Friday, October 31, 2008

Teaching Fellows Layoff: How Can They Do This?

A recent article in the Daily News, reporting on the dismissal of a Teaching Fellow from Global Enterprise Academy in the Bronx, highlighted the alleged basis for his dismissal but missed an important issue involving the future of unassigned Teaching Fellows. ESL teacher Steven Clarke, the News noted, was terminated for alleged verbal abuse. A closer look at the decision reveals a disturbing finding concerning the legal status of these teachers.

When Mr. Clarke was terminated he was an unassigned teacher who was hired for the 2007-2008 school year. The Court found "that Clarke was employed as a teaching fellow in the New York City Teaching Fellow 2007 program, an alternative means by which individuals who are not certified teaclicrs may become certified. The program pairs a teaching fellow with an experienced teacher during summer school. After the summer, fellows are expected to secure a regular teaching position on their own, failing which they are placed in a "teacher reserve pool" where they may be assigned to assist or substitute for regular teachers. Clarke had until November 10, 2007 to obtain a teaching appointment or be automatically dropped from the program."

Clarke's NYSUT lawyer argued that he was entitled to reinstatement since he was a probationary employee who was illegally terminated. The illegal termination, she argued, was based on the statutory requirement that Superintendant's and not the principal dismiss probationary teachers and that Clarke was entitled, by law, to 30 days notice.

The DOE argued that while it is true that probationary employees must be dismissed by a Superintendant and are entitled to 30 days notice it is not true that Clarke was a probationary employee. They argued that Clarke was, in fact, a provisional employee.

In Civil Service Law there is a marked difference between probationary and provisional employees. While probationers have few rights provisional employees have no rights to employment. They may be hired and dismissed "at-will," entitled to no civil service protection whatsoever.

Justice Shafer in Clarke v. Board of Education sided with the DOE finding that Clarke was a provisional employee entitled to no notice or dismissal from a superintendant. She found that Clarke had never been appointed. Only appointed teachers can become probationary. Since Clarke was terminated "automatically" at the end of the fellow's program he has no legal recourse and his petition was dismissed.

Monday, October 27, 2008


By James Eterno; UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

Usually around UFT election time, members approach me and say, "Why can't an opposition group win control of the UFT?" They tell us all the time how we are great fighters who could do a better job than the UFT leadership. I usually smile, say thanks and ask for their help to spread the word, knowing full well that being in opposition to Unity Caucus (Randi Weingarten's faction of the UFT) is not a great career move.

Around the time of the giveback laden 2005 Contract, many people approached me to find out how such a horrible Contract was approved by teachers. They questioned their fellow teachers reasoning skills. I answered that their colleagues are very busy people who often trust their Chapter Leaders to do what is right. Most UFT members do not have the time nor desire to learn about the UFT's internal structure.

If anyone is interested, the best place to look for information on how and why the UFT operates more like an insurance company than a labor union, then please read one time AFT President David Seldon's book, The Teacher Rebellion. However, since most teachers don't have the time to be able to find let alone read this excellent book right now, here is a very brief rundown on the UFT's power structure.

This is a good time to review UFT 101 as teachers are once again asking me how it is possible that the Delegate Assembly (the highest policy making body of the UFT) does not represent what people are feeling in the schools. We proposed a very sensible amendment at the October DA to unequivocally oppose the power grab by the City Council to extend term limits for themselves and the Mayor. 89% of city voters in a recent Quinipiac poll said they were against the Council bill. We are quite sure that a similar number of teachers would be opposed to the City Council voting to end term limits without going back to the voters who twice voted for the limits. However, we only received support from 30-40% of delegates at the DA. Some were puzzled by this low number. Is the DA that out of touch with the rest of NYC? The answer is no. In reality, 30-40% in favor of something the UFT leadership opposes is actually not bad when you consider what we are up against.


