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Archive for June, 2009

Unfinished Business

[Editor's note: This "What Matters Most" column appeared in the New York Times on Sunday, June 28.]

Last week, I told New York City educators that I was stepping down from the best job I have ever had, leading the United Federation of Teachers. Last summer, after being elected president of my national union, l knew this day would eventually come but it was still hard. Why? Because there is always more to be done.

One of the most rewarding (and exhausting) things about working in public education in New York City is that it is the best laboratory in the world for trying new things. We have the most diverse student population in the world — 1.1 million kids from every kind of household, economic background and skill level. More than 150 languages are spoken in our schools. The 80 thousand teachers in our schools make up the best teaching force in the country in one of the toughest, most watched school systems there is. More »

Accountability: A New Approach from Broader, Bolder

Broader, BolderAbout a year ago, a task force released a report calling for a Broader, Bolder Approach to education. Broader Bolder’s approach was exactly what its name implied, a fuller and more audacious look at what it would take to raise truly educated children all across America. Among its recommendations were a richer curriculum, investments in pre-kindergarten and health services, and more attention to the time kids spend outside of school.

The signers and co-chairs of the report included the current Secretary of Education (Arne Duncan), and two Assistant Secretaries of Education from the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations (Tom Payzant and Susan Neuman). Just as important were the major national figures in education who are more familiar to New York teachers, including Diane Ravitch, Pedro Noguera, and Rudy Crew.

At the time, the report generated quite a bit of press and more than a little controversy, especially since BBA was calling for a look at all the outcomes we want for children, as opposed to the politically simple focus on math and reading scores that has fetishized our classrooms – the test question dissections, the introduction of test prep as a “genre study,” and the promotions, graduations, and cash rewards for children based on tests, tests, tests. Since BBA was asking for something more inspiring than that, some people saw the report as a repudiation of testing, a backing away from accountability. More »

A June Anthem

“School’s Out” by Alice Cooper

Dirty Fingernails Come with the Territory

[Editor's note: Just Miss is the pseudonym of a second-year teacher in a high school in the Bronx.]

There is dirt under my fingernails. Always. I can’t ever seem to get them clean, no matter how many times I use the pink industrial soap in the faculty bathroom, or the school-issued hand sanitizer.

Can I recall the days when I used to have clean fingernails? Regular manicures? Hmm….. nope. I suddenly feel for the art teachers of the world. Their manicures were doomed from Day One. More »

Graduation Rates Are Up, But That Could Change

On Monday the city learned that its on-time graduation rate rose to 66 percent, its highest level in at least 20 years. By the more stringent state counting method. the city graduated 56.4 percent of its Class of 2008 on time, a 10-year high at least. Either way, it’s pretty significant.

By now, the good news bandwagon has actually gotten a little repetitive.  (And the Mayor’s use of test score and graduation rate gains to flay opponents of mayoral control has gotten a little much.)  But the graduation rates are based on four years of coursework as well as five exit exams, so those gains should truly be celebrated. More »

Take Off

It’s been sympathetically and properly noted that police officers are technically on duty 24/7. That observation should be made with equal soundness about teachers. We, too, may be off the clock but our time is never our own, try as we may to “psych” ourselves into “vacation mode.” That’s the nature of our profession. Consciously or not we are always processing our experiences and devising means to integrate them ingeniously into a lesson, regardless of subject area. More »

UFT, Green Dot Sign Pioneering Contract For NYC Charter School

Proud to be Charter & UnionToday, the nation’s preeminent charter school organization, Green Dot Public Schools, and its largest teacher union local, the United Federation of Teachers, signed an innovative and pioneering collective bargaining agreement for Green Dot’s New York City charter school. The contract was approved by the Board of Trustees of the Green Dot school on Monday, and was ratified by the UFT Chapter today.

The 29 page agreement breaks vital new ground, and not simply because it brings together leading forces in the ranks of the charter school movement and teacher unionism. Just as importantly, the contract embodies a new model of labor relations in education, based on a disarmingly simple proposition: that a school which respects, nurtures and supports teacher professionalism in all of its work will provide the best education for students. More »

UFT and City Reach Agreement On Pension, Ending Two Days Before Labor Day

The UFT and New York City have reached a tentative agreement that will secure pension benefits and end the two days of work before Labor Day, while providing needed savings to the City. The actual agreement, which will be submitted to the Delegate Assembly for its approval, can be read here.

Under this agreement, the pension and health benefits of all UFT members — in service and retiree — remain completely intact. In particular, the agreement preserves the hard-won age 55 retirement pension. After completing ten years of service, future members will pay an additional contribution for these benefits. Effective September 2009, UFT members will no longer have to work the two days before the Labor Day weekend.

