What: Happy Hour & Concert to Benefit BCPSS teacher Kate Hooks
Where: Ze Mean Bean Cafe, Eastern European Fusion & Wine Bar, 1739 Fleet Street, Baltimore, MD, 21213 (Corner of Fleet & Ann in Fells Point), 410-675-5999, facebook.com/zemeanbean
When: Friday, Nov. 5, 4 - 6:30 p.m.
Please spread the word
Kate Hooks, a History teacher at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (and former teacher at City), has been living and teaching with multiple sclerosis her entire 9-year career in the Baltimore City Public Schools. The progressive disease has confined her to a wheelchair, and, in order for her to continue her passion of teaching, she must hire a caretaker (not covered by insurance) to help with various tasks, including assisting her in getting ready for work in the mornings.
Please join us in this benefit event for Kate on the night before the annual City/Poly football game, as Kate's current and former colleagues and former students from Teach for America, Poly, and City (and whomever else would like to support the cause, including the general public) toast to her well-being and raise money for her assistance and continued dedication to teaching the youth of Baltimore.
Roots Rocker Caleb Stine will be performing, Ze Mean Bean is offering pierogies for just a quarter each, and there will be drink specials (and the bartender will donate all tips to the cause).
We are asking for a $20 donation for the event and the goal is to raise enough money for Kate to be able to afford a caretaker and continue teaching her 9th graders into the new year. Thanks so much for your support and please spread the word. All are invited.
I like that a few more things have been defined. It's just better written. I like the colors.
I want a few more things, like a revision of the grieving procedure. However, they've added some language about keeping administrators in check.
I haven't had a chance to pore over it like I want to, but what I like this time is that both sides appear to...
1) want to have actual open dialogue about it (though the attempts to shut down a guy against the contract at the Building Rep meeting was pretty crummy... they were unsuccessful, though)
2) not want to rush it (thankfully, there is no vote scheduled yet, but plenty of open meetings)
I still think this contract has potential. I'm as open-minded as they come. I want to continue to hear about it and pore over it myself before I decide for sure. Marietta English is leaving me a voicemail nearly every day these days, so they see it's pressing, too.
For the love of god, this is a hard job to do well and feel effective sometimes. When I started my career, I was on a block schedule and taught three 90-minute classes a day. I had 80 kids or so (no, class sizes weren't crazy small) but really was able to dig into issues and didn't feel like I had to rev myself up and down so often throughout the day. I also got to know the kids much better. I now pine for those days. I feel so overwhelmed right now with grading and planning that I'm at school late and barely feel like I make a dent, then I come home and grade/plan some more. I don't know why it's feeling so especially hard right now, but it is. Oy.
In other news, I'll be playing the Cowardly Lion in our department's dressup as Wizard of Oz on Friday.
I am undergoing a radical transformation of how I teach IB Oral Commentaries. I am doing this mid-stride. It's hard. Struggle. Struggle. For teacher and students. Trying to eliminate formulaic analysis and trying to merge ideas they learned last year with new ideas this year.
Starting Fences with the 9th graders this week. So ready for it. I'm also creating yet another poetry analysis sheet. Another year, another acronym. oy.
Kate Hooks, a History teacher at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, has been living and teaching with multiple sclerosis her entire 9-year career in the Baltimore City Public Schools. The progressive disease has confined her to a wheelchair, and, in order for her to continue her passion of teaching, she must hire a caretaker (not covered by insurance) to help with various tasks, including assisting her in getting ready for work in the mornings.
Please join us in this benefit event for Kate on the night before the annual City/Poly football game, as Kate's current and former colleagues from Teach for America, Poly, and City (and whomever else would like to support the cause, including former students or the general public) toast to her well-being and raise money for her assistance and continued dedication to teaching the youth of Baltimore.
Roots Rocker Caleb Stine (www.calebstine.com) will be performing, Ze Mean Bean (www.zemeanbean.com) is offering pierogies for just a quarter each, and there will be drink specials (and the bartender will donate all tips to the cause).
We are asking for a $20 donation for the event and the goal is to raise enough money for Kate to be able to afford a caretaker and continue teaching her 9th graders into the new year. Thanks so much for your support and please spread the word. All are invited.
More Information: A Plea for Help (there is also a link there to donate if you cannot attend the event)
I attended a meeting of 'Teachers Very Angry about the New Contract' the other day. I was asked to by my Building Union Rep (who wanted to go, because he is similarly ambivalent to the contract as I am), as well as this big gun in from NYC (the BTU has apparently hired a union firm from NYC to try to get this thing passed). They've tracked my thoughts on this blog, and on InsideEd, and knew I was someone who was kind of 'convinced' of the merits of the contract throughout the 2 week timespan. However, I talk about the contract all the time, and also see and discuss its deficiencies. Privately (until now), I'm kind of glad I didn't have to make up my mind and vote for it last Thursday.
So I went to the meeting. There, I felt a little like a spy, until I got there, and realized that the vast majority of the teachers there were like me -- people with solid reservations about the contract, but see some merits in it. One guy even announced that he'd been sent there by the union, like me. I'm sure there were more.
