble.

The world needed to know about this. Despite the fact that I had not written anything worthwhile in years, I created a blog. As Francesco Portelos has said, sunlight would be the disinfectant for all of the filthy goings-on in the DOE and UFT. That would have them concerned. Maybe they would protect my friends’ due process rights a little better if they knew eyes were watching them.

ACT III: RENAISSANCE AND REFORMATION

So I started writing. Before I really got going, I did tons of reading. There were blogs from teachers, parents and other activists from all over the city. Many of them were discussing some of the same types of situations that were horrifying me in the DOE. Could it be that the destruction of so many teachers’ lives was a well-known secret? Could it be that I was the last one in the city to find out that the system has been set up to fail teachers, students, parents, taxpayers, everyone?

For most of my career I have been incredibly stupid.

The rest is pretty much history or, more accurately, recent history. The UFT, the DOE, they have been getting away with this because people have allowed them to do so. Through this blog I was able to fall in with the MORE Caucus and here we are today, ready to take on the UFT leadership next month in a battle for the soul of our union. In a few short years I went from being Mr. Teacher who thought of nothing but educating the students on my roster to Mr. Teacher and Mr. Union Activist.

After everything I have seen and all of the stories I have heard, I suppose I should not be surprised by anything anymore. Being involved in this current UFT election campaign, however, has turned me on to a whole new strata of wrongdoing by our union. Through research I learned that, while the Unity Caucus has won many of the protections teachers in NYC currently enjoy (enjoy?), they have also been furiously bargaining away those same protections. Despite this fact, and despite them being on the wrong side of issues like mayoral control, charter schools and Race to the Top, Unity will stop at nothing to maintain its stranglehold on power.

MORE does not have the funding or the infrastructure Unity has. What we have, however, is a core of motivated and intelligent teachers who have been pounding the pavement in order to build a true grass-roots movement. These teachers have been working feverishly to get the word out that not only should our colleagues vote MORE, but that an entity called MORE exists and that there are elections coming up in April in which MORE will be running.

And while the organizers at MORE have been using people power, the Unity folks have been using brute power. Thanks to the fact that the UFT’s District Reps are chosen instead of elected, most of them have proven to be firm allies of Unity. They have access to listservs containing the email addresses of hundreds of Chapter Leaders around the city and have been using this privileged access to campaign for their caucus. When members of MORE ask for equal time and equal opportunity to do the same thing, they have been denied. There have been stories, recent stories, of District Rep meetings where Unity Caucus literature has been distributed. All of these actions give the impression that the Unity Caucus is entitled to hold power. They have the listservs. They have the power to call district-wide meetings. They can organize major events like the upcoming Lobby Day. When they mix campaigning with these things the message is “we have the power and the influence, who else are you going to vote for?”

It does not stop with the UFT, however. The Unity Caucus has produced every single one of the American Federation of Labor’s Presidents: Albert Shanker, Sandy Feldman and Randi Weingarten. Randi herself has proven that she is not above throwing her weight around in defense of Unity. A few nights ago on Twitter Katie Osgood, a teacher in the Chicago Teachers’ Union, expressed her support for MORE. It was obvious that Ms. Katie was speaking for herself, since she clearly stated as much in her tweet. Randi Weingarten, taking a swipe from her national perch, questioned Ms. Katie (admonished her is more like it) for presuming to speak for the Chicago Teachers’ Union. This was Weingarten’s way of ensuring that Ms. Katie would clarify, once again, that she is speaking just for herself. It was a heavy-handed way for Weingarten to isolate the tweet as well as send the message to any other AFT member outside of New York City that any message in support of MORE will be monitored and the person duly chastened.

As for this lowly high school teacher, one who only speaks for himself on this blog, it is the worst of all possible worlds. My teaching career started with me thinking that my union is out to hang me and my administrators wanted to nurture me. It was an impression I learned during my upbringing as a young man whose career was born in the year 2000. Today, I now know that my union is not necessarily out to hang me. Instead, they would not mind if I were to hang. If it came down to a choice between them maintaining their stranglehold on power or me keeping my neck, they would opt for the former without even thinking.

The DOE, instead of nurturing me, probably would love an opportunity to fashion my noose. It was my misfortune for starting my career under a principal that gave me reason to have faith in the system. That faith sustained me for many years, over a decade, before I finally grew up. There is no such thing as “Children First… Always.” From the mayor on down to all of his little Tweedies, the only thing that comes first, second and last is themselves. Anyone who has no talent, no heart, no brains, no morals can find a well-paid job in the Department of Education. DOE lawyers, as I have been told by many personal friends who practice employment law, are notorious in the litigation community for being incompetent. The same could probably be said for many, if not most, if not all, of the so-called leadership positions at Tweed. What function do they serve aside from finding ways to hand tax money out to any company owned by a friend of Pharaoh Bloomberg in the form of no-bid contracts? Of course, in order to do this, they need to squeeze money out of existing areas of the system, namely veteran teachers who make “too much” money. They need to squeeze art, music and enrichment programs. They need to squeeze 40 children into a classroom. This is what “Children First” means to the likes of Bloomberg.

It has been a hard lesson to learn. It has been unnerving to think that I could have been so incredibly, mind-bogglingly, stupid for so long.

I once was lost but now I’m found.

Find MORE’s first campaign video, which will be proudly hosted on this site throughout the entire campaign season.

THE REAL STORY IN THE MATH SLAVERY FIASCO

The hypocrite lynch mob is out in force for this one.

The hypocrite lynch mob is out in force for this one.

The media, DOE and the hypocrite circle are having a field day with the 4th grade math homework sheet that contained inappropriate word problems about slavery.

