Friday, September 08, 2006

Jamaica Chapter News

September 6, 2005



The school year started off with tremendous energy as an incensed group of well over fifty teachers charged from our meeting in the library to the Principal’s office to conclude the meeting there. We were outraged because the new Contract guaranteed that part of the time in the two days before Labor Day was to be spent setting up our classrooms. However, on Friday the administration scheduled an all day “professional development” session.

Most members agreed that the development was a waste of time and taxpayer money but also teachers were irate because we weren’t given any time to plan for Tuesday’s opening. We needed to set up for the arrival of the students but were denied. Several phone calls were made to union officials demanding that we be given our contractually mandated time and a grievance was filed on behalf of the Chapter. The Principal claimed he did not know about the new provision until after he arranged the professional development but he said it would not happen again. At our chapter meeting, we discussed the issue and we were not happy with the compromises that were proposed so we voted unanimously to continue the meeting in the principal’s office.

Many UFT members told the principal about the need to set up classrooms, prepare labs, obtain materials for Tuesday and do other tasks. We needed the time. The Principal and the union eventually agreed to cut an hour off the professional development Friday to allow us some time to prepare for Tuesday. However, we did not feel this was sufficient so it was also agreed that teachers would not be held accountable by any administrators for the conditions of their classrooms during the first week of school.

While a teacher rebellion was needed to obtain what was our Contractual right, the Contract only talks about part of the day being used for classroom preparation; the exact length of time is left undefined. The money for the “professional development” was already paid for so when we decided to fight for our time, we basically received as much as we could obtain that afternoon. What we did on Friday was a success and proved once again that if we work as a group there is much that we can accomplish for our students and ourselves. For everyone who crowded into the Principal’s office on Friday I say a huge Thank You!


Anonymous said...

While it's nice to find a school where their staff sticks together, elementary teachers would need more than a week to get set up.
This is the DoEs way of getting people to show before the official start of school--and unfortunately, it's working!

Chaz said...

While I believe the enemy is DOE. In this case the enemy is us. Nobody puts a gun to our head to show up early. The teachers who do show up early are the ones who voted "yes" for the contract. To stop this you need a strong Chapter Leader who needs to explain to these teachers why it is not in their best intrest to show up early.

Jamaica high school is the type of school that DOE hates. A large traditional high school with a strong chapter leader and an experienced teaching staff that know their rights.

What DOE wants is a bunch of small, flavor of the day, schools with a weak CL and an inexperienced staff that don't know their rights. If DOE could, we would all be Charter schools where teachers are overworked and underpaid. Of course they wouldn't have a union to protect then either.

An Educational Voyage said...

Chaz, the teachers who show up early, in my opinion, are just trying to do a job well. They want to make sure that THEY are prepared for their students, and that THEY are not going to be subject to negative letters in their file which they can now, not grieve. Take a look at those "Walk-Through" memos given out this week. How can teachers be ready for "letter trigger happy" administrators if no time is given for them to get their classroom set up? A person has to do what they need to do to do their job the best they can.

The problem lies in a give-back contract, whose wording was riddled with vague language that leadership was to too uncaring or too inept to comprehend before pushing it on membership.

I agree with ananymous in that the DOE will continue to deny teachers their full prep time to prepare for themselves. Prep periods are routinely taken away for useless, unnecessary meetings. Elementary teachers in particular are horribly pushed way beyond their limits. The start of the school year is just part of the "DOE game."

In a system where more and more experienced teachers get fed up and leave, and where new inexperienced, untenured teachers are predominating, it is unfair to expect them to make themselves stand out as "trouble makers" in such a hostile environment.

It is our unions job to be STRONG on member rights to ensure that these abuses are understood (before school starts) as not acceptable so they do not occur in the first place. This starts with aggressive chapter leaders. Unfortunatley, chapter leaders are often given cushy jobs and become buddy buddy with the principal and thus end up with conflicts of interests. This is subtle. It is not necessarily a conscious occurrence. It happens over time. That is why I personally think frequent turn over of chapter leader positions in schools should be required. After being in any position too long, one tends to get comfortable and loose focus on important issues.

Does this mean that every chapter leader should be voted out? Of course not! There are some wonderful chapter leaders out there. But those of you in schools with the scenario I just described, know exactly what I mean. It is just not PC to mention it. Someone may get hurt feelings...

If you are unsure of how a union can be strong, I suggest you try to plug in something in the Javits Center without a member of Local 3 (Electricians Union.) Unions can be effective. Look at Chaz' school. Kudos to them! We just need leadership who is accountable and dedicated to the membership that elected them.

Anonymous said...


I agree with JRY. The union puts us in a box (the contract), nails it shut and when we can't get out says it is our fault (for not filing a grievance, being militant, etc).

To allow Klein to gain such enormous power for principals (I worked for a principal from 1979 on who knew how to use power and from the time I became chapter leader in 1992 brought up constantly to the leadership how we had to limit their power, to no avail of course) in this contract can and will be the destruction of the union at its core level - the chapter. Yet we see posts that blame the victim - the teachers. Sort of like saying the guy in front of the firing squad screwed up by not ripping the guns out of their hands.

