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Archive for March, 2011

What’s Inside the Mystery Envelope?

Mystery Envelope[Editor’s note: Mr. Foteah is a third-year teacher in an elementary school in Queens. He blogs at From the Desk of Mr. Foteah, where this post originally appeared.]

A few weeks ago, I was struck with some inspiration before the kids arrived one morning, and decided to create a “Mystery Envelope” to add some intrigue to my elementary special education classroom, and to liven up our somewhat stale morning routines. I try to reserve the contents of the Mystery Envelope for the most outstanding performances in kindness and personal improvement.

After the Mystery Envelope’s debut, I hung it near our calendar as a reminder that “You never know what’s inside the Mystery Envelope!” and as a somewhat passive message that good things come to those who earn them.

When it comes to awarding a student with the contents of the envelope, I like to strike when the iron is hot. The iron hadn’t been much hotter than it was the previous day after Tessa’s brilliant display of friendship and compassion toward Donald, who was very upset that his mother did not get to see him perform in our class play. I knew it would be a good opportunity to keep Tessa on a hot streak. More »

The Barbarians Are Inside The Gates

A matter of months into the terms of office of various far right governors and legislatures supported by the Tea Party crowd, and the beginnings of a new “know nothing” cultural movement has begun to take shape.

Tea Party Governor Paul LePage has had a mural of Maine’s labor history removed from the state’s Department of Labor building, on the grounds that it might make businessman uncomfortable to see the events portrayed. (The full mural, part of which is reproduced here, is now the banner on the web page of the Maine Democratic Party.) Maine businessmen are apparently such a sensitive bunch that LePage also felt the need to erase the names of labor leaders, from Frances Perkins to Cesar Chavez, from meeting rooms in the building. While deeply concerned about the tender feelings of Maine’s fledgling bourgeoisie, LePage refused to attend Martin Luther King Day celebrations, and said of the Maine NAACP, “they can kiss my ass.”

At the blog of the New York Review of Books, noted author Gary Wills compares the removal of the labor mural to the infamous destruction of a mural painted for New York City’s Rockefeller Center by renowned modernist Diego Rivera, after John D. and Nelson Rockefeller took offense at the inclusion of a cameo portrait of Lenin in the painting.

At the same time, Steve Greenhouse reports in the New York Times that right wing foundations have filed Freedom of Information inquiries into the email accounts of labor friendly academics working at state universities in Wisconsin and Michigan. Greg Scholtz, the director of academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, told the Times: “We think all this will have a chilling effect on academic freedom. We’ve never seen FOIA requests used like this before.”

Is it any surprise that in state after state, including Maine, these Tea Party partisans are seeking to overturn protections against child labor laws?

“Sweatshop, Warehouse, Walmart: A Worker Truth Tour” in NYC March 31

Sweatshop, Warehouse, Walmart: A Worker Truth TourOn the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, hear from a Walmart retail worker, a warehouse worker, and a Bangladeshi garment worker. “Sweatshop, Warehouse, Wamart: A Worker Truth Tour” aims to raise awareness about the system created by Walmart that keeps workers in a cycle of low wages, with no voice on the job, and working in dangerous conditions.

Thursday, March 31, 7 – 8:30 p.m.
New York University, Philosophy Building – 1st Floor Auditorium
5 Washington Place, New York, NY 10003
Download the flier
RSVP on Facebook

Featured speakers:
Aleya Akter, garment worker in Bangladesh
Kalpona Akter, former child garment worker, Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity
Robert Hines, warehouse worker in Chicago
Cynthia Murray, Walmart associate in Laurel, Maryland

The tour is sponsored by Making Change at Walmart (a campaign of the United Food and Commercial Workers), International Labor Rights Forum, Jobs with Justice, SweatFree Communities, and United Students Against Sweatshops.

For more information, go to SweatFree Communities »

Third Turn of the Screw: The DOE and Closing Schools

Which Schools Close?Most New Yorkers who follow these things know that the DoE has targeted for closure four high schools with a C on their annual high-stakes Progress Reports even though schools with a D or F have not been targeted. The DoE might argue that this is proof that they take a nuanced look at each school’s quality, but the evidence suggests something different. These “C” schools have higher — and unacknowledged — concentrations of high-need students then the D schools that they outperformed. And, when the DoE chose which schools with Ds to close, again chose the schools with higher concentrations of very high need students, all the while saying that the difference was the quality of the school.

It is not as if it did this with intent to get the students with the highest needs more quickly into the newest schools. For all its focus on numbers, these concentrations have been ignored by the DoE in their reams and reams of justification about why they chose the schools they did. What’s more, our newer schools tend not to serve the high need students who would have attended the older schools but have been scattered by their closure.

A little background, and then some charts. More »

Hypocrisy and the Deformers

Should we honor hypocrisy? In a recent post on the Bridging Differences blog, New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education’s senior scholar Deborah Meier wryly says that she used to answer in the affirmative, because “it’s the only hope we have. It’s precisely in the gap between our good intentions and our less worthy actions that we must negotiate the future.”