Still, I quickly didn't feel bad about being there because, even though I'm an optimist, as were many of the people there, I still recognize that this thing has some holes in it. It needs to be fixed before I'll vote 'Yes'.
On this blog, upon making the decision I liked the contract, I said I would have voted for it; however, now I'm not so sure. First, rewarding the union and North Avenue for presenting a poorly-defined and rushed contract by voting it in in 2 weeks just doesn't seem like good precedent. It's good to be suspicious of things done in a rush like this. As it is, I am now happy that the contract did not pass. I like that both sides seem to be trying to define the terms of the contract (which, as it's written, seems ripe for corruption) more.
Here is why I am glad it did not pass:
1) AUs (Achievement Units) still aren't defined at all, except for taking courses. If these are the check against getting a Satisfactory evaluation, or the tool a teacher gets to move to the next salary level, they need to be defined more before I sign off on the contract.
2) "Model Teachers" aren't defined at all. The carrot of being a "model teacher" is the only benefit of the contract for me (otherwise, I get a tiny raise of $200 or so, plus the signing bonus), and I want it - bad. It would mean a significant raise. Since this is pretty much the only benefit of the new contract for a good teacher in the middle of his career (and, don't get me wrong -- it's a significant one), this needs to be defined.
3) The way that principals will get teachers now that they couldn't do before would be to give lots and lots of 'Satisfactory', instead of 'Proficient', evaluations. Currently, 11 of 14 of the teachers in my department, for example, get 'Proficient' evaluations every year. I think they probably all deserve it. I feel like the new contract, which will put principals in effective charge of a raise or not because a 'Satisfactory' means only 9 AUs instead of 12 (the raise), allows them more of a chance to mess with teachers who, for example, confirm to a parent that, yes, he did threaten to beat up your kid in front of me, yes, your kid is telling the truth (yes, that happened to me, and, yes, my life was turned into a type of hell for a couple years after). Therefore, there needs to be language in the contract about being able to grieve a Satisfactory evaluation if one is handed down. Currently (I believe), teachers can only grieve unsatisfactory evaluations.
4) In the new contract, Building Reps can be transferred at the CEO's will. According to someone at this meeting, Marietta English didn't even know this was in the contract when he confronted her about it. This seems a pretty big deal (the building rep at our school, plus the rest of the union chapter committee, was involuntarily transferred from our school about 4 years ago because they were calling the principal to task... Dr. Alonso came into the that summer and re-instated them after a swell of protest), and I'd like to see this (yes, relatively minor) clause out of the contract to provide the union building rep more protection. I see the union building rep as an important check against administrator power in the new contract.
5) There needs to be language about Total Class Load in the new contract. Let's hold administrators and Dr. Alonso accountable to getting enough teachers in the classrooms and lowering the numbers. Show us that you're willing to give something, too, something that will be good for the students.
6) How about we make the negotiations more transparent? Some school systems have negotiations televised. Let's see/hear what is happening.
I do not question Dr. Alonso's motivation for this new contract. I sincerely believe that he wants what is best for the students. However, he does not control the money. When he first came to the city, he said he would have a book in every kid's hand. I've still never had enough textbooks. It's not Dr. Alonso's fault, but I worry the new contract (with, if done fairly, will increase many teachers' salaries significantly) will make schools lose teaching positions (which is why the Total Class Load is important). If that clause is not possible, there needs to be guarantees that teacher positions are not eliminated because of the new contract.
Define some parts of this vague contract, tweak a couple parts, and I'll vote Yes.
October is the roughest month for teachers. There are no breaks; it's the month the kids start acting bad; it's the month where the well-restedness of the summer is gone and you feel like you're running on fumes. It's the month where you realize that, no matter what, you'll never catch up on the grading you have to do.
I feel like I'm barely holding it together this week, professionally and personally. I was at school until 6:15 tonight when I realized I said I was going to bring in my car for bodyshop service at 5:30. I rushed out and, the bodyshop was closing. They still agreed to take the car, but then I realized the rental car place was closed, so I had to re-schedule for tomorrow. But I left my car key on the desk in the place, and almost was left stranded. Thankfully, they let me back in to get my key. But that's the sort of thing that I'm doing.
Lessons today were decidedly mediocre. I forgot characters' names. I got flustered by different versions of Shakespeare. I seem to have forgotten how to teach 9th graders because they certainly have forgotten how to act this week since I last saw them last Tuesday. Bad all around.
1. I understand that it is, as Dr. Alonso said, "short sighted" to want to know exactly how the evaluation will be tied to student performance before these things are brought forth by the state. But why is it impossible to define the AUs better? One union rep in on negotiations told me it could be collaboration after school, but this seems fishy. And why is it impossible to define, better, what a "model teacher" is?
2. I've heard that the actual elections was absolutely terrible, with waits of hours. If you're trying to convince people that you're going to be able to manage this new system of AUs and credits and that there won't be tons of red tape as there is now, things like elections need to be done much better. This sort of shortsightedness is why it's clear the vote is as much against the union as it was the contract.