To summarize, students were encouraged to create their own word problems in an effort to fuse math and social studies instruction. These questions were then combined into a homework sheet that at least one teacher had already used in January. Earlier this month, another 4th grade teacher asked their student-teacher, Aziza Harding, to make copies of the sheet. Harding felt uncomfortable doing this, so she left a note requesting to speak with the teacher instead. She then showed the sheet to one of her professors at NYU, Charlton McIlwain. McIlwain contacted the media and the DOE is considering the appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Rather than jump on the faux-outrage bandwagon, I would like to start a bandwagon of my own.

First, Aziza Harding sets the tone for this faux-outrage:

 “Instead of these kids being desensitized to this type of violence, that they have a general idea that, ‘Wow, this was a terrible thing that happened to a group of people for over 300 years,’” Harding said.

Well, by this logic, since the students created these questions does it not mean that they are already “desensitized”? Is “desensitized” really the appropriate word to describe a bunch of 9-year-olds? How much empathy do 4th-graders have to begin with? Perhaps they can empathize with someone who is suffering in front of them. Can they really empathize with the suffering of people who lived 150 years ago?

To be sure, using this homework sheet was not a good idea for many reasons. It trivializes the issue of slavery. It not only trivializes the suffering endured by enslaved people, it trivializes slavery as a historical issue with which we are still dealing as a country. These student-generated questions should have been a signal that the issue of slavery needs to be taught with more gravitas to children who are so young.

This seems to be an issue of teachers under pressure to create “cross-curricular” activities. Or, it could be an issue of teachers under pressure to infuse literacy throughout the entire curriculum. Perhaps it is both. It highlights how meaningless cross-curricular studies and literacy-infused math can be when it is forced, whether by teachers or administrators. By “forced” I mean when done for the sake of doing it rather than being an organic overlap between disciplines.

There are just some instances when you cannot connect two disciplines. Math is best infused with history when it involves some sort of statistical analysis. For 4th-graders, perhaps they can be given the years of significant events in the history of slavery and be asked to add and subtract. “How many years between the Constitutional ban on the slave trade and Nat Turner’s Rebellion?” It does not seem that the math being taught in the ill-conceived slavery worksheet was any more difficult than that anyway.

The entire push behind cross-curricular studies and literacy-infused math is really one of the many hare-brained fads pushed on teachers by education researchers. Some researcher somewhere found that these things “work” with a group of children they used as lab rats, which means that teachers everywhere should use it. Not only should we use it, we must use it NOW because the “future” of children is at stake. We cannot afford to lose one more minute!

Speaking of hare-brained educationists, this brings us to the other untold part of the story. Aziza Harding supposedly left a note with her cooperating teacher. Yet, for some reason, she was just bursting at the seams with outrage that she had to show the worksheet to her NYU professor. And what does the professor, Charlton McIlwain, do? He does not advise her. He does not even call the school. He calls the media. What did he think would happen if he called the media?

Here is what will happen:

The principal said she’ll be meeting with families and all staff members will undergo related training.

The whistleblowing student teacher said she hopes that P.S. 59 students will get help understanding why slavery is a much more serious issue than these simple math problems.

Sure, just at the expense of turning the school upside down in the process. NY1 was at the school last week. The principal has to do damage control. Teachers will be walking on eggshells for the foreseeable future. You tell me: will this be a net loss or net gain for the children? Do you really believe Ms. Harding accomplished her mission in getting students to understand why slavery is such a serious issue?

There promises to be even more fallout from McIlwain’s ill-conceived phone call to the media:

After seeing NY1′s story, State Senator Simcha Felder, who is the chairman of the New York City Education Sub-Committee, emailed a statement that read, “While the city, state and unions are busy haggling over teacher evaluations, New York City’s students are being subjected to reprehensible and irresponsible educational materials. I am calling for the immediate removal of these two teachers.”

Felder also commended the student teacher for coming forward.

Yes, someone’s head must roll for this.

Either Harding and McIliwain are really bad or really stupid people. Perhaps they are both. If McIlwain is an education professor, someone who is an “expert” on schooling who presumably went through the rigorous infantile process to receive an ED.d, he has not the foggiest idea of how the media and the school system work. If his goal was to help children, he has accomplished exactly the opposite.

As for Aziza Harding, it is great to be outraged about things, is it not? It is so easy and costs absolutely nothing on your end. You can have a knee-jerk reaction to something, ring the alarm bells and end up being quoted in the media as some sort of enlightened crusader for justice.

Next time, why not actually talk to the teacher first? Furthermore, in the age of Google where employers are sure to look up anyone they are considering for a job, what principal is going to want an oversensitive, media-hungry nooblet on their staff?

Not to worry, I am sure there are a few charter schools who would love to hire you for three years before spitting you out like bubble gum that has lost its flavor. Then maybe you can get a taste of how it feels to be on the receiving end of the process you help set in motion on others.

NEWS FLASH: TEACHERS ARE DISSATISFIED

Stop the presses! Studies show that teachers are more dissatisfied than ever. YOU really don't know the half.

Stop the presses! Studies show that teachers are more dissatisfied than ever. You REALLY don’t know the half. Read below and get an idea.,

The big story currently making its rounds in the edu-blogosphere is the MetLife survey which finds the percentage of teachers who consider themselves “very satisfied” with their jobs at an all-time low. This is the biggest “no duh” story I have seen in quite some time, although it is useful to have empirical evidence for things that you have always known to be true.

As I see it, the edu-blogosphere is divided into two camps: practitioners and non-practitioners. The practitioners are people like yours truly, Perdido Street, Francesco Portelos, DOENuts, B-Lo and other friends we know and respect very well. We tend to oppose many of the programs of the so-called “education reform” movement because we have seen first-hand the destruction they have wrought on our schools for the past 10 years.

The non-practitioners consist of blogs like Andy Rotherham’s Eduwonk and Joanne Jacobs. These are people who do not teach but, somehow, have been anointed authorities on matters of education policy. They cite studies and articles, generally of other non-practitioners, and affect an objective stance towards them. On the whole they tend to be more supportive  of, and open to, reformy ideas cooked up by these non-practitioners.