The UFT, basically since it was founded in 1960, has been controlled by a closed, invitation only political party called Unity Caucus. Unity, under the leadership of Al Shanker, organized a strict, top-down corporate structure that pretty much ensures that they will retain power but it inhibits true unionism that should come from the rank and file. This does not mean that there aren't good trade unionists who care about education and the members in Unity. I've worked with Unity officials who have helped my Chapter on many occasions. It's just that within the top-down hierarchical structure, the Unity machine stifles any real movement from the rank and file that would be necessary if we are to exert our union power.

We must first understand the most important obligation for a Unity member. Mr. Education Notes, Norm Scott, calls it the "Prime Directive." In order to join Unity Caucus, a potential recruit must agree as part of their membership obligations to "Support the decisions of the caucus and Union leadership elected from the caucus in public or Union forums." Some call this the "Unity Loyalty Oath."

When the Unity leadership makes a decision on any issue, Unity members must support that decision and publicly advocate for it or they could be sanctioned by the Caucus leadership. Some have been banished from Unity for opposing an important caucus position. If a Chapter Leader or a Delegate belongs to Unity and represents the members in their schools who don't like a leadership proposal like the horrible 2005 Contract, then that Chapter Leader or Delegate could end up in trouble. Unity leaders are all over the Delegate Assembly and can easily see whose hands go up when an issue is voted on. The next question then is how does Unity enforce this strict party discipline?

The answer is quite simple. Since Unity wins every UFT Election (Explaining slate voting and the at large election system is another post.), they control the decision making bodies of the Union (the Ad Com, Executive Board and DA). Just as importantly, they are in charge of the perks of the Union. At the bottom of the Unity food chain are Unity members who receive free all expense paid trips to the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers' Conventions. These free convention jaunts only go to Unity loyalists. Next up the line are those whose loyalty is rewarded with part time paid Union jobs. These are after-school positions and also jobs for retirees. These jobs are only opened to Unity Caucus members and lately to New Action supporters. New Action was a traditional opposition group that I once belonged to that has not run a candidate against President Randi Weingarten in the last two UFT elections but the Caucus is still on the ballot. Now, their people are on the Union payroll too. They were not in the past.

Finally, there is the grand prize of being able to escape the classroom and get a full-time Union job with a salary that is tens of thousands of dollars greater than a senior teacher and also includes an expense account and a second pension to go along with the City pension. These jobs virtually all belong to Unity members. One moves up the Union food chain by being loyal to the leadership who then pick people for the prized jobs. Competence is not necessarily a requirement.

Functionals (the Retired Teachers Chapter and other non-teachers in the UFT) now make up a clear majority of the Union. Each Functional Chapter has their own elections and their own perks to dole out for delegates to ensure their loyalty to Unity. Add to this the school Chapters that are controlled by Unity Chapter Leaders and Delegates and Unity easily controls the Delegate Assembly and thus the Union.

Therefore, when a resolution comes up to oppose the City Council power grab that 89% of the people in the City would agree with, it is not surprising at all that the DA does not represent the will of the teachers and other UFT members working in the schools. The only way to change this system is to organize an opposition in every school and demand that each Chapter Leader and Delegate follow the will of their Chapter. Or maybe, just maybe, there will be a revolt within Unity as there was a split in the majority caucus in Chicago. I've been involved in UFT activities for over a decade. I truly believe that one day this Union's top-down corporate structure that serves itself better than the membership will crumble.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Teachers’ Political Button Case: A True (Unintended) Win for Union Democracy

The last thing that Randi Weingarten thought when she decided to challenge the Chancellor's Regulation dealing with political expression in the classroom was that the court would provide additional legal precedent for teacher access to staff mailboxes.

As much of the media has reported Judge Lewis Kaplan has denied the UFT's request for a preliminary injunction seeking the overturn of the Chancellor's Regulation dealing with political expression in the classroom and elsewhere in schools. The DOE sought to prohibit all forms of political expression in the schools including leafleting mailboxes and posting political literature on Union bulletin boards. As predicted in this Blog Judge Kaplan saw no merit in the Union's position on campaign buttons in the classroom but found the constitutional challenge to the mailbox and bulletin board prohibition compelling and ordered that the DOE not prohibit access to those areas without student access. The Court held,

"Plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction is granted to the extent that defendants are hereby enjoined, pending the determination of this action, from enforcing the Regulation to the extent that it prohibits (I) posting materials containing candidate-related political content on UFT bulletin boards located in areas closed to students and (2) placing materials containing candidate related political content in staff mailboxes. It is denied in all other respects."