The Unity leadership is perfectly happy to be a head with no body and this contract with its free market system with the end of seniority (which the union never defended. Despite its flaws it had some value for us and even the system) and the support of the union (or lack of opposition to) the restructuring of large schools for what is often bogus reasons, has built this box.

(How long before James Eterno's Jamaica high school is targeted for restructuring, as much because it is a strong union school as any education reason?)

Klein doesn't want to destroy the union at the top. He needs Randi and whoever is running it for Unity in the future to manage the membership, as our colleague Michael Fiorillo in ICE has so aptly put it.

In exchange, Unity will/does get certain perks - free space for charter schools, loads of patronnage through teacher centers, a share of the PD pickings, the ability to pick up a phone and get a Unity person a transfer or job, work together to isolate certain people like Jeff Kaufman thst have been a pain in the ass to the DOE and Unity. (And if you think this isn't true you need to hear the full story.)

That is why I hold that the UFT/Unity leadership are collaborators and enablers of BloomKlein. The support for mayoral control and the Children First publicly in its early stage (Randi's "This is all so breahtakingly possible") are viewed as mistakes when I say that is part of the strategy. Basically the UFT has supported the entire operation all the way, while doing some public squawking for PR purposes. This is still a minority view even amongst some ICE people as most people still buy Randi's "outrage" at the outrageous acts of the DOE.

I don't accept the "Randi is clueless" argument and in may ways she is as competent as Shanker and Feldman in managing the membership because she has the Clinton "I feel your pain" personna. If you look at things that way she is the perfect union leader for people (Unity) who just want to hold on to power.

Allow a system to be set up where senior teachers who might oppose them are hounded out (though keep the carrot of 55-25 - which Shanker gave up - in front of them.) Allow strong union bastions in big schools to be broken up. File bogus age discrimination suits (even insiders say this is pr only.)

Basically work with the DOE to eliminate tenure (40-50% of the teaching staff doesn't have it) and
support in essence the DOE plan to turn over teachers every 3-5 years by retraining (the UFT tries to get a piece of the retraining action).

By keeping people afraid on both ends of the stick the DOE and the UFT gain. The U-rating blitz is one example. We have people who support us but say they are afraid to run in the election because if they come under attack by their principal they will need the UFT to defend them (HA!). (We don't buy that argument as having the ability to publicize what the UFT gives us some protection.)

We touched on a bit of this in the last election when we chose to say "Who's to Blame?" and placed it on Unity. But this goes further. If enough people can be convinced of this point of view I would love to see it a major point of the election campaign.

Chaz said...

JRY, Norm:

I am surprised that you both think it's good for teachers to come into their classrooms early to set them up. I would have thought you both would be against that. Am I reading your responses correctly???

Anonymous said...

It's not a question of "good" but of what you as a teacher are comfortable with. I don't believe in making a point just to make a point.

I came in early to get it out of the way so I could hang out and have long lunches on the days everyone came in. I wanted the main work off my back. How would it help me to put it off? I could take the attitude of "screw em" but if I didn't get it done I would be facing the arrival of the kids with all this other stuff to do. I needed to have a certain environment that I was comfortable with when the kids arrived.

Sure they often put us in this position of screwing the kids which they don't care about at all. But I had to feel effective as a teacher to make me function effectively. I wanted to make the job as much a non-tension job as I could which left me time to fight them (supervisors, Unity, etc.) on the beaches. And I always made sure to protect myself as a teacher by overdoing things (and making sure I had parents seeing me as a good teacher) since the district UFT/Unity allied with the Superintendent didn't like the fact that our little political group was going to school board meetings with community activists and pointing out how they were certainly not acting in the interests of the kids.

An Educational Voyage said...

I definitely do not think it is wise for teachers to come in early. I do, however, understand why some choose to do so. When I was a new teacher, 100 years ago, I felt the need to come in early because I was aftrad I would not be ready in time and felt it would reflect poorly on me. Also, at that time I had a principal who appreciated initiative and acknowledged it, unlike today.

Now 100 years wiser, I am vehemently against it. I think it reinforces the DOE policy. Furthermore, the UFT will not support any teacher who comes in early, and if I remember correctly, injuries obtained through doing manual labor (moving desks, climbing up to put charts on the wall, etc,) are not covered prior to opening day. If any one has better info on that please share it.

Bottom line, I am against coming in early. Thanks for asking so I could clarify :)

Anonymous said...

Teachers must insist on taking their duty-free lunch period, and being paid for activities that they are mandated to participate it. They should work with ordinary effort to complete duties in alloted time, and not complete that work on their own time, regardless of deadlines or administrative pressures. That is just a start. Before pointing fingers at people, caucuses, or documents, let's create a climate that will compel all members to assert their dignity by strict adherence to work rules. If they consent to be intimidated, or try to score "brownie points," by volunteering their time or ratting out colleagues, then their fate will be dismal and not entirely unearned.

Anonymous said...

It's refreshing to see that there are still chapters willing to stand up for their rights at their school despite the fact that the union refuses to stand up for us and protect our dignity.