It has been the non-practitioners who have been carrying the day for many long years. Whether it is in the blog world or the blood and guts world of education policy, non-practitioners have the ears of the people in power. They also seem to have the ears of the people. Non-practitioner blogs tend to be echo chambers for the ideas of other non-practitioners. It is a rare occasion when these people cite an article done by someone actually teaching in a classroom.

More than being echo-chambers, the non-practitioner blogs represent to me a strata of arrogant, self-important people re-excreting the dung of other arrogant, self-important people. They smell each other’s leavings and tell the rest of us it is air freshener. Their stance of objectivity is really a ruse to sterilize the debate on education. They wish to make education a matter of macro studies involving numbers, trends and equations. In fact, these people need to discuss education in this way. Not only is it the only way these people can remotely approach the experience of being inside of a classroom, it is the method of discourse that gives them legitimacy. The moment teaching is recognized as the art it is, and teachers themselves are recognized as professionals, is the moment these people cease to be relevant.

And yet, it is the practitioners who are struggling against the current to be considered relevant. We have been over here raising our hands saying “hey, look at us, we have some insights of our own.” At best, we are considered strange curiosities by the people who “count”.  At worst, we are not considered at all. At the very worst, we are automatically written off as self-interested curmudgeons whose ideas always have ulterior motives.

This is the type of topsy-turvy debate we have over education in this country. The ones who are raking in money, popularity, influence and power on the back of the education system are seen as the righteous crusaders. The ones who toil in obscurity,  the ones who write these blogs in the non-existent spare time we have as a labor not of love but of necessity, are seen as the enemy or at least as anterior to the “real” debate over education.

So if our job satisfaction is at an all-time low, you can forgive us. We do not even receive the satisfaction of getting a fair hearing in the public discussion. Teachers are to be evaluated, held accountable, fired, judged but never heard.

No, we are not dissatisfied. What I feel, what many of our colleagues feel, goes way beyond the pale of normal disgruntlement.

For the past decade and more we have seen our schools closed. We have been told that we are the problem . We make too much money, do too little work, have too little accountability and drain too much from the hard-working American taxpayer. All of our efforts, what we have gleaned from years of experience, is being judged by how much “value” we “add” to test scores. Poverty, drug abuse, television, broken homes, violence, gangs, lack of sleep are all excuses we are using to shirk our duties as educators. None of these things matter. If we were better, then all of these problems would be solved. If we actually “cared”, we would give our children the wings to fly above these problems. Through giving children the keys to a better future, we can eradicate these problems in a single generation. We would also make America “competitive” again and end this Great Recession that just refuses to disappear. Instead of being the pious role models called for in our job description, we care more about our long vacations and our 3 p.m. clock out time.

We, the practitioners, are assailed by these tropes on a daily basis. These tropes have absolutely no relation to the reality we live. We have found it harder and harder to make the rent, keep up with the ever-changing demands of the fickle education “reformers” and contort ourselves into the proper shape to be held accountable by our betters. We know that education is not a matter of “standardization”, “quantitative data” or even “objectivity”. We know that our jobs do not end after we leave the building and that our so-called “vacations” are merely one giant prep period to write units and catch up on grading, although we never truly “catch up”. We know that poverty, gangs, drugs, the media and family life affect how children learn. They shape what children become. Our children merely do school but they actually live in a world where reality is generally not very kind to them. Children are in our classrooms for a certain amount of time during the day and many are not there even when they are present. The vast majority of the time, they are being raised by those other things that we told are mere excuses. We try to bust them out of this life, to give them the tools to see a better way or to show them that they can have at least a measure of control over their own destinies. We do this not through “quantitative data” but through the planting of seeds that will germinate only years down the line. The most important things we do cannot be measured on a test or fully appreciated by looking at our “on-the-clock hours”. Yet, this is how we are being judged.

No, we are not merely dissatisfied. If you really want to see how we feel inside, take at look at Rigoberto Ruelas and Mary Thorson. Ask yourself what would drive these teachers to jump off bridges and stand in front of oncoming semis. We are not just unhappy or disgruntled or burned out. We are traumatized. We are eviscerated. We have internalized the absolute hatred and disgust that YOU have shown for us.

Everybody has a breaking point. Teachers by and large have reached theirs many years ago. YOU want to know where Superman is. YOU want to bring in the “effective” teachers. YOU want to get rid of us in favor of dynamos who will roll up their sleeves, buckle down and do what needs to be done. YOU believe that a computer program can do the job of teaching. YOU say that “those who can’t do, teach.”

But WE are the Superman. WE are the dynamos. WE are the ones who are doing what needs to be done. YOU are the ones who have shirked YOUR responsibilities.

YOU have shirked your responsibilities as leaders. YOU have allowed this country to have the highest childhood poverty rate and the highest incarceration rate in the western world. YOU have failed us and YOU dare blame us as the culprits.

YOU have shirked your responsibilities as citizens. YOU have failed to vote, to keep up with what is happening in the world and how our country actually works. YOU would rather watch 20 hours of television, get your news from internet or news channel demagogues and read five-and-dime novels about vampire lovers and the zombie apocalypse.

YOU have shirked your responsibilities as the media. YOU have provided us with scripted reality television that celebrates the basest emotions and desires. YOU have turned the “news” into infotainment. YOU would rather regale us with tales of Lindsay Lohan than inform us of the things that are changing our world forever.

YOU have shirked your responsibilities as role models. YOU lack the capacity for empathy, love and community that should bind a so-called civilization together. YOU have modeled for our children that it does not matter if the world goes to hell just as long as YOU get your sliver of the pie.

YOU have checked out, really have never checked in, of your responsibilities to our children. Children are with us for 6 hours a day. They are with YOU for the other 18.

And yet, YOU want to point to the finger at us and tell us that we have to straighten out in 6 hours the children you have been deforming for the past 18. YOU want to drop off your children to us at the age of five after YOU have spent the previous half decade implicitly teaching them the worst lessons that humanity has to offer.