For many years teacher and opposition access to staff mailboxes has enjoyed legal protection but has often been interfered with by misguided principals and Unity Chapter Leaders. Despite clear precedent in Baizerman and Chancellor Directives opposition caucuses have been harassed and prevented from distributing their political literature in staff mailboxes. While things were better during union election times there clearly was no legal difference between distributing literature in either period.

In the recent case, Weingarten v. Board of Education (full decision) Judge Kaplan decided that mailbox access was constitutionally protected, even on the weak record that was before him. The Judge rejected the DOE's argument that mailbox access would interfere with school business and held that teacher 1st Amendment rights outweighed the alleged speculation of disruption. The Court reasoned,

"The Regulation, as construed by the Chancellor, permits the distribution through teachers' school mailboxes of partisan political literature so long as that literature is an integral part of regularly published union newsletters or newspapers. I fail to see a permissible basis for distinguishing between political advocacy in union newsletters and in other campaign literature.

"Furthermore, the rationale offered by defendants - "leafleting" through the mailboxes might overwhelm a school's ability to review and distribute mail - does not appear on the record before me to be a reasonable justification for a blanket bar on the union delivering candidate-related materials in mailboxes that are not open to students."

We are confident that the 1st Amendment applies with equal force to opposition caucus members. We call upon Randi and her crack legal team to continue the fight for our precious rights no matter how unintended they may be!

Thursday, October 16, 2008


by James Eterno, UFT Chapter Leader, Jamaica High School

UFT leadership presented as their main focus at this year's first Delegate Assembly, a lengthy, "wishy-washy" resolution that joined together the financial crisis, electing Senator Obama and term limits for the Mayor. The October 15 meeting at UFT headquarters had two main resolutions: the first supported the UFT's proposal to work with a coalition of unions and other groups to fight for public education, to advocate for rights for working people in the midst of the financial crisis, to work to elect Senator Obama as President and to send the issue of extending term limits for the Mayor and City Council to the voters who approved term limits in the first place. The other major piece was to support the ATR's.

Lisa North of ICE questioned UFT President Randi Weingarten on why there was nothing in the UFT resolution on term limits that specifically opposed the City Council's blatant power grab, where they have a bill which would basically do away with two referendums that supported a two term limit for the Mayor and City Council. Randi responded that since Lisa spoke on the issue, she could not introduce an amendment to the UFT resolution on this issue. Randi then asked if anyone else would like to make that motion. Enter yours truly.

I proposed the following amendment to the UFT resolution on term limits, the financial crisis and the election of Barrack Obama:

"Resolved, that the UFT unequivocally oppose the city council's bill to extend term limits and the UFT will seriously consider withholding endorsements and COPE money from any Council member who votes in favor of this legislation that circumvents the will of the people."

I was able to address the issue and was received rather well by the delegates. I pointed out that in 2006, one of the UFT's major selling points for our current Contract was that it would be the last one we would have to negotiate with Bloomberg and Klein and now that no longer holds true as the rules are being changed in the middle of the game. I said that we needed to organize the opposition to the anti-democratic City Council bill that would extend term limits for the Council and the Mayor without first going to the voters. I told the delegates that the financial crisis will be used against us if the Mayor buys his way to another four year term. I also stated that I fully understand that we are taking a risk to pick a fight with the City Council, but a greater risk would be four more years of Joel Klein as Chancellor as the attacks on teacher unions are a national problem and the UFT should lead the fight to stop them dead in their tracks. I closed my remarks by saying that there have to be consequences for the City Council and the Mayor if they circumvent the will of the voters.

