Sunday, November 27, 2011

BERNIE #6: I Might Be Wrong, But…

I tell my students, if you are going to lie, (and of course, you shouldn’t), never lie to people who know you are lying. In other words, if I am looking at you talking and I ask you if you are talking, don’t tell me you aren’t talking. I know you are talking – I see you! This is analogous to the DOE’s treatment of ATR’s. Their treatment of ATR’s is discriminatory, dehumanizing, unprofessional and impractical. There- somebody’s said it!
The DOE demands professionalism of its teachers, and that’s not a problem. The problem is that when you ask someone to be a professional, you need to do the other part of that equation- the part where you treat the person as a professional. No professional treatment I know of embraces or espouses discrimination, lack of professionalism and impracticality.
From the very beginning of Mayor Bloomberg’s “reign”, he has treated teachers in general, and ATR’s specifically, with disrespect. At NO time did he ever meet with teachers, the people he was going to lead, (like many, if not most CEO’s do in the “business model”), -not the UFT or their representatives- the teachers- the people he has vilified and demonized, the people whose work ethics he has questioned, the people he has called failures and has used the word inept to describe them- those people. At no time did he even attempt to access their knowledge – if he had, he would have know long before his statistics in 2011 informed of the fact that college is NOT for everybody, that while the opportunity and the option and the access to attend college needs to be available to everyone, not everyone should go or needs to go to college. Even in the world we live in today, we still need computer technicians, auto mechanics, pilots, etc. (Although I guess it’s a lot easier to vilify and dehumanize people when you don’t talk to them so you don’t have to see them as people).
Many of the ATR’s are people with over two decades of teaching experience and they are in their late forties and older. They are the only people being shuttled and shuffled back and forth from “pillar to post” on a weekly basis, with little or no concern for their ability to get to the site to which they are being sent or that person’s individual circumstance. (I would think that since they are ATR’s through no fault of their own, and since the DOE has taken it on as its responsibility to close schools and thereby create these hardships, it would only be logical that some such consideration be afforded to the people they have inconvenienced and taken out of their jobs).
For example, suppose the school to which you use public transportation. Every week you are assigned to a different school. What if it takes you two or three fares and two hours to get to your site? You didn’t pick this site, but the cost of traveling to it is being imposed upon you. What if instead of leaving your house at 6:30 AM like you usually do, now you have to leave at 5AM or 5:30 AM. What if you have children to get ready for school or take the school? Did anyone think of that? Did anybody care? Are you getting the picture? Are you seeing how this is an arbitrary and capricious decision, made with little or no humanity or concern for others? Clearly, this behavior on the part of the DOE is unprofessional, dehumanizing, discriminatory and impractical. In fact, since many of the ATR’s are not only older, more experienced and make the most money, they are minorities as well, the discrimination exists on two fronts!
Since we live in the technological age, (and the mayor spent millions, and maybe billions to computerize the DOE), how hard would it be to assign all those who live in Manhattan to Manhattan schools, those who live in Queens to Queens schools, etc. The mayor will tell you that the ATR plan is a good one, that it limits the sites to which you can be assigned only to schools in the district in which you originally worked. Unfortunately, this is not true. I spent my career in district 8 In the Bronx, but of the 10 or 11 schools to which I’ve been assigned, only two have been in my former district
Since we live in the technological age and we are supposedly following the business model, which presumably is designed to be both practical and cost efficient, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to do the following? Since there are so many school buildings with four or five or even eight schools in one place, wouldn’t it make sense to assign ATR’s to one building and simply rotate them between the schools in that building on a weekly basis as needed? While you’d still be moved from one school to another, you’d have a better chance of developing some sort of consistency as it pertains to recognition as a member of the building’s community. While you, (and the mayor), may not like this plan, one thing is indubitably certain- their current plan is not working! Anyone you talk to, from taxi drivers to students who walk the halls and do not attend classes, will tell you that the way ATR’s are being used makes no sense. (In fact, it seems like the only people who don’t understand this are the folks at the DOE- the people who are supposed to know!).

Like lying to people who already know you are lying, the DOE claims this system will help ATR’s to find permanent employment and thereby help schools, but the truth of the matter is no one hires anyone he/she has just met for a week, who he/she has never had the opportunity to see teach a lesson or sit down to speak with. Under the current system, by the time you get your bearings about where everything is in the building you are in, or get a key to the bathroom, you are moved to another school. Not only is this inconsiderate of and disrespectful to people who have given one-fourth or one-third of their lives to the teaching profession, it is in no way pedagogically sound. In no way does it provide the consistency that students require in order to succeed.