By YOU, I do not mean parents. I mean ALL OF YOU.

YOU want to be able to wallow in greed, shallowness and avarice while holding WE the teachers to the standards of Superman.

Teachers are not dissatisfied.

WE are tired of being the receptacle of blame for all of the YOUR shortcomings, YOUR insecurities and YOUR failures.

WE are tired of being the terry cloth hand towel on which YOU wipe your filth after a lifetime of wallowing in the mud.

WE are disgusted. WE are traumatized. WE are in pain. WE are “dissatisfied” because of YOU, every last one of YOU.

You should try being blamed for everything wrong with society someday. Instead of holding us “accountable”, hold yourselves accountable for once in your life. Come back to us in 10-15 years and tell us how you are feeling inside.

I wish I was merely “dissatisfied”. That would be a world of improvement on what we are truly feeling.

HOW MANY INEFFECTIVE TEACHERS ARE THERE?

teachingmistakes

This is a question we hear being asked with greater frequency. The structure of the question is telling about the climate of teacher bashing in which we currently live. It assumes that there is some sort of numerical answer, either in a percentage or an absolute value. It assumes that we can reliably arrive at this answer. Most importantly, the existence of the question itself assumes that the “ineffective teacher” is a problem, one that presumably has a solution.

Let us say that we can arrive at a numerical answer. What do you do with that information? Do you identify the “ineffective” ones so they can be better trained? Do you merely fire them? A bit of both perhaps?

Assuming there is a core of intractably awful teachers who should be fired, what do you do next? From whence is the next generation of superstar teachers coming? This is the problem. The question of how many ineffective teachers exist is part of a wider discourse that has been inhospitable to teachers. Teacher unions are breaking, if not totally broken. We have a proliferation of new standards, uniform exams and other measures designed to hold teachers “accountable”. And make no mistake about that word “accountable”. It is not being used as a promise to better inform our practice or the quality of service we deliver to our communities. Instead, it is being brandished like a noose by a lynch mob, a mob that has been stirred into an anti-teacher frenzy by a well-funded media campaign orchestrated by so-called “reformers”. We will be held “accountable” right up until the moment our necks snap.

In an environment like this, who in their right mind would want to be a teacher? What kind of person with a 4.0 GPA would want to dedicate their life to a profession accorded so little respect? Where are these great teachers for whom the way will be cleared once we fire all the ineffective ones?

Those today who ask the question “how many ineffective teachers are there” automatically disqualify any plausible solution. It is born out of a teacher-hating environment  that discourages the potentially “effective” teachers of tomorrow from entering the profession. Add to this the rising cost of college and the raising of the bar of entry into the teaching profession (including a teacher “bar exam” here in New York State, an idea that has been supported by Randi Weingarten) and you have an environment perfectly suited towards driving anyone in their right minds away from the profession.

The foregoing assumes that there is a way to identify ineffective teachers to begin with. Reformers like Secretary of Education Arne Duncan assume they have found a way: teacher evaluation schemes that rely on student growth on test scores. Despite the fact that this has been tried in major cities like Washington, D.C. with disastrous consequences, Duncan has been scaling up the standardized testing regime with his Race to the Top program. States like New York will now judge their teachers’ effectiveness with “value added” data that have such wide margins of error as to make them useless.

The consequences of this are predictable. Teachers will merely “teach to the test”. Those who dare teach students with learning disabilities will be at greater risk of being rated “ineffective”. Teachers in Long Island will be held to the same standard as teachers in the South Bronx, despite the fact that they receive generally less funding and have more “externalities” to overcome. There will be an exodus of teachers to school districts with lower rates of poverty, crime and learning disabilities.

So why the narrative of the ineffective teacher? If we don’t even have reliable ways of identifying ineffective teachers, how do we know there are any in the system, let alone an amount that warrants wholesale reform of teacher evaluations?

It has currency with the general public because most people have been to school at some point. This fact alone seems to cause people to believe that they are some sort of authority on matters of education. Moreover, everybody is a taxpayer and, therefore, the boss of every public school teacher out there, or at least the teachers in their district.

Sadly, most of these people in the general public seem not to remember their teachers with fondness. They probably did not learn a whole heck of a lot in school, or only did so despite their teachers. I can say that, throughout my public school career, I did not learn much myself. In these instances it is easy to blame the teachers. People brandish the accountability noose in revenge for all of the crappy teachers they had when they were in school.

However, just because we did not learn much in school does not mean our teachers were ineffective. First off, I have been a student in many schools and I do not really recall any teachers who did not try to teach. There are people who seem to think that teachers drink coffee and sleep at their desks all day, even though this clearly runs counter to even their own experiences. Therefore, our not learning anything certainly was not due to our teachers not trying. So if they tried to teach us, why did we not learn? Sure, it is easy to say that they were boring. Their methods did not capture our attentions. They did not seem to care about us as people. Maybe this is true to an extent but it leaves out one thing: our own complicity in not learning.

I did not learn in school because I did not pay attention most of the time. I did not pay attention most of the time because there were other, more exciting things in the world to think about other than grammar and algebra. My mind was swirling with so many disorganized thoughts and so many fleeting desires. After all, I was a kid. Furthermore, I was a kid growing up at the end of the 20th century. There were all types of toys, commercials, television shows, popular music songs and technology out there geared specifically towards me. These were usually the images and the sounds that were dancing in my head while the teacher was talking about stuff like the Declaration of Independence. It is no wonder I did not learn anything.

Yet, here I am typing away using vocabulary, sentence structure and organized paragraphs. If I did not learn anything, how did I learn how to communicate in the English language at all? I know that it was at some point in kindergarten that I was introduced to the alphabet and how to use it. I will be damned if I remember how it was taught to me. But something stuck. Many things apparently stuck because I somehow ended up knowing stuff by the time I graduated high school. Sure, maybe I did not learn the type of detail that some of the gifted students learned but there was and still is stuff in my head. I learned and I did so despite myself.

