Saturday, October 24, 2009

Parity for Music Teachers: The Time Has Come

by Julie Woodward, UFT Delegate

Anyone who’s read our contracts for a decade or two will know that the UFT continues to throw high school music teachers under a bus.

By agreeing to 50 kids in each class, the union has tacitly accepted the notion that music teachers can achieve the same kind of results with 50 students that other city HS teachers can get with 34 and teachers in the suburbs can get with give or take 25. They have also tacitly agreed to allow abusive principals — or even nice ones just following abusive chancellor directives — to find fault with us when we cannot achieve their notion of classroom management, data input, differentiation, home contact, personal interaction and the like.

General music teachers do the same kinds of things all other subject teachers do.

A chancellor’s directive in 2003 or earlier told all teachers to focus on math and literacy. Music teachers can, of course, do this in spades. What are quarter-notes and eighth-notes but simple math, and what are lyrics if not poems set to music. If Klein had told everyone to teach social studies or science, we could have done that as well: plantation songs speak the history of the heart and human cruelty, and the study of sound at its most basic level is nothing but the study of acoustics.

Why, then, do we continue to get 50 kids per class?

Maybe it was thought “general” music is the same as “performance” music. It’s not though, and everyone knows it. Most music teachers actually want a nice big orchestra, band or chorus — the larger the group, the grander the sound. The numbers don’t matter if the kids want to be there and are willing to practice.

More likely, the DoE is trying to get state graduation mandates on the cheap, and 50 per class is certainly cheaper than 34 (or even less for more specialized arts classes like photography).

I repeat: the union has complied: “Yes, we’ll agree to stick it to the GM teachers. They're lucky to have a job anyway.”

I have brought this up on more than occasion with Ms Weingarten, notably at the Delegate Assembly two years ago when the crowd groaned at what music teachers have to put up with. Her response was something like: “Hmmmm. Maybe we could get some non-contractual relief for music teachers.” That “non-contractual relief” bit was her words, which I thought might mean they'd arrange for us do the extra marking and paperwork as a Circ. 6-R duty, one that principals could not override. But, even if you got those extra 5 periods a week to handle the workload, it wouldn’t be enough. Multiply 147% (50 ÷ 34) times 25 periods/week and you get 36.75 periods a week, 6.75 periods more than the 5 you'd get by letting us do the extra work during 6-R.

Here is what I wrote Michael Mendel just after Labor Day, to which he responded recently: “I am going to push this.”

As always in more than 20 years of teaching music, I have my doubts they even care.

PS: I know that phys ed teachers also get 50 per class and would like a reduction as well. But mostly they're not doing written work or having to worry about behavior when teaching sound or silence.


I meant to write you earlier, but the overload is enormous.

HS Music teachers can be given 50 kids per class. Of course they all do not show up each and every period, but some things are constant:

1. You have to take attendance on a weekly bubble sheet IN ADDITION to keeping your own attendance records. This usually involves Delaney cards because you can't memorize so many kids (250) without a seating plan.

2. If one of these classes is your "homeroom," which requires a daily attendance sheet, that's a third attendance effort.

3. These lists are complicated because (a) they have to be accurate, and you can't do it quickly. Let's say you turn over the Delaney cards to save time. You still have to do the bubbling in your lunch or prep for 250 names per day. And they're not just absent or present. They can be late. They can also be late halfway through the period, which means you have to go back and annotate those too.

4. Talking about differentiation: you get in the same class: grades 9 - 12, spec. ed (learning disabled plus behaviorally challenged), regular ed, self-contained class members (their IEPs allow them to be mainstreamed for the electives), hearing impaired, and ELLs.

5. Absenteeism is erratic. There is little consistency, so some kids are up to date with the work, and lots and lots of others are missing a day here or there each week.

6. Grading: if you care about your job, you give classwork, and it needs to be graded. Grading so many kids is a nightmare.

7. Report cards are another nightmare, because even if they don't show, they all have to get a grade and a comment. This can only be done on a PC, not a Mac, and many music teachers use Macs at home because it was traditionally the best computer for music and art.

8. When they ask us to CALL HOME for every single person absent, try doing that kind of volume. It's only possible to do this on your lunch hour and in your prep. You should not have to do this kind of work at home or on your own time, but one is forced to under these conditions.

9. Now they're asking for PROGRESS REPORTS: they have to be done on a computer for each and every one of the 250 students, even if they aren't coming to school.

10. This leaves no time whatsoever for lesson planning, collaborating with other teachers, fixing your room, making your music tapes and/or class materials. It all has to be done on your own time — which is normal for teachers, but so very much more for us.

11. On top of this you get a Circular 6 duty taking up a period.

Please can you to do something about this terrible disparity. A spec. ed teacher or a RR teacher has 14 kids max each period, gen ed has 34, and we have 50 — that's half again the reg ed class. But admin makes no exceptions in the obligations we must fulfill as subject teachers.

Failing a contractual class size change, please can you get someone to say that Music teachers with these numbers should be given NO other circ. 6R duty than to finish up the attendance, calling home, grading, and school marks.

The remarks above are for GENERAL MUSIC and small music classes like Keyboard. They are not for CHORUS, BAND or ORCHESTRA, which are "performance" groups and many music teachers want as large a group as they can get for better sound. I was most happy in MS with a performance group of 80 or 90 (though I rehearsed them in groups of 32 or so, as well as some lunchtime kids 3 times a week, then combined them all for concerts).

I brought this up two or three years ago at a DA. RW's response was to see if there could be some "non-contractual relief." That never happened.

Best regards,


Anonymous said...

Music teachers toot their own horn.

JW said...

And it's jerks like you, Anon., that allow the disparate treatment.
When you think about your four and four, that doesn't even pay for the work we do now.

Anonymous said...

I feel for all the music teachers. It is very difficult to keep track of 5 classes of 34 students in each class, let alone 50 students in each class. It has to be a nightmare. I would support a contractual amendment that ALL teachers in high schools should have a class size of ONLY 28 students. Period! It's the only way we can reach each student. I truly hope that Michael Mulgrew read your letter. Let's stick together! Let's fight for what's fair and equitable for ALL teachers.

Anonymous said...

In case you hadn't noticed, art teachers also get 50 kids!
I'm P.E. with 50 mixed level kids; grades 9-12 in a converted 2-classroom weight room. Does anyone think about the issues of co-ed 14 - 20 year olds together? We are now expected to assign WRITTEN homework every night, even tho there's no book. And yes, every special needs kid is thrown in too.