Meier, who has adopted the increasingly prevalent term “education deformers,” thinks we are doing those deformers a favor by calling their positions “hypocritical.” She thinks “it’s more villainous.”

Meier, a person of charitable thoughts but who will not suffer fools, is appalled by the deformer community’s gross and stark presumptive claim to privilege by birthright unbothered by its coming at the expense of others’ children who are intractably embedded in poverty and are, therefore, less free. Meier is all in favor of “gaining freedom [for oneself…but] without expecting others to pay for it with their ‘non-freedom.’” More »

SEIU Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Infographic

SEIU infographic

To mark the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, SEIU’s new media team produced an interactive piece illustrating some of the victories around working conditions and building codes that labor fought for over the past century.

“The Brian Lehrer Show”: Remembering the Triangle Fire

Today is the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This morning on WNYC, host Brian Lehrer remembered the event with guests:

Listen to the show:

Full WNYC Coverage of the Triangle Fire »
More Stories at the Triangle Fire Open Archive »

A Wealth of Triangle Fire Material

New York Times, March 26, 1911This Friday, March 25, is the centennial of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire that took the lives of 146 workers, mostly young immigrant women. This month, the New York Times’ City Room blog has been posting fascinating stories, photos, videos and archival material related to the fire and its impact.

There are profiles of individuals like Frances Perkins, Alfred E. Smith, and Robert F. Wagner who rose to prominence in the wake of the tragedy; scans of newspapers’ coverage of the fire, along with an analysis of how advancements in photojournalism and printing facilitated the dissemination of images of the tragedy, which helped to galvanize the public on the side of workers and unions; a piece about the NYU science labs that now occupy one of the floors of the building where the Triangle factory was located; and even a look at the factory’s eponymous garment, the American shirtwaist.

See all of the Triangle fire posts here »

Our City Couldn’t Be Run Fairly Without Unions

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Zina Burton-Myrick

Growing up in a family of unionists, I remember when the hotel trades went on strike in the ’80s. My mother led employees out there in front of the Doral Hotel on Park Avenue and dared any scab to cross! My first real memory of what unions were about! My dad was a shop steward and I remember waiting for him to leave work, never on time, because he was always representing someone at Grumbacher Paints. My stepdad worked for MTA and was also a staunch unionist also. They earned decent salaries and were able to put me and my sister through college and live a comfortable life. If it weren’t for unions, my mom who has recently gone through a round of cancer, would not have a pension, benefits or a health center to get her (and us) through these hard times. I can tell you of many stories of my life as a teacher for the past 23 years, starting out in the south Bronx going through reorganization, 50% coming and going, coming to Harlem, fighting off Evil Moskowitz charters, on and on. Through it all, it was always the UFT who was there for support of its members, see that we had fair wages, safe working conditions, pensions and health benefits. I’ve witnessed the UFT standing strong with all of the labor unions in NYC over the years and will continue to. Why teacher’s like me support unions, our city couldn’t be run fairly without them!

Why Teachers Like Me Support Unions

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Janella Hinds
UFT Special Representative

I came to the teaching profession by accident. On a brief detour from the career path I thought I was destined to follow, I took a position as a long term substitute at a large high school in Brooklyn. I have never looked back.

I grew up in a union household. I was raised with the beliefs that workers deserve to be treated like the professionals, that collective action is powerful, and that my voice matters. I must admit, however, that it was not until I signed that card and became a member of my union did I truly understand.

I joined the union on my first day as a Social Studies teacher in a large comprehensive high school in Brooklyn. During my first year, I learned how to teach my students the life skills required for their personal success and the content required for their academic progress. The work was hard — in and out of the classroom. But I survived that first year because of the union-identified mentor who taught me how to plan and deliver a lesson. I made it with the support of my buddy teacher and department colleagues, a group of outstanding teacher who shared diverse strategies and a wide range of activities designed to engage my students and prepare them for graduation. I grew under the facilitation of a teachers’ center coordinator who worked with me on my preps and after school to make my plans and my techniques as strong as they could be. With my union, in my school, I found a new home where I was protected, encouraged, and supported.

As I educated my students, I continued my professional and personal development in my union. It was my union that provided the courses I needed to meet certification requirements. It was my union that ensured my safety when I was assaulted by a student. And, it was my union that offered an arena for me to engage with other newer educators.

And now, I have the opportunity to continue to fight with my union — for quality public schools for all of New York City’s students, regardless of zip code, age, diagnosis, race, first language, gender, educational history, income, or any other demographic category; for a system that treats all of its stakeholders with respect and fairness; for access and opportunity for all of our children.

I support my union. I support the right of public school educators (not only teachers, but paraprofessionals, guidance counselors, school social workers and psychologists, and the other professionals who ensure that our students are able to learn) to belong to unions. I support my union because it is the constant in an environment of experimentation, fads, and rhetoric. And, I support my union because I am confident that it gave me all that I needed and much more that I wanted in order to become the educator and activist I am today.