It would be easy to chalk up my ignorance to my teachers. They did not “get” me. They were “lame”. Maybe there is some truth to that. Maybe there is also truth in the idea that I was a spoiled brat who took for granted an education that children in other nations would die to have. Alas, it is uncomfortable for people to actually believe that they once were, or still are, a bunch of brats. Politicians and education reformers certainly are not going to tell them that. So blaming teachers is easier. It lets us off the hook for our own shortcomings.

The other part to the teacher -bashing has to do with unions. Apparently, most Americans are miserable at their jobs and have the fear of being fired dangling precariously over their heads. They believe that teachers, these lazy and ineffective bums that did not “get” them when they were in school, are not miserable or insecure enough. Coming from a school of thought that holds the specter of poverty and homelessness makes workers better, people have had an obsession with eliminating “tenure” under the false impression that it means a job for life. Somehow, if teachers do not have the protections that allow them to advocate for their children and are held to accountability standards that measure how many bubbles their students fill in “correctly” over the course of 3 hours, schools will “improve”.

It is a sign of a selfish, petty and downright fearful society when one group of workers does not feel that another group of workers is suffering sufficiently. Apparently, they see no connection between stripping one group of workers of its due process rights and the deterioration of their own working conditions. It used to be that teachers were pitied because they pulled in long hours without making much money. Now they are envied because they make too much money and have some tepid job protections. Rather than attempting to get “tenure” for their own lines of work, they would rather engage in a race to the bottom where nobody has any job protections anywhere.

And this is supposed to keep the “effective” teachers while attracting more “effective” teachers in the future? I hope that people eventually think about the implications of what they are saying and realize the reformers are prescribing educational poison. You think schools sucked when you were a kid? Just wait until every teacher in America has to turn their classroom into a 180-day test-prep session.

DECLARATION OF A LIFELONG TEACHER

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Please welcome our next guest blogger, Christine Rubino:

The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

To me, the Right to Life means I should not be deprived of my life for the benefit of another person or group of people.

To me, the Right to Liberty means that my thinking be free from interference from the forces of unfreedom.

To me, the Right to the Pursuit of Happiness means that I have a right to live for myself and choose what makes up my personal, private, and individual happiness, just as long as I respect the same right in others.

Today, I realize that these three things were taken from me. I watched them burn, smolder into ash and blow away right in front of my eyes. For the record, I did not go down without a good fight.

Some things in life you are born with. I was lucky to be on the line, which gave me a good sense of humor, fortitude, and the ability to relate to children. I consider the last gift to be paramount to my whole being.

I grew up in the early 1970′s in a predominately Italian neighborhood. It is now known as Cobble Hill. Before it was invaded by hipsters and Midwestern transplants, we just called it “”South Brooklyn”. I lived directly across from the Red Hook projects and one block off of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. My days were filled with playing outside and keeping my eyes on my younger cousins. I loved this job and took great pride in it. It was then that I learned that I was a natural teacher. This has formed a major part of my identity ever since.

My parents moved us out to Marine Park by 1984, which seemed like the opposite end of the planet to a 12-year-old like me. One day, a new family moved across the street from us. They had 4 children ages 7,4,2, and 1. The mother of this family asked me one day if I knew anyone who could babysit her children. Being the boisterous child I was, I immediately told her it was her lucky day because she was looking at her new babysitter. Looking after her children made me happy and gave me purpose. They are grown now and help take care of my own kids. As time went on, they became my second family. There is a trust, an unspoken bond, between us. It is a bond that was forged all of those years ago when they were little ones in my care.

Babysitting was my sole means of income throughout college. I watched many people’s children around my neighborhood.  When it came time for me to decide upon a college major, it was inevitable that I chose Childhood Education. My parents were proud.  They said it was a fabulous union job, something I could make into a career. I graduated from Kingsborough Community College with an Associate’s Degree in Early Childhood, then transferred to Brooklyn College where I got a B.S. in Elementary Education. I continued at Brooklyn College until I received my Master’s in Math Education.

In 1996, at the ripe old age of 24, I began teaching full-time at P.S.203 which is in a section of Brooklyn called Old Mill Basin. Once there, I held many different jobs and developed into a jack-of-all-trades. I got along with every child that crossed my path, just like I did during my babysitting career.

My days as a teacher were filled with:

1) The constant chatter of children, to which I added constant chatter of my own.

2) Paperwork, paperwork and paperwork.

3) Planning, organizing, and implementing lessons

4) Meeting deadlines

5) Adhering to a minute by minute schedule, including planned bathroom breaks.

6) Creating and grading homework and projects.

7) Writing notes and making phone calls home.

8) Making sure that I was always prepared and that my students were learning.

9) Planning and overseeing trips that I always managed to creatively connect to even the most boring topics.

10) Making copies

Within this list are things that I loved and things that I did not love so much. It was all worth it because it allowed me to be around children; to let my natural vocation as a teacher flourish.

Fourteen years of my life I put in that school before I was terminated at the ripe old age of 38 in June 2011.

Whenever I speak to colleagues, I find that I do a ton of reminiscing. Most of my sentences start with “when, I was in the classroom…” or “when I was a teacher…”. When that happens, my friends say “you will always be a teacher”. Their words make me pick myself up and brush the eraser dust off.

I am still a teacher when I listen to my own children chatter and laugh.

I am still a teacher when my children come home from school and I help them with homework, projects and studying.

I am still a teacher when my friends send their children to me so that I can help them with their tricky math problems.

I am still a teacher when I am talking to my own friends, neighbors, and complete strangers. I am asking a million questions and answering all of theirs.

I am still a teacher when I see a sign misspelled or a grammatical error in a book. I feel a need to get out a red pencil and start circling, highlighting and commenting. I even want to reach for the post-it notes.