3. Why haven't I heard any conversation about class size or class load in this?
4. There needs to be better definition between a 'satisfactory' and a 'proficient' evaluation, with less possibility of subjectivity and opportunity to grieve if subjectivity creeps in. Now that the evaluation is connected to salary, it only makes sense so corruption does not creep in.
I've spent a lot of time complaining over the years about the blocking software in the BCPSS computer system. Therefore, I need to share the good news, probably a bit tardily: last spring, the system incorporated a quiz that teachers could take to get sites unblocked, and now we can access sites such as YouTube on our school computers.
It hasn't been a big deal for me -- yet -- but tomorrow it will be for the first time. I plan on showing three different 3-minute version of the opening Richard III soliloquy, and have students take notes on the choices the performers and directors make and how it conveys the meaning of the text. They'll be doing the same thing as they read the rest of the play.
In the past, I would have to fiddle with DVDs that I purchased myself on a laptop that I purchased myself on an LCD Projector that I purchased myself. Now, I can just hook up my computer to the LCD Projector and show the video.
Free flowing access to information -- just what we needed!
This is the YouTube I'm using:
(Now it would be nice to let the kids have just a bit more access. Last week, almost all googlescholar sites were blocked for the kids' Iranian research project, and the accessible databases were all pretty terrible.)
I blog from southwest Michigan where, today, I spent the day decorating the South Haven Moose Lodge with my family as we prepare for my little sister's wedding on Saturday.
Part of me wishes I could have had my voice heard in the new contract vote, which took place back home in Baltimore. However, the vote really wasn't very close: it was soundly rejected by a count of around 1540 to 1100.
Here are my thoughts:
1) First off, straight up: the contract vote should have been delayed. A couple hundred teachers, including me, signed an online petition asking for more time before the vote took place. At first, I felt this way because I wanted more explanation. After I got that more explanation, I wanted it delayed because I wanted all of my colleagues get all the information, too. I finally felt fine about the contract on Monday, three days before the vote. I know all the teachers in my building couldn't make that meeting, and, basically, the word just spread badly. How anyone could think that a 2-week turnaround time on the new contract -- especially one as "historic" and "groundbreaking" as this -- was enough is beyond me. Especially a 2-week turnaround time without any public forums until the week of the election. The communication was terrible, which magnified the need for a delay.
2) That's the most important piece. Most teachers I know do not believe that the BTU represents them, and are a bunch of disconnected previous-generation types who do little to help good teachers. The way they handled this contract -- one that I believe was a good one -- is a good example of that. They rushed it through, acting as if there were something to hide. I do believe the BTU has the best interests of teachers in their hearts, but I believe the time has passed them by on how to be solid communicators of that information. The communication of this contract -- especially in the wake of pronouncements that it was "historic" and such (honestly, I don't think the contract would have been that "historic", and that sort of language just scares off folks). Their website is terrible, they allow InsideEd to be overrun with extremists (Marietta English should have her ass on InsideEd every day, commenting, and that's years overdue), and they allow everyone else to dictate the information. I couldn't believe the sort of fliers we got at the school, fliers worthy of Fox News, with scare tactics and fact-twisting and flat-out lying. BTU, who no one really trusts to begin with, was hidden. It wasn't until I met a real teacher who worked on the negotatiating team that I felt confident about the contract. I wanted this contract to have people out there defending it, and it wasn't until Monday when I felt like I could even do it.
3) Dr. Alonso's side isn't blame-free, either. If you want teachers to take a leap of faith for you, don't do crap like not give us our steps on our old contracts in the next school year. Be more transparent. Both sides agreed to a framework, and I could live with the framework, but many couldn't. Why was there no definition -- ever -- of what a "model teacher" was? Most teachers have had experiences with horrible red tape at North Avenue with regards to certification or tuition reimbursement; and now we're supposed to trust that our contract, which is dependent on undefined AUs and undefined ability to move to different pay scales, will be handled by North Avenue, without those assurances from you? The BTU tells us that if they (you) can't handle the red tape, that the contract could be voided. But we needed you out there, making clearer how this would all be done. When I bring up these concerns, people tell me I'm being too picky -- "More time wouldn't give any more information about that, because the committees wouldn't be formed yet" -- but why? Why can't that stuff be determined?
4) How in the world is the turnout only 2600 out of 6500? Seriously? For our new contract? I did hear the voting was a huge mess, a portrait of how disfunctional our union is. Everything about this, in fact, was.
5) The timing on this, in the wake of Waiting for Superman's publicschool-hating propagineering, in the wake of Rhee's resignation, in the wake of Obama and Duncan slamming teachers, in the wake of the state changing the laws so 30-50% of the teacher evaluations must be via student performance, was also shitty for the contract.
Anyhow, I thought it was a cool contract. But I am generally an optimist and a trusting person. And I hate the current contract and think it is full of loopholes and disparity. With those things in its favor, though, it took me a while to come down firmly on the side of this thing. I don't think most of my colleagues had this experience.