I teach students not to criticize a situation unless they can provide a solution or an alternative to the issue, so here is mine. What the DOE is saying to the public about the treatment of ATR’s sounds good, but it’s saying one thing and doing something completely different. There is no question that the actions of the DOE are purposefully designed to harass, humiliate, debase, dehumanize and annoy ATR’s. The mayor and his chancellors would deny this, but if you look at how they are being treated, it is crystal clear that their treatment is unprofessional. It is clear that with the technology the DOE has on hand a much more human and practical program could have been devised -if the intention was to treat ATR’s as teachers, experienced professionals with much to offer. Given this did not occur, the only logical conclusion is that the latter solution was never intended. When you move people like cattle form one place to another, you take the human element out of the equation. You dehumanize them; they become little more than things to be placed, like so many Lego blocks, instead of thinking, rational experienced educators. To treat them in this way cannot be an accident – it has to be deliberate, planned, intended. It has to be something you designed for a specific purpose, something you set out to do, as opposed to something that just happened to occur. Whether it was to break the union or to just get rid of people who knew what life was like B.B. 9before Bloomberg) so no one could question or challenge him, it is obvious that the plan was to eliminate those who have fallen into the ATR category.

There is no defense fore dehumanization. The mayor and others argue that what is being done is not only not dehumanization, but that it is being done for the “greater good”. What greater good? A 20% college acceptance rate – a rate lower than many of the schools the DOE closed and labeled as failing? The graduation of thousands of students who cannot read or write on a college level despite the fact they received 80’s and 90’s in their classes, in schools created and evaluated by the mayor or by and through his vision, a rating system that rated top schools like Bronx Science and Stuyvesant with F’s and rated others with A’s that were closed by him three or four years later, ratings that changed all the rules to tilt the scales in his favor, and still failed to win him the game? The closing of schools the mayor and his administration opened in order to replace the dropout mills, which were eventually closed by the same mayor who created them and claimed they were the answers and they had the answers to turn things around? What greater good? The principal’s institutes that “created” principals who were CEO’s and managers, but NOT educators, who could neither improve or enhance the education and/or the quality of those assistant principals who worked for them, nor improve or enhance the quality of the skills of those teachers who were sent to work in their schools? How was this a cogent, viable, responsible, professional, logical approach to the problems we are facing in education today? Let ask a question? Would any firm on Wall Street hire a fireman who knew nothing about investment banking or derivatives to serve as its CEO? Would you? Do they have a CEO institute for General Electric? Morgan Stanley? Chase? Citibank? Exxon? The aforementioned businesses are Fortune 500 companies and all of them, I presume, use the business model, so the question is, if we are following the business model, why are we doing it differently? If we are not using the business model, that’s okay, but then we need to stop saying it’s the business model!

Like I tell my students, if you’re going to lie, never lie to people who know you are lying. I’d pass this piece of advice on to the mayor and those who, like him, keep trying to tell us that we see what we see. I see a system that seeks to separate, not unite, that seeks to provide grades, to emphasize tests rather than to teach skills such as thinking and writing I see a system that can’t possibly work because the people who can make it work are being disenfranchised, dehumanized. Discriminated against and treated unprofessionally. I see a system that discriminates not only against age, experience and maturity, but also against students who are in the lowest third. I see a system that says that everybody is the same- that they all HAVE to attend college, when the reality is that one-size does not now, nor has it ever- fit all. (See Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and high school dropout Sam Walton!).

Maybe I’m wrong, but this is no way to operate or correct an educational system. When you are dealing with lives, you need to be sure; your plan has to work. It is clear, even by its own statistics, that what the DOE is doing simply isn’t working. You can spin it, “byte” it or flat out lie- but that won’t make it work
Part of who I am and who I became as a teacher, was nurtured and developed by my parents, brother, (a teacher), my colleagues and my supervisors. All of them contributed, each and every one of them added something to the mix.

If I were a betting I’d bet a lot of money that people who had done this job for twenty years or more, people who had had success with thousands of students and thousands of graduates, just might know something. If I was betting, and I wanted to win, I’d ask them. Maybe they couldn’t all help me, but somewhere in that group there are centuries of knowledge and I’d want to tap into and utilize that knowledge.

But then, that’s just me.

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