I am still a teacher when I am trying to cheer a friend up, requiring me to dig deep into my humor arsenal to get a smile or a laugh.

I am still a teacher when I have to shuttle my children and their friends to and from school and all of their other activities.

I am still a teacher when I realize that every single second of the day has to be spent productively and accounted for. Yes, even bathroom breaks are still planned.

Despite the Department of Education’s efforts to deprive me of my life, liberty and happiness, they have not deprived me of my identity as a teacher.

That does not mean that my life has not been drastically changed. It has changed in ways that I could never have imagined. I was living decently when I was employed, raising my children and trying to keep my head above water like every other working person. Instead of a ”rags to riches”, my life since being terminated has been a ”rags to tattered threads” tale. It is not even remotely close to the life I led when I was gainfully employed in a “good” union job

My liberty has been buried. Yes, I am free to think but I always have this little pitchforked guy on my shoulder. He is constantly poking me. He is forcing me to self-edit EVERY SINGLE THOUGHT, WORD AND ACTION. Self-editing is essential in life but not to the extent of which I am speaking. That one moment years ago when the pitchforked man was not around constantly comes back to haunt me. People continue to judge me, my character and my abilities as a teacher based upon a few sentences I wrote years ago, sentences that I regretted and erased quickly after they were written.

As far as my happiness goes, I have been forced to pursue it even more. I have on the best and most expensive running sneakers. I am running as fast as I can. Yet, no matter how fast I run, I just cannot grab the baton from my partner’s hand. I can see it shining but I just cannot feel it. But, one day, I hope to have hold of it again.

So, despite the fact that I have been deprived of my life, liberty and happiness, I have not been deprived of my identity. YOU CAN TAKE THE GIRL OUT OF TEACHING, BUT YOU CANNOT TAKE THE TEACHING OUT OF THE GIRL.

WHO IS NEXT TO GUEST BLOG? A ROLE MODEL

This country has never been very good at picking role models. I remember growing up one of our role models was a blond steroid and drug addict.

This country has never been very good at picking role models. I remember growing up one of our role models was a blond steroid head and drug addict.

I thank Ms. Ortiz for her inaugural post here yesterday as a guest blogger. Now that we have an idea of who she is and from whence she is coming, it is a good time to introduce the next guest blogger to you. As you will see, this next person is at a totally different stage in their life and career.

Those of you who have followed this site, or New York education news in general, will be familiar with this person. I thought it was important for you to hear what this person has to say and to give them a chance to say it.

The person to whom I refer is Christine Rubino.

If you don’t know the case of Christine Rubino, you can familiarize yourself with it here, here and here. I first learned about her situation from the New York print media who were, not surprisingly, less than fair. For this reason, I decided to write about her situation myself. Despite the fact that this site can never hope to have the type of reach of the New York Post or Daily News, I would have been remiss if I didn’t use this little corner of the internet to give her a fair hearing. I am glad that I did because, since my first piece about her, Christine and I have become friends.

What convinced me of the need to talk about her story were the responses it elicited in the comments section of the news sites. People could not wait to pass all types of judgments on her character and fitness to be a teacher. It was sadly ironic that people who bemoaned the lack of role models for our children were saying some of the most vile and hateful things to be found on the internet. Vile and hateful not only describes the treatment she received from anonymous Puritans, but from the Puritans at the Department of Education as well.

As most of us know, Christine’s nightmare stemmed from a comment she made on her private Facebook page. It is a comment that Christine has never defended. She removed it very soon after it was posted. Very few people saw the comment. Since no students or parents were on her Facebook page, it would have been very unlikely that anyone who would have been truly offended by it would have ever known of its existence.

Unfortunately, one of the people who saw the comment during its brief life span was the resident teacher snitch of Christine’s school. Not only did he see it, he took a screen shot of it, saved it, printed it out and showed it to the assistant principal, a man with whom he had a “special” relationship. It usually works out that the people who have the most to say about their coworkers are also the ones with the most skeletons in their own closet.

The rest is history, a sad and bizarre history. The Special Commissioner of Investigation of the DOE sent goons to her house to rifle through her garbage. Those same goons harassed and threatened Christine’s friends. They lied through their teeth at her hearing. Her union-appointed lawyer wanted to roll over and die, pretty much advising her to accept her termination without a fight. The DOE lawyers tried to cast a pall of doubt on her character. Since Christine had a clean record as a teacher of 14 years, they weren’t above coaching the principal and students to lie about her, not to mention making up lies themselves. The head of the Administrative Trials Unit ensured that the “independent” arbitrator, Randi Lowitt, came to the right decision: termination.

Did it matter to anyone that this was a comment made on her private Facebook page? Did it matter that the comment expressed the normal frustrations of being a teacher? Did it matter that she had taken the comment down almost immediately after it went up? Did it matter that she showed remorse and never defended what she said? Did it matter that she had a spotless record as an educator?

It mattered to Christine Rubino, who took Lowitt’s decision to the New York State Supreme Court. It mattered to Judge Barbara Jaffe, who ruled that Lowitt’s termination decree was “shocking to the conscience” of the court.  It matters to any teacher or thinking person who has an ounce of empathy.

The Department of Education likes to say that it puts “students first”. Christine’s two children are students in the DOE. Did they put those students first when they took away the livelihood of their mother? Are they putting them first by denying the woman they tried to destroy any form of unemployment compensation? If people are so concerned about role models for our children, why don’t they criticize the unethical and underhanded way the DOE harasses teachers? Barring that, why don’t these people act like the role models they seek by not judging an entire person’s character based upon one news article?

It is for these reasons that it is important we hear directly from Christine Rubino. When I had the idea of getting some guest bloggers, Christine was the first person who came to mind. I have seen first-hand the type of good person she is. I have seen her be a mother to her children, protecting them from the misery through which she has been put so they can have as normal a life as possible. I have seen her open her house to people and share what she has, despite the fact that she can barely make ends meet herself. I have seen how she maintains friendships she has had since childhood, a sure sign of a person with character and integrity. I have seen Christine help me get some of the things I needed to get settled into my new apartment when I moved a few months ago. Perhaps if other people see the type of person she is, they wouldn’t be so quick to pass ignorant and misinformed judgments on her.