I can't wait to see what happens now. More transparency, more information, more time -- hopefully. But the basic ideas of the contract, I hope they stay the same.
I might also suggest the following: Class Load limits and a 12-month contract. Both would be awesome.
Right now, with the 9th graders, we are using a modified version of this lesson as our closing project. In the project, students are asked to view images from modern Iran, answer the question "How has modern Iran been affected by the events of the Iranian Revolution?", conduct research, and write a piece of historical fiction based on their research and their photograph.
Somehow, this has turned into just about the most complex piece of writing I've ever assigned. And it's the 9th graders' first writing assignment.
In it, we are...
1) conducting research (one of the first time I've actually done this in our technology-starved school)
2) incorporating details into historical narrative
3) writing and planning a historical short story (exposition, main character, dialogue, problem, climax, resolution) with accurate details
It's a crazy complicated assignment and I'm really wondering what this are going to produce on Monday when they're due.
I spent Sunday afternoon writing a piece of historical fiction based upon a Great Depression photograph, so I could show them a model. We'll see if that helps.
I've been hemming, hawing, and debating the new contract, and finally have a little bit of confidence in it. It's still a bit of a cautious confidence, but I like some things about it. The BTU representative, plus a high school teacher on the negotiating committee, visited our school today and I feel quite a bit better about things.
My personal take:
1) My salary will remain almost exactly the same (a $195 raise) except for the one-time raises this year and next year. However, if I get a bunch of AUs -- 12 -- I can move up an "increment," which is about a $2500 raise.
2) No one knows what an AU is or how to get them -- exactly -- except that if you take classes, you get one AU per credit. They're "saying" there will be other ways to get them, and there will be a committee set up that is half-union, but this is still a bit of a worry. However, it also seems we can get them (12) if we get a Proficient evaluation, so that's good, and 9 if you get a satisfactory.
3) What made me excited about the contract initially was the ability to become a "Master Teacher," which would mean a $20,000 raise. There is no word on how this might happen, though, so that leads me to believe it will be very difficult. Which I suppose it should be, with all that money. Of course I will go for it right away but I'm not sure if it's possible.
The question of student performance is a state law. I was turned off by the union representative's repeated assertion that the contract and the student performance piece are totally disconnected, because, while it's true it's the state law, the contract will tie it to our evaluation and thus our salary. This ups the ante on it from it just being a state law. This, of course, is disquieting, because we have no idea how this will be measured, particularly with non-HSA courses. Still, I think I will still be able to get my usual Proficient evaluation. I hope so, at least. I never really cared about evaluations before or found them to be very meaningful; now, I suppose, it will really matter.
1) That the offices set up at North Avenue to handle all the AU-certification and all peer review panels will be a bundle of red tape. The union rep assured us that if this happens, there are contingencies to escape the contract.
2) That teachers will be on AU-snatching crusades all the time instead of doing actual teaching. The union rep today discussed planning after school "collaboration" as a possible AU. This seems fishy as hell to me.
3) That no one will actually become 'Master Teachers' because of red tape or because the specifications will be nearly impossible to meet.
However, these fears are being outweighed by excitement. Most importantly, I was able to hear from an actual teacher in a high school who had been part of the negotiating team. There's a real passion in what she says and I needed to hear that. She was kind of pie-in-the-sky, but that's okay; we need optimism and the current system clearly isn't working.
I'd be voting for it if I could, wasn't going out of town for my sister's wedding.
I worry that this will not pass. If it doesn't, it stems from the BTU's uniquely bad communication. Today, for example, we get an e-mail at 1:00 p.m. about an informational meeting at the BTU headquarters about the contract. The meeting was at 5:00 p.m. They give us four hours notice. What a travesty, truly.
The BTU website is unattractive and, while it has the jargon-y and difficult-to-understand contract documents, it is not very helpful. They're letting the entire education conversation in Baltimore City to be dominated by Inside Ed, which has its own share of problems (slow, dominated by complainers, lack of presence from all sides of issues). If it fails, it's on BTU, which will be a bummer.
Today, we had inflammatory and inaccurate fliers in our mailboxes saying the new contract will give the principals all the power. That's the sort of thing BTU is meagerly fighting, not very well.
Someone took me up on the 'spirited defense' request of the contract and I think he convinced me, again. He puts a lot of faith in the "committees" that will decide many of the practices; however, he reminds me that the state is already moving forward with these policies of evaluating teachers by student performance, and that it's better to have the city creating precedent about how this is done instead of the state.
One thing that he brought up about Mr. Bleich's comments that I posted below: his quoting of the $60 million figure may not be accurate. Someone in the negotiations did say it to the Sun, but that's the only documented place where it's been put thus far.
I'd type up more if it weren't so late. I just felt the need to get this up here in case anyone is looking at this page for different sides of the issue.
I'd still like a delay, though much of that is the ulterior motives of me not being able to vote because I'm out of town on Thursday.