I was followed by three Unity speakers in a row (so much for Roberts' Rules where Presidents should try to alternate between speakers for and against a motion), two of which were full time Union officials so Randi knew where they stood. One of them, Paul Egan, talked about how we can protest as individuals but not as a Union and then Vice President for Middle Schools Richard Farkas discussed the financial crisis in the seventies. The question was then called so there was no further debate. A vote on our amendment followed. A Jamaica delegate, UFT stalwart Ellen Fox, my wife Camille and I estimate that we received from 30-40% of the vote. That's not bad when you consider that most of the delegates are from Unity Caucus. Caucus obligations require Unity members to support the decisions of the caucus in public and union forums. To put it another way, their union perks depend on their supporting the UFT leadership. The "wishy-washy" resolution on term limits, Obama and the financial crisis then received overwhelming support.

In the other major resolution, the UFT's call to battle in support of Absent Teacher Reserves by "Letting Us Teach." received a large boost from ICE's John Powers and Marjorie Sternberg. They had formed an AdHoc Committee which came up with a petition to support the ATR's by having a giant rally to let them teach. ICE and the UFT leadership agree on a demand that ATR's who want a regular job should be placed in permanent positions to lower class sizes before any new people within a particular license are hired. There was a rally out in front of the DA with ATR's and new fellows who were hired by the Board of Education but cannot find a position who are now called RTR's. RTR's could soon be terminated. The Ad Hoc Committee has had petitions signed by UFT members in well over a hundred schools calling for a giant rally at DOE Headquarters in support of the ATR's and RTR's.

Randi Weingarten endorsed John Powers' amendment to the UFT's ATR-RTR resolution. Powers told the delegates that any one of us could be an ATR as schools are closed all the time these days. He also stated that we have had resolutions in the past to support ATR's being allowed to teach, but they never have convinced the DOE to remedy the situation. The amendment calling for a rally overwhelmingly passed.

The ATR resolution also said the UFT would fight financial disincentives for hiring experienced teachers and also that the Union would take action against layoffs of new fellows who have not been hired. There were also other provisions in the resolution that included a public relations campaign to get the truth out about ATR's. It carried easily with the Amendment attached.

Another resolution was passed saying the UFT would do everything it could to spare the classroom of budget cuts in these difficult financial times. The resolution called for cuts to be made administratively instead.

Before all of this, Randi spent well over an hour giving a report on the financial crisis, the horrible budget situation at the State and City level, the UFT campaigns against rating teachers based on test scores, job security for ATR's, budget cuts that will impact on schools, Sarah Palin, Obama's headquarters in New York being located at UFT headquarters, Obama working with teachers, the UFT's opposition to term limits but support for the principle of the people deciding on the issue, and more. She also told us that the welfare fund should be safe because it is invested mostly in fixed funds while our pensions are protected by the New York State Constitution. She briefly mentioned No Child Left Behind too.

Finally, striking Stella Doro bakery workers were greeted warmly by the delegates and a resolution was passed in support of their strike. We gave them a financial contribution as well.

There was no time left at the end for a question period or a new motion period so rank and file delegates had no chance to bring up other issues.

Footnote: Randi's President's Report was quite detailed but when she talked about job security she again made what in my opinion is a great mistake by referring to the provision that ended seniority transfers and preferred placement for educators if a school closed in exchange for the ATR provision as an iron clad job security agreement. It is not better than what we had in the past. She said we only had job security clauses in 1991 as part of a mid-year loan to the city and 1996. This is not true. The ICE fact meter researched previous contracts.

We discovered that there was a provision in the 1995 Contract that was Article 17F, "Job Security." It stated that "no employee covered by this Agreement shall be displaced or involuntarily separated from service except for cause or reason related to state civil service law (e.g., the movement of appointment lists and/or requirement to hire certified teachers, if available)." This job security provision lasted from 1995-98. The Tentative Contract at a Glance for the 2000-2003 Contract continued Article 17F. The UFT stated at the time: "No layoff agreement. For the duration of this contract, no UFT member shall be terminated except for cause." Article 17F was removed from the giveback laden 2005 Contract and its successor agreement and replaced by the ATR provision. I wish the UFT would just once admit that it made some mistakes in the past and stop trying to spin the terrible 2005 contract into something that it is not.

