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Archive for October, 2005

Pay for Performance Vote in Denver

If the suspense isn’t exactly killing you on our mayoral election next week, you might find a more interesting election in the Rockies, where Denver residents are voting tomorrow on a $25 million tax increase that would fund a new pay plan for teachers.

If the measure passes, Denver teachers will be entitled to additional pay for student achievement, as well as for adding skills and knowledge, receiving good evaluations and/or for working in shortage areas. The pay would be over and above annual contractual COLAs. A teacher could ultimately increase her/his salary by $33,000 annually.

The Denver plan, Professional Compensation System for Teachers (“ProComp”) was devised by the Denver Teachers Association and the Denver school district, and has been piloted for four years. Current teachers can opt in, or remain on the existing salary scale. New teachers would be enrolled automatically. Denver teachers voted to adopt the plan 59-41 last December. Tomorrow’s vote will tell if residents are willing to increase their property taxes to pay for it. If it passes, it goes into effect in January.

Denver teachers are plagued by some of the same ills as here, including larger classes, heavy emphasis on state test scores and a history of less-than-decent district leadership. This plan, years in the negotiating, is being pushed hard by the Denver district and closely watched as a possible model of the new merit pay for other cities. Residents were sold this deal as a way to raise teacher pay with assurances of better student outcomes. Teachers seem cautious about it so far.

Could it work here? Comments welcome. The Denver plan has parallels with a career ladder study by the UFT and retention recommendations by the AFT, and it certainly puts the lie to the simplistic, top-down kinds of merit pay plans that Chancellor Klein talks about. The enormous amount of thought and effort that Denver teachers put into their plan should get our attention and respect, if not our vote. If any “merit pay” plan could fly, this one may be close to it.

UPDATE: It passed!

Creating Teams of Leaders

I saw a t-shirt in a souvenir shop with skull and crossbones on one side and the inscription “The Beatings Will continue Until Morale Improves” on the other side. Perhaps this motto should be emblazoned above the facade of Tweed. There is a wealth of literature dealing with leadership, all of which has been ignored by the denizens of Tweed.

The scion of leadership training is Peter Senge, a professor at MIT. The Fifth Discipline  and his subsequent works are now considered the standard for converting corporations into “learning organizations.” Senge’s work “lays the foundation for a true alternative to the authoritarian hierarchy.” Corporation after corporation have imbedded a culture of team-building and employee participation into their leadership structure. The Department of Education has been tone deaf and continues to encourage an archaic leadership model that somehow believes if you threaten and coerce, teachers will improve their skills.

The Leadership Academy somehow believed that the leaders of the future were outside the school system or teachers with very little teaching experience. The Department must create a new recruitment system that recruits potential supervisors from the ranks of teachers and acknowledges that leaders may chose to remain as teachers. Exemplary schools are lead by a team of supervisors and teachers who drive an educational philosophy. Imposing a philosophy, one in which the teachers have no ownership is doomed to fail.

In spite of the authoritarian approach of Tweed there are successful schools scattered throughout the city. In the early days of the “reorganization” Tweed exempted 200 or so schools from the cookie cutter pattern. Rather than investigating what made some school successful while others struggle, Kleinberg ignored the ethos of successful schools. Teachers resent the Tweed imposed Monday Professional Development because it is not organic to what they do every day. In some schools professional development is Circular 6 “common planning time,” teams of teachers examining student work, designing lessons and reflecting on their practice. The Chancellor’s District concentrated on the lowest achieving schools in the city. The Board of Education collaborated with the UFT and created an effective design that had exemplary results with the poorest, least effective schools.

In spite of their press releases Tweed has not “turned around” the school system. Scores rose all over the State, and in other large cities in the State rose at a higher rate than in New York City. If we want to imbed successful practices you must create cultures within schools. Teams of supervisors and teachers who have access to expertise and the ability to create and implement programs that are relevant to their students. Tweed should send Jack Welch on his way and create a Leadership Academy that is school-based, and invites teachers and supervisors to create teams within schools that can drive instructional programs. Beatings will not create a meaningful accountability system.

Newer Teachers Unite!

If you have joined the New York City public school system in the last five years, you should know that you are now part of an extremely important and influential part of the UFT’s membership. Teachers hired since 2000 now constitute a solid majority of the union’s members, almost 55 percent.

