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Archive for May, 2014

Helping students cope with their emotions


nau_edwizePatrick Nau, a teacher at PS 369 in the South Bronx, was trained in January by the Institute for Understanding Behavior (IUB), a consortium of the Department of Education and the UFT, in how to respond to challenging behavior more effectively by using strategies that help foster social, emotional and academic growth. Staff from eight schools received training this school year. Patrick is blogging about his experience as he applies what he learned in his classroom. Read Patrick’s other posts »

We have a handful of students at my school who struggle with transitions and display aggressive behavior, fight, push, yell and curse. One of the Therapeutic Crisis Intervention for Schools strategies I have applied is to provide time away for the student who is acting out. After giving that student some time to calm down and get back to baseline, I talk with him in private about what happened and what he is feeling. The challenge is to let the student control the discussion and let him express his feelings and his interpretation of what happened, regardless of its accuracy or the appropriateness of his reaction.

What the IUB taught me is that it doesn’t matter if the student’s perception is inaccurate; he reacted according to how he perceived what took place. It is important not to get caught in a power struggle by disputing his version of events and saying things like “I heard you calling him names” or “I saw you pushing him, too.” It’s better to ask him “How did it make you feel?” and “What could you do differently next time?” instead of “Why did you hit him?”

The goal is to help the student cope with his emotions and think about a better way to resolve the situation next time — alternatives like walking away, speaking to a teacher, asking the person to leave him alone. I have to remember that I may have to repeat the process with him a dozen times before his behavior starts to change. We teachers must remember that students who struggle with their emotions are not going to suddenly figure out how to control themselves and not, in eyes of adults, overreact in a situation.

The IUB strategies have helped me deal with defiance, yelling, pushing and other disruptions. More importantly, they can be very effective in de-escalating situations. But I’m not convinced that the strategies pay off with students who have much more severe behaviors — students who fight without being provoked, emotionally disturbed children, children on the spectrum. I am not sure if these students can interpret and understand their emotions. The IUB approach may work to defuse a crisis for some of these students in the moment, but I don’t know how well it will work in the long term in changing their behavior.

Another challenge at my school is that the IUB model is premised on a critical mass of the staff buying into the new approach if a school’s culture is to change. Here at PS 369, almost half of the school’s staff, including most school aides, paras and security, have not yet attended the trainings. The IUB system cannot work until everyone uses the same strategies to deal with specific behaviors and specific children.

If I ignore a student for cursing and it stops but another teacher makes a bigger issue of it with the same student, then the student is receiving mixed messages. The response of adults in our school must be consistent. The challenge lies in everyone agreeing on what the appropriate response is to a particular behavior. The staff has to put their personal sentiments aside and support the system. This can happen only when everyone has a clear understanding of the IUB approach and how to implement it.

Why treating teachers like professionals terrifies the tabloids

The proposed new teachers’ contract takes landmark steps toward recognizing the expertise of teachers and giving them more of a voice in decision making in their schools and classrooms. For proof that the contract empowers educators, look no further than yesterday’s editorial in the Daily News, which stomps its feet over Mayor de Blasio’s “generosity to the UFT” and “collaboration with the teachers union.”

That editorial joins a chorus of criticism about our proposed contract in the tabloids, which reached its most absurd in the New York Post op-ed that described the agreement as “Satanic.”

Evidently, the idea of a mayor who works collaboratively with teachers, treating them like professionals, is terrifying to the tabloids. The Daily News editorial objects to the proposed contract on the grounds that it gives more job-placement opportunities to ATRs and enables teachers to spend time on training, parent engagement, and, heaven forbid, grading tests.

The Daily News is disappointed that the contract bases teacher evaluations on more than test scores: “As long as a principal likes the way teachers conduct their classes, they will be presumed to get an ‘effective’ rating.” The paper also complains that the contract makes teachers the peer “validators” who review the fairness of teacher ratings.

Read the full editorial here.

Teachers know what is best for their students. All they need is the respect, support and tools to act on that knowledge. That is what this proposed contract offers.

A matter of respect

[This editorial originally appeared in the May 15 issue of the New York Teacher.]

The proposed contract reflects the importance of having a negotiating partner in City Hall who understands and respects the work that UFT members do, both in and out of the classroom. It’s a striking difference from the modus operandi of the previous administration.

Case in point: the reluctance of the Bloomberg administration to pay the hundreds of UFT members who spent days and nights at 76 evacuation centers throughout the city in the wake of Hurricane Sandy 18 months ago.

Our members staffed the evacuation sites — many but not all were in public school buildings — and took on a variety of tasks: setting up cots, delivering supplies, organizing children’s activities, treating ill and fragile evacuees and even walking dogs.

Some members worked in 12-hour shifts; others worked around the clock. Many had suffered their own losses in the ferocious storm, but put those concerns aside to help others.

Members waited months for payment for the hours they spent assisting Sandy victims who sought refuge in those evacuation centers — and then Bloomberg’s minions decided the city would pay them only for hours greater than their normal workday, even if schools were closed on those days.

The UFT initiated a grievance on behalf of those members to challenge the decision, pointing out that the policy was tantamount to lengthening the work year without additional pay for educators who stepped up to help in shelters since UFT members who stayed home were also paid for the normal workday.

As a result of the grievance victory, members will get paid for all the hours they spent at the evacuation centers in hard-hit communities, including Far Rockaway and Staten Island. It was slow in coming, but in the end, fairness prevailed.

Affordable housing an education issue

[This editorial originally appeared in the May 15 issue of the New York Teacher.]

Many of us were haunted last fall by the story of Dasani — one of the 22,000 children living in homeless shelters in New York City, and a student at the McKinney Secondary School of the Arts in Brooklyn. The New York Times followed her and her family through bureaucratic indignities, the insecurity of shelters and temporary apartments, and other false starts. Her school was her anchor.

It is with Dasani in mind that we welcome the news of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ambitious plan to build or preserve 200,000 units of affordable housing, costing $8.2 billion over 10 years. It is an important step toward helping families like Dasani’s who have been pushed to the margins of the city by rising rents. The plan addresses the needs of both New York City’s lowest-income residents and middle-income workers, including the UFT’s own members, who increasingly find themselves priced out of the city.

Under the mayor’s plan, developers will for the first time be required to include affordable units in any residential construction. And the city has vowed to more aggressively protect tenants in rent-regulated units.

Landlords that have been ruthless in hounding out tenants — especially by withholding repairs and services — should feel the full weight of the law. Both federal and state assistance will be needed to help families on the lowest economic rung make the transition from shelters to stable housing.

The plan is a long overdue response to the growing housing costs that have priced out many families. Change cannot come soon enough for our students and families.

The New York State Technical and Educational Assistance Center for Homeless Students reports that 80,574 city public school students were identified as homeless in the 2012–13 school year — living in shelters or motels, or doubled up with their families in inadequate housing.

As any teacher can tell you, the lack of stable and secure housing reverberates in the classroom. The state assistance center has the sad tally: More than 75 percent of homeless children read below grade level, and 36 percent of homeless children repeated a grade, twice the rate of other children. Students with two or more school changes are half as likely to be proficient in reading as their peers.

For the youngest students, the impact is especially profound. The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness found that children experiencing homelessness or high mobility begin Head Start at age 3 “with poorer socio-emotional, cognitive, and health-related outcomes on average than their low-income, stably housed peers.”

The mayor has called the housing plan “a central pillar in the battle against inequality.” While many details need to be worked out, the plan holds promise for the thousands of Dasanis who struggle every day to learn, in a city that for too long had seemed to turn its back on them.

Ravitch praises proposed contract

Diane Ravitch, an acclaimed expert on education and a critic of corporate education reform, praises our proposed new contract on her blog for the opportunities it gives unionized public schools to innovate.

“This agreement should explode many of the myths that corporate education reformers like to spread about teacher unions,” she writes. “It shows that in an environment of trust and respect unions and districts can come together and agree on innovations that make sense for students.”

Ravitch neatly dispenses of Bloomberg’s disastrous contract demands and notes that the new chancellor and mayor, working with union leadership, “were able to come to agreement on a genuinely innovative set of ideas.”

Read the full post here.

A landmark contract that moves New York City schools and educators forward


The United Federation of Teachers and New York City leaders on May 1 announced a historic proposed nine-year contract that they said demonstrates the extraordinary progress possible in public schools when a city works in partnership with its educators.

At a City Hall press conference, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the proposed agreement the “contract for education.”

Mulgrew said that the agreement, which must be ratified by the membership, gives educators the opportunity to do their jobs the way they always wanted to do them. “The solution to great education exists in each and every school right now,” he said. “We just needed to create a platform and an environment that allows them to do what they have dedicated their lives to do, which is helping children learn.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the negotiations represented “a rare opportunity to re-imagine what our schools should look like.”

Under the deal, the more than 100,000 teachers, guidance counselors, nurses and other UFT members in the schools would get an 18 percent pay increase that includes two retroactive increases of 4 percent that have already been paid to other city unions. They will receive a 1 percent pay increase every May for three years beginning in May 2013. In May 2016, they will receive a 1.5 percent raise, followed by 2.5 percent in May 2017 and 3 percent in May 2018. Members would also receive a $1,000 bonus upon ratification.

The proposed agreement covers the period from Nov. 1, 2009 to Oct. 31, 2018.

The city and the UFT have identified a menu of potential significant ways to cut costs on health care while maintaining benefits for city employees. These measures, such as more efficient purchasing of health care services, must be approved by the Municipal Labor Committee.

The tentative agreement addresses two critical priorities for UFT educators: addressing the problems with the teacher evaluation system and reducing unnecessary paperwork.

Teacher evaluations will become simpler and fairer. Evaluations will now be focused on eight of the 22 components of the Danielson Framework for Teaching. The system for rating teachers in non-tested subjects will be fairer. Teacher artifacts will be eliminated from the evaluation process. And, moving forward, fellow educators — rather than third parties — will review the work of a teacher rated ineffective.

Up to 200 schools with a track record of collaboration may be granted flexibility with DOE rules and the UFT contract in order to try new school strategies.

“We have hundreds of great schools all over this city,” Mulgrew said. “We’re telling them it’s okay to experiment, to do things differently.”

The agreement gives educators at each school options to reconfigure their workday — without adding a minute — to create time for meeting with parents, engaging in professional development and doing other professional work.

“It’s not about adding time, but how do you use the time that you have more effectively?” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña.

New teacher leadership positions paying between $7,500 and $20,000 more per year will give teachers the opportunity to share effective classroom strategies with colleagues.

Fariña said she was most excited about the contract’s emphasis on peer-to-peer professional development and the flexibility that will allow schools and teachers to innovate.

The agreement also fosters parent involvement by carving out time in the work day for educators to engage with parents and increasing the number of parent-teacher conferences.

“In this agreement, parents are treated as the crucial partners they need to be,” de Blasio said.

Mulgrew and city leaders said the contract signals the start of a new era in public education in the nation’s largest city.

After the union’s last contract expired on Oct. 31, 2009, then-Mayor Bloomberg insisted on a pay freeze for teachers and later tried to lay off thousands of educators. Negotiations for a new contract never got off the ground.

“The last five years engendered such frustration — a logjam that seemed so often intractable and so wrong and so unnecessary, with so much rancor, and one that I know the members of the UFT deeply wanted to move past,” the mayor said.

“The teachers and educators in New York City have gone a long time without getting any proper respect,” Mulgrew said. No more, he said. “Teachers now have a fair deal.”

The wait is over!


The proposed new contract recognizes the hard work teachers do every day in the classroom and restores the dignity of the profession after years of abuse.

It is a contract for educators but, of equal importance, it is also a contract for education that will not only benefit teachers but also the students, schools and communities they serve.

To see the details, check out the UFT’s Contract for Education page.