Monday, October 13, 2008

An Open Letter to the Delegates at the DA

Dear Delegates

ICE supports the actions of the ATRs at the Delegate Assembly. Please read their handout, "The Real Facts About ATRs," listen to what their reps have to say and sign their petition. If you have ATRs in your school point them in the direction of the ad hoc ATR committee. The stronger the group becomes the more chance the UFT leadership will listen to their gripes.

All teachers are potentially ATRs as the DOE can manipulate which schools will be closed by piling in kids and withholding resources.

ICE also supports the Justice Not Just Tests "NYCORE" attempts to organize effective opposition to high stakes testing.

The UFT/Unity Caucus leadership makes statements about the evils of highs stakes testing, but their actions belie their words. Last year they took the first step toward rating teachers based on student scores by agreeing to school-wide merit pay based on a narrow use of student test scores. The recent agreement with Klein that individual teachers could be compared based upon student test scores put us on a dangerous road that will marginalize the complex variables that explain student achievement. Join the JNJT and ICE campaign by helping distribute materials in your schools.

Who are we?

Within the UFT, there are various political groups (caucuses). The Independent Community of Educators is one such caucus.

ICE, since its founding in late 2003, has been a persistent critic of Unity Caucus, the ruling party of the UFT, which has been in power since the founding of the UFT in the early 1960s. Unity has controlled the UFT with an iron fist, using its total control of the UFT staff to attempt to stamp out opposition points of view, even going so far as to have its members pull literature out of mail boxes and harass opponents. We ran in the 2004 and 2007 UFT elections in coalition with Teachers for a Just Contract "TJC." Our differences with the Randi Weingarten led UFT/Unity Caucus leadership are extensive.

Our core positions

• Reduce class size though contract negotiations, not legal gimmicks, the preferred method of the UFT leadership.

• Support the concept of small schools but not at the expense of other schools. Charter schools have been flat out used to undermine public education and pull an end run around the union. That the union runs two and signed a contract with Green Dot only serves that purpose.

• Oppose renewal of NCLB and its one-way teacher bashing accountability. Teachers and schools should only be held accountable if they are given the resources.

• ICE views the standards movement and the high stakes tests that go along with is as a way to narrow the curriculum, force teaching to the test "deskilling teachers by asking not much more than the ability to do test prep" and the market based results of merit pay and measuring teachers based on test scores. The UFT/Unity leadership has agreed and supported the Joel Klein administration on many of these initiatives.

• A more democratic union. Currently every single member of the 90 member Executive Board is Unity endorsed.

• Oppose mayoral control, which has been supported by the UFT leadership since 2001.

• Opposition to the disastrous 2005 contract with its massive givebacks: the longer school day/year, the 37.5 minute extra class four days per week, the loss of the ability to grieve material that is inaccurate or unfair, the loss of seniority and SBO transfer rights which created the ATR crisis, weaker tenure protections, hall patrol, cafeteria duty and more.

• Fix schools, don't close them.

• ICE opposes GHI/HIP privatization and supports efforts to examine reasons for a major drop in the percentage of Black and Hispanic teachers hires under Bloomberg/Klein and the struggles of the FMPR teachers in Puerto Rico.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Teacher Political Expression in the Classroom: Where Are We?

The recent filing of a lawsuit by the UFT against the DOE to invalidate a decade old Chancellor's Regulation as it applies to the wearing of campaign buttons by teachers in the classroom and posting campaign literature on Union bulletin boards has raised a legal issue that our Union might not want answered. While we support, unequivocally, teacher free speech rights, it is far from clear that, after looking at the relevant case law, it is a slam-dunk.

No teacher of US History or Government can teach these courses without at least mentioning Tinker v. Des Moines, where we start.

The Tinker case involved students who were disciplined for wearing armbands protesting the Vietnam war. The Supreme Court held that "First Amendment rights, applied in light of the special characteristics of the school environment, are available to teachers and students. It can hardly be argued that either students or teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate. This has been the unmistakable holding of this Court for almost 50 years." (emphasis supplied).