(The 22 percent increase in starting salaries negotiated in the 2000-2003 contract — while the increase at most other levels was about 17 percent — can take most of the credit for that. And in the new agreement, not yet ratified, the UFT was the only municipal union, except for the much-smaller Doctor’s Council, to refuse to lower starting salaries for future members to finance raises for current members.)

And while this post-2000 group is of course younger, at an average age of 33, than the membership as a whole, many come in with years of experience, both in life and as teachers. Almost 20 percent are over age 40. Of the teachers hired just this year, 20 percent came in with prior teaching experience.

These last statistics popped into my mind just the other day when a group of brand-new Teaching Fellows from across the city were expressing their dismay about the way their supervisors treat them.

“I’m a grown-up,” one of them blurted out, a fact confirmed by the glint of a few silver strands among her curls. “But I’m not treated that way,” she continued. “They talk down to us as if we were the children.”

The stories these Fellows told could have been told by most of the other 6,000 new teachers in our schools, in every region and at every level. In addition to condescension and micro-management, many new members also face fear and intimidation. Placed in some of the most challenging teaching situations with some of the neediest students, they struggle to maintain order and meet the children’s needs, often without support and afraid to ask for it.

Many know that their insecurity and inexperience are being taken advantage of, when they are told, for example, to meet with their mentors and coaches after school, or to “help out” during their prep period by “watching” another teacher’s class for 20 or 30 minutes while she meets with the A.P. But they are loath to protest, not knowing the consequences of resistance.

Even worse, some new teachers know that their students are being cheated of conditions and services to which they are entitled, but the message they’ve received from both colleagues and supervisors is, “Don’t make waves.” (The union is pressing the City Council for whistle-blower protection for city workers who “make waves.”) And the mentors promised to every new teacher — and mandated by the state — have at least 16 other new teachers to get to, so the help they can offer is often too little, too late.

No wonder new teachers leave at such high rates. What had been a recruitment problem in the school system before the current contract is now a retention crisis. If you have five years in the system almost half the colleagues you started with have already left. More than a third left by the end of their second year.

The cost of replacing teachers who leave and training their replacements is more than $360 million statewide. In New York City, the cost of first-year teacher attrition alone exceeds $21 million. And that doesn’t count the personal devastation when a teacher gives up her dream, or the harm to the kids, who may have to adjust to two, three or more teachers in a single year.

The UFT offers loads of specialized services for new teachers, including advice on licensing and certification, a telephone helpline, and many courses and workshops through the Teacher Centers.

But as UFT President Randi Weingarten told some new teachers recently, the strength of a union is in its ability, not just to help members, but to empower them to help themselves. If we can use our union to create among newer teachers a community of mutual support, and eventually, of collective action, we can take more effective action against the disrespect and even tyranny that cause so many new people to flee.

Maybe we can create that community on line; maybe we need more traditional organizational structures. If you have any ideas about how the union can build a support network for newer teachers, please respond on this blog. Let’s see if we can get something going — of, by and for newer teachers.


A little over a decade ago, the United Nations, the United States and the great powers of Europe, Asia and the Americas watched passively as a genocide that claimed close to a million lives swept the Central African nation of Rwanda in a few short weeks. There was one exception to that inaction – France – which intervened in a way that did nothing to end the genocide, but rather aided the escape of many of those who had perpetrated it. When the killing was going on, no one in a position of governmental responsibility, here in the United States or elsewhere, would even call it by its proper name, genocide. Under international law, the nations of the world have a legal responsibility to intervene in a nation where genocide is taking place in order to bring it to a halt, so speaking the simple truth would have been an act of self-condemnation, an admission of governmental complicity by inaction in the face of genocide. It was only when the genocide was finished, and the authors of the genocide driven from power by Rwandan rebels, that the government of the United States finally acknowledged that genocide had taken place. Contrite, the United Nations and the government of the United States declared that they would never again allow genocide to go unchecked.