“This agreement is a win for everyone,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “We are all very concerned about the heavy losses our pension system has incurred during this economic crisis and the looming cuts for schools. No only does this deal help shore up the city budget with new savings, which will hopefully be used for schools, it also maintains the age 55 retirement benefit that we fought many years to achieve and returns us to the tradition of teachers and students starting school after Labor Day, something that our members, particularly those with families, very much wanted.” More »

Year-end Reflections

[Editor’s note: Ms. Teach4Life is the pseudonym of a tenth-year teacher currently in her first year at a Manhattan middle school.]

At the end of each school year, I take time to reflect on the year and evaluate which components were successful, and which aspects may need to be tweaked. Over the last few years teaching ELA in a middle school in North Carolina, I have found five points to be among the best practices. Following these guidelines helped to make this year — my first year in a Manhattan middle school — a successful one.

Start with the students in mind, not the curriculum. The beginning of the school year starts with a whir, and it continues in that fast-paced manner for about a month. Then it is time for test prep, because January is right around the corner! It is easy to fall into the trap of teaching the curriculum and not the student. Don’t let yourself fall prey! I often spend the first week of school having the students complete interest inventories and personal interviews. I want to know about their families and cultures and who they are as individuals. Throughout the year I remain focused on building relationships outside of my classroom. I participate in student/staff ball games, sponsor clubs throughout the year, and try to attend any student activities I am invited to. This year I attended a dance recital, a karate championship, and a concert. Don’t underestimate the power of building meaningful relationships with your students. More »

Justice for Iranian Workers

Authoritarian regimes that don’t like democratic elections have a similar antipathy for free, democratic trade unions. Iran has a number of its leading trade unionists in jail, and has arrested a number more in its attempts to stop the protests against the recent stolen election. Amnesty International has begun a campaign for their freedom. June 26, Global Solidarity Action Day, will be dedicated to Justice For Iranian Workers.

Weingarten to appear on NY1’s “Road to City Hall” tonight

UFT President Randi Weingarten will appear on NY1’s “Road to City Hall” tonight, June 18, at 7 p.m., with a reprise at 10 p.m. She will be discussing the city and state budget, the New York State Senate, mayoral control and other topics. Be sure to tune in!

NY1 News is Time Warner Cable’s 24-hour news channel in New York City.

Site Maintenance

Edwize will undergo maintenance today from 4-4:30 p.m.

The site will be inaccessable during that time.

Teachers: Take this Survey on Public School Testing

[Editor's note: This is the same survey we linked to on May 29.]

New York City teachers of grades 3 to 8, who have had experience with the ELA and math tests, are invited to take an independent survey about the city’s testing program. The topics covered include test preparation, testing and scoring procedures, and the significance of the results. It takes about 20 minutes to complete.

If you choose to participate, be sure to answer all of the questions before you click the “Done” button.

This survey is trying to reach as representative a sample of teachers as possible. Please urge other teachers in your school to participate. To take the survey, click this link:

» Teacher Survey on New York City Public School Testing

Glancing Back, Looking Forward: A New Teacher Reflects

[Teacher Man is the pseudonym of a second-year teacher at an intermediate school in Brooklyn.]

The end of the school year is always a bit chaotic for students and teachers alike. The numerous activities going on at school, from graduation to end of year parties and trips, keep everyone busy and the sunshine outside begins to draw all eyes to the windows as summer makes its grand entrance. It is also a time for reflection on both the year that has passed and that which is yet to come. Eighth graders are gearing up for the new challenges of high school, high school graduates are preparing for higher education and their future careers, and teachers are already beginning to think about their unit and lesson planning for the next year.

For me, this time of year is more reflective than ever. I am just now completing my second year in the New York City school system, which is also the culmination of my training as a New York City Teaching Fellow. I graduated from Hunter College with my MA in Teaching English as a Second Language last week, and I am on my way to becoming a fully certified and appointed teacher. I have learned so much in the last two years that it’s almost difficult to remember how I felt walking into my first classroom two summers ago not really knowing much about my profession. The experience has been life changing, to say the least, but also more enriching and humanizing than I ever could have imagined.

My story really begins in the spring of 2007, when I went from being a dissatisfied corporate employee at a luxury goods company to an aspiring teacher. More »

Red Scare In New York City Public Schools

Today’s New York Times has an interesting feature article on teachers fired from New York City public schools during the 1950s for being real and suspected Communists. Be sure to also take a look at the slideshow on the topic.

It’s clearly time to open up the municipal archives on this subject to researchers, so that there can be a full historical accounting of this period.