Some lawyers have long argued that Tinker was an anomaly and that much of the post-Tinker litigation has carved out so many exceptions that they believe that Tinker, if brought today, would not survive. One of the first major blows to Tinker was Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier where school administrators were given free reign to censor student newspapers.

Courts routinely used Hazelwood to uphold the suppression of teacher classroom expression holding that the classroom has a "captive student audience." Clearly teachers have a responsibility to present administration directed curriculum and cannot use their positions to prostletyze to students. These issues normally come to court when a teacher is disciplined for expressing their political beliefs in class or when they refuse to follow school mandated curriculum.

While Hazelwood posed some logical problems when applied to teachers the Supreme Court made matters worse in the recent case of Garcetti v. Ceballos.

Garcetti, decided in 2006, holds that a public employee engaging in communication pursuant to carrying out his or her official duties does not engage in speech for purposes of the First Amendment. Thus, a teacher may not be protected in expressing their political views if done during class time.

The few cases that have used Garcetti in teacher expression cases have not been helpful for our First Amendment rights. One case from Michigan upheld the dismissal of a teacher who wore a t-shirt complaining of the lack of a contract. The Court's rationale was that the t-shirt caused "disharmony" in the workplace. (Montle v. Westwood Heights Sch. Dist., 437 F. Supp. 2d 652, 653-54 (E.D. Mich. 2006).

In another disturbing case the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found no protection for an Indiana teacher who expressed her view against the war in Iraq in a class discussing current events and was dismissed. (Mayer v. Monroe County, 474 F.3d 477 (7th Cir., 2007).

In a case closer to home and a little more hopeful, Judge Wexler of New York's Federal District Court, Eastern District, allowed a case to go to trial when a Massapequa teacher claimed her political views, which came in conflict with the principal, forced her resignation.

Jillian Caruso was an active member of the Republican party and was, during the 2004 Presidential election, a supporter of President George Bush. She alleged that she spoke with her class about her support of the President. She further alleged that her car had bumper stickers supporting the President and that she was known to have spoken on talk radio shows as to that support.

Mrs. Becker-Seddio, the principal of the school in which Caruso taught, is married to Frank Seddio. Mr. Seddio was alleged to be a liberal assemblyman in Brooklyn, New York. Caruso claimed that Principal Becker-Seddio displayed a photograph in her office taken with Hillary Clinton.

Caruso alleged that during the Fall of 2004, she hung the official White House photograph of George Bush in her classroom. She further stated that she was forced to remove that photograph and, shortly thereafter, forced to resign from her teaching position.

The school district countered that it was Caruso's teacher performance that caused her resignation and not her political beliefs. Additionally they argued that the incident caused a disruption in the school.

Judge Wexler, in holding that the case can go to trial, held that these were factual issues that could only be decided by a jury. (Caruso v. Massapequa Union Free School Dist., 478 F.Supp.2d 377 (E.D.N.Y. 2007).

The UFT press release and reporting of the filing of the lawsuit mentions that the Chancellor's Regulation has been unenforced and there has been "no problem" with campaign buttons or posters on Union bulletin boards in the past. Do they think for one minute that the failure to enforce a Chancellor's Regulation waives its future enforcement? I don't think so.

Perhaps they believe that they will escape Garcetti and Hazelwood scrutiny since there has been no reported disruptions in the school as a result of the campaigning. While this will, I predict, allow bulletin board campaigning, it will do little to persuade any except the most progressive court that the campaign buttons don't have the "potential of disruption" a hurdle to overcome in our post-Garcetti world.

By the way, has anyone seen my Nader button?

Sunday, October 05, 2008

ATRs and formal observations: Where is Weingarten on this issue?

by Julie Woodward

The administrators at my school are for the first time going to be giving ATRs formal observations. I don't know if this is a new Klein directive or a local issue, but I do question everything about subjecting ATRs acting as per diem subs to formal observations when the case is loaded against them in so many ways.

What is the Union's position on this issue, since Weingarten has been so consistently non-proactive on fighting off many of the abuses against all excessed teachers. Her exceptionally milquetoast stance on all things ATR started with signing onto the Excessing changes in the contract in the first place. As TJC says: "Under the new contract, an excessed teacher, regardless of how many years of seniority, loses the guaranteed right to a teaching program."