Yet as you read these words, an ongoing genocide is taking place against people of African descent in the western Darfur region of the North African nation, the Sudan. For the better part of the last three years, the National Islamic Front regime of the Sudan has waged a campaign of mass murder, mass rape, mass destruction and mass pillaging against the Fur, the Masseleit, the Zaghawa, the Birgid, the Tunjur, the Dajo and other African ethnic groups in Darfur. It is estimated that 80% to 90% of the African villages in the region have been destroyed, and that over 400,000 Darfuri Sudanese have been killed. If the current campaign continues unchecked, it is thought that untold hundreds of thousands more could die in the next months. Detailed reports documenting the atrocities and crimes in Darfur have been produced by Amnesty International, Coalition for International Justice, Human Rights Watch, the International Crisis Group, Physicians for Human Rights, a Parliamentary Brief in the United Kingdom, and the World Health Organization. Even the US Department of State under Secretary Colin Powell is on the record.
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Bush Administration Reversal

With news this morning that the Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination to the Supreme Court it needs to be pointed out that there was another important reversal from the Bush Administration during the last 24 hours; a reimplementation of Davis-Bacon prevailing wage laws for areas hit by Katrina.

The UFT, along with countless labor unions, community groups, pro-working class politicians had called for a reversal of the executive order that allowed companies who had received contracts from the Federal Government to pay less than the prevailing wage in rebuilding efforts. It should be remembered that the prevailing wage in the area is only $9 an hour.

Leadership Academy: Bang for the Buck

The future is “uncertain” for the Leadership Academy according to a NY SUN (subscription required) story by Julia Levy because funds are drying up and the lack of data surrounding the program’s effectiveness.

If you don’t know, the Leadership Academy is a privately-funded “charter” school designed to train future principals. It costs anywhere from $250,000 to $300,000 to get a successful candidate through the training curriculum. That’s very pricey for a 14-month course of study. But Chancellor Klein said it’s worth every penny since “strong, effective school leadership is a cornerstone of the Children First reforms.”

But now there are some questions about whether the academy is getting the bang for its buck. Those questions come from the sources which fund the program, lawmakers and unions. This is prompting some to consider bringing the Leadership Academy into a more moderate DOE funding stream.

That would certainly lift the veil of secrecy that the Academy has been working under. UFT President Randi Weingarten called the program a “very big state secret.”

“Anything that is as important as training people to be principals in a public education system should have public accountability,” she said. Funding by the DOE would certainly do that.

But what about producing effective school leaders? I bet many of you have horror stories about Leadership Academy graduates who came into a school and turned a quiet, smoothly operating haven for children into a micro-managed hell hole for teachers. Here is one from a Queens middle school that was turned topsy-turvy by an Academy graduate who only had 2 ½ years of regular sub service in NYC and after 14 months of training was thrust into a school’s top job.

Principal’s union vice president Ernest Logan voiced concern that instead of recruiting from the ranks, the Leadership Academy pulls people with little or no experience in the educational community and expects them to take the reins of our most precious resources–our public schools. It fits the business model Klein and Bloomberg espouse: take the teacher out of teaching and take education out of education leadership.

Around the Blogosphere

Over at TPM Cafe, my friend Nathan Newman reports on the latest expose of Wal-Mart. In an article “Wal-Mart Memo Suggests Ways to Cut Employee Benefit Costs,” The New York Times published details of an internal company memorandum, which lay out plans to cut the costs of its health care and retirement packages. A number of the measures suggested would, on their face, be violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act and laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of age. And all this from a corporation where, a leading executive conceded to the Times, 46% of the children of its 1.33 million US employees are either uninsured or on Medicaid.

At Choosing Democracy, another friend, Duane Campbell, is providing detailed coverage of the campaigns against California Governor Schwarzenegger’s ballot propositions targetted against public schools and teacher and public employee unions. There appears to be a growing groundswell against the good governor’s measures, although nothing should be taken for granted.

Update by Kombiz: Make sure to check out the new Advocate Weekly, as well as the Carnival of Education to see some of the discussions going on in the education sector of the blogosphere.

There’s a map of education bloggers that This Week in Education is hosting. Make sure to post your location if you run a blog. As a correction to our location on the map, we don’t blog from Governor’s Island, though we do share the same zip code.

American Unions and the Pursuit of Economic Justice

American workers have paid a significant price for the decline of the American labor movement over the last three decades. A strong, vibrant labor movement benefits all workers: unionization has spillover effects into non-union employment, as corporations raise wages and improve working conditions in order to compete for workers and in efforts to stave off union organizers. A labor movement in decline and on the defensive is less and less able to perform that galvanizing role, and all workers suffer as a consequence.