I sent the e-mail described in my last post to all the staff at my school on Friday and, a couple hours later, a grizzled veteran saw me in the hallway and chuckled. He's a great teacher, one of the best in our school, and always chooses to pick the "regular" (not advanced) 9th graders and does a great job with them. "Delaying the vote, huh? That's just delaying my $1500." He went on to say that things will pretty much be the same: "If they like you, you'll get good evaluations, and look at the good stuff; if they don't like you, they'll notice every little bad thing you do. It'll be the same. I'll just make more money in my retirement."
And, that, folks, is the most spirited defense of the new contract that I have heard. I'm offering my own defense of it -- I'm generally an optimistic and believe people to be good, and this contract kind of excites me in some ways -- but not even our BTU building rep is defending it much, because he's too uncertain. I know we need more information, and I think the information dissemination has been pretty bad, so I'm really interested in how this vote (on Thursday) will go. I believe it will pass, but I believe for the wrong reasons -- I believe it will be people looking forward to getting that $1500 check right before Christmas. But it might not pass. I don't know. If it doesn't pass, teachers are going to be portrayed as whiny and not wanting change, but that won't be the case, necessarily; the contact was rushed and it's disappointing, to say the least, how it has been handled, at the very least its speed without any public forums.
I want someone to give a spirited defense of the contract, because I don't think I've heard that yet. I've heard some people who will vote for it -- and, truth be told, if I were in town on Thursday, I probably would, too, at this point I'm probably at 51% yes -- but no one has poured any sort of passion of words into defending the contract as the following writer has. Poly rep Bill Bleich's look at the numbers for funding the contract are simple, effective, and convincing -- his views on war education not as much (in my view). Still, it's powerful, and definitely provoked my thought.
Anyhow, this is worth a read. I post it not as an affirmation of everything he says here, but to get more words and discussion out there. (I cut and pasted the comments from the InsideEd blog here - Views on Baltimore Contract:
CRITIQUE OF THE PROPOSED BTU CONTRACT
COMPETITION INSTEAD OF HELPING EACH OTHER
“Merit” pay - more money for a relatively small percentage of teachers who get top evaluations - will encourage rivalry among teachers. Now, without merit pay, it’s different. Currently, we help each other all the time. We share pedagogical insights. We share teaching materials. We share effective lessons. For most of us, our support for one another is a reflection of our profound concern for maximizing the intellectual growth of the young people for whom we’re responsible. With “merit” pay, there will be pressure on teachers to be less helpful, and act in a more self-centered way. The goal of “merit” pay is to get more money for oneself by outshining others, especially since the number of high-earning “model” and “lead” teachers will be strictly limited. “Merit” pay is counter to mutual support and collegiality among teachers.
Think about it. We are modeling the adult world to our students. Do we want our young people to learn - from observing our behavior - that rivalry, withholding assistance, and backstabbing are the best ways for humanity to conduct itself? Isn’t it better to show, by example, that humanity is better off when we are mutually supportive? Shouldn’t our goal be to uplift all of humanity, not just a small portion of it?
FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF TEACHERS - NO MATTER HOW EFFECTIVE - MAJOR MONEY IS A MYTH The proposed contract talks about increased “career acceleration,” but in reality, those gains will be for a relatively small percentage of us. Linda Eberhart - who participated on the CEO’s side in negotiations for the new proposed contract - “said the cost of the contract over three years would be a maximum of $60 million” above and beyond the cost of the current contract (Sun 9-30-10). Let’s take a careful look at the implications of this. The total budget for the Baltimore City Public Schools is currently $1.23 billion. About 54% goes to salaries, with about $360 million of that going specifically to teacher salaries. Of the $60 million MAXIMUM that the school board may add over three years, here are costs that would have to be deducted from that amount: 1) The one-time $1500 bribe (signing stipend) x 6,000 teachers = $9 million 2) 2% increase in 2010-11 (to be included again in next 2 years) = $21.6 million 3) 1% increase in 2011-12 (to be included again in the next year) = $7.2 million 4) 1.5% increase in 2012-13 = $5.4 million 5) Cost of one “Lead Teacher” at each of 191 schools in 2nd & 3rd year of contract, assuming this means an average of $20,000 additional per person = $7.6 million. This adds up to $50.8 million. In other words - not counting the single lead teacher at each school - only $9.2 million remains to fund all other “increased career acceleration.” If we assume that the average “Model Teacher” would earn $25,000 extra - compared to salaries in the current contract - and if we assume they would be paid that rate in the second year and again in the 3rd year of the contract, that means at the most that about 184 teachers will be allowed to become “Model Teachers.” In other words, if the quote by Linda Eberhart is accurate, and $60 million is going to be the MAXIMUM amount of new money spent on this contract, then the CEO will have to guarantee that 94% of us are not allowed to achieve either “Lead” or “Model” status! Keep in mind, according to the new contract, that achieving “Model” status will require the highest possible rating (now called “Proficient”) for at least 2 out of 3 years. This means, to limit the number of “Model” teachers, all the CEO has to do is tell principals that they can only give top-rated evaluations to a small number of teachers. The CEO could easily mandate, for example, that only 5% of the teachers at each school can get the top evaluation. In fact, according to the numerical analysis in this critique, the CEO will probably have to do something like that, to stay within budget (if the proposed contract is adopted). The numbers used in this section of the critique are as accurate as could be determined, but even if they’re off by a bit, the general conclusion would be virtually the same. Maybe instead of 94% of teachers being blocked from “Model” and “Lead” status, if the numbers aren’t exact, perhaps just 90% of teachers would be prevented from the “increased career acceleration,” which is roughly the same thing. The Sun, in its glowing reportage about the proposed contract, argues that “Pay could go up quickly for effective teachers” (9-30-10). Are we to assume that 90% or 94% of Baltimore’s teachers - whose pay won’t go up quickly - are ineffective? We don’t need a star system. We need to continue working together as equals, helping each other to best serve our students’ educational needs.