The Grand Illusion: Progress Reports and Overage Students

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that students who enter a high school overage/under- credited are the students least likely to graduate on time. And according to the NYC DoE, its Progress Reports are designed to account for exactly these kinds of demographic challenges. That way when the DoE tells the public a school is an A school or an F, the public can be assured that what is being judged is the quality of the programs and the staff, rather than the challenges with which students arrive.

Yet though the challenge of overage students is well known to the DoE, and though the Progress Reports are supposed to be a fair accounting of a school’s success, the Reports generally give A’s to the schools that serve fewer of these kids. Here, for example, is a chart of the A and D schools in the neighborhoods (districts) where the DoE is shutting high schools down. It shows the difference in the percentage of students who arrive at these schools overage.

A's and D/F's in the Districts of Closing Schools

More »

Union Provides Support When Facing Challenges

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Jessica Jacobs
UFT Chapter Leader, P.S. 52R

I am a teacher of 5th grade special education in an elementary school on Staten Island. I am the UFT chapter leader at my school, because I believe that the union is one of the most important benefits of working as an educator. I know my rights are protected by the union and I know that the rights of my students are protected through my union. I know who to contact if I need something and I know that person will be at my school within a day, if warranted. I am comfortable knowing that my union leaders are working tirelessly to keep my benefits intact and to protect me in the workplace.

As a special education teacher, I am up against some of the toughest challenges on a daily basis. As a chapter leader, I represent the 100 members of my building facing challenges on a daily basis. I work side-by-side with my principal. We brainstorm survival techniques to weather whatever storms come our way. She supports the efforts of the UFT and stands behind every idea my colleagues and I come up with. More »

Speaking Truth to Power

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Roseanne McCosh
20-year teacher, Bronx

Why do I deserve or need to be protected by a union? I have sent numerous emails to former Chancellor Joel Klein and have had my comments printed several times in the New York Daily News’ Voice of the People and in our local Norwood News in the Bronx. My comments targeted the inadequate Every Day math program that is failing our students, the lack of rigor of past state tests which resulted in inflated scores (before the 2010 scandal), the appalling overcrowded conditions in my school that interfere with student learning and two violent students that assaulted classmates and were returned to school only to once again commit acts of violence against classmates. Union protection allows me to speak truth to power and advocate for children. The violent students were removed immediately after my comments were printed in the newspaper. Writing to the press to expose what Joel Klein swept under a rug would have put my career at risk had I not had union protection.

Fair and Equal Treatment for Those Who Support Our Children

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Lissette Velazquez
NYC Charter HS for Architecture, Engineering and Construction Industries

The point of being an American is to be supported by the ideas this country was founded on; and that is democracy and the equal treatment of all who contribute to this great country. Although nothing is perfect, I believe that unions like the UFT try to continue with the American idea that there should be fair and equal treatment to those who work hard for the future of our children. I am both a high school teacher and mother of a child that attends an inner-city school. It is imperative for me to know that I can be secure in my position so that I can give my best to my students. The union’s purpose is to keep good, loving, and productive teachers in the classroom and it never forgets that the children we serve are not just I.D. numbers on a roster, but they are our sons and daughters that deserve the best education that this city can provide for them.

Whether you are a charter school teacher or a city school teacher, the UFT has served to uphold the ideas of fairness, solidarity, community building, and resourcefulness in NYC schools as well as the educators that manage the classrooms on a daily basis. We are the caretakers of these children for more than half of their day, five days a week, 180 days a year. The UFT makes it possible for us to do our jobs well, securely, while reciprocating the support that we give to our students in letting them know that the only way to reach the stars is to move up in a prosperous education as both an instructor and a pupil. It is my honor to be represented by the UFT because I know their mission is to serve the teacher who cares, gives, and will never turn away from the children that look up to them as examples of what could be and what should be.

Students Need Someone to Advocate For Them

EDUsolidarityThis post is a contribution to EDUSolidarity, the net roots campaign of hundreds of American teachers explaining “why teachers like me support teacher unions.”

by Jason Leibowitz
IS 125Q

I am involved with the union because students need someone to advocate for them. When class sizes are over the contractual limit, it is the teachers who need to speak up and be the voices for the students. This past year, class sizes for my grade were over the contractual limit. It took awhile, but with the help of the UFT, we were able to win a grievance and hire a teacher to reduce the class sizes.

I am also involved in the union, because I know past union activists have fought for the rights we currently have and it is now our job to make sure we maintain these rights. I have heard many stories about how things use to be and the struggles teachers had. Yes, we still have struggles, but we would be in a much worse situation if we did not have a union who fights for our rights.

As I mentioned before, our students need people to stand up and fight for their right to have a quality education. A child only gets one chance at an education. Their education is not like a video game where they get do-overs and many lives. They deserve to have a fighting chance with the one opportunity they get to succeed. Union activists make sure that they get their chance to shine.

These are the reasons why I am a good teacher and involved with the union. I stand up to give my students the quality education they deserve.