That's unforgiveable right there, since teaching is just as much our vocation and career as much as it has ever been our "job." But Weingarten's unsubstantive and utterly indefensible inaction also includes: not being outraged that senior teachers with many degrees are treated condescendingly with a pamphlet on how to prepare a resume, not demanding that Human Resources send excessed people on interviews, not demanding that ATRs who have applied to vacancies dozens of times are told why they haven't been granted an interview in each case, not following up on DA resolutions to determine abuses in the system with regard to increases in LIFs and U-ratings, and not bothering to meet with ATRs at the start of a new year, especially with such a huge increase in the number of them.

Speaking for myself and for many others in our union, we need to know where the Union comes down on formal observations for ATRs, another potential weapon in the campaign to get these people out of the system. I know that some ATRs are paid by central and therefore costing the school nothing, but some are paid for by the principal and it is not in any supervisor's interest to have them on their books when they took such a grave step to get them out of the school by excessing them.

Any formal observation of an ATR acting as a per diem sub is prejudicial on many counts.

First of all, these people are generally not teaching their own subject, much less their own lesson. They are teaching someone else's, which they may or may not agree with, feel comfortable with (everyone has his own style), or have the equipment in the room to complete. Too many times an absent teacher assigns something that the kids cannot do: either it has not been taught well, or there aren't any reference materials or textbooks in the room for quick research. Much of the time, in fact, there are no lesson plans at all, or vague ones, such as "Let them finish their projects," without any instructions as to what the project is or how it is to be executed. On what grounds can you evaluate the ATR in this scenario with any fairness and equity?

Secondly, per diem ATRs are facing particular sets of students for the first time, since each class is different. In MSS and HSS, intruder students have to be weeded out quite frequently, since hallwalkers and cutters are slick and students are not traveling from room to room as a class under the supervision of a teacher. (There are actually some techniques for handling this, but you don't know them when you start subbing.) By the time teachers with regular programs get their formal observation, they know the kids and they've developed relationships with them. On what grounds can you evaluate the ATR in this scenario with any fairness and equity?

Thirdly, the contract calls for a pre-observation conference, which can only be scheduled when the ATR gets the schedule in the morning of a particular day. Even then, should the AP sit down with him for the pre-conference and arrange an observation later that same day, there might not be enough time for the ATR to prepare. As it is, he is already "winging" it, and now he has the additional pressure of performing without the same preparation time frame as other teachers have. On what grounds can you evaluate the ATR in this scenario with any fairness and equity?

Fourthly, the whole purpose of observations according to the contract is to "give each staff member choices and a role in his/her professional growth." I don't see how any formal observation of a coverage you are just winging can lead to the teacher's "professional growth." Even the UFT's "Know Your Rights: Classroom Observations" says that the purpose of these observations "is not punitive." A formal observation for the ATR is in essence punitive. The post-observation conference cannot help the teacher improve any skills other than those required of a substitute, namely, to take attendance, do a lesson if one is left and wing it if it isn't, maintain order in the room, and get the intruders out. None of us have Masters degrees in per-diem subbing, or even much experience in it. The formal observation is therefore only another vehicle the principal has in his arsenal to remove you from the school.

Lastly, Article 2 of the contract, Fair Practices, says that the Board cannot discriminate against anyone on the basis of a "handicapping condition," which really is what this ATR business is. All the four points made above really are handicapping condition, and if someone tells me that's not the kind of handicapping Article 2 is referring to, I say Let's grieve it and make sure it does include these things. Equitability is part of contractual law, and ATRs put through formal observations with these things stacked against them are in no way being treated equitably. Let's take it all the way to arbitration if need be, and get it done.