Up until now, Christine has had people speaking for her. Me, her lawyers, the DOE and the media have all been allowed to paint the picture of what type of person she is. But she deserves a space where she can speak for herself.

The Christine  Rubino case has been a lesson in the best and the worst in humanity. On the one hand, you have a person who has done nothing but be generous and helpful to everyone around her; someone who always wanted to be a teacher and did the job with distinction. On the other hand, you have a bureaucracy that lied, sneaked around and harassed to get what they wanted, and what they wanted was the destruction of another human being.

You can decide for yourself which one is the bad role model for our children. I, for one, would not allow a bad role model to be a guest blogger on this site. Stay tuned because tomorrow, for the first time, Christine Rubino finally speaks for herself.

More Tales “Shocking to the Conscience”

There might have been a time when the 3020a process had some integrity. Under the reign of Pharaoh Bloomberg, however, whatever integrity it once had has come into question.

When a teacher does not agree with a ruling of the independent arbitrator, their only recourse is to appeal to an actual court of law. For many teachers, the cost of lawyering up and the inordinate amount of time it takes to go through the court system makes appealing the arbitrator’s decision out of the question.

Yet, more and more, teachers who go to the court system see some form of justice served. It must be pointed out that judges generally do not like vacating decisions of labor arbitrators, since doing so reduces the integrity of the arbitration process. The fact that so many judges are doing so proves that NYC’s 3020a process is broken.

Take the case of Nicole Moreno-Lieberman. The NY State Supreme Court vacated the independent arbitrator’s ruling of a $7,000 fine. Judge Lucy Billings’ recent decision says a mouthful about the pitfalls of the 3020a process.

Ms. Moreno-Lieberman was a dean at P.S. 169, a district 75 school. She received a complaint that “Student A” had tried to kiss and grope his former girlfriend, “Student B”. “Student B” complained to Moreno-Lieberman about the harassment, who called “Student A’s” father in for a conference on the following Monday (this all took place on a Friday). “Student A” then wrote a note on a napkin to another student, “Student C”, explaining that he would rather kill himself than allow this complaint to be the reason he has to return to the Dominican Republic. He asked “Student C” to deliver the note to “Student B”, which also contained a request that she retract her complaint. “Student C” dutifully delivered the note to “Student B” and “Student B” delivered the note to dean Moreno-Lieberman.

The note was written in Spanish. A school aide translated the note into English for Moreno-Lieberman. Appropriately, Moreno-Lieberman brought the note to the school guidance counselor. The counselor interviewed “Student A” and required him to write another note promising that he would not hurt himself. She then determined that “Student A” was well enough to return home on his own.

When “Student A’s” father came in for the meeting on Monday, Moreno-Lieberman learned that the boy did indeed try to hurt himself and was hospitalized. Moreno-Lieberman showed the napkin note to the father, at which time the guidance counselor came into the room. They talked about the attempted suicide of “Student A”, then left the room to ask the principal if they could see the distraught boy in the hospital. When they returned to the room, “Student A’s” father was preparing to leave. Moreno-Lieberman did not realize he had taken the note with him. She called him later in the day to ask if he could return the note, but he never did.

Both Moreno-Lieberman and the counselor were brought up on 3020a charges. Moreno-Lieberman’s charges demonstrate the underhanded way the Department of Education goes after teachers. Why Nicole Moreno-Lieberman was brought up on charges at all in this scenario is tough to understand. She seemed to go through all of the proper channels when it came to both the harassment and the threatened suicide. Keep in mind that District 75 is for special needs students, and perhaps scenarios like this are pretty common in this school.

Yet, because a student tried to hurt himself, someone’s head needed to roll. The DOE slapped Moreno-Lieberman with the following four charges:

a) upon learning of Student A ‘ s suicide threat, she failed to notify the principal, allowed Student A to be released from school without notifying his father of the suicide threat, and did not telephone 911 for help for Student A

b) based her conduct set forth in Specification I, she endangered the physical, mental, and moral welfare of Student A, a child

c) based on her conduct set forth in Specifications I and 11, she failed to prevent or contributed to Student A ‘ s suicide attempt and hospitalization

d) She, albeit unintentionally, negligently allowed a student’s handwritten suicide note, written on a napkin and referred to as the “napkin note,” to be taken from the school by the student’s father without preserving a copy of the note. Further, her serious negligence . . . impeded the investigation” by Department of Education into school personnel’s handling of the student’s threat to harm himself.

These charges are designed in a way that, if you are found guilty of the first one, chances are you would be found guilty of the next two. However, if you are exonerated on the first one, then you must be exonerated on the next two. That is why the fourth one is there. If the DOE cannot get you on one major thing, they will throw a trivial thing on there, or several trivial things. As a chapter leader and someone who has read dozens of 3020a charges of teachers across the city, this is the standard way the DOE tries to get teachers.

As an arbitrator, someone who needs to be approved every year by the DOE to retain my position, I would look at these charges and ask “which one(s) will this teacher be found guilty of?” That is how the system is designed. Arbitrators always have to split the baby. The DOE knows this, and always slaps teachers with charges that make it easy for the independent arbitrators to do just that. Therefore, teachers are rarely ever exonerated. This allows the DOE to turn around and say “see, we never accuse a teacher who is not guilty of something”. It makes it seem as if the DOE and the 3020a process have integrity. Yet, “integrity” is the last word that comes to mind when you look at this crooked process.

The DOE’s arbitrator, David Hyland, dismissed the first three charges. On the fourth charge, Hyland found Moreno-Lieberman guilty. She allowed the “napkin note” to walk out of the school with the father, which hindered the DOE’s investigation into how this matter was handled. Hyland fined Moreno-Lieberman $7,000 for her “negligence”.