WAR The proposed contract is being lauded as a cutting-edge contribution, on a national level, to school reform and Race-to-the-Top strategies. However, the real centerpiece of these trends, though it’s not discussed extensively, is actually a national curriculum. In all probability, in upcoming years, the MSA and HSA tests will be phased out and replaced with new high-stakes tests aligned with that forthcoming national curriculum. For the first time, powerful forces will have centralized control of what gets taught in all U.S. schools. Let’s consider the international situation. The main conflict in the world, which profoundly influences all other developments - even at the local level - is the intense rivalry for control of cheap labor and natural resources - especially energy - by the world’s major powers. Two wars are currently raging because of this, and more war is on the horizon, including the threat of a world war, once another world power is militarily capable of challenging the U.S. empire, a situation that could develop, perhaps, in as little as 25 years. Exxon/Mobil, along with the other major oil and gas giants - and the big banks who provide them with financing - are key players, behind the scenes, in running the United States. The continued and expanding profits of these institutions require war. They need millions of young people who are willing to fight and die for them. To accomplish this, the ruling class needs the schools to teach a particular set of beliefs and “facts.” Picture the situation, perhaps just 5 or 6 years from now, when a devoted teacher wishes to encourage the consideration of a more accurate, balanced set of facts and analytical thinking.. But the new high-stakes tests require - for students to score well - that particular answers, favorable to the world-view of Exxon/Mobil, must be given. And any teacher, whose students haven’t been duly habituated to giving those responses, will be evaluated poorly - and denied raises - because his or her students didn’t make the appropriate “progress.” This sort of scenario is where Race-to-the-Top is headed. And this is another reason why we should not support the proposed contract. It must be acknowledged, however, that the proposed contract does have some positive aspects. And, if we do vote to reject the proposed contract, the positive aspects can, of course, be included again in a newly-negotiated, second version of the contract. One positive aspect of the contract is its insistence that teachers at Charter schools (and at other, similar types of schools) must be paid in accord with our contract. The proposed contract also insists that larger salaries must be paid at schools where the hours are longer, or where the school year includes more days. Maryland is almost unique in this regard. In most other states, teachers in the Charter schools are not covered by the union at all, and they are generally paid significantly less than unionized teachers. In fact, one reason for the national push to have more and more Charter schools - as part of Race-to-the-Top - is to lower the cost of public education. And this too relates to war. The current military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan require hundreds of billions of dollars. Lowering the cost of education is one way that the Exxon/Mobil loyalists want to free up resources, and then direct those resources toward ongoing and new wars in their desperate effort to preserve their lucrative and blood-soaked empire. Fortunately, this cost-cutting aspect of the charter-school movement is not part of the proposed contract.
ENCOURAGING COWARDICE INSTEAD OF WHOLE-HEARTEDLY SERVING OUR STUDENTS’ NEEDS The current contract stipulates that a Building Rep cannot be involuntarily transferred out of a school (except for very limited exceptions). However, the proposed contract says that a BR can indeed be reassigned, and all that’s required is written approval by the CEO. Picture this. A Building Rep has helped to organize teachers at a school to fight hard for racial and socio-economic equality in class size so that all classes - whether advanced or regular - have the same average size. Imagine it was an effort to significantly improve learning for the majority of students at that school, who are in the regular classes, but who were - for years - treated as stepchildren and thrown into overcrowded classes which are much less conducive to educational progress. Imagine that the Building Rep and many of the teachers had to ruffle some administrative feathers to finally win this campaign. Imagine that other bold efforts - requiring some opposition to the principal - are also being pursued in the interests of parents, teachers, and students. The proposed contract would allow a principal, with the CEO’s written approval (probably not too hard to get) to get rid of that Building Rep as a way of trying to undermine those social-justice campaigns for better education. Similarly, any teacher who speaks up boldly - trying to advance the learning situation for his or her students - may, at times, have to oppose the policies of a principal. If that principal, under the new contract, has the power - through evaluations - to have a major and direct effect on a teacher’s salary, then highly devoted teachers may hesitate to do what’s truly in the best interests of their students. Think about it. Not infrequently, the motivation to become a principal is based on wanting to: 1)Make more money, 2)Distance oneself from the students, 3)Do less work, and 4) Eventually advance one’s career to a higher-paid, cushy, school-headquarters position. With this in mind, it’s reasonable to argue that, often, teachers are more highly motivated than administrators to serve the educational needs of our students. The self-serving, careerist attitude that motivates some people to become principals causes them to focus their time on administrative courses and personal advancement, while a dedicated teacher, instead, may devote his or her time to being a voluntary Club advisor, helping to organize social and academic events for the students, getting to know parents, and spending large amounts of time revising personal teaching strategies and materials to become more and more effective each year. But the proposed contract gives principals tremendous power to choose which teachers to advance, and which to sideline. Won’t that lead, in many schools, to a situation where favorites are cultivated and rewarded, but anyone who opposes the principal on any matter at all - even when doing so for the benefit of the students - is excluded from advancement?