What is more, an analysis in the Sunday New York Times points out, some groups of working people and Americans suffer more than others from the decline of the labor movement. The American labor movement has been an important means of economic advancement for African-Americans, who have been present in disproportionately large numbers in the American working class and working poor as a result of the legacy of racial slavery and a racial caste system of segregation. When the great industrial unions of the CIO organized the automobile, steel, electrical, chemical and other basic manufacturing industries, they organized workforces with large numbers of African-Americans, opening up doors to a ‘middle class’ life, in which one could live a life of modest comfort, own a home, send your children to college and retire in dignity and security.

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You Teach and You Learn

I started teaching in a new school on Monday of last week. Already, I feel quite comfortable there. I have begun to build a rapport with my students with a surprising amount of ease. They have been welcoming and kind. I have not yet felt like I was a substitute. By that I mean that I don’t feel like I am not being taken seriously or that I am being taken advantage of.

I got grunts and groans on day one when I said, “Today, we are going to go over our classroom contract.”

“We already did this with the other teacher. Why do we have to do this again?”

But that was the extent of “old teacher” talk. I am now the teacher and for the most part, I think they have accepted that.

Still being a new teacher, however, I am encountering new situations each day. From each situation arises a new thought and hopefully a lesson learned, sometimes more for me than for the students.

In the week and a half now, that I have been at my new school I have learned so much. Is it because it’s a smaller school, a more personal school, a more organized school? It is probably all of the above.

Following are some specific situations which caused me to reflect heavily on my actions as well as the students.

The situation: A very rowdy and disrespectful class of teenagers with a number of students who had to use the bathroom.

Joey (not his real name) had to go to the bathroom. The bathrooms are locked the first and last ten minutes of the period, which means that I have to remember who asked me, in what order they asked and at what time of the period they are allowed to go. This is all on top of writing the “do now” and “aim” on the board, explaining it, taking attendance, getting situated in a different classroom, handing back quizzes, and dealing with unfocused, loud and rowdy students.

Well in the midst of this all, I forgot that Joey had asked to use the bathroom first and I let someone else go instead. Joey was quite upset with me. After a little showdown in the middle of class Joey dropped it, but later, as he walked out of the classroom, he let me know that, “it’s called responsibilities,” and as a teacher, knowing who asked to go to the bathroom and in what order, is one of my responsibilities.

Regardless of whether it is or not, I felt that I had failed him as a teacher. I felt badly. Now, I have a bathroom sign in sheet.

Situation number two: In a recent conversation with a teacher friend of mine the subject of students as people came up. We discussed how sometimes teachers seem to forget that fact. It is almost as if a wall exists between us- students on one side and teachers on the other. It’s us versus them. Like robots, we expect them to come in each day, disciplined and ready to work. We’re taught to hide our emotions (when they may be negative) in the classroom, so why can’t they? I think the answer lies, partly, in that they are teenagers; they are hormonal and sensitive.

Is it possible that as teachers we sometimes forget to see students as people? That we only see them as obedient, good students or disobedient, bad students?

The situation: It was the start of my last class of the day, after my rowdy bathroom class. A colleague of mine was gathering her things from the previous class, my students were shuffling in and slowly beginning their independent reading. The late bell rang and a few seconds later Julie (not her real name) walked into the room.

I informed her she was late and asked why.

She responded with a rather snotty yeah and informed me it was simply because she was in the hall hanging out.

I let it slide. She has otherwise been a pleasant and on time student. My colleague who was still in the room, commented to me on her rudeness and then proceeded to engage this student in a discussion about her attitude. My student became very confrontational saying, “Not to be disrespectful, but I wasn’t even talking to you.”

She had a point.

Why was this teacher creating a situation where there should not be one, especially with a student that was not hers?

After she left, I went over and sat down next to Julie, a peace offering of sorts. I put myself on her level and I asked her, was everything all right?

She expressed her anger towards the other teacher for getting involved, saying, she was only a few seconds late and the entire situation was really none of my colleagues business. I agreed with my student, but explained how I felt. I expressed my disappointment in how she was sort of rude to me for no reason too. I explained why she needed to get to class on time and pointed out that I didn’t threaten to punish her or even reprimand her when she did come in late; I simply asked why.