There's also Art. 22.A., which says under the Definition (2) that a grievance shall mean that a teacher "has been treated unfairly or inequitably by reason of any act or condition which is contrary to established policy or practice governing or affecting employees." [There's an exception to this statement which I'd have to think about for a while and consult with others on, but I think, as in the case of those LIFs that the arbitrator just sorted out, this needs arbitration to sort out as well.] The question is: do I file the grievance against Art.22.A before the observation, when the outcome is still unknown, or after the observation if I get a U on it. I feel strongly it should be filed before the observation, because I don't want to be, or look as if I am, contesting the U when I am contesting the whole thing in the first place.

In any case, the formal observation should never be used in the ATR's final rating for the year, since the act of "teaching a regular program in your license to stable group of kids" is one thing and "covering an absent teacher" is a different thing altogether. The job description itself varies from school to school: in some schools they're happy if the kids stay in the room and don't mess around. In others they want more teaching. Apart from all this, the circumstances for each class the ATR covers is wildly unpredictable and the teacher should be not judged in some things that are bound to go on in that room.

It is not so much that I am worried about the quality of the way I handle a coverage. It is that in this climate of trying to get rid of ATRs, the Union has been doing precious little to protect us from the obvious weapon of a U-observation. The U a principal may give an ATR on any of these formal observations may be nowhere near the truth of their skills in normal teaching circumstances. What is blatant and true is that they will be looking for any number of ways to get ATRs out of their buildings when they have excessed them and still have to pay for them.

I call on Randi Weingarten to tell us her position on which specific things she thinks the ATR can be held accountable for. That would be the fair and equitable thing to do, to know these things before the pre-conference, not after it's all over. After all, every teacher in a regular position knows pretty well what the ground rules for observations are. The ATRs are in treading through some very swampy turf and the union to this point has given them no help at all.

And I will go one step further: ATRs should be able to take any UFT member of his or her choice with them to all three parts of this formal procedures, the pre- and post-obs. conferences and the observation itself. I don't trust principals these days to self-restrict and be "judicious." ATRs remain in teacher purgatory, contractually at this point set up to be picked off and pushed out of the system one by one.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Draft Resolution on the Disappearing Black and Latino/a Educator

Whereas the UFT supports the goal of increased hiring of Black, Latino and Asian educators as role models, as sound pedagogy, to advance labor solidarity and as a step to a democratic society, and

Whereas NYC employs a relatively low percentage of teachers of color city wide when compared with the community served and in this respect lags behind other large metropolitan areas, and

Whereas statistics offered below indicate a significant decline in the numbers of new Black and Latino educators hired since 2002, and

Whereas over three thousand uncertified UFT members, disproportionately Black and Latino educators, many with advanced degrees and years of dedicated service in hard to staff schools, were laid off in 2003 based on NYS certification exams that have no empirical data supporting their connection to student achievement, and

Whereas school closings have contributed to a disproportionate percentage of senior Black and Latina/o educators being consigned to the Absent Teacher Reserve, and

Whereas a disproportionate number of Black and Latino teachers have been sent to the ‘rubber rooms, and

Whereas the data obtained thus far indicates that the new teacher and administrator cohorts formed by the DOE under the direct control of Mayor Bloomberg are in effect, reversing progress towards a racially inclusive pedagogical staff in the NYC public schools, therefore,

Be It Resolved

That the UFT shall, as directed by President Weingarten, convene a public inquiry with a month to; 1) draw out the matters of fact as may be obtained, noting any obstacles, and 2) identify corrective measures, initiatives and changes in policy from top to bottom that may be enacted to increase the percentage of teachers of color in NYC public schools inclusive of suggestions for recruitment, hiring, certification, training and retention of well qualified educators, and

Be It Further Resolved

That the President shall report back such findings and proposals to the membership through the NY Teacher, to the Delegate Assembly, NYSUT, The Municipal Labor Committee, the NYC Central Labor Council, city wide parent organizations, civil rights organizations, the City Council, the Deputy Mayor for Education and the NYS Education Department before

January 2009 and on this basis shall engage the membership and parents in a dialogue, seeking consensus for affirmative action on these proposals in all appropriate venues.
































































































































**New Hires includes teachers who were hired between 8/25 through 10/31 of each year. ** Data on the 2006-07 New Hires is current as of 8.22.2006

Statistics from Samuel Anderson's Blog at: