Much like what happened after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, LA, it seems that the government in Puerto Rico is calling for a reduction in public school funding and implementing new charter school reforms. Due to that impact, the teachers in PR are calling for a national strike to push back against the funding and charter menace. It is unfortunate that individuals in a country that barely has an electric infrastructure that is better than it was before being hit by Hurricane Maria (and lost many more lives than the official count) is going to potentially lose its educational infrastructure as well. Good luck to the teachers!
As you are probably aware the Supreme Court filed their latest decisions this past week, including the landmark case, Janus vs. AFSCME. As expected (but very unfortunately) the conservative-majority court voted in favor of Mark Janus and against Union interests. For those unaware of what this court means, here is some backstory:
In a 1977 Supreme Court case, Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, there was a similar issue being argued: should employees who benefit from collective bargaining be forced to pay full Union dues or not? These employees argued that since they don't agree with the Union they should retain the moneys being forfeited to pay for their benefits. They also argued that their dues were being used for political ends. In the end, the Court ruled in favor of the Union, saying that the dues themselves were not inherently political in nature, and these employees still benefited from the collective bargaining. This was the introduction of "agency fees" being paid by individuals who work alongside public sector Union members but were not members themselves.
Fast forward to 2018 in New York City. The UFT has a collective bargaining unit of approximately 200,000 employees, with only 2,000 of them being "agency fee payers." That means around 1% of the people who benefit from Union negotiation don't pay the same rate. The total cost of being either a Union member or agency fee payer is currently around $1,400, so there is a lot of money being funneled into the UFT coffers with which they can properly protect our membership from the forces that be.
Enter: the Janus case. In a 5-4 decision on very political grounds, the Supreme Court sided with Mark Janus. Everyone is now wondering what is going to happen to public sector unions across the country as 22 states had rules following the 1977 Abood decision. Some view this as a potential rallying cry to get behind and really start connecting membership to union leadership again. I'm sure groups like the Movement of Rank-and-file Educators Caucus in NYC is hoping its grass-roots efforts will have a positive affect on union membership (and I think they are right).
The most influential aspect of this case to me, however, is something I read in this EdWeek article. In it, the author points out "The justices also ruled that unions cannot deduct fees from employees' paychecks without their express consent." What this exactly means for places like New York City, I'm not sure. It could simply mean that any new pedagogical employee is not automatically joined into the UFT as it is now. Or, worse, it means that any current member is automatically kicked out and has to opt back in. In the latter case, much of the time spent next year by Chapter Leaders and District Representatives will be spent trying to ensure everyone signs up. That could take a lot of time and money away from other, more long-term impacting things like the current contract negotiations happening between the City, the Department of Education, and the UFT.
I hope this situation can be turned into a rallying cry in general in politics to ensure we have more progressive candidates put into office (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and to get our Union to be more connected to its membership.
It has certainly been a long time since my last post. This year has been one of many firsts for me: the first time with a new Crew, I'm teaching a computer science course, and the first time I'm diving in deeper with my role as Chapter Leader of our branch of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT). I've spent countless hours talking with colleagues, administration, and more trying to learn and make the role better for me and my staff. All the while I have been paying attention to labor issues nationwide and wondering how they will affect us here in New York City.
The biggest concern of public sector unions right now is a Supreme Court case known as Janus vs. AFSCME. It is essentially a case debating if public sector unions should be allowed to mandate non-members to still pay something called an "agency fee" since they still benefit from collective bargaining that the union provides. As a deeply committed union member, I think it is important that the agency fee stay in place. It is only fair. That being said, there are others who completely disagree and have started smear campaigns against unions, saying that they "stole" money from them and that they are better off without the union. Unfortunately, that is not true.
So, when teachers in so-called "right-to-work" states (more like "right-to-make-less-money-and-have-fewer-benefits" states) strike due to low salaries and poor working conditions, it means something all the more. By now I hope you have read about all 55 counties of West Virginia going on strike to fight for what they rightly deserve: a decent wage. Teachers in Oklahoma followed suit and are now in their fifth day of walking out. Teachers in Kentucky are as well.
What is obvious to me is that with enough desperation a group can come together to work toward a common goal. But, that also means they need to be motivated to get there and have the leadership in place to follow suit. I applaud the various unions across the country who are working to push for better working conditions and salaries that their members deserve. Workers at Disney are also protesting horrible wages but are unfortunately not getting enough attention.
I'm sorry if I am missing some other major union actions that are not well publicized. I hope that can be added in the comments. But please know that I support strong unions that fight well for their workers rights.
The first week of school has been overall pretty good. I've been teaching a course called Exploring Computer Science for the first time which has kept me on my toes. And the Geometry classes have been fairly streamlined as well. The one major concern I had was Crew, but that turned out to be completely unfounded.
I think it was because I had a challenging time with my last Crew over the past four years of teaching but from the lessons I learned there I have applied many important beginning routines to ensure my students feel cared for, informed, interested, and more. We've had really good circle-based conversations, initiatives, discussions, and check-ins. The students seem motivated to be a part of this school-based family - even the new students who came from other middle schools. So far it's been pretty great.