After a few minutes contemplating these facts, Julie took it upon herself to come to my desk and apologize. It gave me butterflies in my stomach as she did. It was one of those moments were I felt I really connected with a student.

I didn’t teach her a new word, a new literary term or how to solve a quadratic equation. I hopefully gave her a lesson in civility.

She said, “Ms. I’m sorry that I was rude to you. You’re a nice teacher.”

Did I gain her respect because I treated her like a person, not like a student? I asked her what was wrong, and I gave her the chance to explain herself. I told her why she needed to be on time and how I felt when she was rude to me. In my eyes, I spoke with her and not to her. I’m finding that that can make a difference.

A simple, but important lesson for teacher and student.

Student Speak

The other grade level teachers and I at my school had been fretting about what to do with one section of the grade that is…ummmm…”special” to say the least. It was obvious to me from the first day that although the administration wouldn’t come right out and say it, the students had been tracked and the section that was beginning to get the rep as the most challenging was the class full of the students who probably had some undiagnosed learning disabilities and/or were slackers.

We switched a few key students out to other sections and hoped for the best. The best never came, of course, but the vibe in the room did get a tad bit less chaotic with three leaders in the classroom who were strong students and rather bright, also.

I got a note from one of the learning disabled or slacker (still not sure yet which category she fits in to). It read something to the effect: “I know it is your first year teaching and you are doing great. I wrote this note because you are the only teacher who cares about our feelings. I appreciate you being hard on us and I know I am failing your class. I’m doing bad in all of them. Please tell me what I am supposed to be doing to get good grades.”

This note really floored me. I, of course, felt for her. I was always a nerd and never really had to struggle much in school, but as a teacher I am beginning to see how the kids who did have to struggle can feel so overwhelmed by what teachers and smart kids find to be simple standards in being a student.

The girl who left me the note seems to be making rather obvious choices that are causing her to fail. For instance, after a week of my reminding her class several times a day of their notebook check at the end of the week, this student leaves her notebook in her locker. I know she didn’t do it on purpose, but how can you not make that a priority when you have been told over and over and over that this is a part of your grade and will be collected at the top of the class period…no exceptions? And to my knowledge, the students had been having notebook checks in other classes over the past week or two so this procedure should have been very much in her recent memory.

I didn’t get a chance to talk to the student before school ended on Friday so I am planning on calling her house to see what she thinks the problem is. Her mother has told me that she doesn’t seem to be motivated this year and she is concerned about her, too. What is going on in the minds of students? I see this young lady making very little effort on a regular basis and then being close to tears when her grades reflect that.

Speak Your Mind for Common Good

Common Good tries to target and reform overly rule-bound areas of law. Last year, the organization’s education section did a widely-circulated graphic showing what’s involved in hiring a teacher. Now it is asking for examples of ridiculous schools rules for a new Top Ten list. Nothing wrong with this, except that in the last round there was too much attacking teacher contracts and not enough ridicule of school bureaucracies. So send in an example from Kleinberg, or your RIS, LIS, ROC etc. There have been some great ones in this blog’s contract comments. Consider sending them to Common Good. And please copy Edwize in comments section to this post.
They write (and use the email address at the end):
No sunscreen on campus? No field trips? Can’t put your arm around a crying child? As a follow-up to the popular feature, “Top Ten New School Rules,” Common Good would like to hear from you. They are compiling a second list of nonsensical or burdensome rules — this time from educators and parents around the country. Tell them about the rules and policies in your school that are making it more difficult for educators to teach and students to learn. They will publish the best responses in an upcoming Common Good feature. Please e-mail your entries to rules@cgood.org.

No, It’s Not Just You

For a passionate and at the same time scholarly long view of what’s been happening to education, and to teachers, under the Bush regime, read the brief post on Jim Horn’s Schools Matter blog.

He ties the corporate players in education, like Gates, to their broader social roles in damaging the workplaces students are being prepared for. And he is dead on in criticizing the testing culture:

“If schools are able to achieve the impossible and attain the 100 percent math and reading proficiency by 2014 that the legislation requires, then the reformers will have threatened, bullied, and shamed their way to educational success by having rendered our schools into scripted testing factories. If the more probable scenario develops (psychometricians say certain), however, and a large majority of American schools are clear failures or on the ‘Federal watch-list’ before or by 2014, then the road to school privatization will be clear sailing.”

Teachers write back in comments confessing they thought they were alone in their worst fears for schools until they read what he has to say. Absolutely worth the read.

Central Labor Council

An e-mail from Randi Weingarten from earlier tonight:

“As I told many of you before, the NYC Central Labor Council had enough votes to endorse Mayor Bloomberg for re-election. They refused to hold a meeting until after our contract was first negotiated and recommended by the DA. I asked them to hold off on their meeting until the delegate assembly contract consideration. The CLC endorsed the Mayor today but the UFT abstained from the endorsement.”

The Courage of Their Convictions?

The opponents of the contract have produced a list of thirty ways to berate UFTers who speak in support of ratification of the contract, in the form of a list of questions.

In the pedagogical spirit of inquiry, let us propose a question or two about the questions.

Take Question 23. It reads:
Given the choice of evils, wouldn’t it have been better to do what the police did and cut pay for future hires to get annual 5% increases without major givebacks for incumbent officers rather than agree to these draconian givebacks that the UFT is accepting? 5% is greater than 3.4% isn’t it?

Are we to understand from this question that the member of the Executive Board who authored it, and the caucus he represents, is advocating that the UFT negotiate to cut the salaries of new teachers in order to finance a salary increase for senior teachers?
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The Red Riding Hood Syndrome OR Watch Out for the Wolf in the Nightgown

The Red Riding Hood Syndrome
(OR Watch out for the wolf in the nightgown!)

As a default position, it sounds fairly benign. Say No to the contract and send the leadership back to try to do better. What can we lose?

Coming from those activists who used to call for a strike every time talks hit a snag, it even sounds like a safe, reasonable middle-of-the-road stance.

Don’t let them fool you. It’s a trap to get us right where they wanted us in the first place. (I can just picture them sitting around one September evening wondering why they’ve attracted so few supporters. Suddenly a light bulb goes on. “I know,” beams one of their brightest. “We’re scaring people with all this strike talk. We sound too militant. Let’s just advocate a No vote. Then they can’t blame us if we end up on strike. And we can blame the union leadership.”)

The idea that voting No will bring the city back to the table eager to appease an angry membership with a better deal is the most dangerous of all the deceits about this proposed contract currently being circulated. It’s a wolf in Grandma’s nightie, and members should not be taken in by its harmless appearance.

Let’s be real. What’s our leverage after Nov. 8? Instead of sweetening the pot, isn’t it much more likely that Bloomberg, after winning the election by a landslide, would just get tougher with us? Talk about having nothing to lose, he’s the one in that position then! The only thing he’s left to worry about is those out-year budget deficits.

And this time we wouldn’t even have the state to fall back on. Their job is finished. We reject and we’re on our own. And by then, will there be another union that hasn’t already made its peace with Bloomberg left to stand with us?

We could lose not only the 15% and the retro, but a lot more. Think about all Bloomberg and Klein wanted but didn’t get. And we’d be handing them a golden second opportunity!

Worried about seniority transfers? Say hello to forced transfers.
Worried about easier dismissal for sexual misconduct? Say hello to the end of tenure and dismissal on the principal’s word.
Worried about 55/25? Say hello to the end of retiree health benefits a la GM.

What’s to lose? Plenty.

It’s easy to see how this scenario leads us straight to the picket line. And with no re-election to worry about, Bloomberg couldn’t care less.

And Klein? He’d be ecstatic! Say hello to our next Secretary of Education if the Republicans stay in the White House.

Of course, we could just play it safe, sit tight and wait. My friends, that means you’re looking at another 4 or 5 years without a raise – a total of 7 or 8 years. No city budget can fund 7 or 8 years of retroactive pay. If we thought two zeros were unacceptable back in 1995, try swallowing 7 or 8 of them. No matter how generous the next mayor, we’d be so deep in the hole we’d never make up that many years of lost raises.

So next time someone suggests we “Vote No and send Randi back to the table,” ask that person to let you see his/her canines. This is not your sweet, harmless Granny talking.