This ruling was torn apart by Judge Lucy Billings of the New York State Supreme Court:

A review of the testimony by petitioner, the Department of Education investigator Derrick Dottin, the school principal Scallon, and Student A’s father shows that, when petitioner handed the “napkin note” to the father, she did not intend that he keep it. Her distress upon learning of Student A ‘ s suicide attempt, however, overcame her customary professional discipline, so that she neither sought to retrieve the note from the father before he left, nor arranged to copy it. This record supports the Hearing Officer’s decision insofar as he found that petitioner was negligent in failing to satisfy her responsibility to preserve school records.

Despite a careful, conscientious opinion, the Hearing Officer nevertheless overstated the importance of the missing “napkin note” to respondents’ official investigation of the circumstances surrounding the charges against petitioner. The investigation focused on the possible further step to have been taken by school personnel to prevent Student A ‘ s suicide attempt. Among the school employees, students, and family who read the note, including petitioner, school aide Gabriel, guidance counselor Vartanova, Student A, his father, and Student B, there was no disagreement about the note’s contents. No evidence suggests that the note’s exact wording or appearance was of a consequence to the investigation.

As painstaking as the Hearing Officer’s recitation of other factual details may be, his decision fails to consider these critical circumstances. The Hearing Officer never explains why documentation of the note’s undisputed contents was central to the investigation’s conclusions–because, when the missing record is considered in the context of the consistent evidence set forth above, how the note’s physical absence hindered the Department of Education, in its investigation or otherwise, is inexplicable.

The Hearing Officer admittedly never explains how physical possession of the napkin would changed the investigation’s direction or conclusions, but simply declares that he “will not speculate on exactly how the investigation might have turned out differently had the ‘napkin note’ been available.

In other words, David Hylan found that Moreno-Lieberman hindered the DOE’s investigation when she neglected to secure the “napkin note”. Yet, Hylan at no point explains how the absence of the note hindered the investigation. The contents of the note were never disputed by anyone who had ever seen it. Everyone agreed on what it said. Yet, Hylan still found her guilty of hindering an investigation.

And that cost Moreno-Lieberman $7,000. In response, Judge Billings decided the following:

Yet the Hearing Officer justified the amount of the $7,000 fine he assessed against petitioner on the significance of the missing “napkin note” in somehow obstructing respondents’investigation of the charges, to “teach her a lesson about the importance of preserving Department of Education of records. Petitioner already was punished by losing her position as the dean of discipline. The $7,000 fine, arrived at without reference to any specific criteria whatsoever for the imposition of fines, is excessive to the point of shocking the conscience.

In fact, the absence of any specific guidelines for the imposition of fines in teachers’ disciplinary proceedings shocks the conscience and is a deficiency to be addressed by respondent or a legislative body. While respondents and their designated Hearing Officers unquestionably are authorized to impose fines on teachers for disciplinary offenses, the decision makers must do so fairly, not arbitrarily.

Neither the Education Law, nor the Chancellor’s Regulations, nor any other code fixes any “primary standard” or articulates any objective test or gauge, to guide respondents’ or  Hearing Officers’ exercise of authority and discretion in their assessment of monetary penalties. Their assessment of penalties that they are charged to administer may be upheld if the assessment is rational and not excessive, yet no statute or interpretive regulation articulates a standard or gradation against which to measure the rationality or excessiveness of a monetary penalty.

In sum, the absence of any statute or implementing regulation to guide the evaluation of fines to be imposed allows unfettered, standardless, arbitrary administrative decision making. By delegating unbounded latitude to respondents and Hearing Officers in these administrative actions, the statutory and regulatory scheme leaves their decisions subject to untrammeled discretion.

Translation: the arbitrator had no good reason to slap Ms. Moreno-Lieberman with a $7,000 fine. There is no Chancellor’s Regulation, state law or legal precedent that sets any sort of penalty for failing to secure school records. Therefore, David Hylan could only have arrived at his $7,000 decision arbitrarily. This is dangerous, since arbitrators in these cases have a tremendous amount of latitude in setting penalties. They have a responsibility to do so fairly and not based upon numbers they pull out of thin air.

Judge Billings even goes further and claims that, based upon her reading of legal precedent, the maximum fine for Ms. Moreno-Lieberman should be $1,000. Not only did Judge Billings vacate the findings of the independent arbitrator, but did his job for him in coming up with a just ruling.

Judge Billings is right on with everything she wrote about this case. More and more judges are looking at the rulings of 3020a arbitrators and claiming that they are “shocking to the conscience” of the court. This should not be, since arbitrators should be fair and impartial. However, because these arbitrators are on the DOE payroll and depend on being reappointed every year by the DOE to keep their positions, they will always find something against any teacher who is brought in front of them, no matter how frivolous or arbitrary the charges.

A $7,000 fine is ridiculous for losing a note that everyone had already seen. The DOE spent what must have been millions of dollars in reassigning Ms. Moreno-Lieberman, paying an arbitrator and hiring lawyers to argue the case in front of both an arbitrator and an actual court of law, not to mention an investigation that must have taken at least a year. In the end, the DOE will not even get $1,000 of that back from the teacher they harassed and demoralized.

This is the unseemly underbelly of the NYC Department of Education. If a real reporter (not the clowns at the Post or Daily News) were to do an expose on the waste and corruption that takes place in these 3020a hearings, they would find enough dirt to outrage taxpayers for years. Until that time, the 3020a process rolls along as corrupt and wasteful and secretive as ever.

Let this be a message to any teacher who finds themselves in the same situation. Do not give up. The independent arbitrator’s findings are not the end-all, be-all of the process. It may cost money and time, but if you appeal their ridiculous findings, you have a good chance of being cleared by an actual court of law that does a much better job of meting out justice.