I realize this may only be a honeymoon period but at the same time it's important to create solid bonds/relationships early on so that if and when conflict occurs later I can have the students think back to a "better time" and learn from the unfortunate situation. I'm psyched to be a part of this Crew!
During our first two days of school my time was filled with one of two things: talking about what we need to do to help kids learn and actually planning and organizing in order to prepare for their imminent arrival. Yesterday we spent a lot of time talking with facilitators from the RAMAPO for Children non-profit, learning and discussing how unmet needs and lagging skills of students manifest into specific behaviors and actions that we see every day as teachers. When kids are identified as "problem-children" or "bad" there is always some underlying reason and it is our responsibility to determine what is happening and how to meet the needs that will allow them to learn.
Today, we spent many hours planning the first two all-Crew days I will have with the incoming 9th grade students on Thursday and Friday. Also, we spent many hours organizing items in our classrooms to make sure they are ready. It was a lot easier this year than last because of a lot of the organization and purging that we did in June - I am very proud of our work and my colleagues.
I can't wait to meet my new students tomorrow that I'll be working with for the next four years. After going through the loop once, I know it will be quite a shock to see how little they know what to do - but I will view it as an opportunity to become a better educator.
It's nice to feel special, especially if a role you have is often a thankless one. As a UFT Chapter Leader, I am responsible for any and all union-related issues at my school, as well as representing us at larger meetings called Delegate Assemblies. On August 30 we had a return-to-school chapter leader training which was a lot of information crammed into only a little bit of time. The very nice thing was to be welcomed with open arms and given a very nice breakfast and lunch. While it was a lot of time and ran long, it was still well worth it. Thanks, UFT! I look forward to engaging more in the new school year!
I've had the wonderful privilege of attending the first ever Math for America Summer Think conference and had such a great time learning and connecting with other professionals over the past three days. I collaborated with numerous other teachers who all have the same issues that I'm having in order to improve our own practice. Specifically, we took a look at how to scaffold assignments to make sure that they are accessible to a wide range of students. The key questions we asked were:
One of the bigger questions for myself was the idea of transparency of the scaffolds. If you think about real scaffolding it is easily seen from nearby and afar. In the case of our classrooms that would mean students know who is getting what assistance, which can lead to a stigma problem. I wondered if there was a way to emphasize growth mindset deeply enough that it wouldn't matter in the end and students would cheer each other on for making choices right for them. That is obviously a longer question to answer.
Nevertheless, I came away with some great ideas and specific modifications to make for my assignment I brought as well as how I can prepare augmentations to give to specific students in need.
Last night I helped to host an awards ceremony and dinner for our senior students. I have worked with them for four years as a Crew advisor and have gotten to know many more through teaching them in Algebra and Geometry classes. It was a pleasure to finally see their faces as they came up to the stage to take well-deserved awards home with them.
My grade team spent a good amount of time deliberating who should earn what. There were many awards that we found deeply meaningful and some that weren't. In the end, we found that all the awards we got to choose went to students who earned them with their own powerful work. Some were fancier titles than others, but all made sense. It was really nice to be there and see families and friends cheer on each student who got an award last night.
As I'm sure you can tell I did not achieve my goal of posting a photo from each day of my teaching this year. Maybe it was too much to focus on that as well as the pedagogy of my daily schedule. Or perhaps I wasn't motivated enough. Or maybe it was all the things that happened in my life over the past month and a half but I won't be able to complete the project. Instead, I'll just write about my personal experiences again without the proxy of photos.
Today I sat on two presentation panels for students to complete their requirements for graduation. One was good - persistent, effortful, and detailed in his work. The other was outstanding - methodical, detail-oriented, making connections with outside-of-school items in a way that impressed me immensely. These two students demonstrate how you can put in a lot of effort as a teacher and see the wonderful outcomes over the years. While I have never had either of these students in my own classes, I am privileged to be a small part of their lives today.
After these presentations I sat in my classroom with a coworker just chatting with two other students about their end-of-school experience, graduation, classes, ice cream, travel, and more. It was an honest 40 minutes talking with kids who are becoming young adults and moving on in their lives to college next year. I really appreciated the time they spent with me, indulging my puns and being earnest and honest in their responses to questions about their future. I wish them both well.
I'm hoping next school year I'll have a project of a similar ilk as the photo-a-day idea but perhaps involved less intense effort so I can complete it everyday.
Today marked the day when almost all of our seniors declared which college or university they will be attending next year. Called "Decision Day," it was celebrated with a drum-led march through our back yard, cafeteria, and into our auditorium for a group photo and pizza party. It was enjoyable although a bit haphazard in planning and our students still loved it. We are glad to see them grow up and move on and hope they come back to share their futures with us.
I am a math teacher in the New York Department of Education. I infuse technology and real-world problems into my curriculum in order to prepare my students for the future. I would love for people across the country to recognize we teachers can't do it alone. If you don't believe me, come visit my classroom!