NO TEETH IN PROVISION TO INVESTIGATE PRINCIPALS WHO WRITE UNFAIR EVALUATIONS The proposed contract has a provision for investigating a principal who “significantly changes” the proportion of teachers receiving lower evaluations than the year before. That sounds good. However, the proposed contract only stipulates an investigation.. It does not stipulate any consequences. And it does not stipulate, even if the investigation finds wrong-doing, that the evaluations must be changed. In fact, in our current evaluation system, observations and evaluations cannot be grieved in regard to their content. Only procedural violations can be grieved. In the proposed contract, the consequences of an evaluation will be much more significant. In particular, a teacher can be held - indefinitely? - at a particular interval (which is the proposed contract’s new name for a salary step). The proposed contract, like the old one - and like the Performance-Based Evaluation System - has no provision allowing teachers to grieve the content of an evaluation. Let’s be clear. Principals are not elected. They are primarily accountable to higher authorities, not to teachers, students, and parents. The proposed contract has the potential to allow principals to become quite dictatorial. And such principals won’t necessarily be “benign” dictators. They could readily be dictatorial in regard to teachers and simultaneously contemptuous in regard to the educational needs of our students.
INCREASING CLASS SIZE This is not certain, because many aspects of the proposed contract are not stipulated with much detail. However, it sounds as if “Lead” teachers will be given some leadership responsibilities that may prevent them from having a full teaching load. Similarly, the “Joint Governing Panel” - in the proposed contract - is tasked to “designate the roles and responsibilities that Model Teachers will assume, consistent with the strengths of the Model Teacher.” This too sounds as if these teachers will be partly removed from the classroom. In addition, it sounds as some staff members will be spending time outside the classroom as AU (Achievement Unit) coordinators. If several people in a school - who each used to have a full teaching load - will be partly or completely taken out of the classroom, all the students that would have been taught by those individuals will have to be added to the classes taught by other teachers. This means that classes will grow in size. Class size matters. If it didn’t, why are the classes - in advanced programs like Ingenuity - deliberately kept significantly smaller than other classes. It’s simple. Smaller classes are better for teaching and learning. However, it seems that the proposed contract may well lead to larger classes.
CONCLUSION The writer of this critique urges you to vote NO when the ratification vote is held on October 14th.. We can do better than this for our teachers and for our students.
Ms. English was quoted by the Baltimore Sun as being willing to delay the vote if enough BTU members wanted a delay.
In my opinion, the BTU spent months and months negotiating and that expecting us to approve the contract in a matter of a couple of weeks isn't reasonable.
Frankly, I am pretty excited about the contract, which I think could bring a lot of good with it to the BCPSS, but I have some dissonance about the concerns that we all are raising about the equity of any contract that attaches a higher salary to student performance. For example: What assessment tool will be used? Will teachers have any voice in the assessment tools? How does class load / class size factor into this? What about teachers who teach students with lower skills coming into the class than other teachers? Will this create any competition between collegues? If IB, AP, and HSA test results are used to assess teachers for their salary, how exactly does that work when scores do not come out until well into the summer? What about classes without external tests? What happens when the "Race to the Top" money runs out? How will the panel that decides teacher raises be chosen?
There are too many questions right now, and, while a union rep is visiting our school a couple days before the vote to answer questions, I still think we're being asked to make the decision too swiftly. The petition referenced above asks for a delay to the vote, so that more information can be disseminated, and I think this might be prudent.
A few more thoughts (I thought too pointed to put in the e-mail):
1. Why is the only public forum on the new contract on the day of the vote? This is just utterly ridiculous.
2. And, so many want the teachers to take a "leap of faith" on this, but why should we trust the people we're being asked to leap for? Dr. Alonso has had a mixed tenure, in my opinion. I love some of the changes he has brought (more charter schools, making schools smaller, ushering out a lot of the dead weight in the system), but I pointedly disagree with some of his philosophies, especially regarding what responsibility kids have in the process of learning -- a philosophy I think hurts the kids. I think the actions he's taken with my particular school have been way slooooooowwww and I don't think his oversight on principals with their new independence has been particularly effective. So I'm not hook, line, and sinker for everything Alonso offers.
And, then, our union. Oh, our ineffective union. I e-mailed Marietta English a number of times during negotiations and didn't hear back from her. I think, in general, the union does more to protect bad teachers than to help student learning.
So, the fact that the boards will be half North-Avenue people and half-Union people does not necessarily make me feel the safeguards are in place. I have issues with both sides.
Again, the contract excites me. But the lack of information is a concern, especially as the teachers' collective voice was listened to in the negotations of the big pieces of the contract.
Lastly, for full disclosure: I will be out of town for my sister's wedding from Wednesday - Sunday, so I will not be able to vote either way on the contract on the scheduled date. A delay is the only way I would be able to vote.
I think the vote is going to be extremely close. We'll see. I'd vote for it right now, I think, and the BTU rep coming to my school on Monday has the capacity to win me over.
In August, I went in early to school to set up my classroom. The JV Football team was practicing. During practice, I heard a dog outside barking at the kids. I looked outside and saw a couple of adults chase the dog away - but the dog did seem genuinely nasty.
I thought it was over, but when I went out to my car several hours later, I had a note on it, from a parent of a student in my school. The man, when picking up his son from practice, had jumped on the hood of my car to escape this stray dog and dented it. He left his name and number. I called him, and he apologized profusely, and agreed to pay my deductible.
After several weeks of poor service from my insurance company (Erie Insurance, by the way), finally I have been mailed a check for the repair, which costs nearly $1000. I've got the repair lined up for next week, when I'll be out of town.
The thing is, I got a call from the guy today, and my insurance company is going after him for all the money (minus my deductible of $250). "I feel like I'm being punished for being an honest guy," he says. "I had to escape the dog; it was attacking me. And I left my name and number and now this is happening."
And he's absolutely right.
I don't know what to do.
I remind you this is a very nice guy, doing the right thing, an involved parent of a nice kid, escaping for his life because of a stray dog on school property.
He doesn't think his car or his home insurance will cover this, or what the deductible is - could be very high.
I've taken a Sick Day this week, the result of a bad cold that I can't seem to shake. I went back today, but it was probably too early, because I left with a fever up over 100 in the afternoon after my last class. I'm not sure if I'll make it in tomorrow; my dept head tells me I shouldn't, but I don't want to be charged for another "occasion" (an instance when you're out) for the same illness just because I tried to go back too soon. Plus, I'll be out next week for my sister's wedding (non-instructional days, though), and I don't want to develop some sort of reputation for being out too much.
Persepolis is coming to a close with the 9th graders. The book has been a great teach, and this has been the best time I've had teaching it. This is perhaps because I'm actually, really teaching it this year, when I feel like in the past, because it was at the end of the year, I spent more time assigning it and making sure they read it. It turns out, it's a pretty tough book, a perfect text for figuring out literal versus inferential and making students get inside the mind of the author. Just like, say, To Kill a Mockingbird, the kids have to analyze what a child is thinking about complex issues, and this is challenging. We are so quick to assign books with child narrators because it might be 'easier', but it's not -- there's a whole new level of understanding and analysis the kids have to break down.
Now we're onto research, which is hella frustrating in a school without much technology. That's a drawback with working so lockstep with colleagues on the same courseteam - the lack of resources. We basically have one computer lab available, so we clearly can't all use it at the same time. So, my research might be done with... I don't know. And that's what it feels like too often. I have never figured out a good way to do research, especially when 350 9th graders (100 of them mine) are working on similar research projects at once.
With the seniors, we are finishing up James Baldwin. I veered away from my schedule a little bit towards the end of the unit but am doing a good job of getting back on track. On Friday, students will be turning in their essays written in the style of James Baldwin. Next Friday, they'll be turning in their 1500-word analytic essays tracing an idea of Baldwin's through three of his essays. We studied Notes of a Native Son, Nobody Knows My Name, and The Fire Next Time, so we covered about ten years of Baldwin's work, and, again, I'm amazed he's not taught more in U.S. schools. Frankly, I think I will teach his work every year from now on. It's that visceral, that good, plus that approachable and analyzable for high school students. (By the way, that last sentence, with all its anaphora, was written in the style of Baldwin.)
I'm beginning to have some doubts about the contract.
Evaluation; We haven't heard what the new evaluation systems will look like. There are some tested areas that are externally assessed, but the scores don't come back until the summer. How can that determine your salary for that year? That means, perhaps, the district will have to heavily invest in some testing, and, generally, the materials we have gotten from North Avenue for these purposes have been poor. Could my salary is going to be determined by tests that has questions without right answers? That's what I hear happened in the summer programs. And, of course, what about non-traditional subject areas? How about courses, like IB English IV, that have external assessments - will we have to stop instruction (we have not a moment to spare) to give internal city-wide tests just to determine teacher salary? Seems counterproductive.
I'd love it if teachers could develop their own benchmarks to demonstrate student achievement, but there would need to be plenty of oversight on that, and I don't know how that could happen.
Basically, we've heard few details and we're being asked to vote for this on Oct. 14, just ten days away. Where are the public forums? (There's one scheduled, on Oct. 14, the date of the vote.)
Also, how is this going to be paid for? Also worrisome.
I'm all about the bullet pointed big ideas but worry about the devil in the details. I figured we would start to get some information by now. Nope.